Are Computer Programmers Likely to Be Musically Inclined?

What is the correlation between music and computer programming? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Bill Poucher, computer science professor at Baylor University and executive director of ACM-ICPC, on Quora.

I believe that the likelihood of programmers having some kind of musical training is very high. It's amazing how many computer scientists have a musical background.

The reason for this is that music happens in time with tempo and structure -- it's a process. So, what do you think we're doing when we're programming? We're scoring a musical work of art that is going to be performed by our orchestra. We also score our orchestra musicians. These are constructed out of data structures and algorithms that determine their behavior and capabilities.

At the end of the day (I'm not committing to which day), we pull all of that together and deliver a performance for you or for some other entity hosted not by a symphony hall, but by computing equipment.

There is one big plus: we don't have to perform it over and over again.

Okay, so we do have to do maintenance programming. That's more like being a band manager than a composer, or maybe it's like being a physician at NFL games.

What percentage of International Collegiate Programming Contest participants play music? In 2009, and we had the awards ceremony in the concert hall in Stockholm where Nobel Prizes are handed out. In fact, for that ACM programing contest world finals, we used every location that's ever been used for delivering Nobel Prizes. Unfortunately, we had a glitch, so I had a few spare minutes on stage. I knew that a lot of people in computer science had a musical background, so I asked this question: "How many of you played an instrument or performed in a choral group when you were in high school?"

The answer was 75%. Yep, about three out of four participants raised their hands. Now, these are people from all over the world. Some educational systems don't give people the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument. Taking this into account, I would say that the percentage of computer scientists who have a background in music may be closer to 100%.

Incidentally, you can still compose great music if you are tone deaf. Did you know Beethoven was deaf when he composed his 9th symphony? I was amazed when I first learned that. After a lifetime of programming, I'm not surprised at all.

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