Why are so many coders musicians?

5th February 2019 Off By binary
Why are so many coders musicians?
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Long-term commitment.

Part 1 of 3

Photo by Luca Bravo (unsplash.com)

I am currently at the beginning of my career as a developer. I came in ‘through the back door’ so to speak. I’ve been a musician my whole life, and it was through my interest in building music tools that I got into software.

Going from music to code was a gradual transition. It took me some time to make the decision because of my fear of alienation. I didn’t want to turn into a cubicule zombie, typing mindlessly into a computer all day long, detaching from life and art. I have had a couple of corporate jobs before and couldn’t take it. For the creative type, alienated work sucks the marrow out of life. Musicians need creative expression in their work and have low tolerance towards soul crushing jobs.

Even though coding implies staring into a screen for long hours, to my surprise, I found it was not alienating. In it I found a new way of expressing creativity. Just like working in music, either producing, composing, or playing, it didn’t feel like actual work. Why was that? In addition to this, I noticed many developers were musicians. After a few months in the industry, I realized this was not a coincidence.

Finding musicians made me realize my fears were unjustified and it also made me wonder why many coders were musicians. What are the commonalities between the two professions that make this relationship?

In this three part series of posts, I’ll talk about the different qualities that relate these two professions.

Long-term commitment

There seems to be a quality of focus for musicians and for coders. That reserve and focus is needed for people to be able to concentrate and develop skills for the long term. Staying on track and persevering through continuous frustration is a personal trait I find in both disciplines.

Developing musicianship requires long-term commitment and a continuous training of brain plasticity to incorporate fine hand movements in instrumentality, to train the ear to distinguish between notes, chords and timbres, to learn how to read scores, and to transform the theoretical abstraction of harmony, counterpoint and instrumentation into mental representations of sound.

As a beginner coder I’ve found myself in a similar process. Learning the fundamentals and becoming comfortable and creative with them requires a maturity of the concepts that takes a long time. A lot of the concepts in programming are abstractions that you can’t relate to day-to-day experiences, hence, they require a long time to settle in.

This being said, though the nature of the two disciplines requires a similar mindset, it doesn’t mean the skills are the same. I don’t think logic and algorithmic thinking translate directly into music, which requires knowing how to count and having a good ear and coordination. At the same time, I don’t see how these last skills would translate into coding. A lot of musicians can’t code and a lot of coders couldn’t be musicians no matter how hard they tried. Nevertheless, the process by which you gain the skills is similar and rewards the kind of personality that is able to engage in long-term practice and learning.

Thanks for reading. Please continue with the second part of the series, with other relationships I have found between music and coding.


Why are so many coders musicians? was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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