- This blog is provided by Daniel Dipper who graduated from the University of Oxford in 2023, having been the first from his immediate family to go to university thanks to Zero Gravity, The Sutton Trust, and the Social Mobility Foundation.
What is the connection between political science and project management? How could a degree in History and Politics be so useful in financial technology? And how did I end up in fintech?
Humanities and social sciences degrees have come under attack for their lack of utility, seemingly not useful in a world of big data and where artificial intelligence could soon penetrate every part of our daily lives. To the contrary, I feel my degree could not have been a better one to set me up for my work in a financial technology company.
I must admit fintech was not really on my radar for most of university, and I had not looked into finance too much as I thought it mainly consisted of financial trading. A mentor had suggested to me that an operations role in financial services may be well-suited to my skillset, but I was not sure exactly what I was looking for. I thought I would end up doing something like consulting, events management, or working in a startup where being a generalist would give me opportunity to learn more about what I wanted from my career.
My involvement in the Social Mobility Foundation’s Aspiring Professionals Programme totally changed my trajectory. One email in December 2022 suggesting a project management internship at a company called FINBOURNE Technology was what started my journey in fintech. It seemed an interesting role focused on my transferable skills, rather than how much knowledge I had in finance. The process also seemed to lean into my strengths; some application questions, a quick phone call, and then two interviews with members of the division I would be joining.
By the end of February 2023, I received the offer for the internship, and was not sure what to expect. What followed was an incredibly immersive and exciting eight weeks, mainly involved in the company’s day-to-day work; from researching and writing reports to analysis and supporting the running of a project. Within a few weeks I knew it was somewhere I wanted to stay, and I was very happy to receive an offer to remain full-time towards the end of the internship. What I liked most about my internship experience was the trust shown in me, and the learning opportunities. Right from the second week I was getting involved in producing work that would have impact, rather than undertaking a separate internship project. And I was given access to a finance training platform to really build my knowledge of the sector, with regular conversations with my manager about further training I could undergo if I stayed full time. It was refreshing to be met where I was, and to be given so much opportunity to build my skills right from day one.
The other question often fielded to me is how I managed to make this transition having studied History and Politics, when I did not study a STEM subject (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) or have much background in economics or finance other than a few university-level online courses during the pandemic. Some of it is the similarities in methods, but much of it is the transferable skills that humanities degrees offer.
Firstly, comparisons can be made between the agile methodology of project management and with the political science approach. Both are experimental: political science exploring a hunch via data and agile exploring something about the user experience. Both are iterative, taking feedback from previous studies or previous development sprints and investigating the insights gained from the past. And both are evidence-based, political science reflecting on a thesis proposed about how something in the real world works and agile listening to user feedback to see if the feature worked as intended. Political science and a scientific approach more generally are therefore not removed from how other sectors work and bringing an evidence-based mindset is crucial in delivering the best service to create customer delight.
History and Politics also lends itself to communicating complex concepts in simple terms so that individuals from any background can understand the main points. Through regular essay writing and tutor feedback I was able to hone my writing style and clear communication is now one of my main priorities in my role in financial technology. Part of my role is about converting the software’s technical capabilities into plain English so business as well as technical users can learn what the solution offers and how it can benefit them. I am also giving presentations to clients and writing documentation on the scope of projects, so good structure is crucial to being as effective as possible. The skills honed through humanities degrees can bring real benefit to technical organisations in ensuring their capabilities can be understood by a broad range of audiences.
The other key ability I bring from a humanities degree is being able to see different perspectives on an issue, see the evidence which this is based on, and in addition being able to justify my own position on a topic. This means the presentations I give or the reports I write are focused on the audience they are intended for, considering their questions or concerns. I am comfortable with this having spent three years defending my own arguments in tutorials. There is nothing more frustrating than a paper or presentation that seems to omit why certain decisions have been made, so with communication it is as much (if not more) about the how as it is the what.
Humanities degrees have so much to offer in the workplace, even in roles that you might initially anticipate would be incredibly technical. From methodologies I use in my workplace to the importance of communication, writing and presentation skills still have a central place in today’s workplace – these are the very skills humanities degrees can support young people to develop. I would also draw from my experience of how beneficial it can be to look at graduate careers beyond the ‘ordinary’; there is a whole world of opportunity, so take the time to find what is right for you! It has certainly encouraged me to keep an open mind going forward, and not to undervalue transferable skills.