Bock’s Analysis

Within the silicon boundaries of our community, it is not uncommon to hear parents say that kids must have a definite idea of what they want to do in college and that it must be somehow related to computer science. “Go ahead and get a degree in German or English, but support it with computer science,” a friend confided about the advice he had given his daughter.

Thomas Friedman, in an April 20 editorial, interviewed Laszlo Bock, SVP at Google, responsible for all hiring, and asked him if he thought college education was worthless. To this, Bock responded saying that among 18 to 22-year-olds, “most don’t put enough thought into why they’re going and what they want to get out of it.”

In Bock’s opinion, the monetary value placed on analytical skills is higher, leading to better paying jobs. He explains that what Google values most is the ability to solve problems, “so basic computer science skills.”

That seems about right, yet feels completely wrong.

To say that analytical skills only come from manipulating numbers or digits is like saying an equation can only have have the same terms on both sides of the equal sign. Sure, you develop logical skills by pursuing computer science, or statistics or math. I also believe that you develop analytical skills by exploring the deep, dense undergrowth of subjects like philosophy, history, biology, and, yes, the much disdained English.

Logic is the process of arriving at truths or solutions. A “simple” task like writing a creative essay, which requires a structured consideration of information, also involves logic.

Bock goes on to dismiss the idea of creativity. “Humans are by nature creative beings, but not by nature logical, structured, thinking beings.” So does that mean it is easier to be a writer, singer or painter than a mathematician?

On Stanford’s website, you’ll find the major with the highest enrollment is computer science and Harvard announced a 20% decline in Humanities majors over the last decade.

The barrier to success in creative disciplines is much higher and it may be that that’s what Bock is getting at.

As my kids head off to college to tread their own analytical paths, this is my advice: put your head to the grindstone and feed the hunger. The rest will follow.

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