Get with the program

Contrary to what my previous post might let on, I am not in fact spending this absurd amount of free time not making. I am learning… Android development! With a little nudge from a friend (from a musical theater writing workshop I’m in, of all places), I picked up Big Nerd Ranch’s beginner-friendly Kotlin Programming in early March, which introduces basic programming principles with the shiny, very modern Kotlin language. I spent a few weeks with it before moving on to the same publisher’s Android Programming, which covers more advanced techniques specific to the Android framework. Two months into the whole enterprise, I’m two thirds of the way through the second book, inching my way out of a particularly difficult chapter about HTTP and background tasks. I have a few simple apps built with the same book’s guidance, and one entirely from scratch as a personal project (a scoreboard), which I released to the Google Play Store yesterday for publication. Do I have any clue what I’m doing? No. But I’m enjoying myself.

It’s a tired old cliché to dream of quitting a steady, well-paying job to pursue a true “passion,” usually something artistic in nature. Not me. I have been dreaming, on and off, for years about making a career change to something far away from music as possible. I don’t know how to explain this fully and well. Obviously, I am not 22 anymore; I want to actually get paid for working; I want to be able to support a family of my own in the not-too-distant future. But, you ask, if I had all the material success in the world as a composer, if all that time and effort had actually paid off, would I still be feeling the mysterious tug toward something else? It’s easy to get comfortable in success (so I’ve heard—I wouldn’t know!), but alas, that has not been my lot. My perennial lack of happiness in the music profession, supposedly my area of “talent,” is just my cross to bear—and at this time, the profession is all but nonexistent. Is tech the answer? I don’t know. But it’s dangling in front of my face like a fat carrot, my calendar is empty, and I’m going all in.

There are some surprising (or not that surprising?) parallels between composition and programming. In my opinion, it makes complete sense as a path for a trained composer. Both satisfy the same impulse to build; both involve organizing basic elements into something logical, harmonious, and bigger than the sum of its parts; both are easy to romanticize. But programming is undoubtedly more objective: code works or it doesn’t; music doesn’t unless it does. You can write bad music and be far more popular than someone who writes good music. Can you write bad code and still be successful? I guess I’ll find out for myself.