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Ask HN: Does anyone here have an art degree?
226 points by iansowinski 113 days ago | hide | past | web | 170 comments | favorite
As Graphic Art's student, I'm curious if there are any developers with art history here - what's your stories, and how do you apply your artistic knowledge and skills to IT work?



BFA student turned full stack developer here. I wanted to actually share WHY artists can really excel in this space, both positive and negative:

1. We've been trained to critique, and communicate issues constructively. This is absolutely essential to working quickly, the sooner you realize there is an existential problem with what you're doing, the sooner you can work through them. I've become an absolute user story master because of what I learned at art school.

2. Self management, I prefer to work alone because I get the best work done when I can juggle and understand all the variables of the task. This forces me to be adept at a lot of different things but also means that as a developer you can pretty much leave me alone unless I really suck at something.

3. Asking why all the time, critiquing is one thing but the worst experiences I've had are when other developers say things like "It's always been like this". For example, I came into a shop where their build process had an SCSS linter that would error if anyone tried to use a color that wasn't a variable. This ended up creating the habit of a single stylesheet with around 200 slight adjustments of colors. Critical thinking is whats important for building systems with low technical debt, and I think artists are able to realize something is turning into technical debt much quicker than their engineer counterparts.

The tradeoff is that I have a huge communication gap with traditional computer scientists, I really have to work and study algorithms on my spare time and I still struggle heavily with mathematical notations.


Ah yeah, the critiquing aspect is spot on. In my first programming job, my supervisor would try to be as gentle as possible in telling me why my code was wrong. I had to essentially say "dude, just tell me my code sucks and then tell my why!" I didn't realize how thick of a skin I have due to my arts background.


Totally agreed. Actors and artists have to develop a thick skin or else they would whimper daily. :D

Any job where you are sort of putting yourself out there in the form of your work can be quite demoralizing, especially with the wrong people in charge. Programmers can be just as touchy about their work as artists--I've seen it personally. Some of this may have to do with cultural diffs. Some cultures seem (at least to me, with limited exposure) to be more or less amenable to "being nice" about criticism.


To a degree, the same goes for scientists. Having anonymous peer reviewers telling you the past six months of your professional life has been a waste, because this was done by a Czhechoslovakian in '73 (paper never translated) and turns out to be uninteresting, can be quite demoralising.

Or like one of my first papers, when sending it to a very good journal, having one reviewer say "this is all wrong" and the other saying "this is a well known result in the field, nothing new" and the editor just saying "reject".


Don't professional software developers feel the same way about crafting a masterful function, only to find their feature had already been implemented years ago?

Somehow, this industry thrives in reinventing the wheel in slightly different ways - once a process is implemented mathematically (in code), it has to be reimplemented again, in slightly different terms (another programming language). We bikeshed in that it's cognitively easier to manually reimplement the function, instead of mathematically determining how to "rephrase" the math in the other terms. When you want 2 wheels, making a slightly different wheel is mentally easier than copying the existing wheel - in terms of coding.


No. We don't. There's nothing in the world like standing up on stage in front of thousands of people and having a mistake creep into your work and having people write about it in every newspaper there is.

Code review is absolutely nothing compared to what it takes to put yourself out there as a musician or a scientist and have it shot down. Absolutely not even close.


And scientists have the safety rail of peer-review prior to a public mistake. Musicians have the same thing in studio, but not live.


> Don't professional software developers feel the same way about crafting a masterful function, only to find their feature had already been implemented years ago?

Although I find it weird to call myself a professional, I don't really feel the same way because I usually enjoy the process of doing it and figuring it out for myself. I suspect that I might feel differently if my compensation were directly tied to coming up with new things though.


I'm not sure why software developers should care about originality at the function level? If it's been implemented before, that just makes it easier to implement it again. (I assume there's a reason you can't just reuse or copy-and-paste the code - if you can, just do that.)

There is plenty of work to be done that's essentially translating an idea from one situation to another. The satisfaction is from solving the user's problem.


An architect (housing) must deal, daily, with the whys of his work, not only technically but also metaphysically. If an idea/concept is not rock solid, veto players will smash it in seconds. Once they are used to have their work criticized[1] it takes a lot to butthurt them.

[1] Top architectural offices do mostly competition work. It's not uncommon that one architectural competition has hundreds of participants and only one winner.


> "I didn't realize how thick of a skin I have due to my arts background."

Unfortunately, I think this says more about the programmers today and the culture they expect, rather than your resilience.

(that's not meant to imply that you're not resilient, by the way).


Don't underestimate the brutality of art school critiques. Most fields wouldn't tolerate it, not just programming.


Freshman year, at least one person would run out of each class crying during critique. First year is all about destroying everything you know about art and yourself so that you can be rebuilt, it's soul crushing but necessary to push people outside their comfort zone.

The politics are interesting, but predictable and usually die out by junior year. Everyone gets hard critiques and even best friends know they should be pushing each other to be amazing and not let bullshit slide, that's the point of being there.


Things can get brutal in art school indeed! I think that a big part of this (and its one of the parts that would be less tolerated in say, and engineering school) is that there can at times be a significant political dimension to the criticism. That is to say that the critiques are nominally focused on such and such a technique or choice of subject matter, but are actually about aligning oneself with a faction advocating the trend du jour or that one professor who hates anything X. Having said that, this sort of stuff certainly happens in business settings as well, which supports GGPs point.


True. I saw a few put to tears. A small handful washed out, too. 70-80 hour weeks of work, and harsh realities. It's not as easy as some think, depending on the school and program selected.


I have a BFA in Glass Sculpture and am now a full stack dev and business owner.

I agree with the points here but would like to add one thing. "The Creative Process". In learning how to create successful art work, you discover and become entrenched in this.

You learn how to take an idea and move it through phases of conception, sketching, planning, material/media choice and collection, prototyping, iteration, critique/feedback, execution, refinement, polish, installation, transporting, storage, transaction, and sometimes defense of concept.

All of these processes are part of making art. To developers, some of this may sound familiar!

An appreciation of process and an understanding that every action and choice is part of that process can attribute to success in development. Artists who enjoy the creative process are likely to succeed in other disciplines which require extensive processes.


Couldn't agree more with one and two.

The understanding with most art is that it takes several rounds of critique for a piece to even be complete, much less for an artist to reach their overall potential. And it's considered an honor to receive criticism from someone whose work you admire.

Similarly, self-management is completely necessary if you're completing something long-term, like a novel. Scrappiness, too -- it's very often the case that you have to skip around the gatekeepers to reach an audience for the first time.

I'd also add that there's a certain strange cognitive advantage. A lot of art is built on taking concepts from one situation and applying them somewhere foreign -- translating the feeling of loss into a series of musical notes, or applying the principles of the punk rock movement to dance.

I know it sounds like bullshit to a lot of hackers. But that trick, of abstracting away the details of problems so that their solutions can be used in isomorphic situations, is very handy in computer science.


I met a master of music once, he did mainly math and algorithms at his current job.

He said, he didn't think this would go hand in hand, but after he saw some algorithm stuff from a friend he was surprised how easy it was, so he switched from composing to coding algos.


There's a very strong relationship between music and math as skills, for some reason. It's been commented on and studied in quite a few places.

I have no idea why the relationship is so strong, but it is!


Yes, I've heard and read about that a few times, too.

Good pattern recognition skills (as in the general meaning of the word 'patterns', not necessarily design patterns), may be part of the reason, since patterns occur in both code and math.


I can definitely relate here. I've got a BA in music and an art minor, and am currently going back for an MS in Information Technology. I feel like the background in Art helps me grok abstraction quickly, but I have trouble when it gets down into the quantitative analysis part (though I'm getting better the more I learn).


I think studying art also helps you to recognize function and form, even in code. I know that the code I've written during the last few years, since I started a degree in creative writing, is much more cohesive and elegant than the code I wrote during the first two decades of my career.


Yes. Many artists have the skills necessary to become great advocates for the user because they have developed a healthily individualistic attitude.

I'd say artists are a bit less conscientious, in general, than CS graduates, which makes them less well-suited to managing technical complexity and avoiding future problems. I wonder if your idea that artists are good at detecting technical debt might be something specific to you, rather than a generic trait of artists?


Yeah, that's definitely a possibility, but I'd like to say it was my designer's intuition that quickly speaks up and says "Nah, that's a crappy approach, I don't know why yet but dig deeper and fix this nagging feeling of terrible."


Hey did you end up going back to school for a computer science degree or are you self taught?


I'm self taught, but my job is becoming more computer science focused every day. I have a lot to catch up on and study in the coming year to keep up to bridge what I already know from building applications to the computer science concepts I lack.


Art major, here, and I agree with these points. Critical thinking, communication, and creative problem solving are all very valuable skills to bring to a development team.

The 2+ years of art history is somewhat less helpful...


I have a degree in Fashion Design.

It was about a decade ago or so. I was finishing high school and contemplating studying graphic design or animation in a renowned school in my hometown (Les Gobelins, Paris). I befriended freshmen who were being sucked up into Flash animation trend and we started working for short-lived startups as Flash animators.

Then I discovered the works of Joshua Davis', Erik Natzke's, Robert Hodgin's (aka flight404) and it was the first epiphany — I started coding. It became a part-time job and a time-consuming intellectual pursuit up till now.

I knew nothing about it, but chose Fashion Design out of curiosity and because it's an interest I could share with my sister, but kept programming everyday. I never regretted it. In some way, it's very much like architecture (technical + philosophical + social impact). I even worked as a fashion designer for a short period right after, but it was not for me.

I learned HTML, CSS and PHP, then AS3, all thanks to the massive amount of literature available. I worked part time, paying part of my school tuition. When I graduated, I used my connections within the fashion industry to work as a Flash dev in a creative agency specialized in luxury brands.

Today I'm a full-stack web dev doing mostly JS, Python and studying Lispy dialects. I currently hold a position in an academic lab, where we blend design, research and engineering to study social sciences-related question within large data sets.

I'm studying math and algorithms to make a transition for the web to other scope of interest.


> I currently hold a position in an academic lab, where we blend design, research and engineering to study social sciences-related question within large data sets.

