I am a summer intern at Sparxoo and a rising senior studying Computer Engineering at Florida Polytechnic University. I enjoy a variety of activities, including analyzing film, performing stand-up comedy, and playing advanced strategy board games.
When asked to write a blog post about my internship so far, I knew that I wanted to write about my unique perspective of both worlds: Florida Polytechnic University, a STEM university, and Sparxoo, a digital marketing agency. This summer, I’ve learned some things that other STEM students should know. Frankly, STEM students have misconceptions of the non-STEM world.
Numbers vs. Ideas
At Florida Poly, everything is numbers-based. People think and communicate with numbers. STEM students and educators believe in the power of data. We see and use that power every day, so naturally, we incorporate that mindset into our daily operations. For example, we rarely use titles to label locations on campus; instead, every room is numbered using alpha-numeric IDs. By identifying rooms using ordinal identifiers, data can be represented more logically for computers and data analysts.
At Sparxoo, however, everything has a title. Our large meetings take place in the “Shark Tank” and “The Nest” is our collaborative work space. This is intuitive and efficient for most people, as it’s common to think in terms of ideas and concepts. Generally, people would prefer to say, “Let’s meet in the Shark Tank” over “Let’s meet in IST 2016-C.” Although, room titles leave many mathematicians and logisticians longing for the structure of numbers.
Neither system is better. Each system is fulfilling its purpose: communicating information in the way that is most conducive to the target audience. By rapidly changing from a left-brained environment to a right-brained one, I’ve learned about the nature of communication—it’s not about how I communicate myself, it’s about how the group communicates. Whenever you reach out to someone, consider how they think and what preconceptions they have. By accounting for this, your message will reach more people.
Innovation vs. Stagnancy
STEM is a catalyst for world improvement. But just because it’s currently the biggest driver for world change, doesn’t mean the rest of the world lies stagnant. Too often, those in the STEM community half-critique, half-chastise the non-STEM community for “failing to change the world.”
I am also guilty of this. Entering my summer internship, I figured transitioning into a non-STEM environment would be a dive into a stagnant industry (at least in comparison to Florida Poly). This couldn’t have been farther from the truth. In reality, Sparxoo pushes the boundaries of innovation on a daily basis, both in results and in the processes they use to achieve those results. Neither Florida Poly nor Sparxoo are stagnant institutions.
Sparxoo isn’t an engineering firm. We aren’t designing the newest computer or testing the latest software, but we are using state-of-the-art tools to solve problems, which requires dynamic adaptation and a desire to drive the world forward. Engineers develop new equipment and tools so people can use them. So to my fellow STEM majors: stop judging. It’s not cool.
People vs. Knowledge
Florida Poly students believe in knowledge. In the same way we have numerical minds, we also rely on logic and proofs. When you can do the math, there’s no reason not to rely on it. However, too often, this leads to a distrust of peers because people are prone to error in a way that math is not. Ultimately, STEM environments fixate on results and as long as you have the answer on-time, we’re content. This emphasis on work and results creates a heightened efficiency unparalleled by environments without this mindset.
While Sparxoo embraces the power of data and technology, it puts its focus on people. We are encouraged to challenge, collaborate and communicate with one another. Sparxoo dedicates time to make sure the results (and how we reach them) are appropriate.
While Sparxoo seeks the highest-quality results and strives for efficiency, we also believe that the people pursuing the results matter. Too often, STEM reverses that belief: “the results matter more than the people achieving them.” STEM simply trades the human element for unrivaled efficiency.
So what can engineers learn from a place like Sparxoo?
I learned that while people think differently than I do, it’s up to all of us to find ways to communicate more effectively. I learned that STEM majors need to accept that innovation comes from many sources, not just STEM. I learned that the advantages STEM receives by emphasizing efficiency may not be worth the loss of human connection we would otherwise experience.
Sparxoo and Florida Poly (like their respective fields) are different, but not distinct. Both are innovative. Both require communication. Both believe in results. Our goals are the same, it’s the processes that differ. I’ve learned to keep my eyes open for other ways of understanding the world. The world could use some more understanding.