shakespeare_jobs

Learn to code! Learn to code! Learn to code!

When entrenched in the tech and startup worlds, this mantra is impossible to escape. “Learn to code and you will better yourself and the world,” they say. “Forget having a well-rounded education, just learn Javascript on Codecademy and start making some sick apps, right?”

Even schools push a broader version of the same message. They call it STEM education, which stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.

What you don’t see is big government dollars going toward Shakespeare seminars. You don’t see startup bros handing out Jane Austen books to empower the homeless. Do tech leaders even care about the liberal arts?

Well we’ve found two who do, and they’re doing pretty well for themselves: Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson and Facebook cofounder and New Republic owner Chris Hughes. Tellingly, neither of them live in Silicon Valley.

Earlier this year, Dickerson threw Sarah Lacy for a loop when he told her the one thing he believes that very few others believe is that liberal arts education is “as important, maybe more important,” than math or science education. That’s heresy in most corners of the startup world.

Now, the Dickerson Book Club has a new member: Chris Hughes, who last week gave more-or-less the same answer to Lacy’s “one thing you believe” question.

“I believe that English 101 may be the most important class you take in college,” Hughes said.

Both men cited “empathy” as a big reason why the liberal arts matter, with literature allowing you to step inside other people’s heads. For Hughes, empathy is an end in itself. And indeed with the immense power and standing possessed by today’s tech entrepreneurs, it’d be nice if they gave something back to people other than their shareholders. (Perhaps his attitude rubbed off on Hughes’ former business partners: Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan were the number-two top philanthropic donors of last year and Dustin Moskovitz has long pledged to give away most or all of his money in his lifetime).

Dickerson, on the other hand, drew a more direct line between empathy and entrepreneurship, saying that an understanding of other people attained through literature will make you better at business.

“Literature is so much about human nature, and I think that you can learn a lot more about things like power and personal relationships by reading King Lear than by reading Techcrunch,” he says.

Dickerson also said that empathy and an artistic sensibility will make you a better designer, citing Steve Jobs’ work at Apple as the perfect marriage between art and science. (Others might quibble that Jobs isn’t exactly the best example when it comes to displaying human empathy…)

“When you’re designing software you need more empathy for the person you’re designing software for,” Dickerson says. “You need to understand how people think and how they live.”

So yes, ladies and gentlemen: Learn to code, if you want. Software is eating the world after all. You might build something amazing. Or if nothing else, maybe you’ll get a job. The unemployment rate of software developers is only 4.4 percent, which is well below the national rate.

But don’t worry if you’ve spent your life reading and writing. There may still be hope for you yet.

Watch video of Hughes and Dickerson talk about the benefits of a liberal arts education: