careers / creative juice

stem vs. steam

Most students in this day and age are encouraged to focus on studying STEM subjects. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.) There’s a great demand for the kind of jobs that fall within those categories.

But does focusing on STEM guarantee career success in the high-tech landscape?

A recent study done by Google suggests that might not be the case. In fact, after learning the results of the study, students might consider injecting a little STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) into their education. A liberal arts background which includes humanities, art, theatre, etc., promotes soft skills–which it turns out, is just as important as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

According to an article in the Washington Post, written by Cathy N. Davidson (founding director of the Futures Initiative and a professor in the doctoral program in English at the Graduate Center, CUNY,) Google, a company who invests in hiring workers with strong STEM skills, was surprised by the findings of what makes a successful employee.

Davidson writes, “Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded their company on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities.

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

Those traits sound more like what one gains as an English or theater major than as a programmer. Could it be that top Google employees were succeeding despite their technical training, not because of it? After bringing in anthropologists and ethnographers to dive even deeper into the data, the company enlarged its previous hiring practices to include humanities majors, artists, and even the MBAs that, initially, Brin and Page viewed with disdain.”

Our takeaway is that students might want to consider taking a broader approach to their studies. Why not take art, music, theatre, dance and a healthy smattering of liberal arts electives to round out your education?

Check out another related study by Google on what makes a successful team. The study was called Project Aristotle. Here’s a synopsis about what they learned:

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