Hot Take - We need more liberal arts kids and less STEM

A trend that I've been noticing as of late is the fact that kids from Stanford, MIT and other STEM centric schools that I've worked with or have heard stories about lack the social and communication skills, or the "polish", for a lack of better words to succeed in this client facing world.

What I've seen is that the larger shops are taking STEM majors from less "social" schools such as Georgia Tech, Stanford, MIT, Caltech, CMU, Imperial and Waterloo (the brits and canucks), who seem to break in off the back of their schools brand name alone. They bring little value to the table, especially if they majored in engineering or cs. We need more polished kids with the proper pedigree that we don't feel the need to hide from clients, not more engineerers, mathematicians, chemists and physicists.

On the contrary, kids that I've seen who come from Yale, Brown, Amherst and the more LACy types are the ones who can communicate well and have the right type of "polish" to succeed in front office roles. For every math and engineering course that a STEM major takes, he's not taking a history, english, linguistics or politics course to polish his written, verbal and argumentative skills.

tl;dr we should be hiring more kids from law schools, yale, brown, amhert, william & mary and the likes instead of stanford, mit, carnegie mellon and rice

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Comments (25)

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Oct 12, 2021 - 1:51am

Hard to paint entire schools with such a broad stroke (besides explicitly STEM schools like MIT) but I agree wholeheartedly. As a humanities major at Stanford I can tell you firsthand how undersocialized CS and other engineering majors are generally. Business is clientelism first, supported by data and analysis - not the other away around. I think this is a large reason why many of these STEM kids may thrive in their analyst years but struggle when the job becomes more client facing associate+, then they exit to buy side and kill the analytical associate years to struggle as a VP and the cycle continues…

Oct 17, 2021 - 10:10pm

Math major at Stanford. I honestly thought Stanford CS majors were the most social out of any of the big CS schools (MIT, CMU, Cal). Since Stanford CS is filled with newbies (no requirements to declare CS) just trying to make it rich, and the intro classes are way more welcoming than those of any other top college (including MIT, CMU, Cal, but also Harvard and co.).

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Oct 12, 2021 - 3:19am

This is kinda fair, but you don't learn polish or client interaction skills in humanities classes either.

I think banks are making a conscious trade off in the hiring process. Since most analysts leave in 2-3 years, why not hire the one who will likely be better at the analyst job?

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Oct 12, 2021 - 7:18am

Essentially all senior roles (and lots of them higher up than analyst/associate type), in most industries require soft skills and client facing activities. Like it or not, business is about people. Tech savvy kids with limited social skills will reside in tech roles that have a limited upside. Granted, they are still good paying jobs but they will be stuck in the work of the beast, vs. leading the beast.

Oct 12, 2021 - 11:10am

those same "phone addicted autists" are the faang engineers and hf quants who cant be in a revenue generating (client facing) or management role, thus why they have to rape their brain with code and be lethargic code monkeys optimizing an app or fixing bugs for pennies on the dollar

Oct 12, 2021 - 2:52pm

You're not necessarily wrong, but let me provide an alternative perspective. 

Soft skills are in part general universal people skills (certain things like being polite and well spoken that are applicable no matter the audience) and in part context dependent (the same personality and mannerisms that would play well in Silicon Valley would not play well to Houston oil execs at all). 

Engineers often lack universal people skills. But  they also are often considered socially awkward simply because they have different personalities and interests than the broader social group, or at least the most influential people in that group. In other words, what you see as unpolished might actually play well to certain audiences. 

A c-suite exec with an MBA might see an engineer as 'unpolished.' But an entrepreneur-type like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, or execs with engineering backgrounds, would likely prefer the 'unpolished' engineer who has genuine interest in the work at hand over a traditional MBA consultant personality.

If you consider that execs with these types of personalities are becoming increasingly central to the US economy (tech firms and start ups have dominated the economy and generally dislike traditional consulting personalities), that consulting work is becoming more technical (MBB have all invested in data science / analytics arms), and that engineers are ~generally~ smarter than LAC students on balance, it isn't hard to see why consulting firms would value engineering students. 

Again, this isn't meant as a rebuttal to your complaint, as a) some people have genuinely unsociable personalities no matter what context you put them in and b) most MBB clients are still traditional 'business types'. But I would argue that polish might not be the end all be all for front office consulting roles that it once was. 

Oct 12, 2021 - 2:59pm

Rankings are overdone on WSO, but to me there are "tiers" of liberal arts disciplines in terms of how rigorous the field is (i.e. how much can you bs).

I've always had a lot of respect for history, classics, and philosophy majors at my target because you simply can't bs that hard what happened in the past or get a good grade for a shitty argument - these students are typically very bright.

Much easier to bs readings and papers in English, Comparative Lit, Art History, etc. that are "open to interpretation" and in which grading seems more arbitrary.

On the whole, I agree with you.

Oct 12, 2021 - 7:13pm

TheEmperor

Rankings are overdone on WSO, but to me there are "tiers" of liberal arts disciplines in terms of how rigorous the field is (i.e. how much can you bs).

I've always had a lot of respect for history, classics, and philosophy majors at my target because you simply can't bs that hard what happened in the past or get a good grade for a shitty argument - these students are typically very bright.

Much easier to bs readings and papers in English, Comparative Lit, Art History, etc. that are "open to interpretation" and in which grading seems more arbitrary.

On the whole, I agree with you.

Over the last century you see a clear decline in the standards of the three disciplines you claim are more difficult, with no correlation to difficulty of admission at a target.  Philosophy departments today shy away from analytical philosophy, classics departments are scrapping language requirements, and history departments are doing away with required knowledge of historiography.  English, comp lit, and art history may not be rigorous, they are not better or worse than the other three.

