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Opinion Editorials

Are liberal arts majors about to dominate the next wave of tech entrepreneurship? Absolutely

(OPINION EDITORIAL) What do Liberal Arts majors and tech innovators have in common? Everything.

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legality of monitoring employees online

*This is a guest story from Austin author, Will Ruff*

Crossing lines

This is a purely speculative article coming from a liberal arts major, and I do have a dog in this fight. That is: I have a liberal arts background, and I want to tell you how we’re about to drive the next wave of tech entrepreneurship based on my own experience.

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Engineers have driven us forward at an incredible pace in the past few years, now it’s time for liberal arts majors to pick up the slack and tell everyone how incredible their work is. And that’s exactly what you can expect us to do: tell an incredible story.

Life comes at you fast

Let’s take a look at the past few years. Tech has moved fast. Unbelievably fast. Look at the smartphone’s evolution over the last ten years. Can you remember what kind of phone you had when an iPhone came out? I had a blackberry, and was doing door-to-door sales in college. I pine for that phone now, but they’re not really practical given how much screen I need.

In many cases, tech has moved so fast that the general population who buys a smartphone doesn’t really know what they’re getting out of a new upgrade and while they might adopt whatever new features are out there, their purchase is not driven by need.

Does a fingerprint scanner, or force touch really advance my productivity, or my security? No.

Whatever feature they’re selling you on this year will be equally underwhelming. And I would argue at best, because phones are all 99% the same, whether or not you want to admit this, that the companies behind them are struggling to differentiate themselves to their customer base, and they use features to do it. Features tell the story. The tech hasn’t really been revolutionary for years.

The big why

Think about the last time you had to buy a phone. We’ll assume that now you use one so much, you actually couldn’t imagine living without one. That’s me anyway. And we’ve all been there—the phone is locked up, or the screen’s cracked, the software upgrade shut it down, permanently, and now you have to get something new. But they should just replace it for free, I’ve been a customer for so long. Nice try. Maybe this time I’ll try an iPhone, or an Android. I’ve heard cool things about Pixel.

For whatever reason, we’ve decided to choose an operating system based on features we haven’t used yet, and this is driving up the cost of cell phones to be as expensive as a nice laptop. Well maybe they’re willing to spring an extra $200 for this new feature finally. Why wouldn’t I want this beautiful curved screen that has no edge?

For the record I’m an android user, but I could use any phone and be happy.

Now, I have nothing against advancing technology, despite my snarky tone, but the above illustrates a point of mine that is going to become more evident in the future.

Technology is only successful when you can tell its story to the audience who’s meant to use it.

It has to be clear, and it has to be on their terms. Engineers, and STEM workers absolutely drive all of the innovation, and it’s not a battle between the two, but we live in a world where billions of people have access to the Internet, and that means you have a lot more opportunity to build a business from anywhere. Not everyone is going to speak the language of engineers who build these incredible tools, and not every engineer is going to know their product can solve problems they didn’t even think of, because they can’t and shouldn’t spend most of their time talking to potential customers.

This is another area where liberal arts majors can excel.

They can look at these two groups: the engineers they work with, and the prospective customers who might use it, and they can figure out how the two are best introduced. What context they should meet under. This should always be how it works. Now, there is the rare breed of people who can be an engineer and a great sales rep, but the vast majority of people have to focus on one thing to do it well.

So, how do liberal arts majors climb into the driver’s seat in the future? I see two fundamental pieces that have to be in place.

Two steps

First, the ability to learn about technology and code is relatively cheap, and you can do it after school, and on the weekends. I did this myself after starting my career as a content strategist for a literary PR company who built sites in WordPress, and it led to designing/building/selling a website to a local business. I decided that wasn’t for me, but there’s probably some liberal arts majors out there who can do it much more efficiently than I did.

The more you know about how these things work, the more opportunity you’ll have to work for these growing companies.

The next piece is helping the next great tech company pitch their product to customers. It’s knowing how to find a potential market for something, and not being afraid to go up to anyone anywhere just to say hi, and to find out what they do. You can’t always be selling, but you can always ask questions, and maybe down the road you can help someone solve a problem because you connected with someone else who does that exact thing they need. Guess what, you’re their hero now.

Symbiosis

The shift between tech and humanities is cyclical and we absolutely will always need each other. That’s the point of this article. We’re not constantly aware of how to work with the other, but we’re getting to a point where it’s absolutely true that non-tech people have a role in spreading the reach of useful technology to people who didn’t have access a decade ago.

