Amritansh Raghav Explains How AI Opened the Tech Door to Humanities Grads

For decades, the tech sector resembled a fraternity party — a cliquey club dominated by engineering bros and math whizzes. Humanities majors, with their degrees in philosophy and literature, were relegated to the sidelines, their valuable skill sets deemed irrelevant in the cold, hard world of ones and zeros. But hold on to your virtual reality headsets, folks, because the party’s guest list is getting a major overhaul. That overhaul, according to veteran tech executive Amritansh Raghav, is fueled both by the natural evolution of the work as well as the accelerant that is artificial intelligence. 

There’s a quiet revolution brewing in Silicon Valley, and it’s not about the next killer app or the latest cryptocurrency. It’s about a fundamental shift in how tech companies view talent. As artificial intelligence continues its relentless march forward, a fascinating countertrend has emerged — a surging demand for graduates with humanities and social science backgrounds. Imagine an English major coding alongside a computer scientist — sounds like the plot of a bad sci-fi flick or an off-beat buddy comedy, right? 

Not anymore.

Amritansh Raghav on Breaking down Problems

This seismic shift can be attributed, ironically, to the very technology that once threatened to make these graduates obsolete. AI is rapidly automating many of the rote tasks that were once the bread and butter of tech companies. With AI handling the heavy lifting of data crunching and code optimization, the need for “soft skills” — critical thinking, communication, empathy, and creativity — has become paramount.

“Programming — or in general engineering — focuses heavily on breaking down a problem to find a solution,” Amritansh Raghav wrote in a recent LinkedIn post. “But the framing of a problem in itself is rarely complex. Scaling a service to a billion users across the globe is not a complex problem statement — but it is a non-obvious solution. This act of taking a problem and separating it into constituent parts and solving each part to then synthesize into a whole is not just key to programming but also all engineering.”

Again, the evolution of the engineering work dictates that, at some point, the skill set would require more of what Amritansh Raghav speaks to above. But that natural evolution has been fueled by a disruption that requires something more than augmentation. It requires an entirely new set of skills and understanding.

“It could be that the current juncture of AI that we are grappling with is far more about just setting the problem up correctly and the skills from a STEM education are not particularly suited for that,” Amritansh Raghav wrote. 

AI has changed the game, even in the infancy of its capabilities. Now, it’s about understanding the human element, designing products that people actually want to use, and navigating the ethical complexities of this powerful technology. That’s where the humanities folks come in.

This newfound appreciation for a well-rounded skill set is a breath of fresh air for recent graduates who were bombarded with the “STEM or bust” mantra throughout their academic careers. A 2022 study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that a whopping two-thirds (at least) of employers now value written communication skills — a far cry from the days when coding ability was the sole hiring criterion.

This isn’t to say that people with strong science, technology, engineering, and math backgrounds can’t be strong writers, or that people with humanities and social science backgrounds can’t be great coders. They can. But the majority of those in each respective field got into said field for a reason, and that reason likely has something to do with their level of interest in the work style. In other words, just because a coder can write doesn’t mean they want to, and just because a writer can code doesn’t mean that is how they want to spend their days. 

Humanity Hires in the Tech World

But what exactly are these “humanities hires” doing in the tech world? The answer is multifaceted. Philosophy grads are tackling the ethical dilemmas of AI development. History majors are helping companies understand user behavior and predict future trends. English majors are crafting compelling user interfaces and writing clear, concise technical documentation.

Yes, we’ve all been told before that good writing is important in virtually every profession — and to a degree, that’s not wrong. But the stakes are higher now. Humanities and philosophy majors (or those who have had careers in those fields) are adept at expressing complex ideas clearly and concisely, both verbally and in writing. A large language model or generative AI engine is only as good as its dataset (the amount of material it consumes in order to spit out its results) and its understanding of prompts. 

Imagine an English-only speaker trying to operate a machine with instructions in Sanskrit. The machine may work fine, but the operator will never know one way or the other. 

Of course, the rise of the “humanities hacker” doesn’t negate the importance of STEM skills. Tech companies still need their engineers and data scientists. But the landscape is no longer a binary one. The future belongs to those who can bridge the gap between the technical and the human, and that’s where a well-rounded education, or career, encompassing both the analytical and the artistic, becomes a true competitive advantage.

A long time ago, in a country far, far away (England), a group of weavers decided to push back against the use of the stocking frame, a machine that cut the labor needed to create textiles down significantly while also removing some of the human expertise that was previously necessary to undertake those endeavors. Those weavers were called Luddites, and their handle is still to this day associated with a fear of what technological change can do to employment. 

Not all weavers were unemployed, though. Many of them learned to use the stocking frame, and the combination of their expertise and technology allowed for more efficient production and some new jobs.

So, to all those history majors and philosophy grads who were told their degrees were useless — think again. The tech revolution may have begun with a bang of ones and zeros, but its future is being shaped by a symphony of human creativity and critical thinking. The party may have started with the engineers, but now it’s time for the humanities scholars to take center stage.