Why Does It Seem Like So Many Developers Are Musicians?

When I was in the Air Force, whenever I told someone I was a musician 1 in 20 people would say something like, “Oh cool, I used to play trumpet in 8th grade.” Whenever I’d play guitar gigs at the Officer’s Club, not once did someone come up and ask to play or sing something. If you are in a band, you know how odd that is. Someone is always asking to sit-in. Part of this observation probably has a lot to do with the strict military social rules between officers and enlisted, I get that, but that being said it was hard to find fellow instrumentalists in the Air Force. Don’t get me wrong, good singers abound in the military. You might come across someone here and there who plays a little guitar, but in my 8 years of the Air Force I came across two people who were gigging musicians or who had ever even been in a band.

My experience in the Army was quite different. I was a trumpet player in the Army Band AND I was a lower rank, so I often met people who felt comfortable introducing themselves as musicians. Perhaps, also, it was the realization you get when you join the Army of, “Holy crap, I could be dead in 6 months so I may as well be me.” I never felt that way in the Air Force. Once in a while, YouTube would feature a band of soldiers with an ensemble of guitars, drums, bass and more, but the ones I’ve seen have all been Army. Maybe there is something about the Army that attracts musicians. I would place my money on adrenaline. A cheering crowd can bind a group of performers together the same as ruck marching through 10 miles of South Carolina sand in 100 degree heat can.

One of my goals after I left the Air Force was to learn to code so I signed up for The Iron Yard’s January 2015 Front-End Engineering class to learn JavaScript. Before the class even started, the school hosted a couple of meet-and-greets for prospective students. Within an hour, I met two classmates (out of 10 total) who had previously been touring musicians. WHAT!!! Not only that, another classmate was a classical guitarist, another played rhythm guitar and a fifth played percussion. That meant that 60% of the class was musicians! Further, a 7th classmate had a sister who was a professional opera signer, so that’s good for at least another 5% in my book.

My question was this, “why am I suddenly surrounded by musicians? Is there something about this career field that attracts them?” Granted, the class WAS IN AUSTIN, TX the live music capital of the word, but I’m not sure that entirely explains it. When I played regularly in St. Louis, the bass player who took my spot when I deployed to Germany became a JavaScript developer. In my hometown of Mt. Vernon, IL, the guitar player who hosted open mic night at Lowery’s Irish Pub was a PHP developer. He now lives in Nashville. Going back to the Iron Yard, the course director had been a stand-up comedian and she could sing as well. There is something to this musician/coder thing.

So what is it? I think its due to several parallels between the two, the first being that musicians like to make sense of the world. Music holds mystery. Playing an instrument, to study it and become proficient requires hours of practice, research and many disappointing setbacks. It requires a degree of grit. In the end, the cloak is pulled aside, you can use the skills you’ve learned and ultimately create something beautiful. This is exactly the process described by the musicians I’ve met when they talk about why they got into coding.

Musicians are used to frustration and even so, stick with it. Learning to play an instrument is hard. You know it’s supposed to make sense, but at first it doesn’t. The internal process goes something like this:

“Jimmy Page could play that lick and it sounds easy. I bet I could if I tried, then I’d be cool.”

Two hours later.

“Why won’t my fingers work? This rhythm and fingering is just way to hard. What do online teachers say about it? Hmm. Interesting.”

Next day, feeling ambitious again.

“Ok, I’m going to try again. Its ok if I start slow, I’ll get it eventually.”

Two hours later.

“Yes! I got it. I am the master! Woohoo!”

The next day.

“…but I could play it YESTERDAY?! Why can’t I play it today? Damn it.”

Two more hours of practice and a nap.

“Ok, there it is.”

And on it goes. Next thing you know, you’re joining a band and touring Europe with your doting Hollywood girlfriend tagging along. That last sentence was a bit of fantasy, but you get the idea.

The point is that this soup of curiosity, research, attempting something new, frustrating setbacks, trying again, sticking with it and creating something new are almost exactly the same in both programming and music. A coder who just figured out how to put two divs next to each other on the page has the same response as a new guitar player who keeps jamming an E-major chord around the house in their underwear. If you’re neither a programmer or a musician, maybe its difficult to understand the adrenaline rush of a button click function or a chord progression, but poll your musician and programming friends, I bet there’s a pretty close overlay.

