IT's musicians stay in tune with the business

Few significant IT teams are without their musicians

“Almost any IT team I have managed has had a disproportionate number of musicians within it,” says Chad Dickerson, who was head of the Brickhouse special projects at Yahoo before joining the e-commerce site Etsy.

Dickerson, who is interviewed for the CIO New Zealand October edition, says he finds lots of similarities between music and IT.

“In both, you have to understand patterns to be able to understand specialised instruction sets, [source code in IT, music notation in music], and make many disparate pieces work together to create a harmonious experience.”

Colin MacDonald, chief executive of Land Information New Zealand, who has held ICT posts in the UK and New Zealand prior to his current role, and Tim Occleshaw, CIO at the Ministry of Social Development, are among the ICT professionals who have also background in music.

While holding on to their C-level positions, they also play in a rock band Livewire, which has gained quite a following in the Wellington region.

The two, who are also featured in CIO, agree with Dickerson about the parallels between working in ICT and playing music.

“Music requires technical skills and creativity and commitment, and yes, lots of equipment as well, and IT is the same,” says Occleshaw, the CIO of the Year in the 2008 Computerworld Excellence Awards.

“If you think of IT in terms of traditional silos like development and operations in the development side, creating good music requires technically-skilled people to come together, to create parts and integrate it as part of a holistic creation.”

Macdonald finds similarities in performing for an audience and meeting the needs of customers in business.

“The key thing for me in performance is you must never forget that you are there to entertain the audience. It is not about your musical virtuosity, it is actually about the audience having a great time. That is a vital thing to remember in IT. It is not about the technology. It is about the business.”

Aaron Kumove, managing director of Horizon Consulting, is not surprised at the preponderance of people with a music background in the industry.

“I have met a number of people in IT in general, some of them are CIOs, a whole bunch of others who aren’t,” who have a background in music or play a musical instrument, he says.

Kumove, a former CIO at New Zealand Post, holds dual degrees — in music and computer science. He sees a lot of similarities between the two disciplines.

“At the highest level, it is probably that both disciplines require creativity,” he says. “If you look at what’s done in IT, it is designing things and building things and you do this within defined frameworks; but there is a lot of creative work that goes on in IT.”

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