Artists Who Code with Catherine Ricafort and Scott McCreary

Catherine Ricafort and Scott McCreary are artists who have seen the top of their fields. And when they did, they saw how difficult of a life it was — even for the best of the best.

So they made a change. And that change lead them to help others make similar changes.

Catherine and Scott founded Artists Who Code — a volunteer-run organization whose mission is to empower artists through tech, and advance tech through artistry.

They are a wife and husband team who first met as a-cappella competitors on NBC’s The Sing-Off.

The work that they are doing is so in-line with the Meaning Movement. They’re doing anything they can to help artists make the big and often overwhelming transition to tech.

It was a blast to dialogue with them. They’re kind, open, and very thoughtful about all things work, art, and meaning related.


Listen in here:

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In this episode you’ll learn:

  • What Catherine and Scott do
  • How they decided to pursue two careers
  • How they transitioned
  • Their emotional transition after shifting careers
  • The challenges they faced during their transitions
  • Their current relationship with their art
  • The role of COVID in what they’re doing now
  • The future of Artists Who Code
  • The major hurdles people face when making transitions
  • How do you get involved with Artists Who Code

Resources Mentioned:

Artists Who Code website

Catherine’s brother’s music video

Software Generated Transcription:

Dan

Catherine and Scott, welcome to The Meaning Movement podcast. I’m so excited to have you here with us.

Catherine

Whoo.

Scott

Thank you for having us.

Dan

I love the enthusiasm. I have to start by saying that I love your headshots as artists, since your artists. I should have expected that before I clicked on the link to see how great your headshots are. I’m also a photographer, so I can really appreciate that you feel like you’re genuinely raising the bar as far as quality headshots for me to choose from for our social graphics.

Dan

Thank you. Thank you for that. It’s awesome.

Catherine

Oh yeah. We make fun shots for LinkedIn with those headshots.

Dan

Yes, I love it. I love it. The question I’d like to begin with is how do you begin to talk about the work you do in the world?

Catherine

Sure. It’s a pretty big question for us, especially recently. So we’re a married couple. We are both artists. I am a musical theater singer, dancer and actor.

Scott

I am a cellist, singer and actor.

Catherine

But we are also software engineers. We both made the leap into tech in the last couple of years. And so I’m working as a software engineer at Stitch Fix.

Scott

I was working at as a software engineer at a fashion company called Greylord, which is based in New York for two and a half years. And I moved just a few weeks ago to a new, very small startup. So exciting time in our lives.

Catherine

Yeah, but I think the thing that is really the reason why we’re here and what brings us meaning is that we’ve kind of brought those two things together. And we co-founded an organization that’s all volunteer called Artists Who Code. And it’s an organization that we founded in response to the pandemic and its impact on the live arts industry. So it completely wiped out all of Broadway, like not just individual jobs. The entire industry and all of our friends were put out of work about this time last year.

And I had just made my escape from the Titanic into onto a lifeboat and got my first job at StichFix. I was in my third week of my first software engineering job at the time that covid shut down Broadway. And so this was our way of responding and helping in the best way that we could helping people find jobs. So what we do with Artists Who Code, if you want to talk about it, 

Scott

Yeah. It’s an online community and we host an online workspace and weekly calls and office hours and everything’s volunteer.

So it’s the way for us and other artists who have been in the tech field for a while to give back and help people who are just learning to code. And a lot of people kind of like took this journey with us and started coding at the beginning of covid or shortly after covid began and went through a coding boot camp and came your weekly calls and used the community for support. And a lot of them have landed software engineering jobs in the past year, which is awesom.

Catherine

Given that most of them have never voted before.

I didn’t even know what it was. So, yeah, it’s pretty exciting.

Dan

Wild. Yeah. So it’s, it sounds like you kind of had a head start as far as where you were in your coding journey before covid. Right. And Scott, were you kind of on a similar timeline or how did it go for you?

Scott

Yeah, so I went to a boot camp in New York. A boot camp is like three months of intense coding classes and you just go and mine 11 hours a day, six days a week. And so I did this for three months in the summer of twenty eighteen. And then I started working at my first job in the fall of twenty eighteen. So I’ve been doing it for a little while.

Catherine

But I was a bit behind Scott, so I had done my boot camp in twenty eighteen as well, but then actually ended up on my last day of boot camp, I had an audition for SpongeBob Square Pants on Broadway for the role of a computer literally.

