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I love the title of the new book by veteran journalist George Anders, You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Education, which goes on sale today.
I would say that, as a history and political science graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the renowned computer-science school. Anders, for many years a reporter at The Wall Street Journal, also is a member of the humanities club: He studied economics at Stanford.
My bias notwithstanding, this book arrives at a critical time. For a couple decades now the stars of Silicon Valley have been engineers and coders, nerds whose skills have been highly prized. Yet more and more the technology industry is suffering from an empathy deficit. Enter Anders, who argues that “creativity, curiosity, and empathy are the job skills of the future.”
You Can Do Anything is part how-to for humanities types. It offers practical advice, like the relative uselessness of sending out blind resumes and the huge value of networking among alumni and accepting—and then crushing—part-time and other entry-level positions.
Anders also tells stories about liberal arts students made good. These include Josh Sucher, an anthropology graduate whom Etsy (etsy) put to work interviewing customers to learn what crafts might sell well. He explains how IBM (ibm) turned to Oliver Meeker, a sociology major, to explain to non-technical corporate clients the dastardly difficult-to-understand concept of the blockchain. “You don’t want an engineer on this,” says Anders. He revels in the story of Andy Anderegg, an English major who wrote snappy copy for Groupon (grpn) on her way to becoming a highly paid digital audience development consultant.
Anders isn’t so much arguing that a humanities background is better than more practical educational pursuits as he’s making the case that the liberal-arts-inclined needn’t panic about their lack of hirable skills. More, he wants to persuade fellow parents of college-age children not to hem in their future job seekers by pushing them to study subjects that don’t interest them.
These are important words of wisdom by a skilled storyteller and a sharp observer of the human condition.