Me Talk Pretty One Day

February 13, 2014

Blog | Culture | Me Talk Pretty One Day
Me Talk Pretty One Day

A few days ago a post entitled “How my Impractical Humanities Degree prepared me for a career in programming” caught my eye in a newspaper (Newsblur is amazing for all of you Google Reader refugees).  Given the awkward prose, questionable grammar and dubious punctuation (I’m looking at you Oxford Comma) contained in my Buzz posts, the reader might be surprised by the fact that I have a BA in English with a minor in French.   The author’s anecdotes about the surprise, and in some cases horror, that people display upon learning that you studied the humanities (particularly from people with CS degrees) is something with which I can certainly sympathize.  However, it’s the following point from the article that really just makes me want to chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!:”

Now, whether I’m pitching crazy awesome apps to a potential investor, or more regularly, explaining to clients why a certain feature addition just isn’t a practical use of my time or their money, I have to be able to communicate well. Contract programming is half coding, half negotiation.

If there is any single lesson that I have taken away from the last few years of my career leading software development projects, interacting with clients and managing developers, it’s that some of the deeper issues on efforts with which I have been directly involved or that I have observed from the outside stemmed from unclear expectations or the lack of a shared vision for the problem being solved.  While other factors have certainly played an effort, a great deal of The Badness  could be attributed to poor communication.  Whatever the modality, be it email, Instant Messenger or something as dated as an actual discussion in Meatspace I definitely feel that my degree helped me hone my ability to see the big picture and argue my viewpoint cogently.  This isn’t to say that a CS degree doesn’t also help sharpen these skills as I’ve worked with a number of CS grads who were incredibly gifted communicators.   I do feel that my time spent, in its simplest terms, doing a ridiculous amount of reading and then writing about what I’d read helped me bring a different perspective to the proverbial table. 

Ultimately, if I could do it over again, I likely would’ve done a double major in English and CS, or perhaps Cognitive Science, so this certainly isn’t a slight on a CS degree or anything other related discipline.  Outside of the specifics issues around communication in software development, there may just be real value in the different perspective of having studied outside of your chosen trade, that amorphous mojo that a diverse, interdisciplinary group of people can bring to bear in solving a problem.  For whatever reason, it brings to mind the various rants by Kurt Vonnegut that basically indicated that if you wanted to be a great writer, don’t major in English.  Even as someone who didn’t study CS as an undergrad, I’ve been surprised many times by some of the brilliant developers with whom I’ve worked that spent their early twenties studying philosophy, music ( many!) or art. 

Or maybe I’m just trying to rationalize those student loans I just finished paying off.

Photo Credit: wiredforlego from Flickr Creative Commons

Kevin Varley, Director of Technology, GeekHive

Kevin Varley

Director of Technology Solutions
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