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Code Blur

One thing I've notice about the software engineering community is that there are a lot of musicians.  It's not just a case of someone who played recorder in grade school.  There's some real talent hiding behind the faces that write your iterators and mapping functions.  I also noticed that there are a lot of people who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.  There are some in the middle, but the strength of the extremes stands out.

I've kept my eyes open to try to locate the correlation and causation in the engineering community.  I think I've got it.  It has nothing to do with music.  I've also seen a startling number of really good jugglers and artists and woodworkers and prolific jugglers and...  I think the root is concentration--concentration at a near obsessive level.  All of the talents that stand out require you to concentrate and practice a great deal to achieve proficiency.  A short attention span is a liability to improvment.  For musicianship (my main instrument is trumpet, but I play piano and guitar with some skill and many others poorly.  Like programming languages I found the commonality in musical instruments that makes it easy to pick up the next and the next), it takes a great deal of practice time and concentration to get yourself to a level of performance.  If I had the time and inclination to be more serious about my instrument, I would be playing an hour a day at a minimum, including full sessions dedicated to one measure of a piece.  That's what it takes for me to maintain a high standard.

In software, I've noticed that there are frequent days when I'm working on something and I look up and have no idea where the past four hours have gone.  I call it 'code blur'.  Time vanishes from your perceptions because you're spending so much of your attention on the task at hand.  It's the reward for your proficiency and concentration and I've noticed the same state of mind when I'm playing trumpet.  It's like you've stepped into a different dimension where the mundane ceases to exist and what you're playing is the easiest, most natural thing.

I also think that there is a connection and a balance between attaining this state in several different disciplines.  I firmly believe in the value of a liberal education and that exposure to anything new can benefit everything else in some way, but that's a story for another day.
Published Sunday, March 12, 2006 4:09 PM by Steve Hawley


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