From HTML-On-Notepad, Opera, Teaching, and The Office: Why Coding?

Posted by Michael Bade on June 15, 2020

Anyone who transitions from one career into another is always asked this question: “Why are you changing careers?” Everyone has a “why”; it’s their reason for closing one chapter and moving onto the next. The “why” is what drives you through tough times and pushes you into something incredible, unfamiliar, new, exciting, stressful, overwhelming, and wonderful. My “why” comes from an long-lost and short-lived passion discovered in a high school classroom in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My “why” comes from singing semi-professionally in several languages. My “why” comes from teaching, and leading several choir programs throughout Louisiana and Texas. My “why” comes from a “The Office” viewing party in December of 2019.

Let’s take a step back to 2008. It’s the Fall semester at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, and we’re in Third Period class on the first day of school: An introduction to HTML and CSS. After giving the awkward “What’s your name and one fun fact about YOU!” question, we log into our respective computers, and begin our first day with a basic HTML layout. We did not have access to code editors, but we did have access to Notepad. Every time we worked on a new HTML file, we had to write the layout for our file. Even though we weren’t allowed to copy/paste a basic HTML layout (which was frustrating in the moment), I now appreciate having done this hundreds of times in high school. We created tables, buttons, forms, and made some basic websites. I started to fall in love with coding. The following summer, I designed a basic, single-page website for a summer lawn-mowing venture, which brought in a massive total of three (yes, three) clients. At the time, this introductory course was the only programming class offered in our high school. I continued to create small websites for fun, while also pursuing another passion of mine: music.

After being pushed by several role-models to pursue music in college, I attended Louisiana State University from 2010-2016 for a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education and a Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance. While at LSU, our professors taught us music history, music theory, vocal pedagogy, how to sing in multiple languages, and much, much more. LSU provided opportunities for me to sing in the Ozarks Mountains near Eureka Springs, AR; the rolling streets of San Francisco, CA; the quaint town of Orvieto, Italy; and to audition for several big-name opera companies. Most importantly, LSU brought me an incredibly outgoing, loving soul - my wife, Alisha Bade (Rosa at the time). While at LSU, I found a deep connection and joy in Music Theory. In these classes we were often given excerpts of musical works, and we had to find where the composer would break compositional rules in each excerpt of music. Each level of Theory focused on different sets of rules, which progressively became more difficult. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, this is very similar to coding. In programming we also start with basics - how to print a “string”, floats, booleans, etc., and we eventually work our way into nested arrays, object relational mapping, and more. Like programming, Music Theory starts with simple, easier problems (finding parallel fifths in a 4 measure stanza of music), and progresses towards large-picture ideas, abstractions, and projects (in J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, No. 19, where and why does Bach use a Neapolitan chord?). Just as René Magritte’s painting “The Treachery of Images” shows abstraction, our ideas in music theory become more abstract, much like programming.

Near the end of my time at LSU, two major life events happened. My father passed away suddenly from Parkinson’s disease in March 2016, and two months later my wife and I got married. It was from my father’s death that I realized pursuing opera and a life on the road would pull me away from my new wife and our families. I stopped pursuing an opera career, started searching for a different life, and I applied to teach middle school choir in Texas.

I started working as an assistant choir director at a prestigious choir program in Sachse, Texas, and one year later, we moved south of Austin, where I was asked to “bring life” into a deteriorating middle school choir program in Seguin, Texas. After starting this new job, I found out there were five choir teachers in this position from 2014-2017, so I knew this was going to be a challenge, and it certainly was. We had to start with Elementary-level music that first year, and the program quickly expanded from 70 to 240 students over three years. There were many ups and downs, and learning to navigate and manage larger class sizes each year was challenging. Even though the choir program grew and our ratings got better each year, I wasn’t happy. I was constantly working (often Monday - Friday 7:00am -5:30/6 pm) while also maintaining a church music director position that took away Wednesday evenings and Sundays. This cycle of constantly being on the go affected me in so many ways. I gained unhealthy weight, ate poorly, barely saw my wife, and I had no energy for anything other than work. There were some great moments including successful concerts, teaching the love of reading challenging music, and many laughs in the choir room. However, there were many negative, stressful moments which led me to getting sick every two months and not enjoying my job at school. Something needed to change.

Last December (2019) we were invited to a viewing party of “The Office,” and as I was meeting everyone, I realized just about every single person at the party had transitioned from teaching music to coding. As we all talked and got to know each other, my passion from the high school computer lab came back. We talked about HTML, CSS, JavaScript, SQL, and more. I was loving every second of it. Most of the party attendees attended a coding bootcamp of some sort, and they all loved their new careers. As soon as we got home, I set up a Codeacademy account and started learning again. I made a new schedule to balance my jobs between being a teacher/church musician and coding: 9 hours of work, and 2-3 hours of coding Monday-Friday, with additional studies on the weekend. The short coding hours flew by, and my passion kept growing every day. Even though I was learning new programming concepts while also working a full-time and part-time job, these new habits set up other healthy habits: my wife and I started eating a plant-based, vegan diet; we dusted off our Bibles and started interpreting Scripture; we started running. Our time was much more structured in all aspects of our lives, and we were much happier. The stresses in my life still came from work, but I had a new purpose that drove me past that stress into a happier, better version of myself.

Back in the computer lab at Baton Rouge High, I had no idea my HTML/CSS work on Notepad would lead to a wild pursuit towards a software engineering field 12 years later. I never would have thought finding errors in Music Theory class would lead to reading error codes in programming languages. I had no clue that four years of keeping a well-organized, structured learning environment and using tech in the music classroom (especially memes - middle school kids appreciate the correct use of memes) would lead to organization and structure in code. Last December, the thought of having to go back to school for another degree was overwhelming, especially after having spent six years in school already. “The Office” brought a random group of musicians-turned-coders together who showed me the possibility of pursuing a coding bootcamp. I have been enrolled in Flatiron’s self-paced software engineering bootcamp for over a month now, and I’m loving every second of it. I’m projected to graduate near the end of September, and every step of the way is part of a new chapter, filled with joy and error codes.

After long days of coding, I think of a quote from ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek: “It’s a hard, simple calculus: Run until you can’t run anymore. Then run some more. Find a new source of energy and will. Then run even faster.” Find your passion, find your stride, and run with it. All of the chapters of my life have led me to this moment now, and they have shaped me into the person I am today. What is your “why”? What gives you new energy and pushes you every day? Find your “why”. Cherish it, embrace it, and mold it into something greater, because in the end, your hard work will be worth it.