Why are so many coders musicians? Part 3
Part 3 of 3: Instrumentality, craft and community
In this series of post I’ve tried to explain why so many coders are musicians, a possible relationship I found when transitioning from being a musician to developer. In the two previous posts I briefly explained my personal experience, long-term commitment as a trait of both musicians and coders (Part 1), the role of of abstract concepts, and the idea of music and code as languages (Part 2).
In this final post I’ll go into the social and bodily dimensions of coding and music, to try to explain this relationship further.
My first coding teacher said that when he hired developers, the first thing he looked at in a job interview was at the coder’s hands. He would observe if the candidates looked down to the keyboard while typing or whether they needed to slow down to type numbers.
I thought that was weird. Shouldn’t he be checking the quality of the code only? Who cares if a coder types with one finger or with his/her toes if truly able to put out good code and solutions to problems?
After saying this the teacher showed the class a video of a developer he admired giving a live youtube class. The developer in the video would never look at the keyboard and she would just talk explaining everything at the same time she typed code, never making a mistake.
After this video my teacher’s observations made total sense to me — his interest in the hands of the candidate could be compared to music performance appreciation! Or at least it was related to the feeling we experience in a virtuoso performance. This admiration for the effortlessness and ease at which lines of code rolled out the developers hand, in other words with her virtuosity, were clear indicators of her craftsmanship and expertise.
Just as we admire the best performers that can make the music they play seem like the easiest thing in the world, this appreciation exists in coding as well. To the untrained eye this might seem like an irrelevant nuance, but anyone that plays an instrument can recognise the effortlessness of the virtuoso as a sign of his mastery. This is a big part of our enjoyment of music beyond sound. In the same way, the virtuosity of the developer is a sign of his mastery, where the keyboard is the instrument his/her expression.
This admiration for craftsmanship and mastery relates to the feature discussed before — the ability for long-term commitment. The coder enjoys the process of becoming proficient, and at the same time admires that virtuosity in others.
Music is many times performed, enjoyed and created collectively. The lonely composer and listener of music is a relatively new phenomenon. From bands to choirs and orchestras, music has both an individual and a collective dimension. The musician’s practice is usually individual but surrenders to the group when creating music.
This is very similar to the collective culture in software development. From open source communities to teams in companies, software developers understand that what they do is complex and requires many talents, collective effort, and coordination.
The similarities in the process of developing software collaboratively with group music creation and performance is one of the reasons why both activities share a similar process. Even though musicians and coders can have big egos and work a lot of time on their own either with their computers, instruments or scores, there seems to be a common understanding that great endeavors require collective effort. this means surrendering big egos temporarily to collaborate, help others and accept help.
Master — disciple relationship
Beyond the collaborative aspect of creating music and software, working with others is a part of the learning process in both music and software development as well. This becomes quite clear with mentorships or with a master-disciple relationship.
Many coders have mentors to learn and further develop their skills. The mentor can be a long-term teacher, a senior developer or a more experienced colleague that helps the developer acquire skills and develop good coding practices. At the same time, the mentee acts as a mentor for less experienced developers. The master-student relationship is deeply engrained in software development.
This relationship is at the core of music as well. More than in classrooms, music is learnt in a master-disciple long-term relationship. The maestro doesn’t just provide content, like a regular classroom teacher, but also gives guidance, supervision, and personal council. For example, the composition master reviews the work of the young composer and makes suggestions on a regular basis. Also, the instrumental master coaches and guides the student’s learning process with small corrections of their sound, technique and gestures.
The importance of mentorship in both disciplines comes from the fact that both are skills that require a long time to develop and that both software and music creation are collective efforts.
For all the reasons explained in this series of blog posts I think music and code are related very closely and in many dimensions. These commonalities explain why so many coders happen to be musicians and vice versa.
With this I don’t imply that there’s some sort of deeper connection between the two or that all coders are potential musicians and all musicians have talent for code. I don’t think this is the case. Nevertheless, both professions have huge overlaps in thinking process, learning dynamics, and community driven development that I think allows people to transition between both professions with relative ease.
Thanks for reading and if you want to help me figure out this puzzle further you can comment on this post or write to my email.