Job for sociology majors: Greek prime minister

Greece is in a difficult economic crisis these days. Trying to navigate the country through the mess is sociologist and Prime Minister George Papandreou:

The Papandreous have dominated Greek politics for more than half a century. But last week, Prime Minister George Papandreou, whose father and grandfather had both been premiers before him, nearly walked away from it all…

Papandreou, a multilingual sociologist who was born in St. Paul, Minn. and educated in the United States and Great Britain, was initially seen by many as adept at handling the Europeans. A former foreign minister, he was well liked by his European peers and had an easy rapport with them. But he had a harder task with Greeks, who have never quite viewed him as one of their own.

Papandreou is a health-conscious cyclist in a nation that loves its cafes, cigarettes and greasy-spoon tavernas. He drives a Prius and loves to talk about green energy. His father, Andreas, was a fiery populist who was known for his electrifying speeches. But Papandreou is a genial, if uninspiring, speaker who does not seem to enjoy the aggressive dialogue found in Greek politics, said Stamatis, the novelist…

Papandreou is viewed as a sincere politician, even if Greeks cannot identify with him, said Christoforos Vernardakis, president of the polling firm VPRC and a political science professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

I would guess that his political heritage, the third in his family to serve as Greece’s prime minister, helped him more in getting this job than a sociology background. As a sociologist, how would Papandreou analyze or view his own privileged background and how this impacts his relationship with the citizens of Greece?

Still, I wonder how Papandreou would say sociology has helped him direct Greece and interact with foreign leaders  in this high-powered position.

Job for sociology majors: online “community managers”

Rawn Shah, “an expert in collaboration and social computing methodologies within organizations and on the Web,” suggests that sociology (and other social science majors) can fill some tech jobs:

Social science brings much more than just this one technique; it reaches particular personalities who are keenly interested in understanding human relationships in its many forms. By interacting over online environments, we lose some key elements of how we communicate and understand each other, in particular, body language and facial expressions. Instead we have to discover the new ways of understanding communication; rediscover the hidden conversations, feelings and emotions in verbal communication now that non-verbal signals may be missing. This leads to just the kind of personality characteristics and skills that are crucial to Community Manager job roles…

Consider this, jobs that involve relationships with groups of people, whether customers, employees, partners or otherwise, are rapidly on the increase as more companies build online communities and participate in social environments online to interact for business reasons. They aren’t simply looking for people who know how to use Facebook; they need people who can interact well, understand relationships, and in particular understand what is not being said, and sense the feel of others. For businesses, these are the roles that make collaboration on the larger scale across the organization happen.

However, I have yet to see the art and science of managing online communities become a regular aspect of college curriculum. I should say I have tried: in 2006-07 I taught the subject as a guest lecturer at the Eller College of Business at University of Arizona. However, the college did not continue the subject after I was not available. In discussing this point with other Social Business and community thought-leaders, they suggested that it was just too early then. Five years later, the demand is there and we don’t seem to have enough of a supply to fill it.

Certainly any company wants candidates who are well experienced with being Community Managers because the best ones have fine tuned their skills through the many interactions. There are many hard skills that you can definitely apply to the job, but quality comes with experience. Every community is different and hence the job can be very pragmatic and audience specific. However, to get to this point we need community managers who understand and practice the basics first. Let’s really start looking into social sciences as one source of supply for the future of work.

I would suspect that many sociology majors wouldn’t even know that these sorts of jobs are possible. But the description should fit what sociology majors can do: “people who can interact well, understand relationships, and in particular understand what is not being said, and sense the feel of others” and promote collaboration within organizations. These are marketable, practical skills that sociology majors should know something about.

Shah suggests there is a matching problem: sociology students and tech companies need to develop a method by which they can find each other. Perhaps it is because there are not many college courses that make this clear, as Shah suggests, but I wonder if it could also be that sociology as a discipline is behind the curve in tackling the burgeoning tech realm.

Microsoft is a place where sociologists could work

Sociology majors are always wondering what kinds of jobs they might have in the future. I ran across an article that mentioned a talk by “Mark Smith, Research Sociologist at Microsoft.” With a little Google searching, I found an excerpt from a 2003 interview with Smith who describes how he ended up at Microsoft:

How did a guy like you get to work for a company like Microsoft?
I’m a sociologist. I’ve now been at Microsoft Research about four-and-a-half years. Microsoft has a few social and cognitive psychologists, but I’m the only sociologist.

Which means what, exactly, in the context of technology employment?
A sociologist studies the attributes of relationships and the group of relationships that add up to a collective or a community. As a technology group, our mandate is to both explore and to build tools to study the phenomenon that we could call online community. We sociologists don’t like to use the term “community,” particularly–we like to refer to them as social cyberspaces…

So why exactly does Microsoft need a resident sociologist?
Microsoft has a big investment in online communities, and has not had until recently many tools to enhance that investment. What Microsoft wants around communities is what every enterprise does, which is a peer-support, knowledge-management application. And that means that if you go into Usenet, you’ll find 3,000 Microsoft public newsgroups, with 1.5 million people posting 10 million messages. And that’s 2002–and it’s going to more than double this year, because it more than doubled in ’01. We don’t see traffic flagging at all.

Trained sociologists could be very useful to businesses and organizations who want to conduct their own research and see how potential customers or clients operate in the world. I remember reading an article years ago about Microsoft employing anthropologists who would live with (or spend extended periods of time with) families in order to see how the different family members would use the computer and Windows.

What would it take for more sociologists to convince organizations they can help add to their bottom line or help them reach their goals? Or what might it take for businesses or organizations to start seeking out more sociologists?