I played on the computer up to the job. And so I had like this kind of delay after my program ended that I went back to acting even though I was going to pursue engineering for a while. So anyway, I didn’t really get into job applications. And it’s a very scary and difficult career transition. And that’s what we’re helping people with, is this huge leap. And so I didn’t really do that until summer or fall of twenty nineteen.

And then I landed my job at Stich X and I started in February. Twenty twenty.

Dan

Wow. Awesome. So I’m always interested, you know, people listening are always interested in these transitions and how we make these decisions about what’s next and what we’re going to give our time and our energy and our effort to. I’m curious for both of you. I’d love to hear about the choice to pursue coding as a career transition instead of continuing on in the arts, or at least with your main focus be your art, Catherine, what was that like for you?

Catherine

Yeah, so I think I had gotten to check a lot of boxes off in my Broadway dreams list. I got to perform in a Broadway show. I got to end up performing eight Broadway shows, which was amazing. And between me and Scott, we even got to perform on various TV shows. We actually met on a reality TV show for a cappella called NBC-The Sing Off. So we got to play really awesome, awesome things and meet amazing people.

But if you know anyone who is a professional artist like you’ve probably heard, or if you are one yourself, you know that it’s a career that is full of extreme highs and extreme lows. And the low, low lows just really got to me after they kept building up over 10 years of doing it. I spent, even though we both worked so hard to climb pretty high up in our respective fields, that view from the top. I still saw constant unemployment for myself as we were starting to plan for getting married and thinking ahead to our future.

We couldn’t even make plans to start thinking about buying a home. It just seemed completely impossible because we don’t have consistent work ever. I recently went through all of my work history and it turns out I had over 80 employers in my last 10 years as an actor. And so doing taxes, filing for unemployment, filing for a mortgage, that’s really hard. And also it’s very hard life and it requires a lot of hassle and it’s also a lot of injury like physical injury.

It’s very difficult. And then also it’s like this pure thing that we love, right? Like I love singing and dancing. Scott, you love playing cello and singing, dancing and acting as well. Maybe not so much dancing, but anyway, at a point like having to do it professionally, having to depend on it to make money, to put food on the table, to pay rent, it became really exhausting and removed the fun and kind of my pure joy out of it.

Scott

Yeah. And I think it’s something else that was interesting to see is like we got to the point where we were not at the top of the field, but kind of like seeing what the top of the field looked like. And I think you always assume that, you know you know, as in the entertainment industry, the odds are not in your favor. But I think like as an ambitious and talented person, you’re like, OK, well, I’ll just work extra hard and I’ll be better than everybody and then I’ll be fine.

And I think what was interesting to see is that even if you kind of like win that lottery or get close to winning that lottery, it’s still really hard for the people at the top. We were seeing these older actors, famous actors, Tony, winners, Hollywood having to make choices like, well, I have to do this tour for six months to pay for my kids college. I have to leave my family for six months. And seeing that was sort of sobering is like, oh, these problems that I feel about stability and ups and downs, like sort of don’t go away.

And that’s when, at least for me, I started kind of looking around for something else to do and sort of coding sort of like cynically I was like, well, there are all these news articles that are like everybody needs software engineers and they pay a lot of money. So maybe I’ll just like learn how to do this thing. And and it was actually sort of nice discovery through kind of like playing with it on my own and going to boot camp and starting to work, that I actually find it to be a very fulfilling career and a fun job and sort of an outlet of creative expression that I didn’t expect, especially if you’re working to build a product like a Web application or a mobile application, you get to make product decisions and decide how something should look, how something should interact, how it should feel.

And it’s sort of more creative power, actually, than I had as a performer.

Yeah. Though I think it sounds like to be honest. So when I was feeling really low right after those years being an actor and I was thinking about a career transition, I knew I could do a lot of things. But the way I chose at first was, well, my dad is an engineer. I have cousins who are engineers. I have a lot of respect for the field. But I also literally Googled highest starting salaries because I was like, you know, I’m not like a spring chicken right out of college anymore.

Like, I don’t have time to waste. Like, I know I’m starting at the bottom of a ladder, even though I’ve climbed to the top of this other ladder in the arts. And I don’t want the bottom rung to be like I want it to still be really rewarding. But like, what I found was like, Scott, I actually do really enjoy coding. And it’s super empowering, not just the financial operations, like we have happily been able to buy our first home in the past year.

