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!

What is your current programming and musical life?
I just started as an Artificial Intelligence Apprentice at LinkedIn in July, so I’m working and learning full time. Outside of work, I am still studying Machine Learning on my own, so programming and Data Science occupy a large portion of my days. I still make music most nights of the week and weekends as well, which is a nice balance so far.

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?
My primary instrument is violin, which I started to learn at four years old. I went on to study Classical violin in college, so that was my specialization for a long time. I can also play some piano, guitar and a few percussion instruments, but I did not train for those. Besides traditional instruments, I also compose and produce music, a lot of which is drum-machine- and synth-based on my laptop.

What was your experience of learning a musical instrument, and how did it differ from your experience in learning to program?
Learning a musical instrument all the way to mastery is an enormous challenge but is worth the effort if you have a passion for it. It does take years upon years of consistent effort and an acceptance that progress can be very nonlinear. However, the end result is that you have a means of expression and artistic identity that is something to cherish.

Programming has felt more predictable to me and with that comes a sense of comfort that I oftentimes didn’t have in music, at least until recent years. This is not to say that it’s easy‚Ķ it’s anything but! However, I have found that whenever I encounter a tough concept/problem in programming (which happens on a daily basis), I can find enough resources to help build my intuition around it or learn from someone else’s approach. I can then incorporate the solution in my arsenal, which helps me grow for the next problem. That transfer of information and knowledge happens in music as well (through one-on-one music lessons, for example), but for me it has felt more natural in programming.

Another difference is that in music, more often than not there is no right answer. That’s a beautifully human aspect that doesn’t transfer as much to other areas. I have spent countless hours rewriting songs, or working out different tones for just a few notes in a Bach Fugue, and that is a uniquely subjective process.

An important commonality between music and programming is the ability to visualize complex processes in your head. In both disciplines, you have an overall vision (an aesthetic or a story in the case of music and an engineered solution or system in programming) that guides the smaller decisions. Being able to build and follow that vision is a key aspect of both and requires imagination and intuition.

How old were you when you started programming? Why did you start programming?
I began programming in April 2020, when I was 36. Initially, it was due to economic hardship due to COVID-19. However, it quickly turned into a new love, something that I look forward to learning and working on every day.

Do you have any specialisms in your musical performance?
I would have to count the violin, production, media composition, and teaching as my specialties.

Do you have any specialisms in your programming?
Data Science and its subfields, particularly Analytics and Machine Learning. I also work with Databases, have done Data Mining and I’m getting more and more comfortable with Data Engineering, time series analysis and traditional Statistics in general.

Do you hold degrees in music, computer science, or something else?
I hold Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Music. I also hold a Bachelor’s degree in Math, which I never intended to use but is now coming in handy, to say the least!

What influence, if any, does your musical background have on your programming, and vice versa?
The discipline and determination to work through tough problems (say learning and performing a Concerto) and the ability to incorporate feedback and (constructive) criticism on a regular basis are two skills that transfer to programming. Also, having been a part of dozens and dozens of teams (chamber music groups, orchestras or working with sound engineers and producers) have prepared me to more easily fit in any team for projects big and small. In music, it’s an everyday challenge to learn/practice/compose/perform with people of different backgrounds and with different personalities in high-pressure situations and that’s an invaluable skill to have in general.

Aside from music and software, what other hobbies or pursuits do you have?
I dedicate any free time that I can to my son. Together, we go out and explore, play soccer, video games and jam on drums and guitar. I also enjoy going out with friends, exercising and going on long walks with my dog.

What would you say to a musician considering a career change into programming?
To try it! Everyone is wired differently, but they might find a new field that engages them just as much as music (this was the case for me) and that may help them lead a rewarding, productive life. Most musicians, by the very nature of the discipline, are well prepared to teach themselves new skills, learn well from others and work in scenarios that require imagination and vision.

And finally, what advice would you give your younger self when you started programming?
To turn off any doubts and negative voices (there are lots of “Is Data Science dead?” types of articles out there) and just enjoy learning. It can be a fantastic journey to grow in this field and we’re quite lucky that we are able to learn from countless resources and that more established folks in the business are usually generous with sharing their time and expertise.

