The social job market

Interesting piece in Tomorrow’s Professor about a hypothetical interview with a top engineering student:

Interviewer: “… First, what do you think your strengths are outside of math and computers?”

Student: “Well, I’ve always been good in physics.”

I: “How about social sciences and humanities?”

S: “I did all right in those courses-mostly A’s-but I can’t honestly say I enjoy that stuff.”

I: “Right. And would you describe yourself as a people person?”

The point? The purely procedural pieces of doing good engineering can be outsourced. Indeed, the first questions are about the engineer’s language skills.

As a social science guy, especially as one who made an early shift from computing and engineering as an undergrad, I relish the recognition of the importance of the “soft” sides of engineering. The idea here is that the real needs, and the real jobs, are in having enough engineering or programming skill to manage a project effectively, but also the social skills in order to engineer human processes.

The question remains, is it enough for these students to take a smattering of social science and humanities courses–to be well rounded–or is there a particular social curriculum that would be beneficial to students.

The Masters in Informatics was created to answer precisely this issue. In fact, for better or worse, it was created after a study of employers in New York State to determine what skills were most needed.

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One Comment

  1. Posted 6/22/2006 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    I can often tell which people “get it” with regards to this after they look at my resume. I’ve got my first job still listed on it: the five years I spent as a salesman while I was working my way through college. A lot of hard-core gearheads ask me why I still list it when it’s been over fifteen years and everything since has been in the computing field. People making hiring decisions and interviewers interested in people skills also comment on it, but always in a positive way.

    Nobody ever failed to hire a technical professional because their interpersonal skills were too GOOD.

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