Combining Humanities and IT with Monica Mancusi

Combining Humanities and IT with Monica Mancusi

Monica Mancusi photo with unknown individualWelcome everyone, to one of our Learner Success Stories once again! Today we’ll be chatting with Monica Mancusi, an experienced IT professional and humanities expert.

We’re glad to have you with us, Monica. Given your extensive work in IT, can you tell us how you got into programming and IT work?

Well, I was very young when I started! My father is in the IT field, so I was one of the few people in my city to have a PC in the early ’90s. At that time, one of my friends started attending a Turbo Pascal course for kids. But he had no computer and began coming to my house to practice with mine. That was the first time I saw someone coding, and I started learning by watching him. That “thing” he was doing intrigued me to the point that I asked for an IDE myself, and my father bought me Microsoft Visual Studio 6. My first EXE program was a Pokédex connected to an Access database. Maybe I still have it on a floppy disk somewhere at my father’s home!

During the last year of middle school and the entirety of high school, I left behind IT to live as a “non-nerd” teen. But once at university, despite the fact that I opted for humanities studies focused on arts, performing arts, and new media, the tech world collided again with mine.

Monica Mancusi Needle Up! branding stuffAs you just mentioned, you wound up majoring in humanities first before switching gears to have a hybrid focus on IT. Can you tell us a bit about this transition and how you used your IT knowledge to combine the two into useful applications?

Until that point, I had only coded with HTML (with a little Actionscript for Adobe Flash) besides Visual Basic, completely abandoning coding in the meantime. I had no more real interest in coding, and the little I was doing was only because I was extremely into RPGs and I loved to make interactive web pages for my characters or those of my friends. One of my planned exams during my second year was IT applications for entertainment, and our professor was an IT engineer from the computer engineering faculty.

I admit it! When we started using the Adobe Suite and doing a little of the IT basics, out of laziness I gave a few of my own works for an exam. The professor was really impressed and proposed I go to graduate school for one of his projects (metadata usage for art resources preservation) – with him as a thesis advisor. I accepted, starting my new journey into metadata, PHP, databases, and more complex applications. My project consisted of a website where, through some forms, information given by the user was sent to a PHP parser. If everything was ok, they were disposed of automatically in a portable format, using a specific metadata set.

During my major, I worked again with him as a co-rapporteur for my thesis supervisor, a professor of contemporary history, and we approached the problem of the reliability and analysis of historical sources once they are digitized, and technology’s role in supporting the work of historians.

Monica Mancusi's data visualization manager tool

It’s amazing how you really grasped at that opportunity and dived right into combining two fields that are generally considered opposites!

How do you think evolving technology will continue to shape the way we handle humanities-related subjects and how we go about handling them in academic fields?

My opinion is that there’s a big underlying problem. A lot of humanities scholars follow IT training courses where they learn little or nothing of what is required in order to really use technology in their own field. I mean, they learn how to format text most of the time, not joking! So because of this, one might say that’s why we have technicians with a passion, interest, or simply the desire for the economic benefits of joining a humanities team and helping them to move forward with their research.

But instead, why can’t we have humanities scholars with a real passion and knowledge of technology? That would increase the chances of discovering new ways of doing research. A technician and a humanities scholar are often two kinds of individuals with totally different mindsets, and consequently totally different ways of interpreting the world around them. Different creativity, different logic, different perceptions. That comes from the fact that everyone who is a researcher must know that his interpretation of a fact cannot be absolutely objective, be it an engineer or a philosopher.

A lot of humanities scholars refuse to really approach the tech world, and I understand that for some of them, with the deep knowledge of the socio-political transformations and subsequent mass-manipulation strategies that go on with technology implementations (particularly in our ultra-capitalistic and out-of-control neoliberal society), this means it’s hard to see a positive aspect to the learning tech. Others among them are simply anchored to old preconceptions. They prefer to hypothesize by relying on their previous and, very often, old knowledge, which in turn is based on even older knowledge and so on.

Mancusi Office Automation business card

So, in most cases, we have great theories passed off for objective truth. This is the case with many anthropological theories, and that’s why the intellectual world must come to acknowledge the need for more reliable sources than the mere historian’s point of view. And that’s why today we have the methodological, quantitative, and qualitative approaches to historic interpretation. That includes IT tools, too!

That’s the reason why I think that in the academic world, we need to push harder to bring more awareness to projects and to structure them more professionally. The availability of absolutely neutral tools and datasets is extremely important. As soon as people understand that the progress of tech isn’t the enemy when you know how to handle it, we will start to really change the way humanities research is done.

Thank you for the inspiring opinion here, Monica, and for helping move humanities research forward!

On a different topic, you’ve recently switched gears to networking, security, and similar. What have you found to be the most challenging with this switch, and what are your end goals with learning this new subfield of IT?

When I started working in the family company, I really didn’t care about the hard drives. I was focused on the application layer, you know. And I rarely needed to care about things like the integrity of the info I was manipulating when coding, as they were coming directly from other devices or anything like that. What I was doing, and had always done, was interacting with the final user through a GUI made by me, using their own given data. Now that I need to talk with physical ports and obtain output from traveling packets, things are a little different! But always interesting.

I’d like to practice until I can call myself a full-stack developer, to be honest! Maybe I’m a little too pretentious, but dreaming is not a crime. Yet.

We’re so glad to know that in your journey, our courses have been able to help as you continue to pursue programming knowledge. What drew you to the courses at Zenva, and how do you think they’ll help your professional development?

I learned about Zenva when collaborating with a post-degree formation course at my university. I was not aware of the existence of platforms like Moodle, so I proposed to the professors I’d build an e-learning platform myself (without LOM). Then I faced, for the very first time, the difficulty of having deadlines and working under pressure. I am self-taught, so everything I knew was limited to my specific needs.

With Zenva, I started organizing and deepening my knowledge, learning a more accurate way to approach problems and develop solutions. My collection of courses is full of interesting topics I’d love to learn, in conjunction with my work, little-by-little.

Monica Mancusi DnD GUI project

It looks like we’re almost out of time, so let us end things off with this – what advice do you have for IT professionals who are looking for new routes to go with their knowledge?

I just want to say: don’t stop being curious. Never! Read a lot, learn a lot about everything, especially if it is something that’s not familiar to you. Try to understand how things work in order to better grow as a person and as a professional. Keeping your mind flexible helps a lot in problem-solving, understanding processes, and being creative! Give yourself the chance to expand to another level of understanding. That’s how geniuses revolutionize the world!

This brings this Learner Success Story to a close!  We want to offer a big thanks to Monica for speaking with us, and we hope to see a bright future for humanities with Monica’s work.

If you’d like to find out more about Monica’s current work, please check out her family’s company’s website.

You can also check out more of Monica’s professional credentials on LinkedIn.

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