Borrowing from the late humanist David Foster Wallace, Tracy Chou wants to know what water is. Chou is an entrepreneur and software engineer who has worked at Pinterest and Quora. Knowing what she knows now, she wishes she had a liberal arts education.
Here is a taste of her piece at Quartz:
At Quora, and later at Pinterest, I also worked on the algorithms powering their respective homefeeds: the streams of content presented to users upon initial login, the default views we pushed to users. It seems simple enough to want to show users “good” content when they open up an app. But what makes for good content? Is the goal to help users to discover new ideas and expand their intellectual and creative horizons? To show them exactly the sort of content that they know they already like? Or, most easily measurable, to show them the content they’re most likely to click on and share, and that will make them spend the most time on the service?
Ruefully—and with some embarrassment at my younger self’s condescending attitude toward the humanities—I now wish that I had strived for a proper liberal arts education. That I’d learned how to think critically about the world we live in and how to engage with it. That I’d absorbed lessons about how to identify and interrogate privilege, power structures, structural inequality, and injustice. That I’d had opportunities to debate my peers and develop informed opinions on philosophy and morality. And even more than all of that, I wish I’d even realized that these were worthwhile thoughts to fill my mind with—that all of my engineering work would be contextualized by such subjects.
It worries me that so many of the builders of technology today are people like me; people haven’t spent anywhere near enough time thinking about these larger questions of what it is that we are building, and what the implications are for the world.
But it is never too late to be curious. Each of us can choose to learn, to read, to talk to people, to travel, and to engage intellectually and ethically. I hope that we all do so—so that we can come to acknowledge the full complexity and wonder of the world we live in, and be thoughtful in designing the future of it.
Read the entire piece here.
Chou’s piece reminds me of our interview with Scott Hartley, author of The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts will Rule the Digital World, in Episode 21 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. (Not familiar with The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast? Check it out and then consider supporting our work at Patreon. Thanks. We need your support to get where we want to go with this project).