And congrats. Thank you. Yeah, but it’s very freeing to like not just that, but like being able to build a new idea from scratch by yourself, like in boot camp. We both built, I don’t know, three full stack web applications from nothing. Things that we dreamed up. I was like, wow, it really got my it kind of like business and entrepreneur mind going. And that’s something that’s very different. Like when you’re an actor for a living, you spend all of your professional time trying to please other people’s idea of what they think a role should be, not your idea of what they think or role should be, but you let them cast you.

So that’s like another reason to that is very done with arts as a profession was like experience type casting and just a lot of frustrations about people’s ideas of what a certain role should be and that like maybe someone like me wouldn’t fit into that. And so now I think like having this super, very hard technical skill that we can apply to any idea is very empowering. And I think it’s kind of what fueled us to start artists who code and launch this thing that I never would have had the idea to really build when I was trying to just survive as an actor and please like other directors.

So it’s been very liberating.

Dan

I love it, I love it, so it really sounds like you got into it for the money, to just put it bluntly, but found passion and interest. And I mean, this really sounds really liberating. And what you found in coding.

Catherine

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Dan

That’s awesome. I’m curious about just the process of, I guess, the emotional process of choosing to leave something that you’ve given so much of your life to poured your heart soul into to be as successful as you both were as artists, you know, from our short conversation so far, because to put it another way, I could tell you’ve made it further than most as professional artists.

And then to make that choice to say, I’m going to move go in a different direction, like I hear that it was very much also motivated by like you could see where it was going, that you didn’t want that as much anymore. But I’m just curious also just about the loss, grief of some of the giving up of those hopes and dreams that you maybe had early on or maybe that wasn’t your experience. I’m just curious about just kind of that emotional transition.

Scott

Yeah, that’s a good question. And one that I think a lot of people and artists are asking themselves are struggling with as they kind of go through this journey. One thing that our friend Julian, who volunteers with us and does the artistic and social media, one thing she likes to say that I really like is that it doesn’t have to be or it can be. And yeah, you know, I’m still a cellist. I’m still a singer. And I just now have the power to choose where I do those things.

But it is sort of like, you know, it takes it’s like a hard thing to kind of like wrap your head around and get behind.

Catherine

Yeah, it took us a while to get to that point. Like we each week on these transitions individually. Right. Like at the time to paint a picture at the time that Scott was graduating boot camp and starting to apply for jobs. You know, we had to do a complete makeover of our resumes, our LinkedIn. We didn’t have LinkedIn. Our artists don’t use LinkedIn to learn how to talk. The talk of this whole other world of people who’ve been working in office jobs when we have been, you know, dancing on stage and playing cello.

And we don’t even send Google Calendar invites. I remember finding that phrase really frightening to me. I didn’t understand it. And so, like, yeah, I think that it kind of felt at the time, like completely shutting our previous skin and turning into something else. And they had a lot of pretty crippling identity crisis, especially before I landed my engineering job, because I was having to turn down gigs, acting gigs that were very sought after that like I would have wanted to do.

But I was trying to focus on this path. I wanted to take and, you know, so I was like, am I even an artist anymore? And I didn’t know how to talk about it to the arts world because in the arts world, they’re very purist, like artists like think you should only pursue your craft. And if you do something else that you’ve given up, like, as you phrased it, like, oh, you gave up, you’re not doing that.

You’re walking away from the industry. And so that was really hard for both of us. And then, you know, when we’re interviewing two, we’re kind of like faced with it like questions from recruiters when we’re interviewing for tech jobs like like kind of like challenging questions about what we’ve been doing. And then I’d kind of like apologize and be like I used to be a Broadway actor and I couldn’t talk about it, probably because I was trying to fit into this new field and something that my dad when actually my dad interview coach to me right before I got my job at StitchFix.

So thanks Pap. But both my mom and dad, they were like, why? Why are you apologizing for your really impressive career? You need to own this and you can even lead with it. And you know, you can fit into this new field while still owning like who you have been and who you still are. And that was a big game changer. I think it’s like a big reason maybe why I landed that next interview. And it’s something that we’ve gotten to have both been really like kind of teaching to our friends that we are volunteer mentoring through artists who code to help them through this, because a lot of them say with so much pain, oh, I used to be an actor and like, you still are.

So, yeah, we’re all about. Yes. And and not or.

