"Appreciate the dynamism and flexibility that a History degree can provide to you post-college."
Class of 2010 (& M.A. in History, 2012)
Senior Associate, Altamont Capital Partners, Palo Alto, CA
First Job after Graduation:
NFL (San Francisco 49ers)
How did you end up pursuing your career? Do you have any advice for students contemplating similar career paths? What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were an undergraduate?
I came into my career somewhat by accident. My original intention had been to pursue what I (incorrectly) thought of as one of the “typical” paths for a History graduate (I say “incorrectly” because, as I have learned, there is no “typical” path for a History graduate), but, after realizing for a number of reasons that those options were of less interest to me, I opted to explore a career in the realm of finance and investing, which brought me to where I’m at today.
I suppose it’s helpful to start by pointing out that I thought the options on that path were (in no particular order): law school, government service (e.g., State Department), and teaching / academia. While there were certainly specific points that led me away from each of these (e.g., summer internship at a law firm, advice from mentors who had actually spent time at State, etc.), I think the broader reason I ultimately moved away from each of these (and the one that’s most relevant for this audience) is that I wanted a career that would be richer in agency than what I thought any of these tracks promised. In other words, I wanted to do something that would give me a greater a span of control over outcomes and would leave me free to set my own path, more so than working at State—where you’d be responsible for articulating and executing the policies of an administration—or at a law firm—where you’d be expected to toe the line for a client or a partner. Interesting (I think) is that studying history is what most forcefully introduced to me the notion of agency and helped me to realize that, while the actions of the individual are sometimes in vain due to being overwhelmed by other forces of history (e.g., contingency, structure), they can, nonetheless, have tremendous influence on the outcome of events. My perspective is that, although never entirely from the influence of other historical forces, my current profession provides me with more agency (and, as a corollary, responsibility) than what some of those professions along a more “typical” path might have offered.
Has your History training helped you along the way - and if so, how?
My advice to current History students (and what I also wish I had known when I was a student) is to appreciate the dynamism and flexibility that a History degree can provide to you post-college. I believe that there is a bias among many today—and I think this sentiment is exaggerated at Stanford—that pursuing a degree in a technical field (e.g., engineering, chemistry, etc.) is the surest way to developing a practical, concrete, and marketable skillset that can be leveraged toward a career post-graduation. What I have learned since starting down my current path is that, rather than being an inhibition, the skillset I honed as a History student has proved invaluable, whether in the ability to sort through reams of disparate information to develop and communicate a logical and cohesive thesis (applicable to both term papers and investment memos) or in the importance of being able to see through the world through the eyes of an interlocutor (useful both when interacting with primary sources and in negotiating key terms of a deal).
Do you have any particularly fond memories of the History Department?
There are a number of courses that I could cite (“Nations and Nationalism” with James Ward; numerous classes with Nancy and Jack Kollmann; James Campbell’s course on reconciliation; Norman Naimark’s “Occupation,” Amir Weiner’s “Totalitarianism;” and several courses with Bob Crews), but rather than settle on any single course, I think what I most fondly recall about the History department was the degree of engagement that I had with my professors as an undergraduate and how that affected both my level of interest in the material and, more importantly, my confidence and development as a student.