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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Portfolio: https://patricktapiojohnson.com/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/patrick-tapio-johnson/
Medium: https://algo-rhythms.medium.com/

What is your current programming and musical life?

For the past (almost) 3 years I’ve lived in Melbourne, Australia, where I’m a senior full-stack engineer at Envato using mostly Ruby on Rails and React. The people I work with know me as a good generalist with expert knowledge on Ruby on Rails, TDD, and technical writing.

I’m not performing or even playing classical music anymore, but just before the first lockdown in March of 2020 I bought an acoustic guitar and have been singing older country/western music as well as folk music in English and Italian. I no longer practise, per se, or try to get better – it was the brutal culture of perfection and competition that made me leave classical music in the first place. Now I just enjoy playing music and occasionally perform informally

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?

My primary instrument was operatic voice. I was a Rossini mezzo-soprano, although my favourite music to sing – if I had to pick – was Italian opera of the Rococo/High Baroque period. I started taking voice lessons at age 15, wanting to learn to sing rock and pop music, but quickly taking a liking to the classical pieces the teacher had me sing to develop technique. I had already taken piano lessons starting around age 11 or 12 and violin/Irish fiddle lessons from age 12 to 15 or so. I was also a pretty good lead guitarist in high school.

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

It’s hard to compare because of how much I changed as a person between the time I started studying music and the time that I started learning programming. As a teenager and young adult I was a die-hard perfectionist and was very hard on myself, which got in my way a lot. I felt that I could simply never be good enough. The fact that the classical music world idealises talents like Mozart’s or Chopin’s only made it that much harder to feel good about the work I was doing. By the time I started programming, I was still a perfectionist but was a lot more accepting of works-in-progress. It helped that I learned programming guided by my partner at the time, a sysadmin, who made sure I knew that this work was very difficult for almost everyone and that frustration and not getting it were essential stages of learning. He sat me down one day when I was particularly frustrated and told me, “Everyone feels this way. Everyone feels like they aren’t cut out for this sometimes.” His encouragement has inured me against imposter syndrome to this day.

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

Starting an opera career, as you may know, is terribly expensive. Most of the singers I knew had parents who were able to help out with lessons, young artist programs, master classes, and other professional development opportunities required to become a professional singer. My parents were not able to help that way. I needed to find a career that would pay for all that while also providing the time and location flexibility I’d need to travel for auditions and performances. That’s one of the reasons my ex encouraged me to get into tech, as well as the fact he thought I’d be suited for this work and fit in well in the industry. So, despite having no interest in computers, I started learning Ruby in 2013 at age 26.After I got into the tech world, though, I saw how much more supportive it was than the opera world. Instead of being met with “Why should we listen to you when there are so many talented singers out there?”, the mentality was more “What are you working on? That sounds really cool! Tell me more!” In tech I found an appreciation and gratitude for all the talented people doing amazing things that was just absent from the classical music world. I wonder how different my life would be if the abundance of talented and creative musicians were celebrated instead of being used to cut people down.

Do you have any specialisms in your musical performance?

I specialised in Italian operas of the High Baroque. I especially enjoyed singing Hasse, Porpora, and other Rococo composers, as well as Vivaldi. I specialised in castrato roles specifically.

Do you have any specialisms in your programming?

I’m a crack shot at Ruby on Rails as well as having spoken at conferences internationally on TDD and technical writing. I’m also on the Cucumber core team, although I consider myself an honorary member since my actual contributions over the past few years have been minimal.11:12

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

I actually studied finance back in the days when you could get a job in investment banking with a 6-figure salary right after graduation. Unfortunately, the bottom fell out of the finance industry right before I graduated so I was forced to look for a Plan B.

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

The influence of my musical background on my programming is probably mainly reflected in the way music trains you to think, but I’m not conscious of the specific ways that happens. I am aware of a body of research indicating people with musical training do better in STEM. Things would be different, I think, if I started musical training now. I’m more comfortable with failure as a way to gather information and learn, and with incremental, iterative improvement.

