Jonathan Sieg '07
Position: Goldman Sachs
Field: Finance & Consulting
I graduated in 2007 with a concentration in history, focusing on Modern Europe. It would be fair to say that my professional trajectory since graduation has been unconventional for a history concentrator, but the passion I have for the study of history has continued, and the skills I developed through disciplined historical study continue to serve me well.
The day before Commencement, I was commissioned as an officer in the US Navy – the end of four years of catching the bus down Mass Ave at heartbreakingly early hours to take ROTC courses at MIT. I graduated in June, I reported onboard the USS Bainbridge, a destroyer based in Hampton Roads in July, and in August I deployed overseas for seven months of service in the Horn of Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Gulf of Guinea. As we visited different ports and countries around the region, I loved helping my sailors understand the historical context of where they were. As we steamed into Istanbul, my sailors learned of Mehmet II and the significance of 1453 (thanks, sophomore tutorial). From the Suez Canal, to Naples, to Crete, to Malta, to Dakar – my interest in history allowed my sailors to gain a deeper, richer understanding of the significance of where they were and what they were doing.
During this first deployment, the Harvard history department was with me in a more personal way. Throughout the long months at sea, Professor Alison Frank Johnson (a phenomenal historian and amazing mentor) mailed me book after book inspired by my travels. This completely unnecessary act of kindness connected me to the study I loved, and kept me entertained through the lengthy cruise. Also, on that first deployment – we rescued people from an erupting volcano. Off the coast of Yemen. Pulled them from the sea. It was awesome. Basically heroes. It’s a great story. No room for it here, sorry.
I remained in the navy until the fall of 2011 – during my remaining years I completed two more deployments– both to the coast of Somalia, both to chase pirates. Counterpiracy is significantly less thrilling than it may sound, but we did get a bit of attention in the spring of 2009, when we were the ship responsible for the rescue of the American crew of the Maersk Alabama, including the ship’s captain, who was held hostage in a lifeboat for five days. Again – great story, sadly, no room for it here.
Leaving the navy was a crossroads for me. After an ill-planned flirtation with law school, and serious consideration of pursuing an academic career as an historian, I found myself at Goldman Sachs. While the connection between my coursework on late Imperial Austria Hungary and my current work may not be obvious, the skills I developed at Harvard (in CES, in moldy Robinson, in Fair Lowell, and more realistically in Lamont between 11 pm and 4 am) continue to be essential – the ability to consume large amounts of information and extract important themes or threads, the ability to construct and defend a reasoned argument based on the evidence available, the ability to write effectively – all skills honed in the history department, and all essential to success in finance. Whether you become an academic or not – the experience of walking into a library in the evening (Dunkin Donuts coffee in hand) and walking out in the morning with twenty well researched, well argued pages on the role of French West African conscripts in the Great War gives you skills that will help you in the future. I remain grateful for the experience I had as a history concentrator, and am confident it has helped me in the years since.