Part II (here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/opinion/sunday/friedman-how-to-get-a-job-at-google-part-2.html) follows up on the earlier discussion, and goes on to make similarly provocative claims. One of them is this: "I told [a] student they are much better off being a B student in computer science than an A+ student in English because it signals a rigor in your thinking and a more challenging course load. That student will be one of our interns this summer."
Although Bock surely must know the kinds of employees Google needs, his general assumption here is dubious. As many people in the "comments" section point out: English degrees at good universities are extremely challenging and require mastery of different modes of inquiry, analysis and communication. Such skills and critical thought processes do not come "naturally"; they are instilled via years of rigorous and careful training.
Bock's other eyebrow-raising observation is this: "Humans are by nature creative beings, but not by nature logical, structured-thinking beings. Those are skills you have to learn."
Bock's suggestion is that students would be better off studying computer science or other STEM disciplines. And he's no doubt correct that it is easier to find a first job with these diplomas in hand. At the same time, Bock's assumption about creativity coming naturally to humans is demonstrably false. In fact, companies and organizations worldwide complain of a severe shortage of creative talent. This explains the recent explosion of design and innovation labs on American: it is a response to a market signal. It also demonstrates that creative thinking can and must be cultivated.
Bock does make two important points that students should heed. The first is that students need to proactively take charge of their education and focus on acquiring a range of valuable skills rather than fixating on majors and distribution requirements. The second point is that a premium is currently placed on unique combinations of skills encouraged by training in the liberal arts. Instead of thinking in either/or terms, such as English or computer science, or more broadly, the humanities or STEM, students should explore both avenues.
His point is stated here:
"[The liberal arts]
are 'phenomenally important,' he said, especially when you combine them
with other disciplines. "Ten years ago behavioral economics was rarely
referenced. But [then] you apply social science to economics and
suddenly there's this whole new field. I think a lot about how the most
interesting things are happening at the intersection of two fields. To
pursue that, you need expertise in both fields. You have to understand
economics and psychology or statistics and physics [and] bring them
together. You need some people who are holistic thinkers and have
liberal arts backgrounds and some who are deep functional experts.
Building that balance is hard, but that's where you end up building
great societies, great organizations."
I suspect that part of the contradiction in this piece comes from a split vision within Google's hierarchy: the HR chief's immediate hiring exigencies (rank and file coders) do not clearly align with the innovative vision of Google's CEOs and thought leaders at the very top. Indeed, a previous post on Google in this blog seems to contradict Friedman's interviewee: Google Searching for Humanities Students - Humanities. Another problem comes from the assumption by Bock (and apparently Friedman) that the current needs and hiring strategies of Google should inform the educational choices of all students. From where I sit, this assumption is short-sighted and easily refutable.