Scott

Yeah, I think a really depressing exercise was creating my first resume to send out to tech jobs and like compressing everything that I had done in my art in my five, six years of arts career into like two inches of a resume. And like what bullet points? We’re like these people who don’t are not in the entertainment industry. What will they recognize and find interesting? And like everything else has to go. And that was like really a hard exercise.

But, yes, some. I like to an analogy I like to use when this topic comes up, is the scene in The Sound of Music at the end, like near the end, when Maria comes crying back to the abbey and confesses and says that she feels so guilty because she’s fallen in love with the captain and it’s not what God wanted her to do. And the Mother Abbess looks at her and says, Maria, if you love this man, it doesn’t mean that you love God less.

And she goes back out. And actually what he ends up doing is sort of a more pure, fulfilling expression of her love for God, even though she’s not in the abbey. And I think of that as like the artist, like the abbey and the industry sort of like demands this this fealty from you. But actually, there are better uses of that. The impetus in your creative energy. There are better uses for that out there sometimes.

Dan

Yeah, I love it. So you’re both at fashion related tech startups or companies. I’m curious if that specific, I guess a niche within the realm of tech is related to the fact that you’re an artist. I mean, obviously, fashion is different than art, but also there’s an artistic flair that it takes to be in those, I guess, in that industry. And of course, you know, being in the code, you’re maybe not I’m not necessarily flexing those muscles, if you will, but I’m curious about that, especially since you’re both in fashion tech.

Scott

Yeah, I think that happened to be a bit of a coincidence. But I do think that it’s not that we interact really with fashion so much on a daily basis. It’s that the kinds of people who are interested in building that product are maybe like more, I guess, artistic than the average person in the tech community. And. Yeah, and appreciate our background, right?

Catherine

Yeah, I think so.

Dan

Yeah, I know, Cathrine, you mentioned that going pro, at least being a pro at your level as an artist, kind of took some of the joy out of it, which I think ties in with Scott, with what you were just saying with that fantastic Sound of Music analogy, I’m curious now, what is your relationship with your art? Well, let me just start there. I’ll just I’ll keep it broad, but I have more specific, more specific nuances to that question.

But I maybe wanted to start broad and would have both of you just kind of talk about what is your relationship with your art look like right now, Scott, if you want to jump in first?

Scott

Yeah, I think I’ll start sort of before covid, because that’s when it felt sort of balance. I remember one of the last things we did before covid hit was sing a Valentine’s Day concert at fifty four below. So the two of us at midnight. Yeah. Like midnight concert. So like after work, after after I got off work in Soho, I took the subway up to Midtown, went to fifty four below, went into the theater and like sang this Valentine’s Day concert at midnight we sang Crepe and it was really fun and that was sort of what my relationship was with, with arts was before, which is kind of like doing it for fun nights and weekends.

When covid hit you, all of performing opportunities kind of dried up. And so I sort of put that part of my personality in a box for the past year and just put it in the closet because we were focused on other things we were trying to build artistically. We were trying to help our friends. We were trying to keep ourselves safe. We were trying to look out for our families and keep our jobs and holding on by our fingernails at our jobs.

And and, you know, through a variety of circumstances. I got separated from my cello and it was in my parents’ house in Florida. So I hadn’t played it in a year. And they actually they visited a few weeks ago and they brought it out and I played it for the first time a few days ago. And so that was a nice, nice moment. And I still remember how to play, which is a nice, nice surprise.

And yeah, I think now that it’s over, I’m going to try to kind of like restore that balance a little bit and bit by bit, kind of like explore the world, because I do miss it.

Catherine

Yeah, it melted my heart. So this morning I was coming back from a bike ride and I heard Scott’s cello coming out through the window as I approached the house. And it really made me happy. Yeah, I kind of have a similar thing, like through camp and through my first year at Stitch Fix and as a software engineer, which was also the year of covid. I also kind of put a lot of my art stuff aside because I was so focused on just the those survival things.

But what’s been really nice was like as we started to settle into our new groove as like artists, you could really get on its feet. And I got more settled into my job and we settled into our new home. I picked up dancing at home by myself. We moved into a house which is not a one bedroom apartment in New York, and we have no furniture. So I was like, all right, I’ve got a dance studio here.

