What’s It Like to Work at a Tech Company as a Humanities Ph.D.? Published: December 12, 2018 By: Linda Louie By Maelia DuBois Meet and Greet On November 5, 2018, ten Berkeley Ph.D. students and three faculty and staff members paid a visit to Redwood City headquarters of Box, a cloud content management company. Andrew Keating (Managing Director at Box), a Ph.D. alumnus from the history department, kindly served as our guide. Student participant and AHA Career Development Fellow Sarah Stoller was excited “to see grad students engaging with alternative career possibilities and building connections with our alumni,” and we all looked forward to exploring the company’s sleek new campus. On Tour After a lovely lunch in the Box cafeteria (eggplant curry!), we took a tour of the building itself. The Box office was spacious and featured bright, open plan workspaces, showcasing the fact that the company values close teamwork among its employees. The four floors of the building were themed by color and each featured a relaxation area, with hammocks, beanbags, and even a quiet meditation space. Andrew and his team members had a good rapport with each other, and it was easy to see that they were comfortable collaborating. When we met his colleagues, Laura O’Neil (Customer Content Program Manager), Emily Vogel (Manager of University Recruiting), and Anand Subramaian (Data Scientist), we noticed how different the language of skills and deliverables within the tech community is from that of the humanities and social sciences. Andrew assured us that we can easily learn this method of communicating ideas and concepts by translating the vocabulary of academia into terms that tech mavens use (e.g., goals vs. deliverables). From Left to Right: graduate students Tanis Leonhardi, Sheer Ganor, Daniel Kelly, Christopher Lawson, Maelia DuBois, Dana Landress, Kimberly Killion, Sarah Stoller, and history department administrator Erin Inama. Photo by James Vernon, Professor of History. Andrew’s Journey Andrew told us in detail about his path to Box, explaining that he started out working in IT on the side while a graduate student at UC Berkeley and eventually transitioned to working for tech startups after receiving an offer from one of his Berkeley-adjacent employers and having less luck finding a tenure-track academic position. Leading Box’s Healthcare and Education industry verticals has allowed him to exercise many of the skills he honed as a history Ph.D. at Berkeley. He described the ways in which many advanced skills in critical thinking, project and event management, self-motivated research, exploration of new topics (R&D), and even marketing are developed through humanities doctoral work and are transferable to a business setting. Andrew advised us to be confident about what we bring to the table. He reminded us that many of us develop diverse abilities and interests while doing a Ph.D. that go beyond research and writing, through activities such as planning conferences and serving on committees, and sometimes even working outside of our departments. Pros and Cons We closed our visit with a Q&A session about the things Andrew likes and the things he finds challenging about working in tech. He said he loves the opportunities his job gives him to work on new and different types of projects every week, especially the opportunities to engage with Box’s customers who are leveraging the company’s cloud service to transform everything from education and research to providing medical care for patients. Although such jobs do not always allow for long-term focus on a specialized topic, they make up for it in breadth and teamwork opportunities that allow for cooperation with other technology or education institutions. Andrew still keeps up on history, reading in his spare time, and says it’s helpful for a change of pace. Major Takeaways During our time at Box, we learned that humanities Ph.D.s can find rewarding careers in the tech industry in a variety of roles such as management, recruiting, marketing, customer success, and more. Andrew showed us that working in Silicon Valley can be a good option for graduate students, even those who do not have an engineering background but are interested in tech or corporate work. History Professor James Vernon was impressed by the fact that “visiting Box [can help] many of us think concretely about what a history Ph.D. offers to the tech world, and what work in tech looks like.” It was helpful to learn that humanities Ph.D. students already have many skills that companies like Box value and search for in their recruitment programs, and other useful abilities can be developed through interning, volunteering, and working outside of our home departments in order to broaden our skills portfolio. Andrew closed his presentation by reiterating that “[our] interest in exploring how [humanities] graduate studies, research, and teaching experience could translate outside of academia is important for Silicon Valley and the tech industry.” With planning and a willingness to be flexible and learn new things, a Berkeley humanities Ph.D. can make the transition into careers beyond the academy that are both fulfilling and stimulating. If you are interested in learning more about the possibility of transferring into tech work, we recommend scheduling an appointment with Ph.D. counselors Andrew Green or Debra Behrens at the Career Center here at UC Berkeley. For more stories about Ph.D. students who have moved into careers different from their major field of study, read these real-life example stories on the Versatile PhD website. Maelia DuBois is a Professional Development Liaison at the Graduate Division and a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History with a specialization in German history.