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Cover image for [Keynote] Musical Lessons for Engineering Teams: Developing a Culture of Feedback Cycles
Helen Hou-Sandi
Helen Hou-Sandi

Posted on • Updated on

[Keynote] Musical Lessons for Engineering Teams: Developing a Culture of Feedback Cycles

About This Keynote

In this talk, I relate the practice of masterclasses in music to feedback cycles and how we can apply that to software engineering and development.

Takeaways

  • Explanation of some musical concepts
  • An exploration of the components of feedback
  • Practical things you can do to get better at feedback
  • Live music!

Slides

>> Download Slides

🌈 After I present, please leave your thoughts, comments, and questions about my keynote in the comments below!


About Helen Hou-Sandí

Helen Hou-Sandí is the Director of Open Source Initiatives at 10up and a Lead Developer for the WordPress open source software project, now powering more than 40% of the web. From her start as a PHP/MySQL applications developer to focusing on "the front-end of the back-end" from both the development and UX perspectives, she has a knack for figuring out what people need to get things done on their websites, including most recently on the relaunch of WhiteHouse.gov for the Biden-Harris Administration.


This keynote will be presented as part of CodeLand 2021 on September 23. After the talk is streamed as part of the conference, it will be added to this post as a recorded video along with the slides.

Discussion (111)

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elleon003 profile image
elleon003

I love the number of musicians I've seen in the tech world. I've worked for years in the theater as a musician, singer and actor, but I've always been in love with technology which made me a bit weird among my co-workers. It's awesome to see this representation.

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rhenderson91 profile image
Ross 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿💙

There must be a correlation between musicians and tech, because there is a surprising amount of musicians that I know that are also in tech, and vice versa!

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madelene profile image
Madelene Campos

The skills are definitely transferrable! (Speaking from experience). Plus, supply/demand is more in our favor in tech. It's a shame there aren't more opportunities to make a sustainable living in the Arts.

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helen profile image
Helen Hou-Sandi Author

It really is such a shame, I've always been open that I ended up in a web development job because of money and insurance and because at the end of the day, I do love the piano and being a musician, but I like the computer just about as much and if I look at this pragmatically it makes more sense to make a living on the computer. I wish it weren't that kind of a choice, but here we are.

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madelene profile image
Madelene Campos

I feel 1000000% the same.

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helen profile image
Helen Hou-Sandi Author

There really are! I used to play with a string quartet that was made up of other people who had previously done serious music study but had switched over into tech for various reasons. I linked this in another comment as well but here's a talk I gave about some of the other connections :) wordpress.tv/2016/06/30/helen-hou-...

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fizzybuzzybeezy profile image
fizzybuzzybeezy • Edited

Just recently heard discussions on how musicians make great software engineers because of not only the environment of artistic critique and artistic separation from the art created, but also how musicians are experts at practice!

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helen profile image
Helen Hou-Sandi Author

Indeed! Self-driven practice, especially. I've given a talk about those aspects of musicianship and their impact on me as a developer as well: wordpress.tv/2016/06/30/helen-hou-...

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fizzybuzzybeezy profile image
fizzybuzzybeezy

Oh, thank you for the link!

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lindakatcodes profile image
Linda Thompson

Loving this comparison for feedback and learning music - as a prior music education major, this is all too familiar to me, and honestly something I haven't thought about how they could connect.

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helen profile image
Helen Hou-Sandi Author

Props to you, music education is possibly the hardest major there is. So many credits, so many zero credit classes, so many requirements. If you can do that, you can do this tech thing :)

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lindakatcodes profile image
Linda Thompson

Thanks! I ended up switching to general music ultimately because I realized halfway through that teaching was not what I wanted to do lol, but I have immense respect for those who do. :) I got a lot of great experience through it, though! Especially learning how to play all the different instruments - great mindset for getting a good overview of how different frameworks work!

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chisomochiweza profile image
Chisomo Chiweza

Music? We're going to listen to live music? Cooool

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stephback profile image
Stephanie Back

I love the insight on feedback as a newbie. I recently broke the barrier of hesitation in seeking feedback. The fear of failure is so strange when first learning how to code.

