Google hiring 4000-5000 from the Liberal Arts
The humanities’ halo shines on in high-tech heaven
Stuck in the ‘valley of death’? There’s always a place at Silicon Valley.
Matthew Reisz reports
Those worried about the value of studying the arts and humanities, particularly at the postgraduate level, take heart: Google wants you.
In a boldly titled talk at the conference at Stanford University last week, Damon Horowitz, director of engineering – and in-house philosopher – at Google, discussed the question of “Why you should quit your technology job and get a humanities PhD”.
Dr Horowitz was one of several Silicon Valley executives exploring the theme at the Biblio Tech conference, an event that united academics with entrepreneurs and senior managers from some of the world’s leading high-tech companies.
For Marissa Mayer, who was the 20th employee taken on by Google and is now its vice-president of consumer products, the situation was clear: “We are going through a period of unbelievable growth and will be hiring about 6,000 people this year – and probably 4,000 – 5,000 from the humanities or liberal arts.”
Companies such as Google were looking for “people who are smart and get things done” from every possible background, she said, yet the humanities had a particular relevance.
Developing user interfaces, for example, was at least as much about knowing how to observe and understand people as about pure technological skill, she added.
Ms Mayer’s Stanford BA in symbolic systems, which included philosophy and psychology, had proved as useful as her MBA in computer science to her work at Google, the executive said. Even programming was fundamentally about communication and often came more easily to humanities graduates than mathematicians.
Expertise in the humanities was equally relevant to the “doodles” on the Google homepage, which in recent times have spelled out the firm’s name with fragments of Salvador Dali’s paintings or dance movements by Martha Graham. These invariable drew on extensive academic research, Ms Mayer said, to ensure their integrity and to determine in which parts of the world it was appropriate to use them.
Excerpt from The Times (London) Higher Education 19-25 May 2011