Finish What You Started: IRON YARD GRADUATION!

If you read my post about failure, you know I didn’t complete the Iron Yard Front-End Engineering Course with the rest of my class in March 2015. That bothered me and I was determined to finish all requirements for graduation. We learned a lot of valuable skills and I could have walked away with what skills I had in my back pocket, but I’ve always been one to finish what I started.  In tech, its skills that matter, not pieces of paper, but I still felt it was important to finish nonetheless. After some reflection, I decided there were two reasons for why I didn’t finish on-time:

1. I had to work for three of the 12 weekends. Lets just say my job is the kind I can’t skip out on. The course was intense and left little time for anything else, but classwork. As a result, I missed some critical brain processing time to let everything sink in and complete the work along with the rest of the class. If I had to do it all over again, I’m not sure I had much of a choice anyway.

2. A terrible cold/flu. For an entire week my head felt like it was spinning and my entire body felt overly tired.  I made it to class, but sometimes you just get whats going around and I got it. Learning is best done when you don’t have a fever.

The upside to this experience was that the good folks at The Iron Yard were very understanding and worked with me even after everyone else had graduated. Our instructor worked one-on-one with me until I was up to par and even gave me extra JavaScript problems to work through which helped immensely and my confidence went through the roof. I’m a coding monster. ROAR!

So, for those who may find themselves in a similar situation to me or contemplating a new learning experience for which they harbor doubt I think its important to list reasons that are NOT why I didn’t finish on time:

1. My age. I have an MBA and years of working experience. It would have been easy to say, “I’m too old for this”, but that’s not me. I know I’m smart, but once I got a little behind it was hard to catch back up. However, clearly I was up to the material, because I caught the concepts on the back end and now, BAM!, here I am. Plus, I was not the oldest graduate.

2. The instructors had it out for me.  There are always students in every class that complain the teacher didn’t like them.  I’ve seen this my entire life, but never understood this attitude.  Teachers want you to learn.  Thats how they know they did well.  Sure, I was never at the top of our class, I had some of the least amount of coding knowledge when we started, but I was eager and committed to learn and our teacher always had time for my questions. So I did learn. Again, kudos to our instructor who went out his way to see my to the finish line.

3. The material was too much/too fast.  OK, so there was a lot of material to cover and it did go by pretty fast, but you have to see that as material to come back to later on your own.  Very few people are so smart they absorb everything the first time. Just ask my fellow University of Illinois MBA friends and fellow Air Force Officer Training School chums. Learning never stops anyway so “git” used to it, Buck-o.

So there it is. Some lessons learned. I’m listening to Red Sovine’s “Teddy Bear” as I write this so I’ll wrap this up before my grammar gets too country. I hope you’ll find some comfort or inspiration in this post. Shoot me an email (charleslueker@yahoo.com) or check me out on GitHub Portfolio.



Learning Through Failure

26 March 2015

For the last three months I’ve been studying front-end web development (HTML, CSS, Javascript) at The Iron Yard code academy in Austin, TX. Its been very much a transformational experience, one that has given me insight into this mysterious “interwebs” thing and that has given me tools and skills I might have never learned on my own (strike that – I’m certain I would have never learned those skills without the help of our awesome instructor Aaron). I’ve made new friends, who I hope will be life-long and moved the proverbial curtain aside on the tech industry allowing me a view into this “wild west”.

Its been an awesome ride, and I’m sad its over. However, today…today of days, in front on my classmates and friends I failed my final project audition. The final project is meant to be the culmination of all that we’ve learned during the course and an opportunity to show off during “demo day” when visiting companies come in looking for talent to hire. In a room surrounded by faculty and staff, I was informed I would not graduate with the rest of my class due to a few incomplete assignments from two months ago (truly, I don’t know how I overlooked them, but they were missing) and a sub-par final-project demo presentation.

That was painful. (Insert punch to the gut here). After the meeting, I left the building and headed for the gym to burn a few calories as a sacrifice.

