By David Olio
Warren Durrett (ΦBK, University of South Carolina, 2012) has proved the usefulness and need for liberal arts majors through a career path that has taken him from a doctoral program in political science into the world of computational finance.
Durrett always had an interest in political science, particularly the political abuse of power, an interest he pursued through a degree at the University of South Carolina. Having graduated among the liberal arts majors who faced an extremely difficult job market following the 2008 economic crisis, he decided to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Washington. He completed his master’s thesis there, but decided to leave the program as his interested in finance grew. He shifted his career focus and learned programming languages and quantitative methodology to help shape his transition into finance, where he narrowed his passion down to the private equity industry.
He strayed from political science, dreaming of making an immediate impact on the current world, specifically to empower workers with pensions, and followed his passion to Seattle where he discovered a small tech start up matching his interests. This start up, now known as FEV Analytics, has become Durrett’s home. FEV is a computational finance company providing analytic tools for private equity, empowering “endorsements and pensions to better understand their asset’s performance and manage risk,” Durrett says.
Durrett is now Director of Analytics at FEV, where he customizes analytics for clients and leads the data science team in improving technologies; however, Durrett did not start as director, but worked in numerous positions, including sales. He claims this is a role where liberal arts majors can excel, as they have the ability to increase the transparency of complicated ideas.
Durrett believes that tech industries want liberal arts majors who can bring a dynamic skillset to companies rather than someone with a generic tech education. He says that, “disruption is the name of the game,” meaning that tech industries are looking to defeat the standard structures that exist currently so that new frontiers can be explored. Start-ups offer that opportunity explicitly, as they have the ability to change the game. These young companies need thinkers who are able to translate new ideas to the market, thinkers like liberal arts majors who are accustomed to problem-solving and creative thinking. Disruption requires original thought and fresh ideas, characteristics that a liberal arts major have.
Nevertheless, Durrett stressed the need for liberal arts majors to “take it upon themselves,” since they might need to learn a programming language or gain research skills beyond the library to diversify their abilities. His own personal path was much more intricate than simply stumbling across a startup. He tried law and marketing as well as being accepted into medical school, but continued to pursue his passion by taking it upon himself to find the training that would enable him to achieve his goals.
Having found his career and settled into a role where he can work with his passions and make an impact, Durrett offered some advice for liberal arts majors: Stay the course. Although you may have doubts, if you have passion, you must pursue it. Continue to do what you love because that desire will keep you fighting and eventually enable you to pursue something that matters to you. Furthermore, gain tangible skills through research fellowships or programming courses so that you have viable assets to offer. As proved by Warren Durrett, a liberal arts degree can sponsor any passion, only you, the liberal arts major, need to harness and direct that passion.
David Olio is a junior at Union College majoring in environmental policy and English with a minor in classical civilizations. Union College is home to the Alpha of New York Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.