How did an english major who focused on children's literature and poetry end up working in Silicon valley?
Chris Tamasi, Amherst College '15
When I arrived at Amherst College, only one facet of my identity was determined: I was an athlete. As a student and member of the Amherst community, my identity remained unclear. I sought the advice of teammates and observed their paths in an effort to define my own. Most individuals were working towards three traditional careers—Finance, Medical, or Law—and leveraging strong alumni relationships in these areas to help achieve their professional goals.
Young and naïve, I assumed majoring in Economics (the only “business” related major at a liberal arts institution) would give me the best chance of pursuing a business-related career. So, I enrolled in Calculus and Economics—beginning to follow the path that others laid out before me.
Over the course of the year, my participation lessened in the classroom—feeling intellectually inferior to my peers and their ability to speak with eloquent ease. Surrounded by talented individuals and struggling with course subject matter culminated a stressful start to my academic journey.
One night during the spring of my freshman year, my Mom called me and worriedly asked: “Are you okay?” The sincerity in her voice, delivered from a place of love, resulted in a much needed moment of vulnerability. I broke down in tears—letting her know I felt inadequate as a student and wasn’t sure I’d survive four years in the classroom. Certainly, confidence was an issue as I looked to scale the steep learning curve, but there was a deeper issue at the core of my initial struggles as a student.
I was following a predetermined path, rather than making my own. The moment I stopped suppressing my passions was the first step of my journey towards self-discovery.
When I was a kid, I loved rhyming--my passion for wordplay first came in the form of writing lyrics to songs I pieced together on the piano. Little did I know, rhyming lyrics was at the core of what I loved most--poetry.
Coming into sophomore year, I decided to get back to my roots and create a path that allowed me to discover my best self. So, I enrolled in courses I cared deeply about—Shakespeare, modern poetry, nature, music, history—and never took a test for the remainder of my time at Amherst, strictly papers.
Much like my math and analytical skills—my writing needed work, too. This is where my athletic mindset kicked in. Each draft came with an abundance of mark-ups written in red pen--which then led to countless office hours, meetings with editors at the writing center, multiple drafts, and eventually, a final copy. Since I was more passionate about writing than my ability to crunch numbers—I was heavily invested in mastering my craft and more receptive to constructive criticism.
My genuine interest in each subject led to a higher level of engagement and deeper understanding of course content—allowing me to eventually excel academically.
As I continued studying based solely on passion, my perception of who I was as a student shifted and my confidence grew immensely. Having a stronger handle on my academics allowed for me to continue exploring areas of interest in addition to being a student-athlete. I now had the bandwidth to reconnect with my passion for community service, acting, and leadership—assuming various positions on campus that allowed me to continue discovering myself.
This is the beauty of a liberal arts education. Having the ability to freely follow my passions led to genuine interest—and when you passionately care about a subject, you will succeed. Once I understood this correlation, happiness followed and my experience as a student-athlete flourished.
My path during my time at Amherst led to a diverse set of experiences on campus that allowed me to build authentic relationships with the very people who once intimidated me in the classroom.
As a result of building authentic relationships, I was introduced to a company that aligned directly with my own values--LinkedIn. Our vision to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce gave me a chance to transform the world, while also having the ability to continue transforming myself.
And guess what: it didn’t matter what I majored in. My ability to confidently articulate my personal story and how each of my experiences aligned directly to LinkedIn’s vision is what ultimately landed me a sales role at a top tech company in San Francisco.
I encourage you to do the same. Think less about the path you’re told to follow, rather, make sure you’re able to make sense of the path you ultimately choose. Ask yourself: what type of story does your resume tell? Where have you been in the past, where are you now, and where would you like to be? Having thoughtful answers to these questions and aligning your story directly to what your dream employer cares about...that’s the path you need to be on.
Self-discovery is a never ending journey—but remember, you must decide yourself what path is right for you. And, if there is no path, make your own.