Stanford University Bibliotech Program – Bringing Humanities Skills to the Tech Industry

Stanford University created The Bibliotech Program to promote the relevance of Humanities PhDs to industries outside of academia. The program specifically seeks to connect professionals in Silicon Valley with Stanford PhDs in the humanities, making a case for the unique contributions that such scholars can make in the tech industry. The resources developed by Bibliotech, which convened three conferences between 2011and 2013, stress that humanities PhDs have unique project management, critical thinking, and communication skills, making a case for their ability to contribute to innovative private-sector industries.

At the 2011 conference, VP of Consumer Products at Google Marissa Mayer spoke about the tech industry’s need for people who understand people. In other words, Google has found that people with backgrounds in the humanities and humanistic social sciences have a special talent for understanding in depth how people use things like search engines, and are thus able to articulate better solutions for improving user experience. Smart people who can push themselves to learn new things, Mayer argued, can be just as valuable to a company like Google as people with specialized technical expertise.

At Bibliotech’s 2012 conference, the keynote speaker was Geoffrey Moore—author, speaker, and Venture Partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures. His address emphasized fundamental skills that humanities PhDs have for processing information and interacting with people. People who earn PhDs in the humanities have experience teaching, writing, and conveying knowledge to diverse audiences in a variety of registers. Much of their work requires an ability to explain complex ideas in compelling ways. Most tech companies have a mission and a message they want customers to associate with their services and products. Professionals with humanities training can understand nuance, synthesize diverse ideas and visions, and make connections between seemingly disparate ideas. This allows them to craft coherent narratives that can help convey a message to a target audience.

Humanities PhDs and employers alike would benefit from recognizing the sometimes unexpected opportunities to apply these critical thinking skills to a variety of industries, broadening their ideas of what qualifications and experience make an ideal job candidate.