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porton22 profile image
Peter Orton

Fear of failure has been the driving force behind the majority of the poor decisions in my life. Its something I struggle with to this day, but we all have our issues I guess. Well done for breaking that barrier.

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington (he/him)

I feel ya on that! Fear of failure is so strong sometimes and can really be quite debilitating. I have to remind myself that trying and failing is infinitely better than not trying and nothing happening. I feel like generally if I don't do something because of fear of failing then I'm going to regret it.

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stephback profile image
Stephanie Back

Michael, I couldn't agree more! It's almost a negative feedback loop where you don't want to fail but feel guilty for not trying in the first place. :)

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stephback profile image
Stephanie Back

Thanks Peter! I definitely still have moments of doubt but then I remind myself that no one learns a new skill/trade on the first attempt. You've got this!

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helen profile image
Helen Hou-Sandi Author

It's so, so human to be afraid of failure and to really struggle when you've reached a point in your life where you've mastered a bunch of things but have to start as a beginner all over again. I really struggled with that in undergrad with my secondary instrument choice - I thought the organ would be a reasonably convenient parallel but it turned out to be frustratingly difficult because it was so similar and yet completely different and I had to relearn how to learn all over again.

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stephback profile image
Stephanie Back

It is inspiring to hear this. :) Thank you for sharing your experiences with us newbies!

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rnandon profile image
Ryan Nance-Donaldson

This is really giving me flashbacks to my own studio performances. I remember having a performance with feedback almost exactly like this- vary the voicing, make this part louder, this part softer, pause here, etc. I love the connection between music and tech, I think they're more intimately related than most people think!

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madelene profile image
Madelene Campos

It was so wonderful to hear this talk. I, too, made the change from professional musician to engineer.

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helen profile image
Helen Hou-Sandi Author

Cool! What do you do as a musician?

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madelene profile image
Madelene Campos

I used to play flute with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Milwaukee Symphony, Hawaii Symphony and taught flute and piano. (I'm wondering if we know some of the same musicians) :) Here's me (including music life): madelenecampos.com/

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helen profile image
Helen Hou-Sandi Author

Oh cool! I wonder if I ever saw you play, my husband did his MM at DePaul so __I came out a number of times to visit and did some freelancing and going to concerts. I think we almost certainly must share some mutual musician contacts :)

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madelene profile image
Madelene Campos

Nice! DePaul is a great school for music. I did my MM at Roosevelt (downtown)

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julzhou6 profile image
Julie Zhou

I love this combination!! music and engineering yesss

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I love the ties between code and music in terms of feedback and communication.

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mahyellaw profile image
MJ Torres

first keynote and we're already about to jam to some music, hyped! 🔥

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noviicee profile image
Novice • Edited

Music is so underrated. It indeed is an excellent healer. Awesome talk. Loving it!

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noviicee profile image
Novice

Excellent keynote 😌

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mahyellaw profile image
MJ Torres • Edited

really enjoyed this keynote, i love the way you explained how feedback works using music, it really influences the way one should interact with the community. i'm pretty sure it fits for the beginners up to the veterans, as i am personally a student dev that is still working my way in to the community. thank you for your time! amazing play of the piano btw :D

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helen profile image
Helen Hou-Sandi Author

Yes, if anything it's us veterans who need to be the most mindful about how feedback works and make it better for everybody :)

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julzhou6 profile image
Julie Zhou

Super fascinating -- I think both coding and music can be solo adventures but it's definitely much more fruitful when you learn to collaborate and work with others.

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getromandev profile image
Heriberto Roman

Im digging the connection between the different levels of music in correlation to giving and receiving feedback as a dev.

Great talk 👍👍👍

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towers1209 profile image
Loreto Espiritu Torres

I am passionate about music - particularly, singing as a tenor/bass. I remember how my fellow musicians in the church music group I used to belong give feedback to one another on the fly during practice. I just did not realize until now that such feedback loop applies in software development as well.

As I said in my intro to the community. I used to work in the “old era” of software development where I saw none of this at all.

I remember more a game of one-up-manship, whack-a-mole, or hide-under-the-rag approaches. But maybe, it is still the case. I’m just not in the development environment at the moment.

