The English Major is the Next Geek Success Story

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A hundred years ago, the kids that we would now describe as geeks and nerds had few guarantees that things would be great once they got out of high school. There might have been some teasing and jokes about whether such people would really do better than the jocks and other stereotypically popular kids. These days, though, provided a nerd is really into math or computers, there’s a decent chance that she can turn that aptitude into a way to get ahead very quickly. Math and science geeks get ahead.

But English geeks are in similar straights these days. I can think of three jokes where the punchline involves an English major asking someone if they’d like fries with their order.

The Rise of the English Majors

Technology is a money maker, without a doubt. Over the past couple of decades, it’s been made incredibly clear that anyone who can figure out even a little beyond the knowledge of the average person when it comes to technology can find a way to get ahead. There can be a lot of money in being a geek.

We’re already starting to see those opportunities extend to writers and and the folks that geek out about language. Being able to write decently can be translated into a high-priced career as an SEO writer. The number of opportunities to create online content have absolutely boomed.

Those opportunities can’t help but grow. Every time I hear about a new start up, I smile: someone plans to collect information about local restaurants and rank them? She’ll need a writer to put together descriptions of each eatery. Someone wants to launch a new online ad network? She’ll need people to write content to provide a home to all those ads. Someone builds a new social networking site? She might not hire her own writers, but every company that wants to use that site to connect with buyers will hire several.

Content Will Be the Future of Startups

While there are incredible opportunities for writers as it is, a lot of the more successful startups of the past decade have essentially provided infrastructure for doing cool things. The next great wave of startups, of successful businesses in general, are going to focus on content. Take a look at Pottermore — the technology involved is absolutely secondary to the fact that the site is providing additional content from the world of Harry Potter.

The mechanics of how to sell content are in flux right now (the moans coming from most newspaper companies can certainly serve as proof), but that just means that there are opportunities. A couple of bright boys and girls are going to come along and, using a background in writing and getting people to read their stuff, are going to start some phenomenal businesses.

Image by Flickr user CCAC North Library

12 Comments

  1. Andrea Buginsky   •  

    The timing of this post is very ironic for me. I just finished reading “I’m an English Major, Now What?” by Tim Lemire. Lemire goes into a lot of details about the types of jobs English majors can look into after graduation. It’s a huge eye-opener for what the program is really about, and what those students can do with their degree. There’s a LOT of opportunities for English majors. Lemire did not go into the field of SEO writing, but that is definitely another field English majors can add to their lists. Great post!

    • thursday   •     Author

      I think that the opportunities available for us word nerds are incredible right now. Lemire is right about that. I do have a few different opinions (I’m much more in favor of English majors looking into entrepreneurship than chasing down some of the jobs he suggests), but it’s certainly not a limiting degree.

  2. Sheila Scarborough   •  

    Not a week goes by that I’m not thankful for my liberal arts degree, and years of classes and education in how to communicate. Writers need to recognize the true value of the skills they bring to the electronic age.

    • thursday   •     Author

      Absolutely! Being able to communicate clearly is so valuable.

  3. Susan   •  

    I remember, when I was working on my English degree, going to my adviser’s office and seeing that English majors were last on the list for salary in the liberal arts field. Still, I never thought of changing.

    I think you make a great point about the sheer amount of content that is needed now and will be needed for some time to come. And given that so many people don’t have the ability to write well, those of us with English degrees should be in high demand.

    By the way, as an English major, I do need to point out that “straights” in your second paragraph should be “straits.” :)

    • thursday   •     Author

      Susan, I was actually a communications major in college — can we let the ‘straights’ slide on that account? :)

      It can be hard for us to see how differently someone with a little extra education in writing puts something together than someone with the average high school diploma. Just the same, though, good writers can command high rates!

  4. John Soares   •  

    Many people don’t do work directly related to their college majors. My sister-in-law has a master’s degree in English lit from UC Berkeley, yet she worked primarily as a fitness trainer.

    I have degrees in biochemistry and political science, but worked in the first field for only a few years and did next to nothing in the second field. However, I did use those degrees to help me get freelance writing assignments related to those disciplines.

    • thursday   •     Author

      That’s a good point, John. I would argue, though, that means that we should be encouraging more people to pursue liberal arts (or a broader engineering / science degree with liberal arts requirements). I made a fair amount of cash in college by making sure that certain students with science majors turned in papers that actually made sense to the reader.

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  7. Siobhan White   •  

    Sending this to my English Major daughter (if I can figure out how!). Thanks

  8. Randa Ashraf   •  

    Hi, as an English major I totally agree and glad that finally someone said 😀

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