At the end of high school, I decided to become a music major. It was something of a default decision. I wasn’t necessarily determined to become a professional musician, but I was pretty good at playing the drums. Better than most anything else I could do. Everyone kind of expected me to become a musician – my parents were actually very supportive of the idea – so it seemed like the thing to do.
I went to the University of North Texas, one of the biggest music programs in the country and certainly a premier place to study percussion. I’d already ruled out becoming an orchestral percussionist. I was a decidedly mediocre keyboard player. I could barely hear the difference between a major and a minor scale, so I was a pretty crap timpanist. I could sort of play the drumset, but I’d only ever played along with rock tapes. I’d played in few bands and couldn’t read drum set charts at all.
The only major at UNT for “drum set” was called “Jazz Studies.” I’m often appalled that I entered into a major to study an art form I barely knew. I’d hardly listened to jazz in my life, knew almost none of the great players, could barely read music – I was so far behind the cats who’d already been gigging in clubs and knew hundreds of tunes. I struggled really hard for a couple of years. It was bad enough that I was trying to entirely retool my drumset playing from Rush and The Police to Miles Davis, but then I was expected to learn how to improvise melodies on the vibraphone, a keyboard percussion instrument. I wanted to cry all the time.
One of my professors then said something that made me feel quite a bit better. He said that jazz was not a young person’s music. That none of us would really have anything to “say” on our instrument for quite some time. That wasn’t meant to discourage us at all. He wanted us to all keep trying to find our voice, but wanted us to know that, frankly, we’d just kind of suck for a really long time. And that was OK!
So I accepted that perhaps, one day, after listening to records and gigging and going to clubs and talking and studying, I might one day have something worth saying on my instrument. As it happens, I soon after decided I wouldn’t pursue music as my major. I wouldn’t try to become professional musician but would play for my own pleasure.
I had enough credits to make a minor in music, but no idea what to change my major to. I tried business, which lasted about half a semester of accounting, which I dropped. (To this day, my wife does our finances. I hate thinking about money.) Then I tried communications, got fed up with that, and finally got an English lit degree out of terror and frustration that I’d never graduate.
I definitely lost of lot of identity when I switched from the music major. I had thought I was “A Musician” but then decided I was someone who kind of played music. I couldn’t figure out what to do next, especially what to do for a job. I’d read “A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka in college. The title character travels in a kind of freak show. His “talent” is not eating, and he just sits in his cage not eating and letting people look at him.
At the end of the story, he’s dying from malnutrition. He’s been utterly forgotten by the attendants because he’s been laying in the straw in his cage. Someone comes in to clean it out, and finds him almost dead. They ask him how he was able to not eat. He responds “because I couldn’t find a food which I enjoyed.” I feared this would be me, never finding a thing to do which I enjoyed, that I’d die malnourished of intellectual and professional challenges.
I did manage to finish my undergraduate in five years. In my first job out of college, I gravitated toward anything to do with computers, learning Microsoft Access for a database to clean up the mailing lists, learning layout programs to make the product catalog, learning HTML and FTP to create the company website. That put me into a position to get a technical writing job that turned into an oportunity to learn Visual Basic. Then I realized I’d found something that would be pretty interesting and would keep me employed, so I stuck with it.
Years later I’d decided to move entirely into a Unix development environment. I was primarily creating interactive websites using the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl) stack. Perl has long had this amazing resource called the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network (CPAN), a free, online repository of thousand of Perl module totalling perhaps millions of lines of free code. I so, so wanted to create something to put on CPAN but had no ideas.
Finally one day I realized I was copying the same bit of code for several projects and realized 1) I was doing this because I couldn’t find other code to do it 2) it should be a module so I’d quite copying it and 3) I had something to share on CPAN! I learned how to make a module, got myself a CPAN id (https://metacpan.org/author/KCLARK), and uploaded Text::RecordParser.
After years and years, I had finally found something I felt I could share with the world. I have quite a hard time sharing because I’m so worried that what I have to share might suck or not be novel. I would like to blog more, and so I’ve created this site.
As it happens, I’ve come up with something else I think is worth sharing. After teaching beginning programming to non-CS majors at the University of Arizona where I work, I decided to put my materials into a book. I’ve taught Perl 5, Perl 6, and Python along with basic Unix and bash programming. I decided to focus first on a beginning text using Python and test-driven development (TDD). I really don’t see anyone else who is trying to teach TDD to beginners or using it as a pedagogical tool, so I believe I have something novel and worthwhile to share.
If you’d like to read an early version of the book, please let me know. I’d be happy to share a PDF. My publisher is Manning. One reason I chose them is because of their Manning Early Access Program (MEAP, https://www.manning.com/meap-program) where books are released as they are being written. I hope the first part of my book will become available soon, so that will be another place you should be able to find it.
Anyway, here’s to finding a voice, to finding something to share.