Forget computer science degrees and MBAs, social sciences are the key to success
Companies can only expect diversity when they stop demanding armies of young people to sacrifice going for more liberal subjects they feel passionate about just to fit into the narrow description of the tech industry.
The last thing on Amy Golding’s mind when she left Cambridge with a degree in English literature was technology. “When I thought of people in tech, I thought of people with hoodies in dark rooms. I wanted to be a journalist,” she says.
But according to Golding, separating between letters and digits might be a fallacy we fall prey to: in reality, the two worlds go hand in hand on the road to technopreneurial success.
Much of the lopsided way through which we view technology has to do with its greyscale definition
Officially, technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, particularly in industry. But this might be a definition stemming from the infant days of technology, when it was a no-go zone from anyone but the men in hoodies; today, everyone, everywhere, wakes up and goes to bed with technology, says Golding. This has opened a whole new window of opportunity for the technically uninclined--of which she identifies as one--to enter the field.
“If someone had told me I’d be making a living running a company focused entirely on tech skills when I graduated, I would have laughed in their face,” Golding, who is also CEO at Opus Talent Solutions, a $133-million-dollar-turnover tech recruitment company, says. “True, tech is maths and sciences, but it is also design, creativity, project management, logic, and leadership and innovation, understanding consumers, understanding the user’s journey, understanding what makes someone buy something and many more,” she says.
She credits her successful forays into tech entrepreneurialism to the exact “soft” skillset her English degree gave her, which proved strong enough to land her a position as the personal business advisor to Dragons’ Den star James Caan CBE in her mid-20s, and then everything followed. “In English literature, there’s no right answer. You start with a blank page. You don’t do things incrementally, designing the outcome first and then working your way back to it, accepting only one answer. You think freely,” Golding explains.
There are two key reasons behind the creation of nology. The first is to tackle the skills gap that ravages the technological ecosystem across the world--it’s been estimated that by 2022 54% of all employees will require radical reskilling and upskilling to meet the growing gap. Most important, though, Golding wants to diversify the makeup of the technological humanpower.
Companies want diversity -- many of them just can't find it
Take some stats from the UK, Golding’s homeland, for example. The Labour Force Survey, the chartered institute for IT in the UK, has found that women working in the UK technology sector account for 17% of IT specialists, minority ethnic specialists for 18%, people aged 50 and above for 22%, and people with disabilities for 11%.
“Right now, 85% of people in tech are white men. Meanwhile, companies are in a rush to hit literal diversity quotas,” Golding says. It’s not that companies don’t want women or minorities. As a matter of fact, they are desperate for diversity. “They come to us and they say, we want to hire five developers. And if you could make the shortlist to include women and people from ethnic minorities, that'd be great,” Golding says. The problem with “chasing diversity” is that these companies fail to see that they are asking for a commodity that doesn't exist in the first place.
“For years now, we have been hearing that the only way to fix the tech skills gap is to get more children, specifically girls, to take STEM subjects at primary schools, which is actually reinforcing the problem,” says Golding.
The reason? Simply stated, you can’t achieve diversity when all your talent stems from a pool full of diehard left-brain thinkers with the same narrow educational background. And you can’t expect diversity while at the same time demanding armies of young people sacrifice going for more liberal subjects they feel passionate about just so they can fit into your narrow description of the technological sector.
“Even though there is a lack of perceived methodological rigor, exactitude, and objectivity that is more common to the hard sciences, soft sciences can teach a [tech] entrepreneur about the building blocks of the thinking process itself,” says David Reischer, attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com, an online source for law matters. It’s a pathway that teaches you how to be skeptical of your own biases and how to analyze the world in an unprejudiced manner, he continues. “They have allowed me to engage in a richer exploration of the world where foundational principles are not assumed as a defined given,” Reischer concludes.
It turns out 'big picture' thinkers make more successful entrepreneurs
Fingerprint for Success is a personal coaching tech startup that uses people’s personality traits, motivations, and attitudes combined with artificial intelligence to maximize the human potential of companies. They recently examined 48 different business attitudes and motivations of over 1,000 entrepreneurs and tried to detect certain patterns related to success and failure in the business world.
The results were interesting: they discovered that entrepreneurs with a strong focus on big-picture thinking and less emphasis on meticulous planning were more successful than the rest. In particular, big-picture thinking was positively correlated with outcomes like achieving more rounds of venture capital or becoming a high-growth company. Too much detail orientation, on the other hand, was connected to early-stage venture failure.
“Big picture thinking is the cognitive bias for abstract thinking or in other words getting the gist of something without needing the details,” says Michelle Duval, founder and CEO of Fingerprint for Success. She’s also a serial entrepreneur herself.
Perhaps this explains why the people enrolling on Golding’s coding course from sectors like retail and hospitality--in massive numbers following the pandemic--are “absolutely flying”. That said, coding is not an end in itself. “We teach them about agile ways of working, about problem-solving. We do soft skills with them, teamwork, pair programming, and more,” Golding says. The youngest person on the course is 18 and the oldest 55. The most successful “coder” so far has been a late-20s woman with a marketing degree who had never seen a line of code before. 35% of the students don't have a degree at all.
For all the current lack of diversity in tech, Golding thinks something is changing and is riding with the times. “People are caring for environmental sustainability, getting more serious about whether that's clean, renewable energy they are using, or are buying local,” she says.
The ossified maxim that you have to be a bastard to make money in business is dying
“Entrepreneurs genuinely want to build better products and serve their whole customer base,” says Golding. They genuinely understand long-term success is about coming up with better solutions for their clients and that a diverse pool of employees creates better products and speaks to a wide customer base. “No, in today’s business world you don’t have to be an asshole to get ahead,” Golding says. And a little introspection coming from soft sciences certainly helps.