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HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: From IT to the arts in the workplace

OPINION

Getting a tech degree is the best way to fall out of university into a future-proof job with a stable salary. Or is it?

This very statement has taken the place of a similar one uttered over and again years ago: "why are you studying English? You should be a doctor", or, "what are you going to do with that music degree? Become a lawyer first". "Philosophy? The only thing you will be able to do with that qualification is teach… maybe."

We’ve moved from an age where doctors, lawyers and accountants were the cream of the crop to a time where software developers, app designers and coders are the new crème de la crème, but as we sway softly into the year of our lord, 2020, is it finally time for the BA brigade to get its moment in the sun? Well, according to Dan Schawbel, the author who composes the list of workplace trends to watch out for in the coming year on LinkdIn, it is.

Schawbel writes: "AI will automate technical skills and drive the demand for soft skills like creativity, communication and empathy. While there's been such a focus on recruiting STEM [Science, technology, engineering and mathematics] over the past several years, those majors will continue to lose relevance, while liberal arts majors will become more valuable to companies moving forward."

This idea that science is real and everything else is not is slowly but surely fading into the background of the extremely divisive world we find ourselves in. But drawing parochial divisions between and atom and anthropology, for example, subjects the sciences to a poverty stricken no-man's land, where a lack of interpretation and debate is the drought of choice. No one is right 100% of the time. Not in life, not is science and not in politics. The sciences are just another way of seeing the world, and not the only way. If we’re not in touch with its interpretation, we cannot understand our place in it and how it can help us develop and interpret our relationships with others.

STEM has been squeezed into a box of one viewpoint, but the liberal arts forces learners to sit and stew in that uncomfortable place of many viewpoints. It challenges our frustrations with ourselves, and others and helps us see that there are no simple or “right” answers to big questions. Yes, facts matter, and the liberal arts is firm on this as well. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. But the pleasure of debates lies in understanding and exercising the nuance of the mind. It’s the only way to escape from the unthinking prejudices we perpetuate in a time of great division. What use is it if we understand computers but have no knowledge or use of critical thinking?

It’s time to move from software, to soft skills. After all, at this stage, it’s the only thing that sets humans apart from AI. Critical thinking is the only thing that will add to the value of AI, after all, because it adds a unique value: it negotiates the crossroad between tech and human realities to ensure that bots and other AI technologies do not reinforce horrible poisons, like existing biases, for example. If the point isn’t clear, imagine what Donald Trump’s software engineering would look like? It would operate under a guise of awesomeness, but only for idiots who are racist, fascist and a bunch of other things we’re strongly trying to move away from as a people.

Maybe your sociology degree won’t change the world in a cure-all kind of fashion, but it would definitely contribute to workplaces and other environments such as social media, for example, having more productive conversations. We don’t all have to agree, but we do have to co-operate with each other’s ideas.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.

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