And we went and got mirrors at IKEA and just like lined a wall with mirrors. And I just started dancing by myself. And I got to tell you, I haven’t had so much fun dancing since I was dancing probably before I became a professional and wow. But it was really nice to engage with my relationship with Dance again this way, because I have all these like beautiful Broadway dance shoes that I got to keep, which are like they’re like people look at them.

They’re like these smelly old dances that most people are like, why do you keep those? But to me, they’re like trophies of all of these experiences that I’ve earned. And I put them all out so I could remind myself, like they’re on display now in our living room. You see them when you first walk in the door. And I just put them on and I’ve been like I’ve just been buying dance costumes and clearance online lately. And I’ve just been wearing these dance costumes, putting on my Broadway dance shoes and living my life in the living room.

And it is so much fun and I’m so happy. I thought I was like on a complete break up, like, we’re never talking again our relationship, but like we are better as friends, I think. And so I am having so much fun. And actually what’s been cool is I actually think that, like, artistry has developed. So when I was professional and I was always dancing for other people and trying to fit into their choreography, their idea, their vision, I never really created.

But I think like a big pivotal moment for me also in the desire to to transition away from doing art as a professional. Was that like I was asked to kind of last minute choreograph and direct a music video for my brother, who is a product manager by day, but he is a nerdcore rapper by night and by all the. Yes. And he asked me to direct this music video for him. And I hadn’t directed anything since high school talent shows.

I had choreographed anything since those high school talent shows. And it was a huge challenge. It was pretty. Scared, but sometimes it’s those scary things that, like, really just light your fire, and I found it very exhilarating and it was so wonderful to be able to express myself creatively, tell help him tell his story, which is an Asian-American story. So right now that we’re in the month of May, so happy Asian-American Heritage Month. And so what was really cool was that one of my frustrations, a huge frustration for me in theater, was representation and the lack of stories that really felt like me or like my family or my whole all of my friends.

And by participating and directing and choreographing this music video with my brother, who wrote these lyrics that are about his journey from product manager to nerdcore artists and who he is. It was a really authentic form of expression where I really felt like we had something to say that wasn’t being said. And I felt that I was like, I want to do more of this. And my brother, I got to credit him for this model. He has a different approach than most of the way.

I was a pushcarts before was he has his job. He’s a really bad US product manager, but he uses that stability to fuel his artistic projects. And so then he has this like freedom, creative freedom to to do what he wants as an artist instead of having to be on other people’s schedule and other people’s vision. So anyway, what’s been really fun lately, I’ve discovered, as I’ve you know, I’m a very, very good dancer, but I never was a big improviser.

So improving is when you just like what you’re not doing choreography, you’re just kind of grooving on the spine and creating your own movement. I’ve been able to improvise lately and I never really could before. And that’s very exciting, especially as a dancer, like in your later years. You think that, like, your dance still just goes down and down and down. But it’s kind of like being an athlete, right? It’s very physical.

Dan

Yeah.

Catherine

So it’s very cool to see that, like with this change in my life, even though I was technically stepping like a bit further away from the arts, in some ways I’m actually getting closer to it in other ways.

Dan

I love that so much. And I would love I don’t know if your brother has any of his work public or any person to listen to it and see the video if it’s been released, OK?

Catherine

I don’t watch the video.

Dan

It’s on YouTube or anything. Send me the link. I’ll put it in the show notes for everyone to go in and watch. I would love that. Yeah.

Catherine

My brother’s name, Super Smack. And the music video is called Choice. It’s about choosing who you want to be, which is very appropriate for the theme of today’s podcast episode.

Dan

I love it. So good. Awesome. Yeah. One of the questions I wanted to ask about artistic code, I think really it’s very much in line with your brother’s approach of using your job for stability in order to then kind of have a home base or maybe safe harbor to venture out into the creative endeavors. And I know a lot of people are who end up listening to show or reaching out to me are in this place where they have something they love, some passion, but they can’t figure out how to go pro with it.

Or maybe they don’t feel like they’re good enough or can’t find the right opportunities. Like, I just want to do X, Y or Z, whatever it is. But I can’t figure out this is my passion. It’s my calling. And some of what I try to invite people to is to think beyond one specific. Like maybe your calling isn’t just to be a professional or even writer or musician or whatever it might be, but that there might be a way to find meaning in some other avenue, just like you’re like you guys are both doing, like your brothers doing.

