MusiCoder Profile: Isabel Gonzalez, violist, composer & bootcamp student

This is part of a series getting to know the people in the MusiCoders Slack group who are both professional musicians and professional software engineers.

Photo credit: Nancy Morla

What is your current programming and musical life?

→ I’ll start a front-end bootcamp next week. Aiming at cybersecurity once I have enough web dev experience.
→ I was a studio musician on occasion before the pandemic. Nowadays I’m a music reviewer, curator and marketer at a record label, and I play my instruments in my free time.

What is your primary instrument and what age did you start learning it? Did you study any other instruments, either as a child or an adult?

→ Viola. I started at 16, but had been playing the violin since I was 9.
→ I started taking piano lessons at 17 and kept at it throughout my college years.

What was your experience of learning a musical instrument, and how did it differ from your experience in learning to program?→ My learning process for musical instruments wasn’t that self-aware in the beginning. The meta-cognition required to make practice sessions more efficient started developing at about 17, but only consolidated during my college years. At that time, I learned things like:

• Documenting and tracking my progress.

• Working in sync with my body and mind, and not against them (best times of the day to practice, the importance of rest, mental practice etc.)

• Approaching challenges/errors as a laboratory of problem solving instead of mindless repetition

That very meta-cognition was a game-changer when I started learning to program. Making progress tangible is a great way to cope with frustration. Things feel difficult, but doable.

How old were you when you started programming? Why did you start programming?

→ I was 26 and really interested in electronic/algorithmic composition. So I chose to do my master’s degree in those fields. There was a natural need for automation in them, so I learned languages like Pure Data, LISP, and SuperCollider.

Do you have any specialisms in your musical performance?

→ Not really. I was an orchestral musician back in the day, but I decided to focus more on composition.

Do you have any specialisms in your programming?

→ I’m still a beginner in web dev, so I haven’t specialized on anything yet. A lot of focus on JavaScript right now, though.

Do you hold degrees in music, computer science, or something else?

→ Bachelor’s in both viola performance and composition. Master’s in composition.

What influence, if any, does your musical background have on your programming, and vice versa?

→ Playing in ensembles and orchestras gave me team skills that I’ll probably make good use of as a professional programmer.
→ Things like discipline, patience, and tolerance to frustration are inevitable parts of a musician’s life. They’re transferable to any career, but programming needs lots of them.
→ Algorithmic composition has a good balance of creativity and logical thinking. In a way, I was already thinking like a programmer before learning any languages. But programming really helped me develop my own style as a composer.

Aside from music and software, what other hobbies or pursuits do you have?

→ Foreign languages
→ Salsa dancing

What would you say to a musician considering a career change into programming?

→ If you’ve developed the mental toughness to become a professional musician, you already have a lot of what it takes to be a programmer.
→ Your brain is probably more trained to think like a programmer than you realize.

And finally, what advice would you give your younger self when you started programming?

→ Don’t freak out so much about the math part. Everything can be re-learned through the meta-cognition tools you developed as a musician.
→ Don’t wait so much to take the leap. You’ll never be “100% ready”.
→ Find a community as soon as you can.

More Info

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