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The City Urban Perspectives

Philosophers in Tech? Yes, It’s a Logical Choice

This philosophy major is designed for a unique and rewarding career in Seattle’s tech industry

By Hannah Notess | Photo by John Crozier

HomecomingLeft to right: Associate Professor of Philosophy Rebekah Rice meets with philosophy majors Kelsey Tuohy and Qadar Omar.

For a growing number of Seattle Pacific University grads, the key to a successful tech career is coming from a surprising place: a philosophy degree.

Yes, really. In fact, the connection between philosophy and tech is more logical than you might think.

The connection is just that — logic. “It teaches you how computer science and philosophy go together,” says philosophy major Qadar Omar ’16.

Logic plays a key role in both disciplines. And armed with a two-course series in logic, among other skills, SPU philosophy majors have been highly successful in tech careers, even though it’s not a traditional major choice for their career, Associate Professor of Philosophy Rebekah Rice says. For the past six years, she’s been keeping track of philosophy majors’ career paths.

“Graduate school of some sort is common,” she says, “but when we look at the folks that are working, we see a heavy emphasis on business and tech.”

Even through the economic recession, SPU philosophy grads’ careers remained steady. “They are used to putting forward arguments,” she says, “and so our students interview really well. Our students get into entry-level positions, and then they are very promotable.”

Now, tech-inclined philosophers have a major designed just for them. Beginning in the 2016–17 academic year, the philosophy major’s new technical track combines courses in topics such as logic, ethics, and metaphysics, with key computer science and programming courses.

While creating the new track, Rice and other faculty spoke with SPU alumni working in tech to figure out which courses and skills would be most valuable. Ben Olsen ’09 says he uses the skills gained in his philosophy major every day. He’s founder and CEO of Analytics Guild, a startup that provides training in data analysis. Olsen works with two other SPU liberal arts majors and will be teaching data analytics courses in partnership with SPU’s School of Business, Government, and Economics beginning next year.

“The ability to focus on a given problem for a long period of time is an underrated skill,” Olsen says. “What philosophy does is give you a problem that’s almost inscrutable to begin with and requires you to spend time with it.”

Working with big data, Olsen says, is the same. “It requires an incredible amount of focus and mental discipline.”

With the tech-philosophy combination, grads will be prepared for a variety of career roles — especially for positions that work with both technical staff and non-technical people, like sales or clients. That’s the role Omar sought after graduation. At SPU, he added computer science courses into the mix with his philosophy major, and taught himself a programming language — Python — on the side. Upon graduation, he already had a potential job offer on the table.

So what stood out to Jeff Gough ’02, the philosophy and communication double major who extended Omar’s job offer?

“Character,” he says. As founder of two tech companies, True North Service and Vehicle, he’s hired a number of SPU graduates into technical and business roles. He looks for a spirit of humility and a hunger to learn new things.

“The liberal arts is good in that you often get people that are well-rounded,” he says. “You can take someone like that and they’re effective at many different things and they learn to specialize on the job.”

For Omar, that path is a perfect fit. “Tech is booming in our city, so it made sense for me to pursue it,” he says. “I want to be challenged more than anything.”