Anthony Nault ('13), Software Engineer

How did you get into philosophy?

Definitely my first exposure to Relativity and Quantum Mechanics in high school physics. Since then my interest in science has really been an interest in the fundamental nature of reality. And you can only get so far toward that in physics before you have to shut up and calculate to pass your exams!

The second avenue was debates over the existence of God with my religious friends. Those conversations are what lead me to enroll in my first real philosophy class—the Philosophy of Religion.

What have you been up to recently?

I’ve been a software engineer going on 9 years now. One silver lining of the pandemic is that my job is now fully remote. So it’s been great to have the chance to move back to Bellingham. My wife Michelle and I have been enjoying hiking and backpacking in the North Cascades.

How do you think your background in philosophy helped prepare you for the kind of work you are doing now?

First and foremost study philosophy because you love it for its own sake. But when you find yourself looking for a “real job” I don’t think your time will have been wasted. 

A philosophy degree is not sufficient to land you a job as a software engineer. But in my experience the technical aspects of the job are often the easiest. The hard parts often boil down to understanding the business holistically and working on a team with diverse opinions. There is an art to software development and soft-skills should not be undervalued. A lot of the job is creative and involves inventing concepts. 

You might be surprised how often engineering debates boil down to philosophical disagreements. User privacy and data protection is a big issue these days. The business is asking us to build some feature that seems to contradict prior ethical guidelines, what should we do? 

When it comes to writing, software engineers have to be more proficient than writing code. You need to write clear documentation. You need to be charitable when writing code reviews for other people on your team. You need to understand and steel-man those who disagree with you. You need to be able to explain what you are doing to non-technical business leaders. 

I’d rather have someone on my team who is a well rounded critical thinker than someone who just churns out code by themselves.

What advice would you give other students considering philosophy as a field of study?

My experience was double majoring. I think a philosophy degree can complement a STEM education really well. You will have a more well-rounded intelligence and be set up with the soft skills to help grow your career in a variety of ways. 

But primarily you should be interested in like, what is time? And are there really such things as chairs? Is consciousness physical? There may never be a better time in your life to cultivate these interests. No matter what your day job ends up being, philosophy is sure to have a worthwhile and enduring (perduring?) impact.

selfie photo of Anthony and Michelle Nault PHIL '13 with the North Cascades forest in the background