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Vivek Ranadivé Headshot

A Liberal Arts Degree Is More Valuable Than Learning Any Trade

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I've made it a lifelong habit to do things I know nothing about. I'm a hardware engineer who started, and still runs, a billion-dollar software company. I have a couple of degrees in engineering from MIT and a Harvard MBA. So, if anyone is the poster child for a left-brained education, it's me. However, I still believe a liberal arts degree is more of an asset than learning any trade.

I believe this to be true for a handful of reasons. The first is that whatever can be done in India and China WILL be done in India and China. Any job that can be outsourced eventually will be, from IT to back-office medical or financial work, for a fraction of the cost.

Also, whatever can be done by a computer will be done by a computer. The people who will succeed in more expensive labor markets like the U.S. will be those who can think creatively and generate the IDEAS that will propel economic growth. Such skills are best fostered in a traditional liberal arts environment.

If anything, I think we should make the liberal arts education more rigorous. If you teach students one trade, that skill might be obsolete in a few years. But if you teach people how to think and look at lots of information and connect dots -- all skills that a classic liberal education gives you -- you will thrive.

Here's an example: 70 to 80 percent of software code is the infrastructure -- bring this info from here, do this, do that -- while only 20 percent is the actual application itself. If you build applications A and B, you will need to build a bridge for them to communicate with each other -- it has to be a two-way bridge. Then, if you build application C, you will need yet another bridge for A to communicate with C and for B to communicate with C. Ninety percent of IT budget is used to maintain these lines of communication.

There are more than 300 million people in the U.S. This type of left-brained thinking is like saying, every person that is born speaks their own language, so everyone in the U.S. needs to learn 300 million languages to communicate with each other. That is highly illogical. As a hardware engineer, I knew there was a component of the computer known as the information bus. You plug cards into it and communicate throughout the interface. I thought, knowing nothing about software, why can't there be a software bus? It's the equivalent to saying, let's all just speak English and not have to learn 300 million languages. This was my big idea -- an example of out-of-the-box, right-brained thinking started my company and has helped me pay my bills.

On May 26, 2010, when the market cap of Apple beat the market cap of Microsoft, that was the day in history when the right brain finally beat the left brain. This is just the beginning of the right-brain revolution.