Entrepreneur who sees connections between technology and humanities to speak on Friday with President Tim Sands
February 22, 2023
Scott Hartley wants to make one point clear — he is not anti-technology.
But as a venture capitalist for the past 12 years, Hartley has noticed a telling trend. Of the thousands of entrepreneurs he has supported with investments, one group tends to actually make money.
That group is made up of the storytellers, the people who are well rounded and who present their ideas with charisma. They are not not solely technologists, but they use those skills along the way.
“Empirically, tech matters a lot less than all of these human factors,” said Hartley, an author, speaker, and co-founder of two venture capital firms.
Hartley has spent his career in the technology field, including at Google, where he landed his first job out of college and helped launched Google teams in India.
He will make his way to Virginia Tech this week for a conversation with President Tim Sands on Friday, Feb. 24, at 10 a.m. about the importance of the humanities, technology, and leadership at a public institution. The event is free and open to the public. It will be held at Haymarket Theatre in Squires Student Center on the Blacksburg campus. Learn more.
Hartley’s appearance rounds out Humanities Week, a series of events sponsored by the Center for Humanities at Virginia Tech. The events explore the connections between technology and the human condition. Hartley also will participate in a panel discussion with Rishi Jaitly, the center’s distinguished humanities fellow, on Thursday, Feb. 23, at 7 p.m.
Jaitly, a longtime colleague of Harley’s, said he is excited about the message that his friend will bring to Virginia Tech audiences. Hartley speaks globally at corporations and universities, expanding on the ideas in his book, “The Fuzzy and the Techie. Why the Liberal Arts will Rule the Digital World.” He even advises universities on how to design educational programs that blend technology and humanities.
“With the continued advances in and growing pervasiveness of technology, his words and wisdom have never been more relevant than they are today,” Jaitly said.
One of Hartley’s main points is that people’s career fields and job titles are based on technical know-how rather than soft skills that actually are the underlying tools to doing their jobs better.
For example, though he’s a venture capitalist, Hartley, who majored in political science at Stanford University and has an MBA from Columbia University, calls himself a psychologist.
“All I do is talk to people and evaluate if I think they’re trustworthy or authentic,” he said. “Many of the tech leaders that you would think of actually have more of a background in the humanities than they probably admit. The era of today is to say you are a computer scientist, but you forget that you actually studied theater arts and a bunch of other things throughout the course of your life.”
Consider salespeople. They’re really using theatrical skills to sell a product, Hartley said.
He emphasizes that strong leadership, particularly in a public institution, means seeing the fast-paced digital world through a variety of lenses and encouraging university students to do the same with a broad-based education.
Take society’s buzzing concerns with artificial intelligence chatbot software. Looking back in history, Americans felt the same anxiety when electricity was invented. Articles in The New York Times from that era reveal residents’ fears that electricity would burn down New York City, Hartley said.
“I think good leadership and that ability to not be rattled, that ability to have empathy and metaphorically tie things back to other worlds, those are things that come from a study of the humanities,” he said. “Tech is here, and it’s not that different than it always was. Maybe it’s happening faster, but it’s forcing us to become more human. In that world, we need to give people the capability to speak the new language.”
Friday’s conversation with Sands and Hartley will offer an important window into how leaders in higher education can meld humanities and technology together.
“The humanities not only offer essential human capacity to the builders and doers of the future, but they also offer the leaders of our future, in technology and beyond, a path toward a higher leadership - stewardship - one that takes into account the human condition as much as our digital condition,” Jaitly said. “My hope is that his discussion with President Sands will offer our community a newfound appreciation for the role the humanities might play in evolving a new kind of leadership landscape.”
Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone