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Alum author advocates value of ‘fuzzies’ in Silicon Valley

Walking among Google lovers and Facebook diehards, coding junkies and tech enthusiasts, you might not think that Silicon Valley is a welcoming place for your liberal arts major. But Scott Hartley ’05 begs to differ.

In his new book, “The Fuzzie and the Techie: Why the Liberals Arts Will Rule the Digital World” — listed as one of the best business books of the month by the Financial Times — Hartley argues that Silicon Valley and the tech industry can be home to the humanities lover, or the so-called “fuzzie.”

Scott Hartley ’05 just published a book on the role of both the “techie” and the “fuzzie” in Silicon Valley (Courtesy of Scott Hartley).

Techie and fuzzie are Stanford-speak for certain types of majors. A “techie” is anyone who majors in STEM fields, such as computer science or bioengineering. A “fuzzie” is someone who majors in the arts, humanities or social sciences.

“[There is a] false narrative of Silicon Valley that everyone must be a CS major and have dropped out,” Hartley said. “But I want to bust the myth that you need to be a techie to work in Silicon Valley because you can major in anything.”

Hartley graduated from Stanford in 2005 with a B.A. in Political Science. Despite his liberal arts background, he went on to work for Google and Facebook before finding a home in venture capitalism, where he helps entrepreneurs transform their ideas into reality. A big believer in the liberal arts, Hartley advocates that there is no clear distinction between a techie and fuzzie.

“I think it’s false dichotomy because if you look around campus, we’re all techies and fuzzies,” Hartley explained. “There are elements of ethics in CS and psychology in ME classes. The title [of my book] is fuzzie and a techie — it’s not an either or.”

Hartley believes that this false fuzzy-techie dichotomy exists partly due to the financial downturn in 2008 and what he calls a “triple threat.” He suggested that after 2008, people were concerned about, first, the scarcity of jobs and, second, the rise of automation and artificial intelligence (AI). Third, he said, the rising cost of education meant more difficulty paying off student debt.

“This triple threat [forces] people to think about the relevance of their degree rather than learning for learning’s sake, instead of being experimental with what you’re exposed to,” Hartley explained.

According to Hartley, taking classes outside of your major — on the opposite side of the fuzzie-techie divide — can be beneficial.

“If you have CS background, [there is] no reason why you can’t take a great literature class or build [your] writing skills,” Hartley argued. “And fuzzies can definitely gain fluency in CS too.”

There are many examples of crossovers between the fuzzie and techie worlds. The CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki, studied history and literature at Harvard University. Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann studied political science at Yale, and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman ’89 studied philosophy at Oxford after majoring in symbolic systems at Stanford.

But the fuzzie-techie crossover can go the other way as well. As Harley mentions in his press kit, Stitch Fix, an online personal styling platform for women, uses machine learning algorithms to analyze consumer clothing preferences.

“These algorithms … give highly informed options to human stylists who make final determinations,” Hartley said. “It’s very much a fuzzie-techie approach of using the best in computing and human intuition.”

Fashion isn’t the only place where people use the “fuzzie-techie” approach. Software company Palantir — whose CEO is incidentally a Ph.D. in neoclassical social theory — takes the “power of data science to surface patterns and the judgment of human analysts to interpret them,” Hartley said.

“[Palantir is a] mixture of data and human, and that’s where fuzzies need to be,” Hartley argued.

Another prominent field where fuzzies may not be expected to be in need is artificial intelligence, the domain of gadgets and robots. But Harley believes that AI, too, requires people from all sorts of backgrounds. Product development, he said, needs people with diverse perspectives deciding “how tech should be applied to billions of people around the planet.”

So within the tech world’s crowd of CS geeks and engineering buffs, you can find economics majors, English majors, history majors and even fine arts majors. You don’t necessarily need to be a mathematical genius to fit into Silicon Valley or have advanced coding skills to build the next Snapchat, Harley said; all you need is a great idea.

“You have to really find a problem that you’re passionate about,” Hartley advised. “Then it’s about finding the right team, taking technology and applying it to your passion. That’s what makes a great company.”

 

Contact Aparna Verma at averma2 ‘at’ stanford.edu.


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