Hackers and Pianists

August 25, 2019

Back in high school, I had a crush on this incredibly smart girl whose parents emigrated from Maghreb. We were the two top students in our classroom, but her grades were slightly ahead of me. Up until 9th grade, I used to be the major of my promotion. Finding someone who could be me at this game was intriguing, I wanted to know more about her. Naïvely, I tried to engage with her by asking for book recommendations, and a few months later I confessed my admiration for her. I received a big fat No and moved on with my life, but I got to read two great books: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Body and Soul by Frank Conroy. Body and Soul is an apprenticeship novel featuring Claude Rawlings, a piano prodigy. We follow the character throughout childhood, his harsh training to become a pianist under the wings of several maestros, up until adulthood.

One detail that particularly struck me is how he trains his body to increase his technical proficiency. Professional pianists follow an ”off-bench” workout routine to develop their upper-body, balance, and hand-eye coordination. It’s part of the art.

I was dating a Saigonese girl I met on Tinder the other day, and she asked me if I played the piano. My fingers are long and thin, so she assumed I might be playing the piano. I just answered I’m a laptopianist. A few moments later, a thought started emerging: can I become a better programmer if I were to train like a pianist?

Playing the piano is a lot like programming. You need hand-eye coordination, muscle memory, swift hands trained to withstand long hours of work, and good typing skills. If you do not take care of your body, you cannot perform at full capacity.

I wonder if I can come up with a training regimen to increase my productivity, targeting specifically the aforementioned skills. It’s quite usual for professionals to increase their typing speed (WPM/CPM-based typing tests), but what about the other areas? Let’s see.