That sounds very interesting! Care to elaborate?


Sure! It's Sciences Po médialab, in Paris. https://github.com/medialab (linking Github, as it's much more relevant than the actual site).

The tenets of the lab have (more or less) to do with exploring Gabriel Tarde's theories of "Actor-Network" and monads (nothing to do with FP, mind you). One of the fundamental idea behind this being that everyone now generates traces on the web, and anthropologist/social sciences researchers may use them as a new "terrain" of research.

It was founded by anthropologist and philosopher Bruno Latour, and a group of engineers (who knew each other from school, where they were dabbling with programming for networks/exploration of the web early on). By network, I mean graphs (math).

Projects usually involves triumvirates of designers (usually specializing in information, sometimes students/researchers themselves), engineers, and politics or social sciences academics. Often being two things at a time.

We have regular hackathon-like sessions called "datascapes" where we explore (sometimes, dormant) data sets, either from the web, or digitized (i.e. scanned historical archives, etc...) to make sense of it, and come up with relevant research questions.

(We also do boring stuff to pay the bills, so that we have enough freedom to work on project we like afterwards).


I have a degree in painting. A couple of years after graduating, I decided that I needed a portfolio website. I had no money, so I figured I would try building it myself.

I knew literally nothing about code at this point. But I struggled through it with W3schools (this was 2011, before the fancy learning platforms). The hardest part was fighting my own lack of confidence, because I had been made to believe that I was artistic and therefore bad at math and science. I never realized until that point how deeply I had absorbed this idea. Pushing past it has been a marvelous experience.

Anyways, I realized that I really enjoyed writing code. The next year, in 2012, I started learning JavaScript. About a year and a half later, I met someone who got me a junior dev job at a startup in NYC. Been doing the startup thing ever since.

As far as applying my artistic knowledge to IT work, I'd say it's been a struggle to stop applying it. At first, my approach was very creative, and I quickly saw how disastrous that is when you're working in a team. I would catch myself trying to find some other way of solving a problem than my co-workers, because I didn't want to "copy" their work. Solving artistic problems means finding your own unique solution, but solving programming problems means almost the exact opposite.

There are other areas in which my creative side does come out though. I recently had a job where we had to reverse engineer a financial API that was not public. This sort of quasi-hacking is kind of perfect for creative people because it forces you to think outside the box.


I didn't go to art school, but since my first invention was a new medium with new modes of expression that no one else understood like I did, I couldn't help myself making art with it despite my PhD being in physics. I had several solo gallery shows in New York City, pieces in museums and shown across the U.S. and some internationally, a couple big public pieces in Manhattan, and I taught a couple classes in art/design (at NYU's ITP and at Parsons).

Now that I teach and coach leadership (not IT work, so different than the question asked), I find art training tremendously valuable. Our educational system is strong on intellectually challenging people, but socially and emotionally teaches more passivity and compliance.

Creating art forces you to express your emotions, be sensitive to others', to face criticism on what you consider beautiful, to face vulnerabilities, to grow and learn in ways that lecture, problem sets, case studies, reading, and writing papers don't promote.

I also took some acting classes. Their structure has become the structure of how I teach, which gets very positive reviews from my students. They commonly comment that they never learned this way before, that they didn't know they could learn what they do in my courses, that they value it deeply, that it's immediately practical, and they wish they had more of it.

We teach fields that are active, social, expressive, emotional, and performance-based differently than academic subjects and that training teaches genuineness, authenticity, self-awareness, and other things that traditional academic education doesn't.


Im am interested in that acting school approach. What makes it different or do you just pick someone from the audience and let them do exercises?


If you don't mind the page being under construction and designed for promotion, the approach is described here: http://spodekacademy.com/about-our-courses.


Thanks a lot - interesting read!


I did a BA Music, which was very traditional for the first two years (analysis, criticism, composition) but concluded with some amazing modules and projects in Max/MSP/Jitter/Processing.

Followed it up with an MSc in Computer Science, looked into careers as a developer but lacked the experience/aptitude for a coalface coding job and was hesitant to go into IT consultancy. Ended up opening a board game café with some friends instead so all's well really.

I'll definitely go back to coding / making, but as a hobby not a career. The skills definitely translate in some sense, but for me the most beneficial aspect is just having more ideas for cool projects. And maybe a greater willingness to spend time doing silly stuff because I enjoy it - not always for a lofty intellectual/societal purpose.


How do boardgame cafes make money? Do you charge per hour for a table?


We charge per person for a four-hour session (£4), plus the margins on food/booze/retail. Only 8 months in but so far, so good!


I have an MFA in poetry (2010) and now am a founder/swe at a startup providing software for libraries, museums, and archives. I wouldn't have been able to found a successful company without my time during the MFA where I learned how to live a disciplined life dedicated to exploring the self and imagination and pursuing one's ideas relentlessly.

Also, reflecting further, more than anything, the sheer amount of reading that I was able to do during my MFA taught me more than I think I give that time credit for. Days I was forced to do nothing but read/translate ~12-14 hours to get through coursework. Greek pastoral poetry and the Augustan-era Roman derivative have been influential.

Informative and encouraging to read all the responses in this thread. Thanks, iansowinski and all!


What is the name of your company?


I have an MFA in 'Literary Arts' and studied creative writing and visual art in undergrad.

I have worked in a silly amount of industries, from retail to cleaning beach houses to coaching ceos. I have consulted for large energy companies, small non-profits, and, most recently, marketing agencies.

A friend in the startup game inspired me to stop dabbling and make a go of it as a coder, mainly for $$, but also because I enjoy endurance problems and painful growth.

I make art because people are fascinating. The emotional systems they construct around themselves- and the systems they are woven into- endlessly blow my mind.

Making good art requires a fascination with human systems. All of them.

I have stood out to my employers as someone who 'isn't like other coders' because I am interested in the emotional stakes of their lives, and have developed the skill of re-communicating those emotional stakes back to them in an artful way.

Art teaches you to see. This is helpful, socially, professionally, because most people want to be seen.

This understanding has been powerful and lucrative, for sure.

The creative writing workshop process also thickened my hide and killed unproductive parts of my ego.

Most professional meetings with supposedly 'high stakes' don't come close to the kind of personal vulnerability required to put your poem, your inner life, in front of a group of strangers.


HN lurker here, apologies for the throwaway. Just wanted to add my bit because I'm currently finishing a PhD in Fine Art which is entirely coding/computer based. It's at an elite art school that has absolutely no provision for CS of any kind. I also couldn't do a CS PhD anyway as I have no other math or CS training.

It's difficult to justify in some ways. Most of the practice-based work I'm doing I wouldn't really show as commercial art, it's introverted and 'academic' (in a Fine Art sense). Things like simulating a DDos of an online artwork and looking at that as a performance within the history of iconoclasm. Also anything technical is self-taught so I feel fairly certain I couldn't step into a coding role straight away - too many holes.

However, I've learned loads of assembly, python and general reverse-engineering skills and really smart & weird people constantly make me prove the point of what I'm doing within a context that I believe in. It's a context that's not exactly native to the materials I'm using, none of my peers have experience with what I'm doing on a technical level, so I'm forced to both "code switch" with my language during critique + think about computers in a way I never would in a CS degree (having spoken to many people with CS degrees). I love it. Art school forces you to lay down your own markers. Mine are that in the end I like what I'm making and I hope that it can add a small piece to our knowledge.


I have an art degree -- sculpture. I graduated, couldn't find good work, and went to a community college to learn programming. I wouldn't say my art background has much application to my current job.


thank you for being honest. I always thought these kinds of posts draw exaggerated reactions and it's good to see some other answers.


I got a BFA from my state university in "Digital Arts", which for me was a combination of filmmaking, ceramics, and graphic design. I didn't start programming until my last year of school when I wanted to make stupid simple blinking lights with microcontrollers[1].

I agree with lots of responses in this thread about the roles of conceptual integrity and openness to criticism.

The other thing I would add is that my path to programming seems to have given me an orientation towards the outer shell of what I'm delivering, whether that thing is sensory or not (i.e. GUI or API). That's not to say I don't care about internals and constructs, but that I care about them _in service_ of that outer thing[2]. Midway through my programming career I learned about real outside-in TDD and it was like a lightning bolt where everything came together and anything seemed possible.

It saddens me to hear about the supposed importance of STEM education, as if the only thing left to do in today's economy is to deliver predictable implementations of finite technical problems. IMHO, this attitude is doing a great disservice to society, to individuals, and to the field of engineering itself.

[1] I needed CS 121 for a math credit that year and failed. In retrospect I realize that the class was entirely focused on for loops and divorced from the eventual goal of writing software. As a study in contrast, I was simultaneously taking "Programming for Artists" taught by the creator of Kid Pix. I learned a smaller set of skills, but really caught the bug for learning more. (Teach them to yearn for the sea and all that.)

[2] Ok not entirely. Some programming constructs are beautiful in their own right (e.g. map/reduce, CQRS, polymorphism...).


I share your observation about STEM. I do feel hopeful after I learned about STEAM - the term defined I believe by John Maeda. The A is for the arts and its importance as the reason why STEM exists... Meaning all the science/engineering efforts should be in the service of humanities.


This is like a clone of the comment I was about to write. I also had classes from that fellow, and share your sentiments almost exactly.


Cool!!!

Yeah I'm so glad there's someone doing what Hickman is doing. I hope and wish that programming education were dispersed into non-STEM programs.


I started in music, section lead and then later concertmaster in some local orchestras and symphonies, nothing big. But I learned a ton about how to manage people, synchronize work, meet deadlines at high quality and pull together different skillsets to achieve goals. I also learned how to take highly complex subjects and atomize them, learn them from the bottom up and then put them back together. I was pretty sure I'd end up with an art degree, but I also grew up very poor and we simply never had the money.

As a hobby I also participated in the demoscene and saw how very advanced technical approaches and art intersected and found a deep interest in software and technology.

Mix and stir over a couple years, add some time in school studying computer science and management and bada bing bada boom.

I learned to have an opinion, to spot quality, how to make compromises, how to make short term goals that achieved long term goals, how to lead, how to manage and so on. All these skills have served me well and I happily work alongside people with very intense and deep technical backgrounds.


