MusiCoder Profile: Patrick Johnson, cellist & programmer

Photo credit: Kaupo Kikkas

What is your current programming and musical life?

I’m currently in the post-bootcamp job-hunting world – on a late-stage interview with one company at present – and am also onboarding for some TA work with General Assembly. Music-wise, I’ve had a surprising amount of session work recently.

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?

I started cello at the age of 12; I’ve also dabbled in piano, voice and bass guitar.

What was your experience of learning a musical instrument, and how did it differ from your experience in learning to program?

My experience differed significantly depending on who was teaching me – I’ve had inspiring music teachers, and I’ve had soul-destroying ones! I’d say the biggest differences I’ve found between learning music and learning to code are the ready availability of free code study resources, and a greater acceptance of errors in coding – they’re virtually encouraged, in ways that they really aren’t in music.

How old were you when you started programming? Why did you start programming?
I was 35. As for motives, I’d be lying if I said the pandemic wasn’t a contributing factor; but I also wanted a more meaningful way to help people, and could see that tech could be a powerful avenue for enabling this.

Do you have any specialisms in your musical performance?

Years of freelancing have steered me towards a kleptomaniac mindset; however, I have also been known to dabble with gut strings and Classical bows from time to time. Oh, and dad jokes.

Do you have any specialisms in your programming?

I started with JavaScript, so I guess it’ll always be my first love; with that said, Python is giving it a serious run for its money! Oh, and dad jokes.

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

Both a Bachelor’s and Master’s in music, I’m afraid.

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

Music has definitely given me a whole bunch of transferable skills – I even wrote about it at on my blob! As for the inverse, programming has taught me to be much more forgiving of myself when I’m rehearsing, recording or performing, which can only be a good thing.

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

Things I can do with my son easily – stuff like baking, or proper hardcore gardening. I also try to keep fit and do yoga. Oh, and dad jokes.

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

You already have a bunch of the necessary skills, so don’t talk yourself out of it! Do make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into though – do your research, and dip a toe or two in to see if you enjoy it.

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

Find ways to engage with the tech community now, so that you don’t have to figure out how networking works when you’re actually trying to get a job. And don’t feel awkward about bringing a lack of knowledge to the table when you do – a lot of developers are surprisingly keen to help.

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