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

I’m really interested in foreign languages and math. I’m pretty fluent in Italian, despite never having been to Italy, and used to speak German, French, and Latin as well. I also taught myself three semesters’ worth of university-level calculus. Because I have ADHD, it can be tough to focus on a single thing over a long period of time, which has prevented me from keeping up my three other languages or getting to the level of math I would’ve wanted.

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

I feel like that’s really unique to the person. For somebody whose experience with the classical music world was as negative as mine was, I’d say do it and don’t look back. As far as general advice I’d give anyone, I’d recommend self-teaching or bootcamps over a university program. Both those approaches are more likely to give you the skills you need to actually hit the ground running in a career in programming, particularly if you’re going in a web development direction (whether front- or back-end). I’ve known a lot of people who have graduated from university CS programs only to find out that the things they’ve learnt don’t get them very far looking for their first jobs.

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

I honestly feel like, with my ex’s guidance, I was able to take an optimal approach to learning. With the help of his colleagues, he put together a collection of quality sources for me to self-teach. Those sources helped me learn both good programming skills and practices as well as how to talk the talk to come off as the fabled “good culture fit” at good companies. Looking back, it could not have turned out better and, even though we’re not together anymore, I’m eternally grateful for Daniel’s support and encouragement.

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– Dana’s Twitter

What is your current programming and musical life?
Current programming life is as Senior Architect for Panther Protocol, which is a project to bring privacy and trust to the world of blockchain and DeFi (decentralised finance). This involves a lot of research and design, plus some coding in TypeScript, Solidity, and Circom which is a DSL for writing Zero Knowledge Proofs. Musical life is relatively quiet currently due to the pandemic, but recent/upcoming gigs include playing with the London Tango Orchestra, Classico Latino, and the Monika Lidke Band (jazz/folk crossover).

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?
Primary instrument is cello, and I started around 7 years old. I probably started tinkering with the piano around 4 or 5, since my mum is a piano teacher.

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

I also started coding at 7, in BASIC on a Commodore Pet 4000 at my friend’s house. I was immediately obsessed – difficult to know exactly why, but I guess it was the satisfaction of creating something new and seeing it immediately come to life, combined with the extremely rational mental models involved. Learning music felt very different at the beginning, and it probably wasn’t until I experienced ensemble playing that I felt a strong attraction to it.

Do you have any specialisms in your musical performance?

Music specialisms include being a multi-genre cellist (jazztango, Latin, folk, classical etc.) and having an excessively nerdy obsession with various aspects of music theory (especially harmony).

Do you have any specialisms in your programming?

Specialisms in programming include Free/Open Source, Linux/UNIX, shell, Python, Ruby, infrastructure software, virtualisation, orchestration, high availability, cloud, automation, git, Trusted Execution Environments, blockchain, digital asset custody, and Zero Knowledge Proofs.

Do you hold degrees in music, computer science, or something else?
I have a degree in Maths & Computation from Oxford, and a postgraduate in performance from RAM in London.

What influence, if any, does your musical background have on your programming, and vice versa?
My musical background probably infuses my tech career with playfulness, (probably an unhealthy degree of) perfectionism, and emphasis on collaboration.

My tech career arguably brings a more analytical and methodical approach to my music-making, or maybe I would have been that nerdy even if I only did music.

Aside from music and software, what other hobbies or pursuits do you have?
Other hobbies include tango dancing (hope to resume post-pandemic), running, cycling, swimming, yoga, meditation, travel.

What would you say to a musician considering a career change into programming?
To those considering a career change I would say, you can (and probably should!) take up programming without giving up your music! Both are incredibly creative pursuits which complement and enhance each other wonderfully.

And finally, what advice would you give your younger self when you started programming?
To my childhood self, I wouldn’t say much since I had so much fun programming! To my undergraduate self I’d say to ease off the video games, go deeper into computer science studies, especially the really juicy stuff like algorithm design, cryptography, protocol security… oh, and that social network website thing we built in 1996 or so? Definitely think about putting some more effort into that, it might attract a bit more interest some day…

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