Are there jobs out there for cultural anthropologist programmers?
June 25, 2010 11:05 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to graduate and need some help with the job search. I'm a budding anthropologist and/or a programmer. Two part question below the fold.

I'm currently a student who has returned to school after a few years out. For those four or so years I was out of school, I was working in IT (which I've done since I was fifteen), got seriously burned out and spent several more years doing odd jobs/physical labor. Most were pretty menial, a few were menial but romantic (selling books in Washington Square Park, bike messengering). Now I'm on the cusp of graduating and I need to start looking for a job. For the past two years I've been doing drupal/web stuff for various campus groups/departments, so it's not like I don't know my way around a LAMP set up, but I don't think I could jump back into doing ASP.NET programming just yet.

Here's the special snowflake stuff: I'm dying to get into an anthropology PhD program. If I had the clear choice, that's what I'd do. However, even if I was qualified to just apply right now, there's still a big chunk of rent-paying time that I'd need to cover between now and getting accepted. Additionally, I think I need a few more years of language instruction in my area of study before I'm able to jump into a program. Ideally in this interim I could work a job which capitalizes on my computer skills while still being in my academic field. I've really developed my writing skills at school, and I love drupal: it does everything right that was so wrong with web development when I got burned out on it. I think that writing and my ability to pick up new computer skills quickly are my two biggest assets to any future employer.

So, Mefites, my questions:

1 – How do I account for the hole of several years in my IT resume?

2 – Any suggestions for jobs that fit my ideal criteria?

Thanks Mefites!
posted by johnnybeggs to Work & Money (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Spin it positively - you were out there broadening your horizons etc.... I'm sure everyone sees their fill of IT folks who do nothing but IT; your experiences might give you an edge since you do have some exposure to other job areas. "Romantic" is not necessarily a bad thing.
posted by reptile at 12:13 PM on June 25, 2010

Have you talked with other social science graduate students about their prospects? Are you looking for a funded PhD program or are you willing to pay out the nose for it? It goes without saying, but this is an unimaginably difficult time to find a funded social science fellowship.
posted by speedgraphic at 2:51 PM on June 25, 2010

Best answer: You seem to have several related questions all packed together.

Can I make money from anthropology and programming? Talk to the anthropology department(s) in your area and see if they might have something in mind. My guess is that if you are looking to make money, anthropologists are some of the last folks to talk to. Cultural anthropologists in particular rarely have the kind of grants or institutional support to pay real IT wages. I know. I am an (archaeological) anthropologist and a programmer. But do ask. You might help yourself by broadening your search. Are there research projects in need of programmers who like to think about social-sciency topics?

How do I get into graduate school with my background? Many anthropology graduate schools like taking non-traditional students with life skills and many of those students have really diverse and unusual background. Yours will not be too unusual in an anthropology setting. What graduate schools look for are people who have the promise to become independent scholars. Can you make the case you can do the work? Write? Have drive? Also can you articulate a research direction that can excite a graduate school or adviser? Some professors might see promise in students with strong IT backgrounds and many won't. Seek out the ones that are interested.
posted by Tallguy at 7:56 PM on June 25, 2010

I have a friend who just finished an anthro PhD whose work involved lots and lots of math, esp statistics. Population data modeling, etc (would you be interested in working with census data?). Don't know if that aspect of anthropology interests you, but it seems like a programming background could be very useful for that sort of work. I'm in a very different field but have gotten the impression that some departments are very quantitative and others are... not.
posted by ecsh at 6:51 AM on June 26, 2010

Best answer: Well, there are some jobs for cultural anthropologists in the IT sector. Google, for instance, hires people with anthro degrees to do some research on user habits, interfaces design, and so forth, as does Intel. Not sure that they would have you doing development work that would actually use your skills, but I imagine they'd see tech-savviness as an asset.

Sounds like this may be something you've already encountered, but big departments also often have their own "instructional technology" staff responsible for course support; I've seen anthro departments with PhD anthropologists (not necessarily cultural--they might even be in a cognate field like demography or geography if they're expected to help a lot with GIS, data analysis for the "not" quantitative folks in the department, etc). Maybe some big university is hiring? Maybe you could email a local place and see if they'd have work for you.

(Also, what speedgraphic says in terms of job prospects. But if you get into a well-funded program--I'd be leery of one- or two-year guarantees--and it's what you want...)
posted by col_pogo at 10:09 PM on June 26, 2010

Not sure if this is an exact hybrid of anthropology and IT, but you could look into the field of design research. Many companies deploy research teams to conduct in-depth user/customer research using ethnographic methods. This research is used to develop new product concepts and refine existing ones. Lots of high tech firms utilize this approach. It might be a way to leverage what you know about programming to move yourself into space where you could begin to acquire on-the-job ethnography training. You would be able to learn about research methodology while perhaps mapping an intersection of your interests.
posted by amusebuche at 12:48 PM on June 27, 2010

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