Thursday, October 17, 2013

How a Classics Degree Turned into a Career in Tech

Joshua Hall

Joshua Hall is editor of He writes about Indiana tech companies, jobs, people & events. @Joshua2349

Just because you didn't graduate with a degree in computer science, that doesn't mean you can’t have a successful career in the fast-growing technology sector. The trick to making a leap from wherever you’re working now to a tech firm might be a little bit of knowledge, some skill at solving problems and knowing how to think. At least, that’s what it took for Michael Carper, a tech analyst at managed IT services company Apparatus.
Michael graduated summa cum laude from Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., this spring with a bachelors in Classics. Oh, the humanities! Yes, Michael studied Latin and Greek languages and civilization, Roman history and archeology, and philosophy, instead of the ones and zeros and database languages expected of programmers and developers.
It might be more common than you think for people outside of the Department of Computer Science (or whatever they called the college of technology at your school), to pursue careers in technology. According to the U.S. Commerce Department there are 7.6 million Americans working in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, but only 3.3 million or about one-half actually possess STEM degrees. It’s only an indicator, but it’s possible that two out of every three people working in the tech sector studied something else. (Continued below.)

Michael learned how to use the data visualization program Tableau, in order to help Apparatus’ clients implement it in their organizations. He quickly became the company’s de facto Tableau expert and expanded beyond client work into side projects of his own initiative, like this Inc. 5000 visualization. Because it’s hosted on Tableau’s Public server, it can be easily shared across the web like an interactive infographic, or viewed directly on the site. It was also featured on Tableau’s Viz of the Day” blog. The data was scrapped from the Inc. 5000 website, formatted, and then connected to Tableau, for a more user-friendly version of the original list.

The biggest obstacle to a job in technology for Michael was learning programming languages like SQL. He did complete internships at Indy-area tech companies — Angie’s List, One Click Ventures and Giggil — but his duties were primarily marketing based.
“Working at high-tech companies, following the industry, and playing around with web programming languages maintained my interest in the tech field throughout my humanities education at Wabash. My initial exploration with programming languages, especially, gave me confidence that I could use them further for a career. And as it turned out, starting at Apparatus required me to learn database languages like SQL. So I’ve learned them the same way I approached my HTML/CSS website several years ago: by aiming at a target result, and throwing random queries at the server until I figured out how each part of the query worked. However, I’m not finished learning by any means. I’ve started working on some IT certifications, but have relied mostly on the helpful senior employees at Apparatus.”
When it comes to technical fields, there are plenty of high-skilled, high-wage jobs out there that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree in computer science. Like in Michael’s case, you need to have an aptitude for it and some transferrable skills, but it’s totally realistic for someone who studied Classics to get up to speed and have a real shot at a career in technology.
“The Latin and Greek studies help me with syntax and understanding how logical languages, including computer languages work,” Michael said. “I think all the liberal arts research and writing made me a good investigator, a problem solver, and that’s what IT is all about — collecting data, asking questions and deep diving to solve problems."


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