I am in the retail industry customer service and aiming at going back to software development.

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helen profile image
Helen Hou-Sandi Author

There are definitely different cultures in different places - solo piano is notoriously full of one-up-manship, for instance. But we all have to learn, at the very least, even if we don't become good teachers, so there's no escaping the feedback cycle completely.

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nicolemmartin profile image
Nicole Martin

Thank you for sharing with us today. I love how you connected music to coding. Feedback is something we need, but often don't ask for. Your tips on processing and actioning feedback were very helpful and something I have never thought about.

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helen profile image
Helen Hou-Sandi Author

I'm glad you found it useful and hope it serves you well in the future!

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sumitvarun profile image
SUMIT KUMAR • Edited

Live Piano 👩‍🎤🎙🎶 sounds good.

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jess profile image
Jess Lee (she/her)

I loved your talk so much! I'm also a piano major -> software developer and it was really awesome seeing how you made the connections. And so cool to incorporate actual playing during a talk! Also, I just moved to Rochester so hearing that you studied in Eastman made me really happy :)

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helen profile image
Helen Hou-Sandi Author

I always feel sad we didn't link up to play together while I was still in NJ! I've heard Rochester has changed a lot especially downtown, while the snow was rough for me it did have its great things and of course the music scene is amazing. I hope you enjoy :)

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jess profile image
Jess Lee (she/her)

I know! With two kids, I'm shocked you were even entertaining the idea. I now have a 4-month old and I feel like I have zero time to do anything, nevertheless commit to plans with people! Hope all is well.

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ecureuill profile image
Camilla Silva

Helen, I loved your talk and your tip about attending rehearsals. I live near São Paulo Concert Hall, home of São Paulo Symphonic Orchestra (OSESP) and some of their rehearsal are open to public. I'm looking forward to attending it after pandemic state ends.

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shelleymcq profile image
Shelley M

Thank you, Helen, that was awesome! The feedback cycle really resonated with me. Coming from a science teaching background, it's a lot like our PLCs (professional learning communities) where teachers share with peers, receive/provide feedback and ideas, revise and implement, and then revisit and discuss.

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helen profile image
Helen Hou-Sandi Author

Yes! Sometimes I think about how engineering and design managers are a lot like the educators and pedagogues of the industry.

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tristanntn profile image
Tristan

I thought that this was a really great talk. I played the snare drum from 5th grade into college, concert and field, I've had the the opportunity to practice feedback and performance based on the feedback in the dynamic teachings of percussion. I would have never thought about applying this to my coding journey. Thanks so much Helen!

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helen profile image
Helen Hou-Sandi Author

Awesome! Some friends and I just made a "battle of the bands" playlist earlier this week, those marching band and drumline vibes :)

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mahyellaw profile image
MJ Torres

this is amazing, i love listening to moonlight sonata <33

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ana profile image
ammpedro

The feedback literacy concept was entirely new to me. Thank you for a wonderful talk! I found your comparison between three feedback tiers most interesting.

What advice would you give to younger devs in teams where the culture for giving feedback is a little lacking?

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helen profile image
Helen Hou-Sandi Author

That's good feedback to give you to your manager! You can suggest things like structuring 1:1s with an agenda that includes feedback in each direction, and/or a group sharing type of forum to a manager, or organize one yourself as a peer-to-peer kind of exercise. A great book that talks about how to shape the manager/report relationship is Camille Fournier's The Manager's Path - the first section is for reports and how to be managed.

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ana profile image
ammpedro

Thank you! I’ll read up on your suggestions! 🤩

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israelram profile image
Israel Ramirez

you play beautifull

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sumitvarun profile image
SUMIT KUMAR

music while coding will help you put more energy into solving a programming problem and will make you more productive

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jrrohrer profile image
Jessie Rohrer

What a cool way to make another connection between making music and working in tech!

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jenny_pl profile image
Jenny Perham Luong

Very cool to dive deeper into how to give and accept feedback! Thanks :)

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noviicee profile image
Novice

Really enjoying the relation between music and techies. This is certainly going to increase my love for music and the tech world even more!

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devanshmehra profile image
Devansh Mehra

Moonlight Sonata !!! :)