I studied a BFA in Sound Design. It was an incredible mix. Along with the base arts courses, it stepped across music, film, animation and comp sci. It taught me the basics of signal processing, encouraged 'play' and seemed to balance creative expression with the engineering skills to enable that to happen.

After getting through all the courses that interested me I dropped out to travel and then fell into a few interesting jobs that kept me otherwise distracted from going back. I would 100% do it all again. The only thing that I'm super upset about is that I did't fall into the live coding community while I was there (this was literally happening at the same uni https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yY1FSsUV-8c).

One mindset that it solidified in me was when building things come up with the concept first, then figure out how to make that happen. That may be easy, or it may not. But at least what you're making will be worthwhile.

I work in the audiovisual industry today running an R&D lab for a systems integrator. We create presentation spaces, high-end corporate facilities and VC suites (which are still apparently a thing), a little bit of broadcast work, some stadium projects and lots of large format displays. When I'm tied into projects I'm usually end up rolling with some systems engineering, DSP programming, a bit of embedded dev, UI work and network engineering.

About to begin something new and rather exciting too.


This sounds super interesting to me!

I watched the video and it led me to install Sonic Pi and start messing around. Very cool stuff, will be interesting to see where electronic music goes in the future.

As someone who is still an EE student but is super into music production and film in my spare time, can I ask how you ended up where you are and to what degree your creative background helps out?


Oh sure, sorry for the late reply — been a busy few days.

I spent a large chunk of my life (both pre and post study) working in the live events world. Super fun, but not exactly what I'd call a sustainable lifestyle (financially and health wise). I'd also been coding from from a relatively young age. When I discovered I could combine the two, build things that lasted more than a couple of hours / for a single tour and not be killing myself in the process, I switched focus to the installed AV space. I managed to get lucky with a few positions where I was able to work with some great people who helped me continue learn and have fun.

As others have commented here, I find there's a huge mental overlap between most creative practices and building good software and product. Being able to burst through stages of intense idea creation then follow up and with the ruthless self and external critique required to discard 95% of what you thought were earth changing concepts is a painful, but extremely useful skill to acquire.


I have art degree in graphic design (visual communication).

After studies I was working very seriously, created a strong portfolio, was specializing in branding.

But design (and other types of (applied) arts) is very uncertain thing. In design for you 2+2=4, but for your client 2+2=7 and for the target audience 2+2=46. There are no objective criteria how to measure graphic design.

In programming 2+2=4.

Another bad thing about design is that non-designers are able to create design. Yes, their design is bad, but still they can do it by themselves.

In programming there is a big entrance barrier. That is why clients never DIY. That is why clients have bigger respect for programmers.

Before studying arts, I was in tech (when I was 11-14 years old). I did some linux, tried C++, web design etc.

Now I am 31. The last 3 years I'm mostly in development. Now I also do front end coding.

Arts can be very hard. Artists lack money, lack respect...

Yeah, you can do web design and get some decent money for it, but it is so mechanical and superficial. Once you learn it, there is nothing new to learn anymore. Just repeat the same. Follow some trends, that's it.

I like programming because there is a lot to learn. There will always be something new and exciting to learn. That's not the case with design.

Anyways, I really don't want to go back to graphic design and work with clients. But good that I got these skills. Now I can create an app (idea, design, development) completely on my own.


The concept of client's respect is rather interesting! And no other answers seemed to have mentioned it before yours. And I can only second that point. When i was Designing i would consistently have to argue and haggle over pointless details that would make working just so tedious. Clients bossing you around because their favorite color is pink, and that they love gradients and wordart-like flowery designs, but wanting a corporate and trustworthy looking outcome.. When coding, really that changes, people start thinking you are a genius/mathematician/geek whatever else.. And to be honest, it's so not true, but that does feel great.


Yes, with regard to the respect angle, I can certainly corroborate the experience of the GP. Artists are treated like absolute crap. Not only are you constantly browbeaten by art directors (the people you work for) but you are also ground down by the people they work for--who know even less. It can be a very, very miserable work environment. Freelancers are a little more immune to this, but not completely.

The increase in respect and money that i was earning as even an entry-level developer was mind blowing to me. And since i enjoyed the actually act of coding so much, the choice was such an easy one to make.


Well said.

Similar path here. I'd just add that visual design (and to a lesser extent, interaction design and ux design) is becoming commoditized due to common CSS libraries and patterns, WYSIWYG website building tools, more accessible design tools like Sketch, and a general convergence and consensus on best practices.

I switched to web development from product/digital design, then more recently to iOS development. I'm really glad I have a design background, especially with iOS/mobile where users have a higher experience bar, and where pretty much any interaction is not just achievable but easy.


I don't, but my co-founder does (VC backed startup). In many ways, he made me realize true design talent is one of the rarest and most valuable skills in tech, more than engineering. Everything we create looks awesome solely because of him, whether that's branding, marketing, web and web app design, or mobile UI. It's had a huge impact on our value as a company. This might be a relatively recent phenomenon, so timing seems really good for you and the field as a whole.

The downside for people in this field is that we need just one for a team of 25, whereas we have nearly 18 engineers. Competition could be fierce for these jobs, but I'll never start another company without a design co-founder.


Cannot agree more on design talent. In my experience, good back end developers (not just adequate, good) are a dime a dozen comparatively. Developers love to think that code is everything, but as many have learned, it's the business that matters. What makes the biggest difference often is the UX and design.


Have a degree in Visual Communication, with an Illustration major. I'd already been programming since I was 14 when I started it, and was going into Software Engineering, but at the behest of my best friend, changed at the last minute. I have never regretted the decision, because it opened me up to new thinking.

In particular I've learnt to apply the many of the concepts I learned from graphic design/illustration to problems in software engineering. I also learned that for all the differences they had, they were both about problem solving, merely in different media, and that right-brained or left-brained, I'm more interested in solving problems than I am interested in the context in which I solve them.

Also, art students are on the whole way more social, so I learnt to communicate on a whole different level than I had at high school.

Also, way better drugs.


As a game designer, I've been trying to get better at vis comm. Are there any books you might recommend? Thanks.


Not off the top of my head, but I can do some research and send you an e-mail if you like.

Side note, used to game design as well (though not much professionally).


A coherent life narrative that makes the parts of life fit together in a meaningful way is a cornerstone of human happiness. This inevitably biases the answers you will receive.

You may get more insight with the following question "Have any developers coded with someone who had an art degree ?"

My experience with a former artist proved challenging mainly because they refused, almost out of principle, to adhere to our company's design patterns and best coding practices. They felt that coding should be an expression of creative writing. The result was a collection of anti-patterns and dismissal of our naming conventions.

It was like explaining to a poet who now works with physicists that there is one and only one word for "force" and that word always means mass x acceleration. If you want to destroy the spirit of a poet, take a way all synonyms and metaphors.

There is certainly creativity in software development, but it is in extracting simplicity out of complexity. It is not forcing it into the embodiment of the code itself. The heavy constraints imposed in software development can be a source of frustration to someone from an art background. It is not too hard to overcome with awareness. My comment is not meant to be discouraging. It is also a single data point, as are all the other responses.


I have a BFA in Graphic Design. My program was more print focused but I always made websites where ever I could. I knew HTML and CSS and basic js and a tiny bit of php.

I was beyond lucky to get a design job for a small startup on craigslist doing just design. From there I just wanted to help the startups I was working for move faster. So I learned to do better with HTML, CSS. And then JS and PHP just to help feature development go faster.

Eventually I found the programming interviews much easier then the design interviews. Though to be fair I don't think I was that amazing of a designer.

I got a few jobs doing all front end development and now I do all node / js/ react code.

While I lack any formal programming training what I do have is a really amazing relationship with the UX designers I have worked with. I have a feel for what they want and I care about what they are trying to accomplish. I am also better able to find good middle ground to compromise feature development on.

I think my focus on UX as a developer really helps me put out the best possible features.

While there seems to be many people in this thread with an art background I have found very few in the places I have worked with similar backgrounds.


I have a BFA.

I taught myself programming (C++) when I was 15 (1995). I made simple puzzle games on my Mac.

The internet got big and I got into HTML and JS.

I didn't go to college for Computer Science b/c it sounded like I'd end up wearing a white coat and working at IBM.

I went to Art School b/c it was the closest thing to programming. Programming and Art are the same in that you create something from nothing.

When coding became "cool" (2004 ish) I picked it up again.


I have wanted to go into moviemaking since I was 13, and I got my Bachelor of Arts in it. I am not sure how much of it applies to programming. But trying to make a good movie is the hardest thing I have ever tried. So all work since then feels like a piece of cake.

More applicable to programming has been my minor, English. I think English composition, the particular kind taught in The Elements of Style and On Writing Well, is very similar to programming. This school of writing is neither The Chicago Manual of Style (put a comma here) nor free, self-expressive, creative writing that I was mostly taught. It's all about economy of words (which maps directly to economy of code), making every word count, and putting yourself in the background as you work to serve the reader (or the user).

I also loved drawing and have studied graphic design. This of course helps in the design of user interfaces. Although, like my writing, it's not about creative self-expression but being clear and direct and getting out of the way.


English literature student - full stack developer now. Few pointers based on my experience but they may not be applicable for all though.

# Don't sweat on Math skills. There is a vast majority of area were your logical reasoning would just be enough.

# Don't let your artistic inclination limit your initial learning process. If your basics are strong - you will never feel like drowning.

# Don't let any source code scare you. Trust me - it's always easier than it looks.

# Don't try to pick a domain as the go to destination - not yet. You can take informed decision when you have hands-on experience.

# Don't try to have just one trick up your sleeve. Width is more important until you can hit the depth.

# Don't marry yourself to any technology but choose your allegiance(eg. Open Source).

# Don't miss local developer meet ups and conferences.

# Don't pick a big corporation or become a freelancer or any remote jobs for your initial stint. Startups are the best place but with the development team size being more than two people.


I have a degree in studio art. My thesis was a mixed media triptych oil on canvas and digital art printed on canvas.

