From Classics to technology

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Amanda (Giannini) Watlington graduated from the department with her PhD in Classics in 1973. Since then, her alt-ac career as an expert in online marketing, e-commerce, search engine marketing, and new media has flourished. She is now the CEO of City Square Consulting and owner of Searching for Profit. Below, Watlington shares how she parlayed her educational background in Classical languages into a career helping Fortune 500 companies master “the psychology of search” and skyrocket their e-commerce. 

Amanda G. Watlington
PhD, ’73Amanda Watlington

If during graduate school a fortune teller had told me that I would become an acknowledged expert in technology, I would have demanded my money back and declared the fortune teller a fool. The only fool would have been me, for I have spent the bulk of my career in computer technology and the Internet. How did someone with an education in Greek and Latin become a renowned Internet expert? What courses prepared me for a career in a field that did not exist when I completed my studies? This is a line of questioning that I have often encountered. It overlooks the obvious. There were no specific courses, no curriculum for the future, for these become outdated almost instantly as the future unfolds; instead, there were skills, disciplines and methods of inquiry that lead to innovation and a successful career in disruptive technologies.

As a classicist, I developed and honed skills that have enabled me to move seamlessly into ever newer areas of technology. What were these skills? The most important skills are reading, writing and speaking. Classics students are frequently called upon to translate passages directly from Greek or Latin into English in real time. This act of translation trained me to read critically, listen carefully and clearly articulate in my own words those of an author long dead. This schooled me in how to rapidly understand new concepts, ask critical questions and make persuasive presentations.

For example, at conferences I have frequently served on panels of experts asked to review a number of web sites which none of us had ever seen before and provide on-the-fly analyses of what the owners might do to improve the site’s performance. This is akin to having to translate an unfamiliar passage in class except a thousand people are watching.

My dissertation (directed by Dr. Philip Stadter) was an excellent discipline for my future career. I have edited two magazines and written several books under my own name. I also worked for several years as a ghostwriter, writing monthly columns for trade publications, white papers for industry and editing and ghostwriting several books. These included a business best-seller. This would not have been possible without the discipline and organizational methods learned during the dissertation-writing process. Writing is a craft that must be learned, honed and practiced. The more one writes, the easier it becomes. Through the dissertation process, I learned that no written project is too large. Time is the only finite element.

During my graduate studies, I took a Homer seminar with Dr. Henry Immerwahr and wrote a paper which focused on the language patterns used in the poetry. At the time, I had no earthly idea that this inquiry into language patterns would lead me to study the language of Internet search. During the past fifteen years I have focused intensely on understanding the words and phrases used by shoppers on search engines. My methodologies have resulted in millions of dollars in revenues for clients. The Internet and e-commerce were the stuff of science fiction when I entered graduate school, and today they are a major economic force.

Careers of the future are shaped and informed by the past, but they require a willing traveler. My journey has required that I keep an open mind, so that I could transport my skills and learning from Classics to the Internet. This has not been a trivial task. I learned new languages (computer languages) which came easily to a Classicist, developed an affinity for numbers and spreadsheets, initially a reach but soon a passion, and have maintained a willingness to define the future in expansive terms. I see myself as a lifelong learner who had the pleasure of drinking deeply of the past as I prepared for the future.