I think we can all agree that the days of graduating from college, getting a job and working your way up the corporate ladder at one company are gone forever. In the present, and even more so for kids just getting to college now, they will probably have 20-30 jobs and 3 careers before they retire. If they retire? That being the case, maybe it’s time to take another look at the classic liberal arts education. I would guess that the ability to make computers or robots do what you want will continue to be an important and highly employable skill for a while. It’s not quite as easy to pick the other winners though. Interestingly, just about every full time programmer I know has a liberal arts degree.
Or as Heinlein put it many years ago.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
So, maybe what becomes more important is the ability to pivot. The ability to learn on the fly, change directions with your project, job or career on virtually no notice will be a critical skill for success for the next generation. Kids exposed to the wide swatch of knowledge that defines a typical liberal arts will be the kids best positioned to pivot when needed. A liberal arts graduate is skilled in consuming large amounts of information, synthesizing it, maybe transforming it, combining it with other information, and ultimately using it in some way that adds value. In a world where stuff is changing faster and faster, that kind of skill set sounds like something I’d want on my side. Even more so if that kid taught himself to code along the way.
This thought brought to you by the latest Common Sense podcast. It was sort of a side point in the discussion, but it was one that stuck in my head all day.