Meet the arts graduates who have entered the world of tech

More arts students are looking to the tech sector for employment opportunities when they graduate. Picture: Ian Georgeson/TSPL
More arts students are looking to the tech sector for employment opportunities when they graduate. Picture: Ian Georgeson/TSPL
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Increasingly, arts and humanities graduates are turning to the nation’s flourishing digital sector for employment.

While job prospects for students have improved over the last year, with more in work in 2015 than at any time since 2007, wages have stagnated.

Louise Hutcheson switched to the tech industry after working in publishing for four years. Picture: Contributed

Louise Hutcheson switched to the tech industry after working in publishing for four years. Picture: Contributed

Openings in the arts have traditionally been hard to come by, but cut-backs in the publishing industry have been particularly acute in recent years.

Famous fiction imprints like Penguin and academic specialists Pearson are among the big names to have reduced staffing levels in the past 12 months.

It’s a different story in the tech sector.

The latest Scottish technology industry survey found 68 per cent of businesses achieved sales growth last year, with more than a quarter reported an increase in turnover of 20 per cent or more.

When Louise Hutcheson completed her PhD in Scottish literature, she envisaged her future career as working in the editorial department of a successful publishing company.

The 29-year-old from Glasgow excelled in English at school and spent much of her free time writing stories.

Working in Scotland’s growing tech sector could not have been further from her mind.

But Louise is now employed as a software test analyst for NCC Group in Edinburgh, which specialises in cyber security and risk mitigation.

“I convinced myself from a very young age that I was artistic versus scientific - a distinction that shouldn’t really be encouraged,” she said.

“It’s possible to be both. I probably closed myself off from a lot of learning opportunities by doing that. But as I hope my career change demonstrates, it’s never too late to reinvent yourself.”

READ MORE: Meet Scotland’s young coding stars

Growth in the tech sector means more hirings - and opportunities for graduates like Louise.

“My first job after my PhD was as an editor for an indie publisher,” she said. “It wasn’t a full-time role though, and before long I was taking on freelance editorial work and evening jobs.

“It never quite felt like I had a career, and that wasn’t ideal.

“I knew that I wanted to challenge myself to something new, but I wasn’t sure what. Luckily, a programmer friend gave me a book on how to code in Python, and it all evolved from there.”

The skills required by editors are not that different to software analysts, Louise believes.

“We test apps, web services, even telecoms. Testing demands a keen eye for detail,” she added. “As a lit student, I spent years deconstructing thousands of lines of poetry, analysing metrical patterns and interpreting ‘codes’. As an editor, I analysed thousands of lines of text for errors, and had an eye at all times on structure, plotting and reader experience.”

American author J Bradford Hipps agrees. In a recent New York newspaper article, he argued that to write good code, students should study Virginia Woolf.

Drew Spencer, a literary studies graduate from Glasgow, made a similar decision to swap the world of writing for coding.

The 30-year-old always had an interest in information technology, but thought it would never progress beyond a “fun hobby”.

Drew said: “Graduating into a recession made it extremely tough to find a job - especially for an arts graduate who didn’t know what he wanted - just that it wasn’t teaching.”

He spotted by chance an online advert for freelance video games testers and decided to dip his toes into the world of tech.

That was in 2009. Now Drew works as a software tester for FanDuel, a web-based fantasy sports game.

He has no regrets about his career change, and encourages other arts graduates to consider entering the fast-growing industry.

“Technology has become so pervasive in our day-to-day lives that it affects everyone, and will only continue to do so,” he said.

“Working in the tech sector doesn’t just mean programming skills, it means management and business skills, design, user experience, or customer support. So long as you’re comfortable with using technology then you have something to offer.”

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