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June 29, 2018

From Humanities to Data Science and Back Again

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During my first year at UC Berkeley, I was struck by the tech-driven environment that was not present on my community college campus. As an English and Political Science major, it is difficult to avoid the inferiority complex that comes with being in the humanities and social sciences as they are commonly stereotyped as the “useless” majors. As I pumped out essay after essay after essay, I would watch my computer science friends slave over code and collaborate with each other to solve complex problems. I witnessed their purpose-driven and quantitative work and internalized the aforementioned stereotype upon myself. I belittled my own skill set and endured a major academic crisis as I felt the need to fit into the tech mould; and I thought the only way to fit into that mould was through coding. It reached the point that I questioned my entire academic path and began to perceive my essay-writing as meaningless compared to everyone else’s coursework because it did not match up to their quantitative weight. In a moment of existential dread, I furiously looked up ways to somehow change one of my majors or add a minor, but it was too late in my career to complete all of the prerequisite work in addition to the upper division requirements. I had to satiate my misinformed craving for quantitative coursework outside of my institution.

I was fortunately introduced to iXperience and was attracted to both its study abroad and internship appeal. My best friend who was already accepted showed me the program as she saw me go through my crisis and convinced me that it would be an ideal alternative to take a course through iXperience rather than taking courses that would negatively impact my GPA. When I received my expedited acceptance, I was ecstatic to know that I was about to embark on the most incredible summer journey with my best friend. However, I also naively thought of my acceptance as my ticket to instant coding acquisition and thus decided on the Data Science course. Reality set in very quickly, and I soon realized that my background did not prepare me for the intensity of the class as well as my uncovered dispassion for coding in general. I jumped into the course thinking that I would become a pro in an instant and fall in love with the material simply because it was quantitative; but my brain went straight to error 404 as I was constantly running lines of failed code. Many minds in that course were undoubtedly drawn to the excitement of cracking code, and I understand how it can be thrilling to construct a working function out of scratch. Although there was clear quantitative value in going through the assigned exercises, I still felt the same void of meaninglessness I did during the academic year, as I was unhealthily comparing myself to my peers. I simply did not find it fulfilling to write lines of code the same way I found it fulfilling to craft well-structured sentences.

After an exhausting session of self-reflection, I decided to switch into the Product Management course, given its more qualitative approach to the tech world. I misinterpreted my craving for quantitative coursework when in fact, what I was actually craving was validation of my real passion: writing. I wanted confirmation and reassurance  that writing and the humanities skills as a whole can be, and most certainly are, applicable even in the tech-world; and I got this validation through Product Management. Making this switch taught me a plethora of lessons that I would not have learned back in Berkeley. I learned that I should not be ashamed for having a more qualitative mind, but rather use it to my advantage since the workplace needs to maintain a balance.


Product Management Head Teacher, Johann van Tonder

I also learned that the tech world is not a “code” restricted employment arena; the Product Management course informed me of an entirely new career that I never knew existed that incorporated a whole host of my already existing strengths. These strengths include using strategic rhetoric to make a case and deliver a concise message, defining terms to absolute specificity, and using communication skills to work in a team. A product manager must define each element of their product in a product requirements document so that the engineering team knows exactly what to build. They also must have a succinct elevator pitch under their belt and must be able to articulate their product in a narrative form to make it more relatable to their target audience and market. Customer interviews are a crucial element in order to collect qualitative data to measure desirability of a product idea, which requires crafting appropriate unbiased questions. All of these product management components involve writing which really resonated with my career prospects. For the project I worked on in class I was able to assume the main writing role of defining our product terms and writing the presentation script, so I learned to use my strengths to my advantage even in a tech-centered course. Unintentionally, iXperience has revitalized my passion for writing while opening up my technological horizons.

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