Majoring in humanities? STEM employers need you too

The Australian Literacy & Numeracy Foundation spent over 10 years in Tennant Creek, Northern Territory learning about language from local elders and listening to the community’s desire to teach their children how to read, write, speak and listen in their languages. Image: ALNF

Add computer science to your humanities major to score a hot career. 

Need to solve a problem? Chances are technology can help you. But it’s social and community skills that are essential to making sure the technologies we develop are useful problem-solving tools. People with a passion for humanities are increasingly finding employment within technology careers – from linguistics postgraduates training Artificial Intelligence (AI) in natural-language processing, to law and policy specialists utilising data science to understand society’s needs.

Then there’s the massive potential for tech and arts combinations in creative performance and engaging with audiences. These aren’t just awesome ideas, they are big business: creative and cultural activities such as concerts, exhibitions and live shows, contributed $111 billion to the Australian economy in 2016-17. According to the Culture and Related Industries IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast, technology use and application is one of the top skills required in the sector.

Living First Language Platform

One of the ways technology, language and culture meet is through the Living First Language Platform. There are more than 400 million Indigenous people in the world; New Zealand’s Māori population is estimated at 744,800 and growing. In Australia, 81,100 people identify as the speaker of an Indigenous language and 276,300 people identify language as part of heritage. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over 150 different Indigenous languages are spoken at home in Australia.

RELATED: Science + humanities = creative careers

Before embarking on a technology solution, the Australian Literacy & Numeracy Foundation (ALNF) spent over 10 years in Tennant Creek, Northern Territory learning about language from local elders and listening to the community’s desire to teach their children how to read, write, speak and listen in their languages.

Collaborating with community

“It taught us that cycle of co-develop, collate feedback, iterate and review, which resonates with the digital design and innovation cycle,” says ALNF programs director, Eric Brace. Looking for a technology that could scale their work, they began building an initial app platform in 2011, and did just this – collaborating and adapting their tech as they got better insights into how people would want to use the technology with their families, within communities and within classrooms.

The project team were finalists in the 2016 Google Impact Challenge, which allowed them to further scale their product as a lightweight (small download size) web app. The digital platform now hosts language content from eight Australian Indigenous Languages.

Alyona Medelyan
Alyona Medelyan is the co-founder and CEO of Thematic, a tech solution which uses AI and natural language processing to share customer insights.

“A typical use would be a young person sitting with uncles and aunties to talk about words and stories and where they come from,” says Eric. Users can add photos, sentences or other audio connected to the recorded words. “Outside of the tech field, we also needed people skilled at facilitating design thinking and understanding the user,” says Eric. “Rather than coders just creating a platform it puts technology design in the hands of the community. We could see how technology could be used to help solve a problem.”

Tech + humanities study

Bachelor of Communicatin (Digital Media), QUT
Bachelor of Media/Bachelor of Computer Science, The University of Adelaide
Bachelor of Media Arts/Bachelor of Science (Computer Science), UNSW Sydney

Tech + humanities jobs

Digital media specialist: AU$47K–$88K / NZ$39K–$86K
Natural language processor: AU$93K/ NZ$70K (average)
User Experience (UX) designer: AU$51K–$108K / NZ$46K–$111K*

*Source: salaries according to payscale.com

This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Tech 2020.

Heather Catchpole

Author: Heather Catchpole

Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs

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