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

We’ve got an exciting year ahead of us in the Cambridge Philharmonic. Not only do we have a great season of concerts, but we’ve introduced a learning & development plan for the string section as well.

A blank notebook on a wooden desk.


  1. Improved intonation on tonic and dominant chords.
  2. Playing in the same part of the bow as the front desk

We will be releasing more video and written content throughout the year relating to these goals as well as holding special workshops.


We will also be releasing a series of eight short videos covering the following topics:

  • Introducing Goal 1: Tonic and Dominant Intonation
  • Introducting Goal 2: Playing in the same part of the bow as the front desk
  • Orchestral practise tips for busy people
  • No accidental bow noises
  • Whose fingering to use?
  • Quick page turns
  • Passing messages back
  • Essential stringed instrument maintenance


One of the techniques we have learned from the software industry is to have a post-concert retrospective where we ask questions like

  • “What went well?”
  • “What could have been better?”
  • “What should we do differently next time?”

The answers to these questions are then used to guide the preparation for the next concert.

What’s next?

Keep an eye on the YouTube DeskNotes playlist, this blog and social media as we will be releasing the videos Saturday mornings at 10am starting 7 September 2019.

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Paula Muldoon Twitter