And to use that as this is your income. And then there’s more expression beyond that. And I’m curious for you, with artists who code how much, I don’t know, percentage wise or just anecdotally what you’re seeing with people who are participating with you, how much is it of your work there is with professionals exclusively and how much of it are people who are other artists and passion of theirs? But they are also wanting to to to code and pursue tech?

Scott

Yeah, mostly professionals. Mostly professionals. And it’s because that there’s kind of this the group has mostly spread kind of like through personal referrals and people who have like had to sing for their supper, that there’s just a different kind of like mentality there and a different kind of like. Yeah. Like people who like come who have done that and done it successfully and then like decide that that that’s not enough and that they want to do something else, like there’s a hunger there and like a drive and a sense of work ethic and discipline.

And that is really unique. And I’m really excited for the group because I feel like the people in this group are like going to be running the show in ten years. And, you know, like, it’s all people who have sort of the best of arts and tech. It’s people who have all the sort of like empathy and and creativity and soft skills and everything you’d expect. I’m an artist, but who also have, you know, sort of like analytical and intellectual hunger to succeed in this new field, and it’s a really interesting cross-section of talents.

So I’m excited to see how these people develop over the next 10 years. I think it’ll be really cool.

Dan

I love it. Do you feel like would you be doing artists you code if it hadn’t been for covid? No. Right?

Catherine

Well, I think the answer is no. I had the idea before covid. So the idea was born out of my own personal career. I don’t like to call it a transition because again, like, it can be both things. I’ll call it a leap, like a dance leave.

Dan

But it was really good.

Catherine

Thank you. It was really, really difficult. And I had had my brush with tech a longer time ago. Like earlier, I’d seen with the kind of world of software engineering. Looks like I started off as a computer science major in college. I ended up changing majors to different type of engineering because I was the only woman in my class. And also I wanted to balance arts and it just seemed like to have a major. But anyway, like even today, even though things are better, they’re still not.

There weren’t that many artists that I knew of who had made this leap, and it was very lonely and very frightening. And I needed someone to be able to specifically coach me on the how to transform, like we said, my performing arts resume into one that fits into the tech world. And so through this whole process, I felt very alone and confused. And I was so thankful that Scott was there for me that he had done this path just a year before me and was able to guide me through it and drop breadcrumbs along the way and show me that, yes, it is.

All of this is worth it at the end. And I remember going to a lot of networking events in New York. So something that’s also very wonderful and attractive to me about tech is that there’s like an abundance mindset, right? So in the arts, there’s a scarcity. And so, like in the arts, everything’s pay to play. Like even to meet a casting director. You kind of have to pay to do that to learn how to audition well and to adjust your your acting resume or whatever, you got to pay for all of these things.

Whereas in tech, I was so surprised that here I am, just like a lowly boot camp graduate trying to get my first junior software engineering job. And there were too many free events in New York where, like senior software engineers were offering free talks, big tech companies were offering free food. And I was like, I am there.

Scott

After so many wedding gigs of like squirreling the catering food into your bag for later. Looks like a spread here. Like you just I could just eat this food just like listen to your talk. Like, what is this? Yeah.

Catherine

So I was just blown away at the abundance and with that abundance, like everyone, to be more generous with their time, with their knowledge people. That was like, you know, these events where I could get tutored for free or whatever. And I benefited from those things. And I, I always felt OK when it’s my turn, when I get my foot in the door, I’m going to turn around and I want to do this as well.

But I want to focus it towards people like us, towards artists, because I still even though I got support from these events, like I really didn’t find like more than half the support I needed was specific to someone making this one hundred eighty degree career leap. And again, there’s also things like in tech, there is a lot of judgment that I felt like I was getting from the way people read my resume from like how late in later in my life and making this transition like there’s like some misunderstandings, right?

Like so in the arts, I mentioned I’d had employers for an artist to list out all 80 of those employees. That is a sign of huge success. It shows that despite all the odds, I was able to keep working and that all these people wanted to hire me. But in tech or like even just not just general office jobs, like basically.

Scott

What is wrong with you. You look like a vagabond.

Catherine

Yeah.

Scott

Get all the job for more than two weeks.

Catherine

Yeah.

They were like, oh, are you getting fired? Like are you not dedicated. And it’s the opposite. Right. But so that’s just one example of like the complete miscommunication between these two worlds. And actually both worlds have a lot to offer each other. So I had the idea for Artists Who Code when I was going through this time because it was when I was trying to break in because it was what I would have really wanted myself. And so it was the idea of a sitting there.

