Last Thursday, Eric Rosenthal was on the floor, giving office hours to everyone. I had a great chat with him, which really encouraged me.
Lately, I like everyone else, has been stressed at the uncertainty facing us post-graduation. It occurred to me that in ITP you learn things that are so undeniably useful… yet also so useless in the current job market. I said to Eric: it’s not like you can get a programming job after taking ICM, or an engineering job after taking Basic Analog Circuits, or be a carpenter after taking Intro to Fab. What’s ITP good for?
I caveated this question by letting Eric know how much I have appreciated his example. He seemed to make a career out of doing strange, unconventional and mind-blowing amazing stuff. Who else do you know got the US Navy to fund him conducting research into light using antennas shaped after the human cone cell? Who else is working on a project that he gets to send into SPACE. Like, actual space up in the sky. How did you manage this? I asked him.
Eric replied, “look – corporate America is full of people with an amazing depth of knowledge… but a very narrow focus. So for instance, if someone is working on LCD screens, they know everything there is to know about how to make LCD screens, how each component operates, how long it takes to produce them, etc…. but it would never occur to them to use and LCD screen as a light filter. It would never occur to them to use it for something that they’re not used to, because their focus is narrow. They cannot see beyond their focus.”
Eric said that he made his career out of being the guy that knows about a lot of things, so that he can connect the dots where everyone else that does not. He said that at one point in this life, he managed 120 PhDs for a research project, and meanwhile he was someone who never graduated from university. (I never asked him why this was). His point was that the generalist and the specialist both have their roles, but generally the jobs that are out there are specialist jobs.
For me, this broke an unconscious assumption I held that, for some reason, jack-of-all-trades were no-good, lazy people who never had the discipline to learn any one thing properly. I think this assumption lies at the bottom of contemporary capitalist culture, where everyone is expected to be a good little cog in the machine… except for visionary leaders, who are the ones who give the orders. I think Eric is a visionary person, and I think he is a leader or else he could not have accomplished what he has.You can only know what is “recently possible” if you have an operational knowledge of what’s out there. In this way, I think Eric embodies the ultimate ethos of ITP: know a broad range of things, Eric knows what is possible and able to connect to create a “recently possible”.
So in Eric Rosenthal style, here’s the good news: ITP gives you special abilities that not too many people in the workforce have, even “artists” may not have this breadth of knowledge. ITP gives you this ability through practical, workable knowledge of several different fields, whether your mix be: psychology, PCD board design, Node.js and Unity or something else. This gives you an ability to connect dots in a unique way.
Here’s the bad news: you (I) need to find out own place. Because your ability to connect the dots is dependent on the stuff you know, the world where you can have the most value as dot-connector will be different for everyone. It’s like one of Bruce Lee’s tenants of Jeet Kune Do: The Truth in Combat is Different for Every Individual in This Style. Adapted for ITP job searching, it would be “The Most ITP You Can Be In The Work Force is Different for Every Individual ITP Graduate.” But you will need to find that place yourself.
All in all, it’s positive news There’s a promised land, but you might take time to get there. And being a generalist is no better or worse than a specialist, it’s just a different role.