I started out as a graphic designer, moved into web design and then into programming.

My degree, and study of lithography, painting, sculpture, etching and more has made me the professional I am today. Studying art is all about the need for rigorous process and attention to detail in a creative workflow. This is what programming is. I have no doubt that my education and experience as an artist has improved my ability to think critically and solve problems as a programmer.


Attention to detail was definitely my number one gain from an art / creative background. Can't overstate the importance of a good critical eye for detail.


Studio art major here. I was a full-time oil painter for five years. My art created the economic conditions for me to need to find actual work, just in time to miss the original dot-com bubble.


I have a BFA in creative writing and a JD (law degree), and now work building tooling to assist in legal tasks.

I've been programming and writing since I was quite young, mostly making games, but wanted to make a go of it as a writer. I went through an AFA and BFA program, but became less impressed with the quality of my own writing, and the output of MFA programs, as I went on. Because of my love of programming and interest in intellectual property law, I decided to go to law school instead.

While in the BFA program, I had started to develop tools to help me track vocabulary, word usage, sentence structure, and analyze other authors works. In law school, I did he same thing, building chrome extensions to speed up trademark searching, building toy-scale trademark watch services, and a variety of other projects.

Having the practice making quick prototypes of useful legal products was useful when finding a job. An automation focused legal company hired me during my third year of law school, and I've been building tools to help them automate all sorts of business tasks ever since.

Some of the key things from my art school days that still help are my ability to handle and give feedback constructively, and a willingness to quickly try new things to see if they'll work.

If anyone has any questions, don't hesitate to ask!


MFA 1988 Intermedia (my BA was in Film). I did most of my master's degree in a Photography department using xerography (Photocopy) as my main medium, so I was friendly with technology to begin with. Got a Mac fairly early, in 1987, as soon as I realized I could set professional-looking type on it. I was always interested in both precise exression and flexible experimentation.

As someone who matured as an artist on the cusp of the transition from analog to digital, I feel I have a one foot firmly planted in both. Analog is more forgiving, the digital environment requires rigor. Now I am more or less a designer by paid profession (and a sound artist by chosen profession) and I make web sites for a living, mainly for cultural institutions. (Mostly using Drupal, in case you are interested.) I went from xerox to here by essentially being fascinated by publishing, the sheer difficulty and amount of work it took to put words on paper; and thence to the web, where it became somewhat (ahem) easier.


I ended up taking a BFA in Fine Art after realizing I would need another semester for a Graphic Design/Digital Media degree. My degree is from a state university.

Worked as a freelancer web dev for a while, did IT helpdesk, went back to tech school, got involved in hackerspaces, got a job in machining which was more stable than web dev work & less mindnumbing customer facing than helpdesk. Paid my dues and worked my way from running machines to building machines, programming PLC's, and writing programs. Now I'm part of the Advanced Development engineering team. I spend a lot of time pulling data to run reports, 3d modeling parts & assemblies, & hands on troubleshooting of our prototypes.

Web development helped with the industrial programming I deal with & the art degree taught me visualization, deconstruction, and problem solving.

Anecdotally, I used to scour McMaster Carr for parts to make for sculptures. Now I actually order stuff for it's intended uses.


MFA Digital Arts and New Media. This is an interactive perspective.

Right now the crossover between the arts and virtual reality is incredible. You need to be able to: dress a set, light it, do sound design, puppetry (avatars/rigging), sculpt / model, paint, and code. Artificial intelligence for agents and their behaviors. Narrative to tie it all together. Oh -- and to take risks, withstanding brutal critiques while taking the advice that helps and ignoring the advice that doesn't. To document the entire process, present it in public, and speak about it with alacrity. How to research new methods & materials, and adapt them to your practice.

I'll take a second to plug all the programs at UC Santa Cruz -- Department of Computational Media, Center for Games and Playable Media, Digital Arts and New Media MFA.


I do. BA in Studio Arts. I find it to be one of the most applicable degrees to software development you could have.

Forget the tech, the syntax of languages, and look at what you are actually doing -- You have a vision of something you want to build. You have a selection of tools with which to build it. You start from nothing, and build up to your vision. But it will only be considered a success if other people like the result, and comprehend what you were trying to do.

That process of creating something from scratch is exactly the same in Fine Arts, or in software.

As far as how I got into tech, the story is pretty boring. I graduated from college in '94. Needed a job. IBM Research was hiring support people. I applied, got the job, moved from support into coding over a couple years, and just worked my career from there.


Doesn't help with coding at all according to my story. I enjoy coding, and did it as job for years (still do part time), but my formal art training contributed zero to all things technical.

It helps with general product solutions and obviously design and content choices and strategies. It helps with big picture concepts and with confidence in experimentation. I believe it sharpens general intuition, which could be handy in IT.

Studying art thoroughly over a few years by looking at other artist's work in detail and doing your own art, sharpens your command over "less is more". You become better at peeling away layers to get to the essence of things. You become better at avoiding nonsense and you may learn to communicate ideas in new ways.


I have a BA and MA in Visual Art with a concentration in Intaglio printmaking (etching), painting and illustration.

I got my degrees in the early 80s, just as the microcomputer revolution was heating up. Up until then, I was totally unaware of computers and computing. Math and science didn't really interest me growing up.

After leaving college, I got an entry level job as an artist that was fairly menial: rendering toilet seat covers and drapes for a local department store for local paper B&W advertisements. Left there to work for a now-defunct children's book publisher in 1982 or so. Was illustrating teaching aids as an in-house illustrator. A year or so later, the company started a division to write educational software for the Apple][. This was the first time that I really got to see and interact with computers.

Well damned if i didn't fall in love with the little things! I immediately got friendly with the developers writing the software (one of whom I know and work with to this day!) and asked if they would teach me how to program. This meant learning 6502 assembly language. So after working a second job for six months to save up for an Apple][c, I really hunkered down and learned. As it was, I was burning out on the "art on demand", cranky art director world of in-house art departments and decided that I'd like to get a job as a developer full time. So I basically stretched the truth about my background and landed a job writing Mac software (in 68K assembler) for a printer company in 1985-86. From there I was off and running.

As far as using art in my everyday work, I am certainly drawn to GUI work and can both design and code interfaces if needed. In working with UI and interaction designers, it is often easier for me to see what they are after and to implement the "spirit" of their work, so in that sense, my art background does really come in handy. (this is starting to sound like an interview answer--sorry about that)

Also, I've never completely given up art and still work on illustration (and writing) side projects to this day. It's the only way for me to let off certain creative steam.


I will finish my degree in creative writing next month. I've been working as a software engineer for almost 27 years now, but I have noticed that my ability to architect and write complex software has improved during the time I've been studying creative writing.

The skills necessary to build a complex novel—writing characters, scenes, plots, and pacing—seem to have translated quite well into building complex software applications. I never consciously applied my writing skills to my software development. I just recognized that I was going through the same mental processes for both one day, and that the quality of my software, and the speed at which I could write it, had improved.


I got my MFA in poetry before I became a fulltime software engineer. I feel a connection between balancing metaphor, narrative, description, and the mechanics of language in poetry and solving complex problems with software. Would love to hear more of your story at some point--do you blog about the the workshop at all? Good luck with your thesis, and congrats on finishing!


Started with CS/Space Engineering then had an intermission with two art degrees in Bay Aera and NY and then started doing open hardware projects. Initially multitouch stuff around the time the iPhone came out, then an open source laser cutter, and more recently an adaptive oxygen system for pilots.

Occasionally I also do art projects with decent sales through a NY gallery.

I have always seen art as exploratory, a frontier where you push what is thinkable and communicable. An example would be the literary pioneers that preceded space exploration. In other words playtime to widen your perception before you narrow down on a problem and solve it.


Don't have an art degree but self taught since I was a child. I ended working for animation movies: http://feiss.be

The funny part is that I have a computer engineering degree though..


This is the correct way to do it. Being taught art would kill one's creativity and dull one's ideas. Therefore study maths, physics, computer science and all those tech things that underpin true art, i.e. the new stuff made in new(er) mediums.

I graduated with a tech degree and was able to freely move around the broadcast television and animation world, with a huge amount of creative input because I understood the problem space and the underlying tools.

I also had the confidence to branch out from 'engineer' to 'creative professional' able to be earning money for the companies I worked for due to this creative/tech crossover skillset, an 'engineer' is an expense, not a revenue earner under normal circumstances.

If I had wanted to work on the shows I worked on but had taken a traditional approach to getting there, then I would have had to have done an eternity of 'runner' jobs or have been born with the 'right' parents for nepotism to do it for me. But I found the tech avenue to be wide open, back then it was SGI machines and none of the runners were clamouring to read the SGI manuals. It wasn't important for me to 'mix with the stars' but I did very much enjoy working with a lot of different specialists all at the top of their game.


I have to ask this: When you watch the spanish "Capture the Flag" trailer (2014) on the website it seems to be based on a different story than the actual movie and trailer released in 2015. It's basically the same two kids and the grandpa flying to the moon. But in the movie they sneak into the rocket (at night). In the 2014 trailer it's actually daylight and it looks like they ended up there by accident (the bike). How did that happen? ;-)

2014 spanish Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xc0rUsUjIIo

2015 Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67YfSzkmDgw


I don't know what happened really, but normally to get financial partners and raise the large amount of money needed for doing an animated movie you prepare a kind of trailer or short clips to show and convince them, usually way before the script is finished, and probably not for the general public. I guess that in this case that "trailer" was good enough for showing as a first public teaser trailer, even if it was not entirely faithful to the final script.


I really like your stuff. I've also discovered a new film that I can watch: "Capture The Flag". Seems like a good film. I'm surprised that I knew nothing about it, even though I'm an avid film consumer. I guess marketing really is important.

It would be great if you could write a blog post of how you create one of your pieces from scratch. It doesn't have to go into every single detail. At least enough so that those of us that would like to imitate you can learn from you. Something like this would be useful [1]. It doesn't have to be a film tutorial, just a blog post would be enough. Thanks.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yb4Jd_x3_jg

PS. If you know of any resources that you think would be very helpful to a beginner like me I would be very grateful if you shared them with us.


thanks!