But like to Scott’s point, there probably wouldn’t have actually started it, except that it’s like busy lives, like doing a lot of things. But I’m actually like in some ways, like really grateful for kind of I think, like covid was kind of a forcing function that, like, forced some actions out of us. But like, I wouldn’t have been able to honestly answer, like, what would you do in this situation? I don’t think I would have answered in a time of peace that, like, we would have done this with our time, like.

Catherine

All of our free time outside of work, volunteering to help mentor other people on their journey, like a lot of people. A big question we would get the whole time was like, oh, are you going to start charging for this? Like, it’s really a really great service. And I was like, no, this just no, this feels like the right thing to do at this time. And so, yeah, I’m just I don’t know.

It’s one of the things I think we’re most proud of in our lives.

Dan

Yeah. I think that makes sense and also makes sense that something like covid would be the. Yeah. The impetus, the thing that pushed pushed you over the edge, like any good story has to have a inciting incident. Right.

Scott

And I think Covid was an inciting incident in a lot of people’s stories.

Dan

As you, you know, into the future post covid at the time of this recording, things are beginning to open up in the US, though it still has a long way to go with the rest of the world. But hopefully at some point we’ll be living in a post covid reality or maybe whatever new reality that is. But I’m curious about the future of artists who code and what is your hope five years plus down the road for it?

Scott

Yeah, that’s a good question. What we thought about we started thinking about this a few months ago because it feels like now they sort of emergency, at least in the United States, has subsided. And people who were thrown out of work, at least who we know and artists who code have kind of found their footing. And a lot of people in the group have gotten jobs. And so that the tone of the calls has really changed from a year ago.

A year ago, everyone was afraid, like us included, and nobody knew what was going to happen. And a lot of people were starting learning this whole new field in the midst of all this chaos in the world. And so a lot of what the call was about was like supporting each other and building each other up and creating a space where things felt possible and hopeful. And now, like every call is like, oh, I got a job.

I got a job like this other thing, you know, and people or people are cruising. So in that sense that the emergency has subsided a little bit. But we we did some soul searching, came up with a mission statement for ourselves that I think kind of captures it. And we want to empower artists through tech. And that was what we’ve been doing for the past year, which is like helping artists find meaningful, lucrative work and advancing tech through artistry is the second part of the mission statement.

And that’s what we want to focus on in the coming years. Advocating to tech on behalf of artists saying, hey, these are my goals for like some a hiring manager at a tech company looking at the resume of a former professional performer, actor, musician, visual artist, and say, I understand this person’s background, as I would a person who has been in the military, not to say that they’re the same thing, but like when you see someone with a military background, there’s there’s an understanding of what that person’s skill set is and what they bring to the table from that background.

And I think similarly, there’s like a skill set that artists bring from from a background as a professional artist. And I want that to be like very commonly understood. And I want to check in with tech companies to realize these are people with a lot of discipline, a lot of work ethic, a lot of soft skills, and people who can work with leadership potential and people who are used to like really honing and working on a craft. And so that’s kind of the goal is like advancing tech through artistry, getting artists into tech tech jobs, advocating to tech on behalf of artists.

Catherine

Yeah, and I’m proud to say, I think that we’ve really accomplished a lot in both of those fronts in the past year and we’re continuing to do so in a more zoomed out view, as Scott was saying, in like five, ten years in the tech world. Like I really envision like I think it’s great to attract different kinds of people into engineering because traditionally, like as we’ve seen in the last 10, 20 years, tech has a lot of power to influence everybody’s lives.

Right. We all kind of live even by social media rules now. And if you like, designing with those rules and put them into practice like engineers. And if we have a more empathetic people coming from many different backgrounds and artistic backgrounds, I think that we can build better products. Like, for example, I thought it was so cool that a recent artistic call, we have this segment every week where people do a show and tell and you show something that you’re kind of working on.

And there’s a harpist in our group, a professional harpist, who is she is building an application for booking like music gigs. Right. And normally you fill that application like, OK, here’s a bunch of customers with money who will put up these gigs and then they can have their pick of two hundred artists and just filter out artists by like has this money, you know, they get all the power. But coming from her perspective, she built it in the river.

