Andrew Schafer, Product Specialist at Cloudflare
Andrew gained his MPhil in Philosophy in 2009. He has a deep held belief that the skills and knowledge gained during a humanities degree are important lifelong tools.
The value of the humanities
“Literature, philosophy and poetry and the material of the humanities are equipment for living.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the latest personal development book on the desk of an executive or manager. I’ve seen whole sales teams reading the Stoic philosophy of Seneca. Why? Because there are questions and guidance needed to navigate the hard realities of life that the best education in the STEM fields cannot equip an individual for.
I am all for people having excellent careers that provide them with financial resources, opportunities for growth, travel, and stability. Those things can be a massive gift that a good education can provide. But our jobs are not all that we need. Life is vast and complicated and hard. And we very often need inspiration, solace, reprieve, wonder, and guidance at a deeper level, and the books and topics covered in the humanities provide so much of this."
There are questions and guidance needed to navigate the hard realities of life that the best education in the STEM fields cannot equip an individual for.
Skills for success
"The ability to read anything, to write clearly, and to form cohesive arguments is a really powerful skill, and I need to do those things all the time. The vast majority of my work world is spent talking to people, sending emails, communicating.
There's a lot of overlap with formal logic like propositional calculus logic and writing code, it's not a million miles removed.
There are times when I need to make a persuasive argument for why we should have engineering time spent on x y z, and I can write a clearly articulated argument for that. That's powerful. There are times that I realise that not all of my colleagues have that skillset.
During my studies I had to read what felt like the most difficult articles and books on the planet (Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, for example). This type of learning translated well into a job in tech because I'm reading extremely complicated documents at work often. So I can jump into the complicated stuff and pick up what's going on and function in the world of tech, a world that goes as deep as you want to go."
I have found that as I grow and mature my background in Philosophy serves me more and more. I know where to look when I need help dealing with the human condition, both in and out of the office.
A career in technology
“It's such a joy to work with extremely intelligent and well educated colleagues. When I pass something off to an engineering team I feel absolutely confident that those folks will be diligent and creative and thorough and solve the problem to the best of their ability. It is amazing to be on teams like that.
It's really a pleasure just working with outstandingly smart people. They're in this job because they're super bright, and that that intelligence doesn't go away when they leave the office. They're involved in interesting projects, exploring unique living situations, relationships, hobbies, arts, and generally have strange and fascinating things going on in their lives. Tech can be an interesting world to be a part of.”
What does success look like?
"Owning my own company. It was an epic experience watching the tech firm where I work currently grow right in front of me—from Ikea desks and duct tape to global offices and an IPO. And being around lots of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and lots of really ambitious people who want to start their own companies, I have caught that bug. I really, really want to start my own company in some way, shape, or form. I want to feel the threats more personally and feel the successes more personally too."
Academic staff who make a difference
"Dr Komarine Romdenh-Romluc was my dissertation supervisor. She made my time at the University. To find someone so bright and so focused on a subject like the Existential Phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty is rare. She is a gem. Dr Romdenh-Romluc was extremely supportive because her field is difficult, and I showed up from the US with almost no background for it. I had a lot of catching up to do. Great teachers always pass things on to their students that can never be repaid. I’m grateful for her support."
If at a young age, you're forcing yourself to go into a field that you don't really care about because of parental pressure, pressure to get a certain type of job or have a specific career path, your career won't be as vital as it might be because your heart's not really in it. You can do a good job, but you'll never do excellent work if your heart is not in it.
Andrew’s advice for those considering studying the humanities
Find out more about our Philosophy MA