Sorry but I don't have time for something like that.. I guess general illustration and painting rules apply to matte painting as well. Realistic illumination, good perspective and nice composition.. Start from sketch and big strokes with no detail, keep refining and detailing later.. etc.

I don't know your level, but for general painting tips I love this old tutorial http://www.androidarts.com/art_tut.htm

For any specifics, don't hesitate to ask..


Thanks for the reference!


Minor in art history undergrad, and BFA/MFA studio art. After moving to New York in 2000 I eventually realized that the people with the greatest autonomy and creative freedom were coders. I bought a Teach Yourself LAMP in 24 hours book. Probably the best decision I ever made was to stop trying to sell myself off as a designer (probably because I was not one) and selling myself off as a coder instead. My art background is related to my product (prefer to stay anon on this) and am happy with my decision to attend art school instead of studying computer science. Been self-employed seven years.


BFA with emphasis on interior design and studio art. I still paint and love it, but been doing Linux/Open Source stuff for over 20 years now. When I got into Linux it reminded me of when I was a kid on the old Apple ][, that's when I knew I was on to something. I don't regret anything, loved college and what I learned, and will paint for the rest of my life. Still joke about going back for a Master's in Art History one day, whenever I retire I want to travel more and see all the great art museums in the world.


I was headed towards a BFA in Fine Art/Computer Graphics in the early 2000's. I dropped out during my second year, mainly for monetary reasons. I also wasn't focused enough on my studies.

During High School, I loved 3D Modelling, Computer Music Creation, and Web Development. I thought about the possibility of majoring in CS, but like many, was discouraged by the amount of Math.

After my stint in College, it wasn't difficult for me to find a Technology related job. For eight year's I worked a mix of Support and System Admin roles, I became fed up with the "Cost Center" side of the industry. I decided it was time to pursue Software Development full-time.

I choose Web Dev as a way into the industry. I hunkered down and studied the "MEAN" stack, learned Python, experimented with C, and C#. Many interviews later, I found a Startup crazy enough to give me a chance. My life was changed forever. I was now a Full-Stack Developer.

I'm amazed by how much I've learned since then. About proper architecture, testing, general CS. I've been able to work with Angular, React, iOS, Android, Rails, Node, Spring, the list is endless. That Start-up has since been acquired, and I now work for larger Corporation, but I couldn't be happier.

I believe my time in Art school was invaluable. You learn creativity, expression, and not to fear critiqued.

While going back to school for CS is on the back of my mind, I have no regrets with the path I've chosen.


How did you get the employer to take the chance on you?


Master in fine art here, with a focus on print making with lithography stone... as you can guess, not a lot of work, and hoping to get a show and sell is not exactly something where you get lot of money, even if you're not bad. Since luck and hope ran out after eating too much pasta for a while, I jumped ship when a friend ask me to join him at his small shop — too much work for one guy, and I seem to know a shit or two about programming, being a true old school geek. So we started doing iOS dev together, and with some work (first with the programming iOS for dummy, in 2009) I did get good at it, as with some PHP/Python... well, whatever was thrown at me. I would not say my art background is especially useful in my day to day. In fact, in all honesty I have no idea how it is for everyone else... Being honest, curious and eager to learn is what has pushed me forward the most. There's downside though of not having followed a formal curriculum : lack of knowledge in algorithm, math... But well, working diligently about those helps. I know I won't ever be able to apply to Google or other company alike because of that , but I don't care. I've worked for small shop, startups, big telco on main product, so there's always a path forward :)


If someone made a book/course on algorithms/math from an arts background, I would buy it in a heartbeat.


It's not made by someone from an arts background, but as someone with barely any maths background (stopped learning at 16) I found the book Grokking Algorithms[1] a really good way to learn about data structures etc. It's written with more of a focus on displaying algorithms visually. Doesn't go into massive depth, but helped me considerably in developing intuition in a way other typical recommended resources for alg didn't.

[1] https://www.manning.com/books/grokking-algorithms


Many of them. a BFA and two MFA's.

I started out wanting to pursue computer science, but those classes didn't fit into my schedule (I did my freshman year at UCI and senior year in high school at the same time).

The only class that fit my schedule was a Visual Arts class with a "New Media" emphasis. At this time I was also working at the local paper and putting their site online (this is around 1997).

I got hooked on the theory behind the why/how/engineering of the Internet, art, computers and how all these intersected. I liked that art was putting a mirror up on humanity as it got more and more connected.

I ended up going to UCSD in their Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts program, then to UCSB where I was in Media Arts and Technology and doubled MFA'ed with Visual Arts (Computing Emphasis).

I did a lot of installation work, a lot of interesting programming with AI and the like.

From there I started the technology department at Warner Bros. Records, ran Live Nation Labs, and currently the General Manager - Digital at Fender Guitars.

I think the art background helped me bridge the arts/humanities and technology in an interesting way, and keeps my approach to tech grounded in the artists and artistic practices I've worked in.


> currently the General Manager - Digital at Fender Guitars

Please tell me you guys have awesome jam sessions to close out the day.



My wife has art history and philosophy undergrad degrees, from Duke. She then went and got an architecture degree from Columbia, and now she's a practicing architect.

This was actually a somewhat reasonable progression, although if she had known for sure she wanted to do architecture when she was applying to colleges, she could have saved two years of her life and gotten a five-year undergrad bachelors of architecture degree instead.


Good deal! I think any architect should have a formal background in the humanities or the fine arts. The utilitarian engineering mindset should never have taken over the profession.


I have a BFA in sculpture and would have a minor in CS but for the math requirements. I currently work as a data scientist. If I'm feeling punchy, I'll try to sell myself as a data poet. I use abstraction and metaphor to create meaning from chaos. The distance from art to science has always been very short. If I ever need to explain myself, I just say it's all about problem solving and abstraction.


I have a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from an elite university and currently help technology companies market products / bring products to market. Backstory: I've been tinkering with computers and coding since I was about 13, so tech wasn't something I stumbled on post-uni either.

Uni taught me how to concisely think through, package and present ideas to people; and to be able to pick apart unfamiliar concepts until I was able to understand and analyze them.

I've built a successful consulting business out of combining the two and acting as the bridge between engineering teams who typically have a deep understanding of the product but struggle to explain practical use cases; and marketing teams who sometimes lack an in-depth understanding of how a product works but know how to sell it. I've had CTO's tell me they can't believe I've never worked FT as an engineer. I've also had people ask me what Hegel could possibly have to do with technology but ultimately software and marketing are about people and what makes them tick.


which....doesnt have much to do with an arts degree?


Story poster didn't specify fine arts even if most of us implied that. BA has art in there, even if it is meant as a liberal arts degree; the story is also attracting design degrees, which technically aren't fine arts either (at least in an art school).


I have a degree on graphic design and now work as a senior designer and developer. I work on a lot of digital projects but also design books (mostly artist books), identities and typefaces.

My job is quite interesting because I lead both design and development for most of the projects I work on. Each process informs the other, for example being aware of what's going on in the development world can help establish and hopefully push limitations in the design process.

I've found clients really appreciate someone who understands why design decisions have been made as well as how that design will function and the process of implementation. I can usually talk a client through an entire project without having to check in with a different department to see if x is possible or how long y will take.

However it is very difficult to find employers who are looking for someone like me, everyone seems to want one or the other. So I can't hop between companies so easily and my salary has pretty much stagnated as a result.


This is maybe a little out of bounds, but I was a violin, music theory, philosophy student.

When I got burnt out of being a violinist, I found it pretty easy to transition to technology. But I will add the caveat that I had an insanely good violin teacher who taught me everything in terms of solving problems. I had an ear for what seemed artistically "right" for various pieces of music since I was a kid. Thanks to being the youngest in a family of professional musicians. I grew up with that stuff.

Software is about solving problems. I think there's a link to almost any artistic endeavor that solves problems. In my case, it was the problem of how to communicate what I wanted to for the audience in front of me.

It's different for everyone. I will say this, however: being a good software developer is thousands of miles easier than being a good artist. If you've done the hard work it takes to be good at being an artist, you can succeed as a developer. And it pays better as well.

email me if you'd like to talk more.


MFA in electronic arts, BA in philosophy. An art practice allows you an opportunity to trust your instincts while working through a problem. I think this is a big advantage. Also, art making is production oriented -- you work through the issues in the work itself. This puts you in the same company as the engineering co-workers and is an important point of commonality.

But as a student, you also need to take charge of your education because there are pitfalls in much of the standard studio art curriculums (I'm a tenured professor of art. I see this up close....) The older pitfall is an emphasis on art training as the development and articulation of a personal visual style. This approach doesn't help you the long run and isn't particularly helpful when your goal is to apply your knowledge to IT work. The current pitfall is seeing your education as a checklist of training and mastery of specific software packages. This is often built into the course sequence of degree programs. I think this reflects the wrong approach. An art education ideally provides you with great powers of close observation, pattern making/matching and systems analysis/creation. It teaches you to trust your own abilities as your ideas come together. It teaches you patience. It builds critique and review into the creative process. And it ties you into a long history of people exploring the expressive possibilities of a diverse range of media systems. This is a great legacy to be a part of.

My advice is to make sure there is room in your schedule for other liberal arts classes that involve reading, writing and discussion. These skills will help you bridge the differences between your approach and the approach of those your work with who have a more technical background.

I love working with technology, and while at times I wish I had more knowledge in CS and math, I wouldn't change a thing about my background.


Ooh, this is me. I was into both computers and art in high school. I'd thought myself basic and pascal, worked as an assistant at an engineering company and was in a special art program at school. I went to a small liberal arts college unsure of which to pursue. I told my advisor I was unsure whether I wanted art or computer major. He happened to be the art dean, so that's what I signed up for, thinking I could change it if I wanted. I took some computer courses, but they were so outdated- stuff I already knew. So I stuck with art. I assumed I would do graphic design, since that seems the natural marriage of the two, but focused on fine art because I enjoyed that more. I applied for a developer position doing some web dev, taught myself VB and C#, and did a little graphic design. But the company needed more line-of-business apps, reports, etc. So that's what I did. My manager and I eventually started a consulting company, doing similar for all sorts of organizations.

