Phi Beta Kappa Key Connections Talk


Grant Stafford


April 13, 2023

Grant Stafford speaking at a Phi Beta Kappa event

“The motto ‘love of learning is the guide of life’ has never been more relevant to career success.”

On September 6, 2018 I gave a brief talk to the Chicago chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa society about my profession and the Phi Beta Kappa ideals that helped me find success on my career path.

Some notes from the talk are below.

2018-09-06 Phi Beta Kappa Key Connections Talk Notes

It is a pleasure to be speaking here tonight to fellow PBK alumni. I work as a software engineer, so I have a unique career perspective on the value of a liberal arts education.

In many ways I’ve been spanning the worlds of liberal arts and engineering since college. At Pomona College I took advantage of the opportunity to enroll in a number of classes at Harvey-Mudd, one of the fellow Claremont colleges. As a school focused on engineering, Harvey-Mudd offered highly technical courses taught by excellent professors that challenged me side by side with the engineering majors. As I was finishing my double major in math and computer science the collaboration between the colleges would help me again as I received several offers originating from the Harvey-Mudd career fair.

I accepted an offer with Optiver, a high frequency trading firm in Chicago. For a newly graduated software engineer it was a great experience. I took every opportunity to learn the practical skills needed in industry from the talented senior engineers. It was not long before I was developing automated risk control systems responsible for a shocking volume of trades. A few years later I moved to do the hedge fund Citadel to do similar work on an even larger scale. Today I’ve recently started as a senior software engineer with a startup doing property analysis via machine learning on satellite imagery.

Thinking back on my career so far I realize my hybrid background has helped me greatly. First and foremost, the motto “love of learning is the guide of life” has never been more relevant to career success. Things change rapidly, especially in technology, so you are never done learning. The startup I a working with now could not have existed two years ago. Second, to be effective it is important to understand both how and why to do something. Many engineers focus to much on the how, building, and not enough on why, context and impact. Having a broader education helps you see the bigger picture and choose the right things to build in the first place. Last, those working in liberal arts fields should embrace technology to answer questions they could not before. Many liberal arts disciplines benefit from a more concrete and quantitative approach, as illustrated by the trend of “digital humanities.”

To conclude, I feel the combination of a liberal arts and engineering background can offer more than either alone. See the big picture, make connections, then use your skills to build something that matters.