Failure is not new to me. My undergraduate degree is in Music Education and in order to complete a degree in Music, Music majors were required to perform a 30 minute solo recital on their primary instrument their senior year. My instrument was the trumpet and a trumpet recital was the culmination of years of deliberate practice: scales, etudes and solos. After much blood, sweat and tears, we then had to pass our “upper divisional” before we were allowed to finally begin working on our recital material. The upper divisional was an audition in front of the music faculty and one that would determine if you finished your degree or not. If Music Education were ever a high-stakes game, these stakes were of the highest order.

For the music student who had been taking lessons since grade school and had practiced religiously since, the upper divisional was stressful, but not insurmountable. I’d heard stories about some students who, with performance anxiety issues, had failed their upper divisional, but had come back the next semester and passed. This was not to be me. Oh no. I had started practicing seriously in college. I did not grow up taking regular lessons and so I didn’t fail my upper divisional once – I failed it twice. After both occasions, I experienced some emotions that were hard to deal with. I was embarrassed, I was disappointed, I was ashamed. I thought of switching majors and took various classes outside of music, but after plenty of reflection I ultimately decided I should try a third time. I passed.

After graduation, I decided I wanted to keep learning and performing so I joined the U.S. Army Band. I was stationed at Ft. Lewis, WA and for four years I toured the U.S. West Coast with world-class musicians. However, just like my upper divisional experience, the Army band presented its own set of challenges. My trumpet embouchure had a hard time keeping up with the rigorous marching and performance schedule and it didn’t take long for me to realize I needed professional help. Trumpet help.

After searching around the Pacific Northwest for trumpet teachers, I was fortunate enough to land on Rick Pressley of the Seattle Symphony. Rick had been in the West Point Band and understood the specific challenges I faced as an Army musician. In short order, he helped me develop a practice routine that gave me what I needed to meet our demanding schedule. Eventually, I earned spots in our traveling ensembles and got to a point in my playing where I no longer felt like the laggard, but like an equal… a useful “equal” at that. I had arrived at a point where I decided I could explore other career options with a sense of accomplishment and decided to go to business school for a whole new set of adventures.

Since that time, I’ve faced many challenges where I felt like a poser, like I didn’t belong, like a LOSER. I’ve learned that if I’m truly following my curiosity and passion, then I’m bound to fail once in a while and that’s ok. I’m happier that way. Its put me in a position where now I have the freedom to continue to ask new questions and look around new corners. My life is richer for it and I’m a little wiser as well, but I’ve had to accept failure as part of the process.



Final Project Gear Up

So after two intense months of studying and coding (including a move into a new apartment and a couple of Air Force Reserve weekends for myself), we’re starting our final projects here at the Iron Yard. My project is a web app that bands can use to search for practice space and that appeals to the “I want to be a part of it” side of anyone who might have space to rent out. I call the latter “Space Masters” to add a playful element of power to role.  It also reminds me of a Saturday morning cartoon I watched as a kid where the bad guy was called the “Master Blaster”.



2015-02-04 15.00.59

Some “simple” code from our Backbone.js class which is a framework similar to Angular.js.




In a blatant attempt to geek out and get technical for a moment, we’ve been studying HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript during our time here. I’ll be using these languages in my final project within the Angular,js framework on top of a Sails.js back end. There’s  lot to set up in the command line for this whole scheme to work, so I’m spending this evening putting that together. I plan to have it set up at my Lueker.github.io portfolio when its all said and done. The end product will allow Space Masters to create an account that highlights their available space and then bands can search for those spaces based on whichever attributes I decide on.



Chicken scratched wireframe for  my final project.

Chicken scratched wireframe for my final project.



While it doesn’t look like much now, I expect that in two weeks I’ll have this baby up and running fully ready for demo day. Even with the Harrison Ford plane crash this last weekend, my head is pretty clear and ready to move ahead with all we’ve learned. Its time for our class to put our big kid diapers on and take a series of unassisted steps across this crazy rug called web development.



No words needed.

No words needed.


My Personal Headquarters

I started this blog to connect all the various pieces of my life in one place. I want to capture my experiences in their totality either through links to other blogs or projects, or as posts directly within this site.  While I am often curious about many topics, there are a few which have held my attention over the years: technology, business, health, food, politics, travel, fishing and music. From a marketing standpoint it might be said that I’m too broadly positioned, so if you just met me, or if you’ve known me since kindergarten this blog is meant to help tie everything together into one coherent storyline. All aboard!