Things like WordPress, social media, and smartphones have made it easy to tell people how you’re about to change the world. And the next phase of this cycle is mass adoption, education, and communication among the crowds who haven’t quite figured out how to use all these cool tools yet. Strap yourself in, and hug a tech person, or a liberal arts major.

#LiberalArts

Will Ruff is the author of “The Tomb of the Primal Dragon: A Novel” which is available for Preorder on Amazon now. You can follow him on @twitter for crass and meaningless commentary, or sign up for his email newsletter and he might spam you with free books occasionally.

The American Genius (AG) is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

Opinion Editorials

Ban cryptocurrency posts on Medium? How far is too far?

(EDITORIAL) With Facebook nixing all cryptocurrency ads, others ponder where else the hoaxes should be policed. But at some point, this all becomes censorship…

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I’ll be frank. I don’t understand the cryptocurrency industry, but I do understand content.

Ed Dunn believes that Medium should ban stories about cryptocurrency and initial coin offerings.

Facebook has just banned all ads about these things, whether the advertiser is a legal business or not. Some are calling this censorship, but I think it deserves a bigger discussion. Advertising is a much different animal than providing content on Medium.

What is Medium?

Medium is a private company that offers social journalism (read: it’s a blog platform). Amateurs and professionals are allowed to post on the platform, provided the content is within the terms and conditions.

Here are two pieces of the terms that I find relevant to this discussion:

(1) You’re responsible for the content you post. This means you assume all risks related to it, including someone else’s reliance on its accuracy, or claims relating to intellectual property or other legal rights.

(2) We can remove any content you post for any reason.

Medium makes it quite clear that they can and will censor your posts.

Generally, when I think of censorship, it relates to the government banning speech or public communication under the First Amendment. When the government attempts to suppress speech or communication, it is clearly against the law. This distinction is important in any discussion about censorship.

Medium is a private company, (as is Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Medium clearly has the right to remove any content, because that’s what the writer signed up for when they posted a piece. The question isn’t whether they can remove articles on cryptocurrency, but whether they should.

I firmly believe that platforms like Medium should have guidelines in place to prevent unethical hucksters from profiting. But on the other hand, how would that be practical? Who determines what is hype and what is mis-information? How does an algorithm account for an honest opinion versus someone who is using click bait to draw traffic?

If Medium bans all discussion on cryptocurrency, it effectively shuts down genuine writers who are working to understand and explain the market. The conversation shouldn’t be shut down, but there could be some kind of action taken to help the general public know what is legitimate and what isn’t (like a flagging mechanism other platforms already utilize).

This debate isn’t about a private company and how it deals with free speech. The conversation needs to start with how people can find authentic information in a world where anyone can say anything and have it shared in just a few seconds. It’s the loudest voices that get heard in platforms like Medium, Facebook, and Twitter, not the most reliable. In a Utopian world, that is how we would collectively enact change.

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Opinion Editorials

Sexist Doritos for ladies won’t hit shelves, PepsiCo’s response is baffling

(EDITORIAL) Doritos hinted at lady-friendly chips, the internet lost their minds, and we want to talk about the recent history for context (and their odd response to the whole thing).

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If you’re not convinced that we live in a sexist society, take a look at some of the products that are totally unnecessarily marketed towards women and girls. Although still reinforcing an arbitrary gender binary, companies can be somewhat forgiven for aiming their marketing of sex-specific products, like tampons, towards women. (Not that tampon ads are unproblematic, and not that women are the only people managing menstrual blood — but that’s another article.)

It’s when they start pumping out pink versions of products that have absolutely nothing to do with what’s between your legs that our society’s totally whack notions of femininity are revealed. Take for example, hand tools. Even if you’re banking on the notion that women are, generally speaking, smaller than men, the usefulness of a teeny-tiny, pink-handled hammer for whacking anything larger than a thumbtack is questionable. And don’t get me started on Bic’s Pens for Her. As a literate, college-educated woman, I’ve always had such a hard time using pens to write, until now! – said no one, ever.

Here’s the latest: some genius bros at PepsiCo are getting ready to launch a “lady-friendly” chip. According to their “research,” a quieter, less messy chip is more appropriate for the fairer sex. Global chief executive Indra Nooyi told Freakonomics Radio, “Although women would love to crunch loudly, lick their fingers and pour crumbs from the bag into their mouths afterwards, they prefer not to do this in public.”

