Some Unexpected Differences Between Music and Tech

Identity crisis keyboard. Probably how regex was created.

Having previously written about the similarities between music and software, it stands to reason that I should use my next article to explore some differences between the two. I will refrain from patronising statements of the bleeding obvious; there’s not much insight to be had from being told that developers usually spend a lot of time in front of computers, and musos spend a lot of time playing their instruments. (Also, having spent much of the past year and a half teaching cello students on Zoom and hardly practicing, I don’t even know if it qualifies as a difference.) Additionally, I will refrain from cheapening things by bringing money into the picture; I wouldn’t want all of those CTOs and software architects to feel disheartened by being reminded of how measly their earnings are compared to Jay-Z or Paul McCartney.

Nonetheless, I will focus on my experiences of job-hunting, because this has consistently been the area in which the contrast has been its most dizzying for me. I am aware that my experience could well be different had I been exposed to any job market outside of the United Kingdom, and am also aware that many of the things that I find strange about job-hunting practices in tech are probably completely normal across most fields outside of the performing arts; however, I consider it best to leave speculation out of the picture.

CVs / Resumes

In tech, and probably most fields, these are pretty much the polar opposite of what I had become accustomed to writing as an orchestral musician. During my bootcamp studies, I found myself learning how to craft a completely new CV. It had to include such things as:

  • a personal brand statement (which went through several drafts before my skin stopped crawling with every read)
  • working links to GitHub, portfolio and social media pages
  • explanations of places I had worked or studied, and of projects
  • a bit of imagination regarding styling and layout — thus obliging me to say goodbye to the trusty Microsoft Word / Times New Roman combo that had served me for so many years
  • hobbies and interests

By contrast, your CV as an orchestral musician will feature:

  • A list of orchestras with whom you have worked

.

.

.

  • (For all I know, there could be a Hobbies and Interests section as well, just none of us have managed to come up with anything.)

All of these new features that were now crucial to my prospects of interview candidacy not only never featured on my muso CV, but would have actually been considered to have a distracting or diluting effect! (Although to be fair, I’ve never actually investigated the potential side effects of sticking a link to my GitHub profile into an application for a tutti cello job…) So not only did I have to start coming up with this stuff, I also needed to convince myself that it would help instead of hinder. A particular challenge was to figure out how to define my achievements as a freelance cellist in a way that could even begin to be interpreted as being driven by data and metrics. People are often advised to follow some version of Lazlo Bock’s well-known formula:

“Accomplished X as measured by Y by doing Z”

Which, as an orchestral musician, will largely end up looking like this:

“Avoided being blacklisted with 98% of the programme in tune and in time by not screwing up”

I had my work cut out for me; but I had to come up with some sort of solution, because…

The Job Market in Tech is Incomprehensibly, Overwhelmingly Larger Than it is in Music

Before I officially commenced my bootcamp studies, I was given some tasks to complete by General Assembly’s careers advisors. It came in the form of a rather lengthy questionnaire, albeit with a bit more accountability attached. There were quite a few questions that completely stumped me.

In one, I was asked to name some sectors in which I would like to work — eg FinTech, security, etc. I was saved by the presence of a list of options from which to choose. It was uncomfortably overwhelming to have a wealth of choices, and to be encouraged towards considering what type of company I might wish to work for; as a muso, your choices consist of a company that specialises in playing music, or a company that specialises in teaching it. To narrow the choice further, it’s pretty standard to be doing both.

I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a FinTech violinist, but if there is, they’d probably play on one of these.

Another task involved selecting some job boards and looking for appropriate jobs in my preferred sectors, pasting the links into the questionnaire to demonstrate that I hadn’t bailed on the task.

This was my first experience of a field where multiple job boards existed — and within each one, a relentless onslaught of listings for London-based junior dev jobs, despite an alleged slowdown in the market. Compared to the twenty-odd cello jobs listed globally on musicalchairs.info at the time, it was like I’d gone to the cereal aisle of an American supermarket, only to discover that it had now been fitted with a maze of mirrors.

This was overwhelming to me for a very long time; however, I have since embraced it. As a cellist, auditions were incredibly stressful in part because the next opportunity might be several months away; but as a developer, I don’t ever seem to have to wait too long between code test catastrophes. This is also fortunate because…

Job Ads Rarely Seem to Display Application Deadlines

As an orchestral musician, I was accustomed to being given an application deadline for every single job I looked at; additionally, the ad would frequently give information about audition dates. By contrast, in tech jobs, application deadlines appear to be able to range from anything between three months in the future and… five minutes ago. But then, if you miss the cutoff you can always try reaching out to people on…

LinkedIn

[Cue mashup of Orff’s Carmina Burana, Bernard Herrmann’s music from Psycho, and Baby Shark]

You can find musicians on LinkedIn. When it first appeared, a bunch of us joined, seduced by promises of career advancement and prestigious opportunities; we then quickly discovered that it was a less than optimal platform through which to showcase our aforementioned weird muso CVs, and left our profiles to gather (additional) tumbleweeds for the next several years.

By contrast, it appears to be completely integral for landing a job in tech, so I’m now having to make some sort of sense of it. The ready accessibility of information on companies is decidedly welcome; but reaching out to potential contacts still feels like Sheldon Cooper’s Algorithm for Making Friends. Minus the infinite loop.

I do, however, try to engage with anyone who reaches out to 🚨➡️ ME ⬅️ 🚨— so, if you want to save me some awkwardness…

Competency Questions

Funnily enough, these have literally never come up in any orchestral audition I have ever done. Or for that matter, any invitation to speak about anything. As daunting as “where do you see yourself in five years’ time” is, I still doubt a solid answer to that question could distract from a botched attempt at Verklärte Nacht.

If only there was…

Open-Source Learning

As a cellist, one of the most miraculous things about coding for me is the ready availability of good-quality, free learning material. I find it truly wonderful that a successful, rewarding career in software doesn’t have to be prefaced by decades of study at tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of pounds of expense.

On that note, I will add FreeCelloCamp to my list of pending personal projects.

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Am I a musician? Am I a software developer? You decide. (But be nice)

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