When I started at UC Davis in 2004, I was undeclared as far as majors go but had aspirations of being a corporate attorney. A career placement quiz in eighth grade put the idea in my head. I decided that my love for writing and arguing would make this a great choice for me.
With over a quarter’s worth of units from high school AP classes, I figured double-majoring would be the best use of my time; after all, this could give me more career paths. By the end of freshman year, I chose to major in international relations, focusing on the people and nationalities track. This seemed like a good blend of subject areas across history, political science and sociology — I figured that learning more about people would be good for an attorney.
Liberal arts an unfamiliar path for her immigrant family
Soon after my decision to major in international relations, a family dinner discussion about careers and majors led me to select English as my other course of study. While the concept of me pursuing liberal arts was fairly foreign to my family — we emigrated from the former USSR when I was 4 and my parents were engineers — everyone knew I was a strong writer and avid reader.
Becoming an English major was the best decision. The courses I took allowed me to sharpen my writing and critical thinking skills, which translates directly to my present-day job as an internal communications manager at LinkedIn.
Her job is to translate ‘IT-speak into human-speak’
The easiest way I explain my job to others is “translating IT-speak into human-speak.” I work with LinkedIn’s IT team on big projects that often result in major changes for employees.
My job is to help explain those changes in a simple way that gets everyone on board and helps them understand what’s happening. I write a lot of company-wide email announcements and help the IT team brainstorm other ways to communicate what they’re doing.
Critical thinking and being strategic are a huge aspect of what I do. I need to interpret what’s happening on the technical side, and determine what and how to communicate that to the rest of the company. I didn’t go the engineering route of my parents, but I still work with highly technical people every day!
What do you do with an English major?
If you’re considering my major, you may be wondering, “What DO you do with a B.A. in English?” It’s a question I often asked myself in college — and one people often asked me.
While it’s a great song from my favorite musical, Avenue Q, it’s often a loaded question: People assume you’ll become a journalist or a teacher, and I wanted neither.
My parents told me about technical writing and thought it could be a good fit, and the summer before my senior year, I landed a technical writing internship with Yahoo. I worked with Yahoo’s IT department to write basic instructions and help reorganize its IT portal.
I came back to this role after graduation and was a technical writer for three years before moving into internal communications. The ability to dissect technical information and translate into simple instructions was oddly similar to reading Shakespeare and trying to make sense of it for a paper: Start where you understand and move outward and, most importantly, ask for help when you’re really stuck.
Sorority and Entertainment Council gave leadership skills
Aside from classes, I was involved in two primary activities at UC Davis that gave me valuable skills for the workplace: I was the assistant director and director of the ASUCD Entertainment Council, and a sister of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi sorority. The leadership skills I gained through the council were huge: At 20 to 21 years old, I was making budget decisions, helping hiring staff and putting together annual plans.
I learned a lot about the music industry, managing a team and sticking to my guns about decisions I’d made. In Sigma, I learned how to work together as a team and appreciate differing opinions. Above all, having activities outside of school taught me about balance. It’s the same approach I brought to my work: I was able to pursue a master’s degree while working full time because I had long ago learned to prioritize and carve out time for various activities.
Turned an enjoyable major into a meaningful career
I was lucky enough to find a subject that I truly enjoyed studying — English — and turn it into a meaningful career.
The biggest piece of advice I can share is to start thinking about your interests and passions early in college; I wasted too many summers doing nothing and should have pursued internships or volunteer opportunities.
Reach out to friends, family and Aggie alumni — something you can easily do on LinkedIn! — with questions about various careers that sound interesting: Your dream job may be something you’ve never even heard of.
Emilia Varshavsky Shapiro ’08 graduated as a double major in international relations and English and now works at LinkedIn.