Lady-Doritos will be less crunchy (‘cause everyone wants a soggier chip, am I right?) and will come in a smaller, handbag-sized package. No word yet whether or not women will get a discount for the reduced volume, or whether we’ll still pay the same price as our male counterparts with their giant man-bags of extra crunchy chips.

In the midst of a massive, cross-industry callout of sexual misconduct towards women, women fighting for equal pay, a conservative political backlash against reproductive rights, these bogusly gendered not-so-crunchy snacks are hardly the most misogynistic thing happening in America right now.

Nonetheless, it’s important to point out that products like this are a result of, and contribute towards perpetuating, the same gender stereotypes that underlie these more serious problems.

When we make diminutive tools for women we are telling them: you are smaller, your work is smaller, and you can’t or don’t need to do the same kinds of work as men.

When we make “pens for her” we are telling women: you are not competent like a man, you need a special tool to do the most basic of tasks. And when we make foods for women that are “skinny,” “guilt-free,” or less-crunchy we are telling women: you should be ashamed to eat, because the thinness of your body and the daintiness of your manners is what’s important about you.

Nooyi’s comments are especially problematic, juxtaposing how women would like to behave with what kind of behavior is appropriate in public.

The idea that certain female behaviors are not appropriate in the public sphere has a long history of justifying sexist ideas and even laws. Women have had a long, hard fight to be able to participate equally in the public sphere, whether it be working, getting an education, or voting. Apparently women have to defy their designated role just to enjoy a crunchy snack outside of their own home. (By the way, in true feminist fashion, Texas National Organization for Women is hosting a women’s public chip picnic at the state Capitol later this month.)

After the internet lost their minds over this, PepsiCo told ABC News, “The reporting on a specific Doritos product for female consumers is inaccurate. We already have Doritos for women — they’re called Doritos, and they’re enjoyed by millions of people every day. At the same time, we know needs and preferences continue to evolve and we’re always looking for new ways to engage and delight our consumers.”

They say these chips will never hit shelves, they were just pondering product lines – their scrambling to rewrite history is confusing at best.

It’s enough to make a girl want to eat her feelings.

I could really go for a crunchy snack right about now. And I fully intend to lick all of the crumbs off of my fingertips – if I can find a brand that isn’t owned by PepsiCo.

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Opinion Editorials

Still no growth in the volume of VC-backed female entrepreneurs

(EDITORIAL) Although there is much ado about improving diversity in tech, the funding world may be all hat, no cattle, especially when it comes to female entrepreneurs.

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female entrepreneurs

When we look back at 2017, we may very well end up describing it as a watershed year for women in the workplace. Despite years of progress, women still have to put up with pay gaps, misogynist cultures, and sexually coercive environments to make a living. Even female entrepreneurs that are in charge.

But over the past year, more women than ever before are calling out these unfair practices. The #MeToo phenomenon has put a bright spotlight on the pervasive problem of sexual misconduct in the workplace, and Silicon Valley is finally being forced to reckon with its woman-hating frat bro culture.

Despite generous media attention to these efforts towards gender equality, it remains to be seen whether or not these conversations will create real change.

Zooming in our lens to startups and entrepreneurship, a stubborn plateau of investment in women-founded businesses indicates that all of the hullabaloo about sexism is nothing more than hand-wringing, leading, so far, to little real change.

TechCrunch has been tracking over 50,000 global companies to assess how women are doing when it comes to investment in startups. Of the 54,702 companies who received initial funding between 2009 and 2017 only 16 percent had at least one female founder.

Although this number nearly doubled between 2009, at 9 percent, and 2012, at 17 percent, this percentage has stabilized in the past five years, hovering between 16 and 17 percent.

Companies founded exclusively by men continue to raise about 85 percent of seed money, with mixed-gender teams taking around 11 to 13 percent, and companies founded exclusively by a woman or women receiving only 4 to 6 percent of seed funds. Women-owned companies have also received only 3 percent of total venture investment dollars since 2012. In the early-stage venture phase, women-founded companies who have received venture investments only receive $77 for every $100 that male-owned companies receive, echoing the gender pay gap across industries.

It’s time for the tech industry to put its money where its mouth is. All of this lip service to creating a more woman-friendly work environment is meaningless until women in leadership are supported with the same dollars as male founders and CEOs.

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