In 2008, research teams at Duke and Harvard surveyed 652 U.S.-born chief executives and heads of product engineering at 502 technology companies. They learned that, although a degree made a big difference in the success of an entrepreneur, the field it was in and the school that it was from were not significant. YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki, for instance, majored in history and literature; Slack founder Stewart Butterfield in English; Airbnb founder Brian Chesky in the fine arts. And, in China, Alibaba chief executive Jack Ma has a bachelor’s in English.
The key to good design is a combination of empathy and knowledge of the arts and humanities. Musicians and artists inherently have the greatest sense of creativity. You can teach artists how to use software and graphics tools; turning engineers into artists is anther story.
A technological shift is in progress that will change the rules of innovation. A broad range of technologies are advancing exponentially and converging, making amazing things possible. To create the amazing future that technology is enabling, we need our musicians and artists working hand in hand with our engineers. It isn’t either one or the other; we need both the humanities and engineering.