  • Prospect in RE - Comm
Oct 12, 2021 - 3:06pm

I think I have social anxiety. However, I am only a senior in high school, and I am trying my absolute hardest to become better. I want to have a career in ECM/DCM or CB. Does anyone have any tips to lower social anxiety? I only started to become more social this year, and so far, I have had some great progress imo. I force myself to get out of my comfort zone, and it has been working. I already feel more confident while talking to people, but I want to become the best version of myself possible.

  • Prospect in RE - Comm
Oct 12, 2021 - 3:24pm

Thats exactly what I was thinking. A frat might be a huge shock for me at first, but I would be forced to adapt.

Oct 12, 2021 - 4:41pm

Hot Take on your Hot Take.  Soft skills can be developed on the job just like technical skills can be developed. Is either one better,  no. but there is a balancing act of hiring for the kind of people we need at the Junior level and building future MD's. 

Oct 12, 2021 - 4:42pm

strongly disagree.

the business world is changing. the old white guys who ran corporations for decades because of their family connections are retiring amass. they are replaced by successful immigrants who grinded their way out and studied hard and graduated with technical degrees from top schools. these clients are much more likely to connect with other less social consultants from MIT, Stanford, etc. than with super social guys who never studied anything technical and when they speak everybody can tell they don't know shit.

  • Associate 1 in IB-M&A
Oct 12, 2021 - 5:49pm

I think OP has such a bad take. Seriously have seen so many art major kids be piss poor on the job because they've had no real analytical rigor. Good at talking a lot without saying anything. Have also seen so many STEM kids being perfectly good communicators. It's just stereotypes. In banking you don't need to be an expert at either - just ok at both (and seriously as an analyst you dont even need to be that good at both. You just learn along the way anyway). Be whatever you want - humanities/stem etc as long as you can (i) elaborate your points clearly at work and (ii) can work with numbers and conduct decent analysis (maybe that's more relevant on the buyside since banking is brain dead stuff). The best people I've worked with were all people who sounded like they were punks from business school but were actually STEM backgrounds  

Oct 12, 2021 - 7:01pm

Are you trying to feminize corporate America even more with passive-aggressive elitists?

"Work ethic, work ethic" - Vince Vaughn

  • 2
Oct 12, 2021 - 7:14pm

I'd say technical skills are still massively undervalued. The reason why data science hasn't taken over is because there are major gaps that prevent older corporations from being data driven. The biggest obstacle by far is organizational behavior. Existing executive leadership largely built their career on their wit and business intuition behind closed boardroom doors, not their ability to lead a data driven and transparent technology firm. As a result they won't focus on building the proper infrastructure necessary to extract any meaningful value from data. Any data scientist they hire is dead on arrival and so this perpetuates the idea that tech skills are overrated. 
 

Occasionally though a young company will find itself in the right environment to properly execute with more technical maturity and they'll absolutely destroy the competition. This started with gaming and social media. Now the wave is moving beyond pure digital products to digitalized physical products. Think amazon stores or peleton, where they know every single purchase you've made, every workout you gave up on, every item you've considered. They are tracking every decision you've made since the first marketing ad you were shown. How do you compete against someone with a level of insight  into consumer behavior several magnitudes beyond what you are capable of? The answer is you can't.

this doesn't mean you should put down your Latin books for c++. As I said, there are still many major obstacles, the most obvious one today being data privacy. Organizational behavior changes may take even longer to shift. But it is clear to me, the leaders of tomorrow will have to be even more technical than those of today.

We need more of both tech and soft skills.

Most Helpful
Oct 12, 2021 - 7:20pm

paulallensbusinesscard

A trend that I've been noticing as of late is the fact that kids from Stanford, MIT and other STEM centric schools that I've worked with or have heard stories about lack the social and communication skills, or the "polish", for a lack of better words to succeed in this client facing world.

What I've seen is that the larger shops are taking STEM majors from less "social" schools such as Georgia Tech, Stanford, MIT, Caltech, CMU, Imperial and Waterloo (the brits and canucks), who seem to break in off the back of their schools brand name alone. They bring little value to the table, especially if they majored in engineering or cs. We need more polished kids with the proper pedigree that we don't feel the need to hide from clients, not more engineerers, mathematicians, chemists and physicists.

On the contrary, kids that I've seen who come from Yale, Brown, Amherst and the more LACy types are the ones who can communicate well and have the right type of "polish" to succeed in front office roles. For every math and engineering course that a STEM major takes, he's not taking a history, english, linguistics or politics course to polish his written, verbal and argumentative skills.

tl;dr we should be hiring more kids from law schools, yale, brown, amhert, william & mary and the likes instead of stanford, mit, carnegie mellon and rice

Former lawyer/humanities student here, you do not want any more kids going to law school, and you do not want any of them near your company or project if you want to actually implement or accomplish anything in the real world.  They are not trained to take part in large organizations with multiple moving parts with an explicit mission.  They are scribes who read some stupid constitutional law cases from the 19th century.  They will add no value.

NESCAC schools are full of GDIs, saying they are any more social or smooth than Rice Carnegie Mellon etc. is innacurate.

Nothing learned in a humanities program, and any social science program except economics, will help someone in a front office role or to develop the soft skills you mentioned.  At most you are dealing with selection bias here, rather than skills acquisition through a program.  They are for those dyslexic with numbers and they are often emotional basket cases.  Anyone with facility with numbers should study STEM and not waste their four years on frivolous pursuits.

Oct 13, 2021 - 7:17am

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