I actually don't do fine art or graphic design much these days, though do want to do more on the side. For intranet apps it's just easier/cheaper to get a canned layout than design one from scratch. I do value my art education for teaching me some mental approaches to problem solving in app dev. In painting (usually), you work general to specific. Block in the big picture, then break down into more and more detail gradually. I take this approach in my apps: understand the problem, then go and block out the main classes, pages, etc. I gradually add code, adjust layouts, etc until it does what the customer needs. I also grew a thick skin in critique that I think helped me listen to criticism better ;)

I do feel I had some lucky breaks to be a fine arts major with a paying job. People took a chance on me that maybe not all art majors would get. But I do 15 years later still appreciate both and am glad for my art major.


I have an art degree of sorts. I went to The Evergreen State College[1], which does not have majors and does not offer a BFA, so I my degree is a BA. I took art programs that they offered, mostly doing drawing and sculpture. I also did some self driven courses that were not art related, learning about boat design.

I got into open source software and programming after graduating, and it eventually led to a career. I wouldn't say the artistic knowledge does anything for my work per se. But I do view development as a creative process similar to art. You start with an idea and some "raw materials", and gradually add or remove until you get the desired end result. When developing, you can start with design documents and prototypes, which is like doing sketches or mockups. I'm also pretty perfectionistic about code aesthetics and quality, so there is an artistic element there.

1. https://evergreen.edu


Evergreen is a cool school.


I graduated with a degree in Graphic Design and worked as a designer for a little over a year before I made the switch to full time development. It really depends on if you are doing back-end or front-end programming, because it can affect each in a different way. For back-end, you might think through problems in a different way than someone with a CS degree would, which can be really helpful on a team and bring a different perspective. With that said, your skills would definitely be more apparent working on the front-end. Developers with a design eye/background are a designers dream. You will notice little design flaws (offset padding, font style, font size, etc.) that other developers might miss. As a designer who used to work with developers, that can be the most frustrating and time consuming thing of all time. So for me personally, it's definitely transferred over well for me and made me both a better developer AND designer.


I have a BA in History of Modern Art and an MA in Contemporary Art Theory, but now work as a Front-end Developer.

I originally taught myself HTML, as a teenager, approx 16 years ago. The web was a continuing interest in the following years and the work of people like Joshua Davis, Daniel Brown and Yugo Nakamura was a significant inspiration.

After graduating I was looking for work and found plenty of demand for the basic web design and development skills I'd been gradually acquiring as a hobby over the preceding years. Consequently, I started dedicating significant time to improving my programming skills and establishing my career as a developer.

Similar to the comments of others on this thread, I've found the key benefits of my arts background to be schooling in:

- critical thinking

- communication

- visual / aesthetic fluency

Two notable differences I've found between the two fields:

1. STEM vs humanities

Currently, developers often tend to have a science / mathematics background or an affinity with those disciplines. Work that is often considered most effective in the arts is ambiguous and open to multiple interpretations. This is quite a cultural difference from the empirical search for knowledge in the sciences or the eternal truths of mathematics.

2. Social status

The respect accorded to developers in comparison to the majority of professionals of the visual art world (artists, curators, educators etc) is extraordinary. Societies frequently don't seem to know what the purpose of art really is, especially given that the arts often have an obtuse or outright critical relationship to capitalism. Developers, as the key technicians of the information economy, in contrast typically receive a great deal of autonomy, prestige and financial reward for their work.


I don't have a degree of any kind, but my first real job was in the art department of a advertising company (graphic design, mostly).

These days I spend more time writing code for the artists than I do working on the art, but I'm sure that past experience is useful in communicating with others. Also, code itself is an art form. I like to think that past experience allows me to write better code, especially visually appealing code, whose importance I believe is oft underestimated.

For what it is worth, I have found the context switch to be particularly interesting. When I have been away from what is traditionally considered art for long periods, it takes a lot of failed attempts to get the mind back into the artistic mindset. It always comes back, but what seemed natural at one point in time does not come back naturally in an instant. The same is true trying to go back into the programmer mindset when focusing on artistic endeavours for long periods.


I'm a graphic design minor - it would be major, but after being rejected from my program, I decided to reevaluate my life instaed of reapplying for the program. That was one of the best decisions I've made.

I realized that it is more important to have width than depth in many circumstances. That is to say, knowing a little about a lot of things instead of knowing a lot about one thing.

For example, in my web dev work, I need to be able to cooperate with the graphic designers who provide the designs for the product to me. Being able to talk their language and understand the tools they use is tremendously helpful. I'm also able to apply the principles of visual design in my own projects instead of needing a designer to review all my work.

And I still try to do art on the side. After I changed my major, I took a printmaking class and discovered my favorite kind of art. I'm planning on doing more of that after I graduate.


BFA in film and video production, and I've worked full time as a programmer for more than 20 years (game design and interactive educational software).

The greatest mistake people make about computer programming is that they believe it's an engineering discipline. It's not at all: It creative fine art - just like drawing or painting.


Hi, I'm very curious about how you made the transition. Mainly, what was your response to the interviewers' questions about your film degree on the CV when you are first making your transition. Did they just willingly accept you as a candidate without a CS degree? How did you convince them that you are the guy for the job? Thanks


I'm not a software engineer, but I do program and code daily at my job as a designer.

I was always interested in drawing as a child. Naturally I gravited towards an art degree in college. In my sophomore year I took an interest in programming and for my junior and senior year I essentially split my time between programming and graphic design courses.

Understanding art and being able to appreciate fine craft has made me a better developer. I spend more time (trying to at least) do things the right way, or to write more efficient and elegant code.

A quality art degree from a well respected university will almost always teach students to think critically. There's a constant questioning that happens as an artist and the good ones are almost contrarian in nature. Employing a bit of this critical thinking in the tech field can take one a long way. Unfortunately that type of thinking is currently under attack.


I have an Art & Design degree with a graphic design concentration, and nowadays I'm a designer/developer/entrepreneur/bit of everything.

I wrote a post quite a bit ago about my process learning how to code: https://limedaring.com/articles/im-a-designer-who-learned-dj...


Theatre major here. Putting together a show is basically the same as building software. What software calls a spec, theatre calls a script. A product manager is just stage manager with a different name. Architects are directors, and engineers are the actors and crews.

The biggest difference is that in theatre, you can't miss your ship date, because you've sold tickets and there are folks in the seats. That curtain is going up at 8 regardless of whether you're ready. The show must go on.

On the other hand, software engineering and theatre also couldn't be more different. Theatre by definition is a transient art form. It exists while the show happens, and then disappears. Long term planning or design just doesn't happen (this is probably different on Broadway and the West End) because you only need to make it through the run.


I have a degree in Digital Design, basically 3 intensive years about graphic design, 3d modeling and video editing etc, before that i studied a lot of programming and math in high school. After the design school i wanted to work in the Film industry, so i took some gigs as a 3d Generalist, maybe 5 or 6 projects, but in the mean time i was already working as a developer and making more money in one month of coding compared to 6 months of "design" work. So at some point i just decided to not "waste time" in any other design project but try to become a better developer.

Today i apply my artistic knowledge a lot when i do prototypes or when in the company there's a lack of designers. The other good thing is that when i enjoy myself building little games or web apps, i can create the assets myself.


I took an art history course for a couple of years at a college and I’m also an art collector. It’s hard to say if this influences my work (I’m a developer). I don’t do any design personally although I make sure that every product I build is stellar in the visual/usability department. I don’t know if this relates to my love for art. For me art isn’t about how good or not something looks but how much care has been put into it.

On the other hand, art has definitely influenced me as a person. It’s like meditating, when I visit a museum, an art gallery, or even watching art online I feel very much relaxed and contempt. The other thing that's great about art is that it helps you understand yourself better. Art is a sentimental stimulant and as such helps you explore your inner self and your emotions.


I started in Graphic Design with a strong interest in building websites. After learning enough HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to realize that I couldn't build the ideas in my head without help, or a CS degree, I switched to CS.

Nonetheless, I learned many useful things in that introductory year of Graphic Design. The program placed a strong emphasis on design-thinking and critical feedback. Those skills are valuable in any line of work, especially in programming, which often requires artistic or creative thinking.

The graphic design courses also improved my code review process (toward self and others), and it improved how I think about usability when writing code – I focus much more on the next person who might work on/with my code.


My story's a little similar to this, though I started building web pages/sites at a young age (at the tail end of Netscape Navigator). I was studying graphic design at a city college with a phenomenal graphic design department then ended up transferring to a four-year university with a department that felt like a downgrade from city college.

I was already considering minoring in CS, but after a year of feeling underwhelmed in the department, I just made the switch over.

I agree with you and many of the other posts here that you do develop critical thinking/feedback skills. It was a little surprising switching to CS and seeing how very few peer-critiques were done.


BAS in sound arts. I taught myself JavaScript in parallel with the Web Audio API and wrote the beginner book I wish I had. It's titled "JavaScript for Sound Artists". There are literally no books on the market to teach JavaScript to this demographic so I guess I have the monopoly. I tried (hopefully successfully) to write it in a manner that extends the experience of programming a synth or drum machine to the world of JS. Its on Amazon if anyone is interested. Keep in mind it's a beginner programming book.


I moved to an out of state university and began a 4 year comp-Sci program. Flunked out in year two due to partying. Moved back home, enrolled in community college and finished a fast track AA in Graphic Design. Then, a semiconductor company came to our town to recruit technicians. I tried out and aced all the tests. Now I'm a 16 year fab veteran, and I enjoy programming and graphics stuff in my time off. Weird path but I couldn't be happier with the results.

Regarding the impact of my art background on the job: im recognized as the team expert on making charts, visualizations, and documentation. I have been able to improve our processes by applying a clean visual approach to describe and document our work.


Bachelor Graphic Design, Bachelor Business, Minor in Architecture. Started programming at around the age of 10 on an Apple II.

As others have mentioned, one of the most valuable aspects is critique and all the benefits of being able to be critical of what you see as well as what you make in a constructive way.

