5 Reasons Why Artists Make Excellent Software Engineers

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

The time of the stereotypical hacker bro is long gone. These days, software engineers come in every shape and size and from a variety of backgrounds. So, if you’re asking yourself, “Should I be hiring software engineers with a background in the arts?” or “I have no background in tech. Do I have any skills that would be transferable?” the answer to both is absolutely YES. Here are the top 5 reasons why people coming from a background in the arts should become software engineers.

#1: Coding is an inherently creative skill.

On first glance, you may assume that software engineering and the arts are like oil and vinegar, but they are actually more similar than you would think. At its core, programming is an inherently creative endeavor. Just like a painter begins with a blank canvas, creating an application begins with an empty program, without any code. Then, using the skills and knowledge gained, a software engineer uses code to create something unique and all their own.

#2: Technical interviews are basically auditions with a whiteboard.

You’ve been preparing for this moment. You walk into a room with what you hope to be your future employer. You are given a task, and with the techniques and skills you have trained for you give it your all and show them that you are the best candidate for the job. The music begins, and you take your position in the center of the room…hold up. Is this a dance audition or a technical interview?

In all seriousness, the parallels of the hiring process of both industries are amazing to me. When I first learned what the technical interview process was, after going to hundreds of auditions for the last 10 years of my life as a professional musical theatre performer, I thought “Oh. I know how to do that.”

In the entertainment industry, auditioning is often talked about as a “skill.” You could sing high Cs and glorious arias and still not be great at auditioning. You could pirouette for days and somehow, when you get into the audition room, suddenly not be able to do a single turn. Being talented in your industry does not mean that you are great at auditioning, and the same is true in software engineering. You could make an incredible full stack application with hundreds of lines of code, and then be brought into a technical interview and freeze up with a simple whiteboard algorithm.

Because artists are used to the audition process, the technical interview process comes to us more easily. After all of the auditions we have gone through, we know how to manage our nerves in high stress situations, and we know how to be prepared and flexible if we are thrown a curveball.

#3: Artists are excellent at working on teams.

Although coding is stereotypically a solitary pursuit, we all know that in the real world it is an entirely collaborative endeavor. As a software engineer, excellent communication with coworkers and managers is crucial in order to get projects completed.

When you hire a developer with a background in the arts, it is practically a given that their communication skills and teamwork are going to be superior. Whether dancing in a corps de ballet, performing with a band, or traveling the country with a touring musical, artists are required to be team players in order to succeed and are extremely familiar with the pain points that come with collaboration.

#4: Constructive criticism? Not a problem.

Let’s face it: no one likes their work being criticized, particularly by superiors. It can be challenging when someone else finds mistakes in your code that you thought was pure perfection. The good news is: artists can take it.

Us creative types may be labelled as “sensitive,” but have you ever read a scathing theatre review by Ben Brantley? Or just walk into a studio filled with dancers preparing for a competition. Movies like “Whiplash” are definitely theatricalized versions of reality, but they aren’t that far off. Artists are constantly criticized for their work, whether it be from teachers and mentors trying to help them improve, or unasked from a critic or social media troll.

Because of this, we are much more easily able to handle the critical nature of software engineering. Artists are able to detach themselves and their own self worth from their work, because they understand that it can be necessary in order to improve.

#5: It is important to have a team of developers from a wide range of backgrounds.

I think we can all agree at this point that having a diverse and inclusive workplace is crucial. When we think of diversity, we typically think of gender, sexuality, and ethnic background. I would also challenge employers to recognize the importance of having a diverse set of minds on their team.

Imagine working on a project where everyone on the team graduated with a Computer Science degree from the same program. They all took the same classes from the same professors, and learned the same skills. Sure, there may be some advantages to this, but what happens if they get stuck trying to get a feature pushed out? They all approach things the same way and have the same knowledge and skill set. Debugging would probably be a complete disaster.

For this reason, I think it is also imperative to have people from diverse backgrounds on your team. An artist, or anyone from a creative background, is going to approach a problem from a completely different way than someone whose education is purely STEM. And because of that, they may come up with a more creative solution, which may sometimes be the BEST solution.

So I may be a little biased (and this may secretly be an elevator pitch for myself) but I truly believe that a transition from the arts to tech is actually more seamless than one might think. And there is actually a large community of us! For those looking into a career in software engineering, check out the supportive community Artists Who Code, one of my inspirations for writing this blog.

Blaire is a musical theatre performer also moonlights as a full-stack software engineer. https://www.linkedin.com/in/blaire-baker

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