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When Worlds Collide: Liberal Arts and Technology at Appian

By Alex Wasdahl

It’s no secret that a STEM degree is a hot commodity in today’s job market. The value of an education in a science or technology-related subject is driven by its employability, one of the main reasons why these fields are highly revered in the modern economy. A STEM degree is a great stepping stone to a successful career in the tech industry, and to that effect, many people enter a career in technology with a degree in Computer Science or a related field.

For a long time, I assumed that knowing how to code was the only way to break into tech. Prior to my senior year, I had never considered the possibility that a background in the humanities or social sciences could be valuable to a software company like Appian. In reality, technology companies across the nation are increasingly hiring graduates of psychology, English, and other liberal arts programs. To shed some light on this trend, I will share some reflections from my past year at Appian.

I joined Appian as a new hire in July 2016 almost immediately after graduating from Dartmouth College. My undergraduate degree was in Government, so I wrote a lot of research papers in those four years. While writing one of my seminar papers senior year, I found myself immersed in the process of analyzing and synthesizing my research data using the R and STATA programming languages. Tinkering with code helped me uncover my passion for technology, in addition to my interest in transforming data-centric insights into a compelling argument. With graduation on the horizon, no set plans, and a burgeoning case of senioritis, I began my search for an opportunity to combine my interest in technology with my critical thinking abilities.

The liberal arts curriculum at Dartmouth exposed me to a wide variety of academic perspectives. Learning how to think critically helped me gain an intellectual skill-set applicable to a broad range of scenarios. In other words, I graduated college as a generalist rather than a specialist. When I applied to the Associate Consultant position at Appian, I saw it as an excellent way for me to leverage my generalist toolkit and develop expertise with the product. The four weeks I spent in Academy helped to reinforce this idea: knowing how to learn the product seemed more important than knowing the most coding languages. I also learned how to craft the optimal Chipotle order (spoiler alert: get a bowl with a tortilla on the side).

During my first few months at Appian, I quickly realized just how special of a place it is. Appian provides opportunities for people with a diverse range of academic backgrounds to thrive in an intellectually challenging environment. The “Best Idea Wins” philosophy at Appian enables discussion and dissent from all levels within an organization and encourages a meritocratic culture. I have had the privilege of exchanging ideas with many brilliant minds in a multitude of departments at Appian, exposing myself to innovative ways of thinking about tough problems. Having a liberal arts background has augmented my ability to understand their points of view and make worthwhile contributions across disciplines. My background has helped me train to be a versatile worker, able to adapt to the rapidly changing world of technology while learning quickly and finding novel solutions to problems.

My first Professional Services project put my knowledge base to the test. On top of the analytical, problem-solving skills required to develop Appian applications, the adaptability of a “learn how to learn” mindset adds significant value. Changing requirements, varying schedules, and — most importantly — interacting with clients are all factors to manage over the life cycle of an engagement. To balance these commitments, it is important to know how to quickly adapt to novel situations (which may or may not include last-minute flight cancellations… thanks, American Airlines).

Leaders in business and technology understand the importance of both technology and liberal arts to the capacity for innovation. When introducing the iPad 2, the late Steve Jobs remarked “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” Our tech-driven future will benefit most from innovation that blends technical aptitude with creativity. Looking toward my own future at Appian, I hope to learn more about technical concepts, foster my problem-solving mindset, and contribute ideas rooted in my liberal arts education.


When Worlds Collide: Liberal Arts and Technology at Appian was originally published in AppianLIFE on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Published on Jul 27, 2017

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