The other useful bit of knowledge that I employ rather often is frequently referred to as the creative process. The process of starting with a rough exploration and refining it iteratively, or moving quickly through many explorations until you find one you'd like to refine. Basically, a toolset that enables you to go from nothing to something regardless of the tools you are using.


I have a degree in animation. We definitely covered a lot of computer stuff, but there was a lot of film theory, life drawing, that kind of thing.

I now do interaction design, and there was a lot I learnt in animation that's helpful. Mainly about trying to convey ideas clearly. You learn that when someone else comes to something you've done, you need to lead them clearly through a story that makes sense. Build on concepts they already understand. Draw the eye to certain details or characters. Basically that the work has to stand on its own, if you have to be there to explain it it's not very good. Same with interaction design.


BFA in Illustration, currently leading the UI team at a 'big data' company in NYC. I'd say what translates from art to tech is the constant spiral of learning and improving. It takes a lot of patience and persistence to learn how to draw and paint. It doesn't come fast, it's years of struggle until your skills converge with your aesthetics. Programming is a lot like that, and it's never ending. You're committed to being a life long observer of what's going on, taking influence from things you like; it's always changing and growing, and that's what keeps it interesting.


Note the longer and yet not rambling replies to this. See the better use of paragraphs. The art school grads are a touch more well-spoken than the average hn commenter. Every startup i work with could use more such people.


I took a lot of photo courses during college as well as some art history. The photo courses were great, learning about view camera operations and processing film, but more importantly were the critiques of your projects given by the professors and the other students. This feedback I used to develop my own photo portfolio and shaped my interest in fashion photography, which includes production details.

Actually, probably most useful were the presentation techniques, including matting & mounting techniques we had to learn to properly present photos as used by galleries. This translated directly to my web presentation techniques.


Went to Academy of Art University in SF. Dropped out in 2011. Got a job as a Graphic Designer but switched it up and became a Software Engineer this last year. Honestly LOVE design, but not worth it to go to school. Same with Computer Science... everything is online for both of those disciplines and I wish it were for other disciplines as well.

There was another post about what you would do differently if you could and it would be more creativity but with a scientific twist to it, I don't know... maybe science fiction? Maybe teaching. Maybe sailing like those kids 'la vagabonde'. So inspiring.


The way I see it, school is like Ruby on Rails while learning yourself is like PHP. The first one gives you the current best practices while the latter is open for you to explore and most likely mess up in the beginning, especially when it comes to architecture.

Having a solid computer science base is not impossible to achieve without a degree, but it is pretty easy to tell when a system has been architected by somebody with masters or PhD in computer science as opposed to a self taught guy.

Disclaimer: I'm a mix of both, but no PhD here. I had to work with some and they were amazing for architecture, probably not so much for the practical side of things of doing commercial software.


No degree, but working in arts and in SW development forever. As well as radio host, journalist, architect and mechanical engineering for several years.

I'm movie critic and also appeared in two movies. And made some small ones.

HR asked me the same once. I answered: As architect you are generalist. You have to be scientist, and you have to be artist. There's not so much difference, and from all the differences both have their good and bad parts. Artistic knowledge is not different to engineering knowledge. Just artists are different :)


I studied both Computer Science and Fine Arts and Design. I was always interested at the intersection of these two disciplines. At certain point I discovered the work of John Maeda (at MIT Media Lab at the time) and realized that what I want to do is to make images with code.

At the time there were very few people taking this type of approach to art/design making. Digital arts meant using Photoshop not writing scripts. Nowadays more and more creatives from various disciplines use code as a tool of creative expression. Processing.org (direct descendant of Madea's ideas) is a huge community of artists who code.

What I find interesting is the cross over inspiration between the disciplines. Learning some new tech or algorithm feeds my ideas for visual works. And studying (traditional) artworks pushes me to develop programs to create similar visuals. One side very often inspires the other.

Often working on multidisciplinary teams (on multimedia type projects) I feel like people who have exclusively one type of background are somewhat handicapped. Artists who fear code are dependent on geeks to implement their ideas. And coders have to hire designers to create interfaces to their inventions. A lot gets lost in the translation!

Individuals that have knowledge and skills on both side of art/tech equation seem tremendously more innovative and can move forward much faster with their ideas. Ability to create complete functional prototypes or demos that work and look/feel good without having to ask/pay other people is freedom! I wish education systems recognized this and brought technology to art schools (beyond mousing in Photoshop) and arts and design into engineering schools.

In practical terms I use my dual skills working as UI/UX and data visualization designer/developer and I have an art practice creating dynamic images with code. Recently I won commissions for digital fine art frame company to create series of generative art projects. (I was told I was the first artist who codes they work with...).

In summary, amazing creative thinking and innovation happens at the intersection of fields and it might be difficult to quantify, but individuals that step outside of their main area of expertise always benefit in my opinion.


Bfa in music. Composed, did some side recordings and gigging. Loved it but didnt like the financial situation nor the life style. Got my degree in compsci. Did 3 years freelance UI dev for an engineering firm, now do Hardware QA with Ruby based automation system for that firm ft. Music, coding and testplanning are along the same line of thinking. As long as you stick with the basic low level rules, you can design however you like as long as it works. One major diff is eng work has way more accountability. In music, if you make trash, you just dont eat.


If anyone's interested in studying a combination of art and computing, this distance learning Bachelors degree in Creative Computing from the University of London is worth looking at: http://www.londoninternational.ac.uk/courses/undergraduate/g...

Costs around $2500 per year for three years. I'm currently halfway through and really enjoying it!


Get a degree in something fun and teach yourself how to code/build cool digital technology!

That's my path... got a degree in the recording industry: Music Business from a TN state school and worked at labels for a bit before leaving. A few years later I taught myself how to code for one of my startup ideas. Fun startup journeys none monetaryily successful but had a great time riding that rollercoaster and learned an in demand skill.

Now in govt. IT and contracting which is the best place to be professionally/financially on the east coast.


BFA - Graphic Design circa 1997 here. I've found a good art foundation is valuable here in IT for 3 reasons: 1. Art is largely about communication. So, you already know how to ask 'is this work effectively communicating what you intending to communicate?' This question is directly related to the spareribs comment about critiquing. 2. Sometimes the work is in the meta work. Better-looking documentation, reporting, and demos are significant. 3. Both art & IT are about creative problem solving within constraints.


I have a bachelor of arts degree in mathematics because I didn't want to take a biology course required for the bachelor of science.

Works for me, as I consider mathematics more art than science (i.e. it's mostly useless), but this is probably not what you had in mind by "arts degree".

I don't apply my mathematical artistic knowledge at work. I mostly used my degree to impress employers to get programming jobs ("ooh, maths, this guy must be smart," ha, right), and I do mathematics on my own for the cold, austere beauty of it.


I've always had a respect for anyone who has a math major. In my experience (as a comp sci major) there's a strong correlation between being a math major and being smart.


I am same. But I am yet to find a job. Can't seem to look impressive enough.


I got a BFA, but started out a part-time web dev job to pay for university. I graduated with no interest in art, so went full-time in web dev. Been doing it for ten years since, and now build and lead teams. Got there through continual self-directed learning (books, courses, open source experiments). Slowly getting interested in art, again. The biggest benefits of the art school training:

- A habit of taking nothing for granted, interrogating everything. - Comfortable dealing with ambiguity. - A broad communication toolkit.


Wow, I never expected so much responses. It seems like there is a lot of us here :)

For me (as student still) it's interesting to see some similarities between software development and design. I consider programming as some form of design - solving problems is design mission from its beginning. It's nice to see people applying experience in solving macro problems (design) to solve micro problems (programming).

Also we all are a bit like Eames - trying to find better and better solution.


Not an art degree as such - but my degree was Chemical Engineering & European Studies. This allowed me to study german to 3rd year level at uni, Scottish uni's being a 4 year course. Also meant I worked in Germany for 3 summers

I liked the balance the degree gave me - a clean break from both subjects. shame i dont get to practice german now, and shame we're leaving the EU


So not exactly what you're after but I studied Law at university and was surprised to find the way I could use those skills in a programming context. I wrote it up as I thought other people might be interested to see there are transferable skills from non-tech degree disciplines - https://hackernoon.com/how-studying-law-helped-me-with-progr...


Interesting write up.. I like the idea of thinking of misplaced commas in contract law as a parallel to software vulnerabilities!


I have a BFA in Illustration. I worked as a graphic designer out of school and did the freelance thing for a while before settling into a full-time design job doing ads for porn sites. I picked up jQuery and taught myself programming fundamentals. Now I'm a senior full-stack engineer (no longer in porn).

My design background informs a lot of what I do now especially in the UI/UX realm. I feel that it's an asset and sets me apart from other devs who might have taken a more traditional path.


I recently got a BFA in Furniture Design and am currently taking classes to get into a software engineering role. While some learned coding to produce instructions for milling machines, I did not really do this during my program.

The biggest hard skill that is transferable for me is in the making of presentation artifacts. I am better at documenting, commenting, and organizing my project structure because of the training I've had in explaining the design decisions behind my work.


I have a dual degree with French Horn Performance and Computer Engineering. I spent a decent amount of time understanding audio signals in college and as a result I feel I can intuit a lot about audio signals wrt to capture/processing etc. It also conceptual overlaps with common effects in the RF design world which is cool. Lots of other things that it gets used for but thats maybe one of the more direct/interesting.


I'm a developer and I studied history. Not art history, mind you, but I did take a course in medieval fresco paintings. I never really completed my degree, because I got too busy with a startup, but I got most way through.

I also took a shorter computer science degree. I'm only half joking when I say the skills I obtained studying history is more applicable in my work as a developer, than what I learned studying computer science.


What kind of skills?


I was a few credits from getting my BFA in Graphic Design but I dropped out. After a couple years I got a job at a company doing retail arbitrage on ebay doing listing design. I saw how terribly inefficient their processes were and decided to teach myself Ruby. The whole company now works on the systems I've built and we did 3 million in revenue this year.


Degree in Graphic Design, work as Sr Frontend Web Developer. The ability to take criticism and learn how to provide constructive criticism has been valuable, as well as attention to craft and detail.

