Thinking About Skills

I feel that one of the main challenges I had with of doing liberal arts in college is feeling that given the breadth of my learning, I always felt that my skillset wasn’t easily quantifiable. I remember first seriously writing a resume around sophomore year, having attended a Career Development workshop on the topic. I had just declared my major, Anthropology, and I was applying for an internship at the American Museum of Natural History. Part of writing my first resume, given that my only experience was my high school job at the supermarket, was coming up with a list of skills I had.

I remember writing things like: excellent communication, organized, hardworking. Given my lack of experience, this was all I could muster. But these aren’t necessarily skills, but more like qualities; as in, these are not what I’m capable of, but what I am. Throughout my time in college, and a little while after, this skills section of my resume changed minimally. I added a few things like proficient in Microsoft Office, the ability to work well with others and independently, and 80 WPM, but I still lacked definable skills, albeit I had more experience.

I learned quite a bit studying Anthropology and having taking many different courses, and I don’t regret it for a second that I got to spend 4 years critically engaged in ideas I find fascinating, engaging, and relevant. Still, by senior year of college, I was aware, intrinsically, that I didn’t really have many concrete skills aside from writing and critical thinking. Maybe recent graduates don’t yet, which is expected, but I also didn’t have a good idea of how to really get “skills” to compete in the job market (and, for that matter, what type of job I wanted and that would be fulfilling to me).

Here, more than halfway though our course, I’m finding myself looking back on this period of my life with a mixture of emotions. For one, I think of my life in two phases: before starting Flatiron, and the possibilities beyond. I think about it this way for a number of awesome reasons too long to list in one post, but for one, I feel for the first time that I have real skills that I can point to and say that I know.

Before Flatiron, I had thought I wanted to go to graduate school for anthropology, given my love of studying it in undergrad. Part of my desire to go was from a lack of not knowing what I was capable of doing beyond that, as well as sticking with things I’m good at, and not taking risks in learning things outside of my comfort zone. At the same time, I’ve always loved technology and the internet and thinking about what that all means for our world and society, yet I never thought myself capable of actually building things that would contribute to that. I thought it was magic, and I thought I was only inclined to liberal arts, as a critical thinker, and not a quantitatively capable. I felt like I was taught, implicitly, that studying liberal arts meant I would not be capable of learning a hard skill like programming. Part of that is because these skills are not taught in a traditional academic setting. Part of that as well is attending a women’s college and not knowing many people, especially women, in technology.

It’s hard for me to articulate the feeling of being so utterly wrong about my capabilities, yet so happy about that at the same time. Finishing week 9 out of 12 of our semester, I feel elated by the fact that I have a skillset that I can objectively speak about with enthusiasm and excitement. Further, I can point to things that I’ve made, that can be used by anyone (this week I helped build GuideMe). I’m also consistently inspired to learn more about new topics and to code code code all the time. To enter states of complete flow everyday is invigorating, and to think I can do this for a career is actually magical.