Stem is Overrated

There's a lot that you can do with math, I've spent a large part of my entire life exploring the basics and just a little bit more. You can make discoveries about the universe, build engineering marvels, and create ways of connecting people that we thought was only possible in science fiction novels. I'm only mentioning basic application in that list, there are entire fields of study that are predicated on an a priori study of mathematics in its purist forms. Many of these are, and will continue to be, beyond my understanding. It's undeniable the usefulness that sort of theory and thinking brings our society. There's also a huge demand from the market to have more and more students enter these fields, as jobs in STEM fields continue to increase while enrollment rates in these programs remain steady. These incentives are rather enticing to many young people, who are facing an economic uncertainty that only their great grand parents could understand. For many there's an allure to problem solving, design, and the promise of innovation that comes with entering any of these fields. What also accompanies this is a sense of superiority that you get from comparing yourselves to students who also aren't in STEM. I know this firsthand, because I was one of those smug assholes. At my alma matter, this was taken even further as the engineers are known to dump on even the regular science and computer science students.

While this seems to be all in good fun, it not only sets a dangerous precedent about the value of education but also stigmatizes particular art courses in the eyes of the more "technical" students. I knew very few people in engineering who took legitimate courses in the liberal arts during their time, opting for general business or economics courses. What this leaves us with are fairly competent technical people who are aware of how to build and construct new and innovative systems or products, but are entirely lacking in the "why" or ability to justify the purpose of what they're building. Case in point, think of all the brilliant minds and computer scientists that are entirely focused on how we can optimize advertising online.

What you are left with is a group of people with an imbalanced education, and thus aren't really all that educated. People in STEM need greater exposure to the arts. Some might argue that with how specialized the world has become, it is impossible to be an expert of everything! However, there have been studies that show creativity and having artistic hobbies is what seperates the mediocre from the great in STEM fields. Take a look at the history of the Nobel prize winners. Members of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society (the elite of science if you will), membership in which is based on professional accomplishments and discoveries, are 1.7 and 1.9 times more likely to have an artistic or crafty hobby than the average scientist is. Nobel prize winning scientists are 2.85 times more likely than the average scientist to have an artistic or crafty hobby. Many in the field would say, in their experience, that the clinical "left-brained-only" take on solving problems isn't optimal.

“The richest aspects of any large and complicated system arise from factors that cannot be measured easily, if at all. For these, the artist’s approach, uncertain though it inevitably is, seems to find and convey more meaning.” - British metallurgist, Cyril Stanley Smithonce.

There's demand for well-rounded, competent, wholly educated people as they are the ones at assessing our most complex problems and find novel solutions, which for many companies tend not to be technical.

At the last company I worked with, there was a large emphasis on being a "T" shaped person. The intention was that while you had a specialty of one or two subjects, you had a general knowledge of many other things that would aid in making you a competent worker. Now, I don't think as a developer my employers were all that concerned about my opinion on Chaucer, and we never discussed whether we agreed on Hume's theory of compatibilism in my 'one-on-one's. However, many tech companies are being forced to make ethical decision surrounding their products and services, and let me tell you a math equation isn't going to have the solution. During my time there, the company was deciding whether or not to continue to host Breibart, a reactionary right new outlet affiliated with the alt-right, as part of their services. In the end, the CEO's emphasis on freedom of speech and deference of governance to the state allowed Breibart to stay. Some disagreed, but not enough to effectively challenge or organize solid argument against him. I'm hopeful for the future, as we're seeing a general trend of employees making their voice heard against the corporate interests of the places they work. Google's pentagon deal to use AI to analyze low res photos to aid in the decision of drone strikes was turned down due to pressure from their employees (their China search engine contract is still up for grabs). Both Microsoft and Amazon are facing push back from their use of facial recognition for US Immigration. I hope that we'll continue to see a cultural shift of both sides attempting to gain a more wholistic education, and not boxing themselves in to one or two subjects.