I interface with designers daily and it's great to see their eyes light up when you says something like "yeah I can increase the leading, no problem".


Heather Miller, who is a very accomplished computer scientist, started her education studying art at the Cooper Union in NYC. Her personal site is http://heather.miller.am/

Her slides always look amazing. I can't comment on how else her artistic background has influenced her work.


English degree with focus on "modernism/postmodernism" literature, literary criticism, and philosophy. University of Washington, Seattle, 2006.

I never expected to go back to school after high school because it was so boring. It wasn't traumatic, I had lots of friends and many good times and learned one or two things, but it was mostly just a poor use of time. And they made me wake up so damn early.

I got my first full time job in IT at 17 and had almost 5 years of experience (tech support -> jr. sysadmin/datacenter stuff) before taking my first sociology class on a whim with a friend, expecting to hate it. Much to my surprise, they treated me like an adult, and I had a great time. Seattle Central Community College was a very good school for me.

I got an AA in a 7 quarters (1 calendar year = 4 quarters, by the seasons, more or less...) and had a high enough GPA that I was automatically accepted into a BA program at UW in the math department. Shortly after, I switched to modular logic. Shortly after, I switched to philosophy. Shortly after, I switched to and settled on English, and spent almost 3 years completing it (while working part time) and took it pretty seriously. I did all of my homework and went to the vast majority of my classes and even took notes and went to office hours and study groups.

5 years of full time work in a 100% OSS datacenter/ISP (with root) left me with (significantly?) more skills than your average BA CS/CE grad (and having interviewed a lot of them, I am pretty confident in this). One big exception being algorithms and not as much programming experience. But I had a lot of practical "real-world day to day stuff" knowledge.

For that reason, I purposefully only took the one required "computer" credit I needed as part of my humanities degree. I was able to talk a nice CS teacher into letting me into a 3rd-year level Java class to improve my OO skills. I met none of the prereqs (like, not even remotely close), but within 10 minutes of talking to him in his office, he waived them all and let me take it. I think I got a 3.2.

The English dept. was great and I had a great advisor and so many great teachers and fellow classmates. I ended up taking mostly night classes because they had more adults and were a significantly more interesting group to me. I drifted toward English because "I like books" and, for some reason, really enjoyed reading all of those painful literary tomes and busting out all of the essays. So many essays. I did well and was dean's list almost every quarter. I stayed 2 quarters longer than I needed to, on purpose.

After graduating I immediately went back to IT and have been doing ops (OSS system/network engineering) ever since -- about 10 years of it. Still working on our own hardware in datacenters across the world, complimented by cloud services here and there. Stuff I was doing as a 12 year old (ie: minicom to talk to stuff via serial) is still stuff I do at least once or twice a year.

I mean, I guess I briefly looked into the job market that an English degree usually veers towards. Teaching? Writing? Journalism? Technical writing? Manage a bookstore? IDK. But realistically, since I was planning on staying in (expensive) Seattle, the choice to go back to IT-land was pretty obvious.

The last thing I'll say is, you'd be surprised how useful an English degree is in the IT world. I mean, English is basically taking this big pile of words, trying to make sense of it all, and then trying to use them to state interesting things about people or objects or whatever. Software, on the other hand, is often about sifting through a lot of documentation, working with a lot of different APIs and config syntaxes and databases and init systems and revision control and centralized configurations and dynamic scaled platforms. Then putting it all together into something useful for some developer for some company (ie: their platform!). Or something terrible -- like an ad server.

No regrets what so ever. If/when I retire, I may go back for an MFA, and maybe even a PhD in English lit!


I'm a self taught designer / photographer / developer. Worked in design and photography for about 7 years before slowly transitioning into dev work. I feel like my background in design and photography has helped tremendously in my front end dev work, especially on freelance projects. Good aesthetic sense always stands out!


Richard P Gabriel (http://dreamsongs.com) is quite famous in the PL community as the computer scientist with an MFA (in poetry I think). His recent work on computational poetry is quite cool. Not exactly IT, but CS research.


BFA in illustration. Started off designing web sites, then moved to programming to make them dynamic. It seemed like a natural step. Now I work with some pretty large data sets and have gone back to school part time to study math and machine learning so I can get more out of them.


Art major dropout here. I focus on data visualization and being able to knock out 'complete' front-ends -- the design and the code for web apps. Biggest advantage has been that I can produce something, by myself, that looks more or less professional without a team.


I have a BFA in Photography and it has served me well for the same reasons as spaceribs mentioned above.

In my experience, if you enjoy creating art there's a good chance that you will enjoy coding. Programming is creative and code is just another medium.


Yes. And it's been invaluable to become a good developer. Attention to details, writing clear and concise doco/comments, being efficient with resources. It's all a big cross over between design and dev.


I don't have a degree, but I was a graphic designer before I taught myself programming ~4 years ago. Don't do much design nowadays though, unless it's for a side project.


I have a BA from what is nowadays the Department of Film, Television & Scenography at the Aalto University in Helsinki. (It's the only university-level film school in Finland, a country that is largely irrelevant in cinema.) I studied editing and post-production.

I started my studies just at the turn of the millennium, when old analog equipment was being replaced with a first wave of digital products. At school, the very last 16mm editing desks had just been carted off to the basement and replaced with Avid workstations consisting of classic MacOS computers and Digital Betacam decks.

I already had a software hobbyist background; I knew C and understood graphics algorithms to a reasonable extent... So it became obvious rather quickly that there was more opportunity for me in participating in this industry's software disruption, rather than trying to build a creative career in a small Nordic country where the film industry operates on government subsidies.

In 2002, the ATI Radeon 9700 was released as the first GPU with fully programmable pixel-level shading capabilities and floating point support. It was clear that you could do pro-quality video processing in realtime on this hardware: it cost a minimal fraction of whatever Avid and others were peddling and was 10x more powerful. So I jumped on that and started a company around GPU-based effects software a few years later. I was terribly bad at the business side, but it was great otherwise, and I'm still working in the field of content creation software.

Film school was extremely useful for a software career in two ways:

1) Editing a film and developing a software package are fundamentally similar on some levels. There's a certain set of "raw materials" that you have to work with and can't change without extreme cost. The raw material is based on an idea and specification that existed at one point, but you have to evaluate the current situation as objectively as possible and ignore the original intent to some extent, because the viewers/users won't know it. Shipping something will require you to make sacrifices on things that everyone originally thought would be essential.

2) A film is always teamwork, and there are some difficult people in the field. Especially as a post-production professional, you have to keep your ego in check. This was difficult for me in the beginning, but I got better and less attached to my own ideas of how to proceed, as long as the whole of the project was being served. I feel this has been a useful attitude in building software too: a developer with too much ego is even more detrimental than a film editor with the same.


I have a degree in Fine Arts and am mostly doing painting nowadays.

Developing your very own attitude towards things and being able to defend it helped me in many ways outside art.


I have a BA with majors in political science and international relations. I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and I majored in these because they were interesting. When I finished I knew it was not fields I ever wanted to be involved in. I have always enjoyed computers and making games. I decided I really like the tech culture and wanted to be involved in it...I feel like the work I do is actually beneficial for society in some strange way.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to get a great job with not much but a portfolio of my work. I couldn't be happier with my job.


Didn't Paul Graham spend some time studying art?


Correct. See his very interesting book Hackers and Painters.


I have a computer science and math undergrad degree, but was recently looking into getting an MFA. not the typical path...


Off topic, but what degree do you need if you want to work as an art dealer in auctions or stuff like that? Thank you.


does film/video count? I've been a professional developer for over 16 years.


PhD History of Art, BA Typography, art school degree graphics


BFA in Filmmaking with a concentration in Editing and Sound Design. Now I'm an engineer on the Watson Data Platform at IBM.

I went to a conservatory film school program that was crazy hard, and through senior year and afterwards I had a lot of cool gigs that sound great but didn't materialize into anything long term.

The story of why I switched is pretty long, but I can sum it up by saying that you really have to WANT to be in film to make it, and I found that I didn't want it badly enough, so it was time to change.

In the wake of the Great Recession, the only industries that were hiring (that I could see) were sales, medicine, or engineering. I didn't want to do sales, I wasn't really cut out for medicine, so that left engineering. I figured I was good at using computers, so I should give programming a shot.

In a few months I was at community college taking Java I, writing HelloWorld for the first time, and loving it. About a year later I transferred to Georgia Tech to do a BS CS. Georgia Tech was nuts. The CS coursework was fascinating but the project workload was insanely intense. I also struggled with Math because my pre-calc and trig fundamentals from high school were really faded after years away. Also while I was there I battled chronic illnesses (much better now!) and was trying to edit a feature length documentary on the side. I got through it, but not without scars.

All the sudden, it was time to graduate, and I emerged from the hell of illness and coursework to realize that I was the Belle of the Ball with all these companies. I went with one that wasn't trying to girl me into doing project management or QA. I started off doing data engineering and using distributed systems. I'm now moving to work directly on those distributed systems.

I thought engineering would be just a day job, but it turns out the training of putting shots in sequence to make a whole transferred well to building little pieces of code and putting them together to make something that works and is internally consistent. I've also found, like others in this thread, that spoken and written communication and constructive criticism in the workplace comes very naturally. Recently, I've discovered that with this film school training and years of elementary and middle school acting classes, I can put together pretty compelling talks. My higher-ups are actively encouraging me to pursue that talent.

Interestingly, one of my higher-ups learned to code as a kid but did a degree and an early career in photography before moving back into software. It's been cool to have a mentor that really understand where I'm coming from.

Many folks feel restricted by 9 to 5's, but I feel free. I have a stable income, a stable schedule, and the money and free time to see my husband, build friendships, be active in my church, go kayaking, and pursue my art on my own terms.

I've recently taken up oil painting, something I have no real training in, and and it's been amazing. I'm producing work on my own terms that's meaningful to me and there's no external or internal pressure to make a living from it or even to show to anybody.

Do I miss film? Sometimes. Do I have regrets? Not really. I'd be lying if I said I didn't sometimes feel like an artist faking it as an engineer or an engineer faking it as an artist, but part of the training is to silence that self doubt and just do the work, whatever the work might be.




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