At a time when some prominent voices in the business world are questioning the value of a liberal arts education compared to a STEM degree, Silicon Valley venture capitalist and best-selling author Scott Hartley believes this notion might be overstated and perhaps a bit misguided. Hartley, who recently published The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World, will be among the keynote speakers at GEOINT 2018.
Named for terms Hartley was first introduced to as an undergraduate at Stanford University, his book explains that successful companies, whether in technological industries or otherwise, need both leaders with “fuzzy” soft skills in the humanities as well as “techie” hard skills in STEM. Moreover, Hartley myth-busts the notion that success can be achieved as fully one or the other.
“I studied political science and saw myself as someone who was really inspired by a classical, well-rounded education,” Hartley said. “When I worked at companies like Google and Facebook, people outside the industry didn’t understand what I did. People don’t realize that 50-60 percent of these companies are non-engineering and employ people providing all different kinds of value, yet the narrative about Silicon Valley is that it’s code that drives innovation. In reality, most of the innovation is in solving human problems, and centers around psychology.”
The importance of “fuzzy” skills as complementary to “techie” skills was reinforced in Hartley’s experience as a venture capitalist as well as in his work as a Presidential Innovation Fellow at the White House, and in his term membership at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
“In venture capital, your job is to meet with hundreds of entrepreneurs, and you begin to unpack the full gamut of skill sets. I realized the code was actually the commodity. What made companies successful were passion, curiosity, a deep understanding of a human problem, charisma, and the ability to hire people. More often than not, it wasn’t the standout coder from MIT who received investment,” Hartley recalled. “Sometimes the tech-focused teams struggled more than the team that was a hungry theater arts major partnered with a technologist. The reason I wrote the book is that narrative was at odds with what I was seeing in Silicon Valley.”
Since publishing The Fuzzy and the Techie, Hartley has traveled the world spreading this message—one he is excited to share with the GEOINT 2018 audience in his Monday morning keynote. Although he cut his teeth in Silicon Valley, Hartley has seen how important a liberal arts training can be in the defense and intelligence communities.
“At both the White House and CFR, I had exposure to experts with military and intelligence backgrounds. I’ve also worked on geospatial intelligence through Spire, a startup that uses remote sensing cubesats for maritime domain awareness and weather data,” Hartley said. “These types of relationships helped me realize this message is not unique to Silicon Valley, that across industries we’re struggling to balance context and code.”
One example of cross-disciplinary synergy Hartley plans to share in his address is the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity’s Good Judgment project, a government-sponsored research study that called for teams representing many different disciplines to forecast future events.
“The assumption was that the solution would be technological—purely big data. But there was one team that blended humans and machines using some data science and algorithms to sort data but then also using human experts to make determinations on that data,” Hartley said. “They blew away the competition. It shows humans are more important than hardware.”
Hartley said this would be one of the main takeaways from his remarks: while the artificial intelligence and machine learning revolution is coming, it won’t be as all-consuming as some predict. Routine aspects of work may be automated, but humans will always be necessary to provide the kind of thinking algorithms cannot. And because of this, investments in education beyond coding and computer science are still essential.
“One concept we all have to take to heart is that our education has to be in ‘beta,’” Hartley concluded. “None of us have studied something that’s so relevant it’s going to be useful forever, so we have to continually invest in our education, and we have to build diverse teams around us that mitigate our own biases, and blend both the fuzzy and the techie.”