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From literary studies to IT Kontrakt, or a few words about how the world needs specialists in humanities

My name is Daniel Radecki and I work as an engineer having graduated Polish studies – this is how I liked to introduce myself up until recently, as it always caused astonishment and the question “How did you do it?” After a longer or shorter answer, a discussion ensued about the commonly declared crisis of the humanities, which could never be escaped. Are specialists in humanities necessary? – asks the contemporary world while looking for a cure for cancer, planning a trip to Mars, and building artificial intelligence. Engineers, researchers, and programmers give a straightforward answer – “no” because the humanities don’t generate the GDP, thus losing valuable resources that could be made the best use of elsewhere. On the other hand, humanities-oriented people themselves can’t count and are joining the ranks of the unemployed in large numbers. This is why degree programmes in humanities should be closed down to make more room for exact sciences.

Let’s try to tackle this opinion applying a project methodology used in the world of IT. Based on my professional experience as a tester, I won’t hesitate in proposing a thesis that the key to a project’s success is, among other things, a correct wording of its definition, i.e. what the project is and what it isn’t. Another step is to define the requirements so that it’s known that a given application, say, serves the purpose of reminding that “the laundry has been done” rather than that of “doing the laundry”.  Next, to put it in a nutshell, there’s designing, coding, testing, and implementing the application.  Of course, I’m simplifying for the sake of the argument.

Let’s then begin with the definition – who is a humanities-oriented person?

According to a common belief, he or she is a person who can’t count. In the eyes of specialists in humanities themselves, he or she is a versatile person, one interested in a variety of fields of science but always putting man in the centre of the world.

As you see, the problem arises as early as at this stage. The definitions aren’t consistent as a dislike for mathematics has nothing to do with being versatile. And if the definitions are inconsistent, the requirements can go in two different directions:

– you can’t expect much of specialists in humanities if they can’t count,

– you should expect a lot of specialists in humanities because being one means being versatile.

How does a humanities-oriented person plan and code their life? By choosing their field of study, no doubt. In the first case, they choose the degree programme to which they have been admitted, and without much reflection, they drift from one year to another making as little an effort as possible. As for the other one – their degree programme is a conscious choice, but the field of study itself is no limitation but an opportunity to learn the world looking at it from different angles. Then it’s testing time, and when the code looks like this:

 

Humanities-oriented person = new Humanities-oriented person();

if (you.canCountOn(person)) {

you.expectALot(person);

} else {

you.fire(person);

}

 

and the first condition isn’t met – you can’t expect effective implementation into the world. “You can count – count on yourself” in the words of a motto. But, in spite of appearances, humanities-oriented people don’t have to be losers in the labour market and in life. The key factor here is the mentioned versatility allowing such a graduate to find a job virtually everywhere, after proper preparation and retraining. A fresh graduate of IT won’t be a great programmer at first either if they wasted away their years as students and failed to self-educate in the field. OK, but what I’m writing about here is retraining, i.e. running away from typically humanities-oriented activities. But are these really necessary?

To answer this question, I’ll take the liberty of sketching a metaphorical picture. An exhausted programmer gets back home from work and sits down in front of a beautiful 50-inch curved TV where he can watch only… programmes about science for wide audiences. There’s no “Game of Thrones” or any other films or shows. The TV picks channels at random and provides programmes according to the latest trends. The feature allowing the user to choose programmes on their own isn’t included.

To recap, humanities-oriented people (the versatile ones) happen to be needed by the world as they create culture, which is inseparably linked with science. Technological achievements often come into being thanks to the achievements of culture, and vice versa. After all, inventions and computer programs are developed for man, so the existence of people who will not only ask the question “how?” but also “why?” is useful.

Working at IT Kontrakt as Software Quality Assurance Engineer, Daniel is a graduate of Polish studies and the author of the novel entitled “We All Are Hipsters”.

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