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.

More info:

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

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

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.

What is your current programming and musical life?

I think of my working life as a 50/50 split between tech and music. I clearly can’t do as much as a full-timer in either field but I find dividing my time interesting and refreshing.

I work for Platform.sh as a staff engineer, designing and writing web API services, scripts and tools (in Go and PHP). The company originated in France but it allowed remote working from the beginning, and has developers all around the world.

I’m also the second violinist in the Ligeti Quartet (since 2010) and I do some freelance work in and around London – mostly chamber music, orchestras and sessions.

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 learned violin and piano from the age of 7, and violin took over at university.

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

Learning music was very structured. In music you often go to a 1-1 tutor every week from an early age – imagine if you had that for programming! Maybe people do these days. I learned code by writing it and looking things up every step of the way, first via books and later via Google.

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

My dad taught science and computing in my school. So I started probably around 8, first doing silly things in BASIC, and then a bit later making websites in HTML and a bit of C or Perl, and later PHP. Many tables were involved. It was a hobby until late in my degree when I started doing it for money too.

Do you have any specialisms in your musical performance?

Contemporary string quartet music. The “contemporary” part is not a genre, it usually just means the composer is still alive, and rehearsals are often a collaboration or at least a discussion. “String quartet” is also not a genre but it does seem to be a particularly complex and rewarding occupation. I studied a bit of Baroque violin and I love that music but it hasn’t featured in my professional career.

Do you have any specialisms in your programming?

Backend web development. Mostly this involves designing and writing API servers and clients. I currently work in Go, PHP, a little bit of Python, a tiny bit of JavaScript, and plenty of shell scripts. Like any developer I enjoy new, greenfield projects but I have done a lot of work on preserving backwards compatibility for “legacy” APIs and tools.

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

An undergrad degree in Music followed by two years at a conservatoire.

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

Musical work is often really independent, and I like to think that makes me a more self-directed programmer than I might be otherwise. I’m comfortable with not being able to understand something, and with learning by doing. In the other direction, I think the business and project management ideas I’ve learned from tech are quite helpful in music – what to do and what not to do. And it really helps in both fields to know how to use a spreadsheet.

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

I have a toddler and that’s plenty for now.

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

I still do both, so I might not be the best person to ask. I think getting into open source can help; it means you can learn how to collaborate with other developers before you even have a job, and those collaborative “soft skills” are the most important ones.

Both of my careers can be wonderful and really hard on different days. But the killer feature of the tech industry is the potential for ultra-flexible remote work.

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

Slow down – take a little bit more time to design and research first, and write tests, and leave the code a bit later. But also, feel freer to venture into technologies you’re unfamiliar with, it never takes as long to learn as you think.

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