By: Angel Purganan

A popular misconception is that entering a STEM field requires a technical or scientific degree. However, the varying academic backgrounds in today’s tech industry reveal a different reality. LinkedIn data indicates that liberal arts majors entering the technology industry outpaced computer science and engineering majors by 10%.

The presence of non-STEM majors in the tech industry is partially explained by the increased use of quantitative methods in social science and the growing need for innovative, cross-disciplinary research methods. Across the country, students in the humanities are assuming more data-driven roles and approaching data analysis from new perspectives. With the future of data science inextricably tied to skills developed through a humanities education, universities must continue to prioritize integrated learning systems that facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration.

According to a report by the Strada Education Network and Emsi, more STEM employers are hiring individuals with humanities backgrounds despite a falling number of humanities graduates. The report is a positive step toward quantifying the value of a humanities education and its applications in technical fields. Education panelists at the 2018 WISE@NY Learning Revolutions conference also predict that philosophy and ethics skills will be in higher demand as access to computer science skills increases. 

From sociologists working at today’s popular dating apps to anthropologists working at Nissan, successful data analysis requires both humanistic and technical skills. This critical intersection is explored in Sam Dragga and Dan Voss’ work, The Inhumanity of Technical Illustrations, which argues that humanism is an essential ingredient in “ethical illustrations,” such as data visualizations. The authors analyze a visual of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia, which highlights victory but fails to convey the 412,000 casualties of the campaign. The authors consider this omission of data a “distortion of the reality.” When producing visual information of people and populations, data scientists must appropriately and accurately humanize the visualization. Employees with training in rhetoric, ethics, and communication can positively contribute to this improvement. 

To promote interdisciplinary interaction, American universities are integrating programs that focus on the benefits of exploring the humanities alongside data science, including the University of Illinois, New York University, and Stanford University. NYU’s Data Science and Humanities Initiative hosts events to facilitate these conversations by exploring archival research, visualization, and historical data. As a Philosophy major at Florida State University, I have personally participated in meaningful, data-driven work as a Data Analytics Intern with the DeVoe L. Moore Center. This student-centered, public policy think tank tasks its Data Analytics Group with the acquisition of Florida government data, the creation of digital data visualizations, the maintenance of the Florida Open Government website, and more. 

With rising emphasis on humanistic skills in the labor market, institutions must prepare their students to collaborate in interdisciplinary work environments. The increasing popularity of liberal arts majors in the tech workforce, the need for ethical and humanistic analyses of data, and the push to broaden educational and experiential learning reinforces the vital link between humanities and data science to improve our data-driven—and humanitarian—world.

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