MusiCoders Profile: Tim Castillo-Gill, violist, composer & software developer

What is your current programming and musical life?

I am a junior software developer with a tiny startup. They were only two when I got there, now they’re 5 including me, with two colleagues in Tunisia and Philippines. Primarily I’m getting my teeth into data architecture, building systems for small businesses and automating processes using PHP. I’m also bedding in with the front-end, building vanilla JS websites for the small businesses.

Musically, I’m a viola player with some experience playing in orchestras and chamber music when I was younger. For the last 10+ years I’ve been composing using a loop pedal/sampling. I love the epic sounds you can make with one instrument and the viola is ideally suited for it, as its range sits in the middle of the orchestral instruments. My other love is to jam and improvise with other musicians. I’ve played with DJ’s, Kora players, ambient electronic artists and singer-songwriters.

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

Primary instrument is viola but started on the violin when I was 8 years old. Moved to viola when I got bigger (around 13 years old) as my violin teacher rightly predicted that it would be a good fit!

I’ve studied piano but never got very good at doing the two hand thing. Guitar and ukulele are my other pick up instruments. ‘Study’ might be a stretch, self-taught.

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

I started programming just over 1 year ago, making me 33 years old. I started because of my wife, who was, at the time, a data scientist. She encouraged me to pick it up, get into tech and live a more flexible life with a better career progression than teaching, which becomes more paperwork with each rise of the rank.

Do you have any specialisms in your musical performance?

I’ve become quite well practised at improvisation, so long as the chord structure isn’t too out there. My own compositions and performances are often used as soundtracks to film.

Do you have any specialisms in your programming?

No, not yet! I’d like to become more specialised in React and get good at front-end development at this point. So I’m spinning up projects in my free-time to get some solid projects.

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

I hold a degree in music and teaching, not in computer science.

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

Mostly, my knowledge that I’m able to learn something and that when you start, it’s always really challenging, but as you build skills, knowledge and context, you become more confident and able to understand and tackle problems. I think learning an instrument gives me the confidence in the learning journey ahead and my ability to learn.

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

I love camping, walking and generally exploring. I used to live in Brussels, where you can get so many places on a train so it was a great location to bounce off to new cities or towns/villages.

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

It’s no walk in the park but if you’re ready to get stuck in, then you can start to feel more and more able to build something on a computer. Which is a very cool feeling.

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

We’re now talking 1 year ago. So what would I tell my 1 year younger self? Keeping chipping away at it, that’s all everybody is doing in this business. They’re all chipping away and stashing a few more experiences in their locker. But they all need to google, they all forget basic things. So keep chipping away and you’ll have a better idea of the ‘big picture’ by connecting as many dots as you have come across.

It’s all good!

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