“I just graduated with an English major, and now I’m a software developer.”
I have introduced myself this way many times over the last few months, and in response, I tend to receive looks of surprise and skepticism. I’m proving the skeptics wrong thanks to McMaster-Carr, a company that values liberal arts graduates and gives them the resources they need to become successful software developers.
As a rising senior, I was unsure about how I wanted to start my career. I had done my summer internships with nonprofit organizations, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to start my career in the non-profit field. I began participating in programs through Davidson’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship program and realized that I wanted a job through which I could pursue my newfound interests in technology and design. Without much background in either field, though, I wasn’t sure what my options were.
I applied on a whim for a Development and Design role at McMaster-Carr Supply Company. I did not know anything about the industrial supply industry, but I liked the job posting, which emphasized the opportunity to gain skills in technology, design, and business. I was surprised to find that for these entry-level software developer roles, McMaster was not exclusively seeking students with backgrounds in computer science. Throughout the interview process, McMaster employees confirmed the company’s stance that you can teach people to code, but you can’t teach people to learn, justifying their decision to seek out a start class with diverse academic and professional backgrounds. Throughout the interview process, I articulated the ways in which my Davidson education, extracurricular roles, and internships taught me how to navigate ambiguous problems and learn new skills and content quickly; though my experiences had little to do with computer software, McMaster recognized my potential as a quick learner, and I received the job as an entry-level developer in McMaster’s Systems Department.
I’ve only been in my new role for two months, but I’m finding that the Systems Department at McMaster is an amazing place to start a career. Systems is responsible for designing, building, and maintaining the software that McMaster uses for both internal and customer-facing business operations. As a developer at McMaster, I am learning how to develop across the full stack – from front-end languages for designing websites, to back-end languages for managing databases, and everything in between. In my first six weeks, I participated in a rigorous training program to learn programming and design skills, and now I’m continuing to learn as a member of my project team. The company prioritizes skill building, so my assignments are framed as opportunities to both contribute to my team and develop as a programmer. Additionally, the technology our department creates touches every part of the business, so the developer role is a great vantage point from which to learn about business strategy and operations more broadly.
While the path from English major to software developer may seem like an unusual one, I’ve already seen how the skills gained from studying a language (or any other liberal arts subject) can lead to success in software development. In the world of software, technology is constantly changing, so over the course of a development career, the ability to learn new skills quickly is more important than the specific content knowledge with which you enter. Additionally, to design software for a business, you need to ask critical questions about who will use a tool, how they’ll use it, and what is most important from a business perspective; as liberal arts majors, we are trained to synthesize information quickly and cut straight to the important questions, a skill which can give us a unique and useful perspective on a programming team. The learning curve is certainly steep, but I’m confident that a lot of Wildcats have what it takes to make an unlikely transition like mine, from English major to software developer.