Most engineers spend their time in college studying STEM courses, which are essential to their future roles as engineers. But what many do not know is that, according to InfoQ — a leading software development magazine — adding liberal arts classes to their educations has aided many engineers to be great at what they do.
“The education of most software engineers involves a heavy focus on STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and math,” writes Thomas Barrett in a recently published article. “Other subjects, especially those under the umbrella of liberal arts, are often thought of as less important, or just an annoying requirement to graduate. However, much of what helps you become a great software engineer, and create outstanding software that people want to use, comes from outside the world of STEM. This might sound like great advice to give to a freshman computer science student, but it’s equally helpful for the 20-year software veteran.”
Technology is constantly becoming more advanced, requiring an astonishing amount of flexibility in engineers. That ability to adjust, think outside the box, and be creative is something that is born out of a liberal arts education, and can be the difference between keeping a job and losing it.
“Software engineers are expected to think critically and analyze and solve complex problems,” writes Barrett. “Clear communication, appreciating others, and continuous learning may seem less important for software development, but those skills are what make the difference between just a good developer and a great software engineer.”
Christendom College alumnus Mike Rohan ’89 is challenged daily in his job to adapt to changing technological trends and stay one step ahead of the game. With his undergrad degree in philosophy, Rohan went on to study engineering and then earned his M.S. in computer science from the Missouri University of Science and Technology before becoming the director of software development for U.S. Inspect. Since then, he has worked as the Principal SOA Architect/Technical Manager for Dilijent Solutions, Chief Engineer for BAE Systems, System Integration Architect for Hexis Cyber Solutions, and now as the Project Manager for Strategic Business Solutions. He has worn a lot of hats in the engineering industry, but his ability to adapt and think creatively has helped him to become a leader in his field.
That liberal arts background is something that alumnus Damian Fedoryka ’94 leans on constantly as well. A theology major, Fedoryka earned his M.S. in electrical engineering from George Mason University before working as a systems engineer for Lockheed Martin and a senior software engineer for L3 Communications. In his positions there, and at other locations, Fedoryka worked on projects in the areas of communications, signal and data processing and high speed computing. Fedoryka now works as a Staff Electrical Engineer at Orbital ATK, Space Systems Group, where he is the lead engineer for a satellite receiver, and is responsible for development, testing, and integration of a Software Defined Radio Platform.He also teaches a robotics class at Christendom and a computer science elective course.
“Studying how people communicate, whether to share knowledge, tell a story, or simply get to know one another, can help us gain an appreciation of common communication challenges, methods for overcoming them, and more empathy for those we try to communicate with. The lessons can be adapted and applied to many aspects of software engineering,” writes Barrett for InfoQ.
Michael McFadden is another alumnus who has found success in engineering since his time at Christendom. After gaining a solid base in the liberal arts at Christendom, he then earned his B.S. in electrical engineering from George Mason University before earning his Ph.D. from the University of Delaware. After working as an engineering specialist for the Aerospace Corporation, McFadden became the principal engineer for the Southwest Research Institute. Now, he is the VP for manufacturing and technical operations for the Euclid Systems Corporation and is also an adjunct professor of engineering at George Mason, using his communications skills both at work and to share his knowledge with the next generation. In fact, according to McFadden, on a daily basis, he uses more of what he learned in the first two years at Christendom than what he learned over 6 years studying engineering – communication skills, thinking big picture, and the ability to always learn more.
Another key lesson taught by the liberal arts is a love of lifelong learning. For Barrett, it is an aspect that, again, helps set liberal arts graduates apart from their peers and improves their ability to work within a team.
“The liberal arts teach us that the amount of available information is too vast for anyone to know everything, and there are always ample opportunities to learn more,” writes Barrett.“Because technology evolves so quickly, good developers already know they must constantly learn about new programming languages, frameworks, and platforms. However, great engineers realize that continuing to learn about non-technical aspects of software development improves their ability to work with a team and deliver better solutions.”
Philosophy major Tim Lanahan ’10 certainly has a love of lifelong learning, along with a love of sharing that learning with others. After graduating from Christendom, Lanahan worked as a teacher for three years before continuing his learning at George Mason University, where he earned his M.S. in systems engineering. Now, Lanahan works at Capital One, using his skills as a senior associate software engineer in the company.
Christendom alumni are spread out across the engineering field, proving that a liberal arts background is essential for engineers. A liberal arts education, such as the one offered at Christendom – with a broad range of subject areas – can be the difference between good and great, making studying the liberal arts a crucial step toward success for anyone considering an engineering career.