Arts renaissance in hi-tech fast lane

June 30, 2000

Arts graduates are in demand among the cutting-edge technology companies of Canada's west coast, where the image of the taxi-driving philosophy student is being shattered by pioneering work-study programmes.

The "co-op programme" is a popular concept in Canada. It involves students splitting their time between studies and work placements. The programme is now stretching beyond the typical engineering student model and including jobs for arts students, whose majors range from religious studies to classical music.

The high-tech sector employs more than a fifth of arts co-op students at the University of British Colombia.

Seagate Software recently hired Carolyn Park, an English literature student.

Ms Park, whose technical writing supervisor also studied Shakespeare and Chaucer, is part of an eight-person team putting together software manuals.

The multinational employs 1,100 employees in 30 offices. It has the de rigueur industrial-park-meets-children's-park look at its Vancouver office, with its exposed air ducts and bright-coloured walls.

"Pretty cushy, eh?" Ms Park commented on the corporate gym with pool table.

Ms Park's ability to communicate complicated concepts effectively has helped her to integrate into the company, which develops information-sharing software.

She is not what a colleague calls a "code monkey". That, she says, allows her to have empathy for the software's clients.

"A lot of developers assume the user is at the same level of understanding and they end up writing over their heads.

"I know what it's like not to know anything about software programs," she said.

British Columbia president Martha Piper said that, given the fact that many students will have seven or eight careers in their lifetime, the university college is not in the business of preparing them for one job.

Instead, the interdisciplinary programmes such as arts co-op help to "prepare them for a working life".

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