Acting as a Software Engineer


Acting as a Software Engineer

One of my hobbies is acting. But, whatever you’ve just imagined - take it down a couple of notches. I did a few acting courses (screen and theatre), read books by Stanislavski, did a course on accent training for actors and that’s pretty much it. Occasionally I memorise monologues from works I enjoy, but I don’t appear in any sort of plays, commercials or films. It’s a hobby.

There are reasons why I think acting is a great thing to do alongside programming. The nature of work software developers do requires a calm, collected, logical approach. Every task is a riddle of sorts that needs solving. And while solving riddles eight hours a day, five days a week is interesting and absolutely enjoyable, I also think that it makes experiences rather one-sided. I want to be emotional, spontaneous and expressive. And while I can try and find ways to include emotionality into my work - I don’t think that will be a good idea. There is not a lot of room for emotions in programming, and when they are there, there’s little variety to them. They also seem to be exactly the types of emotions that affect your professional image. So I prefer to have hobbies that do not intersect with my work. But occasionally there is an exchange of ideas between work and hobbies. Here’s an example.

From Acting to Coding

I have recently finished reading Konstantin Stanislavski’s ‘Building a Character’. It’s a fascinating book in its own right. He talks about character types, plasticity of motion, diction, intonations and much more. But the one thing I’d like to mention specifically is tempo-rhythm.

To quote Stanislavski:

Tempo is the speed or slowness of beat of any agreed upon units of equal length in any fixed measure.
Rhythm is the quantitative relationship of units - of movement, of sound - to the unit lengths agreed upon in a given tempo and measure.
A measure is a recurrent (or presumably recurrent) group of beats of equal lengths, agreed upon as a unit, and marked by the stress of one of the beats.

If it doesn’t sound confusing - awesome, if it does - don’t worry. Tempo is essentially pace, rate of motion or sound. Rhythm is a repeated pattern of movement or sound. Tempo-rhythm is the combination of the two - a pattern of movement or sound repeated to a tempo.

You might be wondering what this has to do with coding. Give me two more paragraphs to explain.

Different tempo-rhythms induce different emotional response. Producing rapid movement over short intervals of time can make us feel nervous, anxious or frantic. Slow movement over long intervals of time lulls and relaxes. So using tempo-rhythm can help us adjust to a specific mood. So far so good.

But Stanislavski says - why stop there, why just focus on the physical? The actions don’t necessarily need to be externalized. If we adjust our internal state to an external tempo - we can make ourselves experience a certain state of mind or mood. So his students in the book end up practising to a selection of metronomes each of which is running at a different tempo.

Now I don’t know how you code. I code to music. I split my coding into three categories: 1) contemplative - when I’m debugging or need to do some research before diving in; 2) aggressive - when I have the solution ready and need to do a lot of simple repetitive tasks, like rearrange methods, delete commented out code, tidy up; 3) something in-between - when I’m writing my solution, for example.

I pick music I listen to when working depending on the category of work that I need to do. And with this process I have found two things: vocals in songs tend to distract me from the task at hand; there are only so many times you can listen to a track before you get sick of it. There is also a limited amount of songs in existence that I find appropriate for these categories, so ploughing through them on a work-daily basis means that eventually they will run out.

In all of these cases songs are nothing but combinations of tempo-rhythms establishing my own rhythm. The richness of instruments, melodies, vocals is surely overkill for what I’m using them for. So why not strip all of that out leaving just the tempo?

So I bought this bad boy:

The idea is, figure out a tempo that is appropriate for the work you’re doing, set up the metronome, work. I find it surprisingly effective when I’m coding at home, I am yet to try it at work.

Now obviously actors can’t use metronomes when they’re performing. Stanislavski’s idea was that eventually you get comfortable enough with different tempo-rhythms and lose the need for a metronome. I don’t know how plausible it would be to apply this to real-world situations - just be able to snap into the right kind of mood. But it would make for a neat experiment.

Also, on a different subject - I’m raising money for the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (more information on the page). If you feel like donating - please do, if you don’t - don’t worry about it. If you do though - you automatically get a chance to Bruce Willis up my hair. So there’s that.