She said, I wanted to give agency to the artist. So she built the application for the artist perspective where they get to filter on what kind of gigs they want, like should pay at least as much is this close to me, you know, and like apps aren’t really built like that today. And I think that that’s a very important thing to bring into the tech world and. I’m excited for we’ve really helped seed a new wave of empathetic engineers and I’m excited for them to mature and get into this industry and kind of keep climbing up and influencing these decisions that can really impact a lot of people.

And so, like, you know, another example of that is like, I hate that like YouTube. So it’s a great medium to share your artistic work. Right. Like, I can, like, videotape myself doing this beautiful dance piece and then uploaded to YouTube. But the first thing people look at is not the content artistically. They’re looking at the view count. They’re looking at that number. And even I as the uploader, I’m looking at that view number.

And then I think when I see, like, seven views that that was worth nothing. And that’s pretty messed up. And like, you know, I think it would be so cool to have a different perspective, like, you know, less like hard like numbers oriented. If you combine like an artistic viewpoint with the power of numbers and tech encoding coding, I think it could make magical things. And so that’s what I’m excited about on the tech front in like five to ten years.

And then in terms of the arts world, too, I think that the arts industry, like I think like I like to make a distinction between, like arts, just like the pure art form. And then what I know, which is the musical theater as an industry and I think as an industry, it’s very behind. We weren’t taking advantage of like just modern tools and practices. So I think that, like, applying engineering approaches to some business problems of the theater industry has could take it really far, even things as simple as flexible scheduling and working with distributed teams.

Like we weren’t able to do that now. So I think something that’s good again, like from covid is that arts organizations have started to take baby steps in this direction and they are growing because of it.

Dan

I love it. It’s kind of like a moving both industries maybe towards each other is a good way to think of it. And as you’re talking about, it just reminds me of like you have just how much power can come from the intersection. And for these artists, artists like yourself, this artist that you’re helping, like, for them to help them find the places where they’ll be appreciated, respected and even, I don’t know, lift it up because of their background, because of the unique perspective and experience that they bring to the table.

And it feels a lot like the analogy that came to mind to me is like the human body, right. That we have we have muscles, but a muscle on its own isn’t helpful unless, you know, it’s connected to another muscle and a joint in between. And that’s really the joints where the lever, the leverage that really makes the whole thing work and how much power there could be by really sizing and kind of living into those intersections, I think is a really fantastic and beautiful thing.

Yeah. For the artist that you’re working with, we’ve already spoken to some of the obstacles of explaining the resume or understanding the resume, giving me that to be appreciated. I’m curious, what are the other major obstacles that you find emerging as people are making this transition?

Scott

I mean, I think it’s just so like coding is hard and there’s a lot to learn. And it’s it’s just like a hard thing. And, you know, and these are things that are not specific to artists. But I think anybody making any career transition, I think it’s really hard for anybody who’s learning to code and making a career transition into tech. I think it’s really hard.

Catherine

Yeah. So I think what is surprising is that there is a structure. So the path usually at least like that we’ve started setting and having other people do is go from not knowing how to code to self teaching yourself on your own, to then enrolling in an engineering bootcamp which has a lot of structure and support. And then there’s the time period of like graduated from boot camp and then trying to find that first job. And I think that period of trying to get your first job is the hardest and was the least support there, at least for me.

And it’s it’s things that surprise you. It’s like there’s actually so many resources and people willing to help you learn to code are like free coding resources. But the thing that was hardest was like, I don’t know what to call it, not soft skills, but the like environmental change. Right. So like like how like artists wonder, you know, we are very familiar with the audition process. For example, like for us, the audition process is, oh, my God, my agent texted me today.

And by tonight I need to have uploaded a video of me singing like three songs completely memorized and like do two scenes with like a German accent. And then like, we’ll know in like two days whether I got that job or not. I’m like, but you have no idea when you’re changing fields. Like, what is that process like? What is the entry point like, how do I approach someone? How long do I wait before I follow up with them?

And like what is appropriate on LinkedIn, what is appropriate to meet up? You know, like there’s so much more to this is actually these things that just seem that come so naturally to people who’ve been in this environment the whole time, that are really scary to other people coming in from the. So I think a lot of that is what we’ve been helping with, so we’ve been like we’ve been kind of like writing these documents that we’ve been sharing with everyone about how all of these things, of this soft things, of how to break in and network with people.

And the other thing, too, is just really providing connections and people who advocate for you. So I think one of the wonderful powers of artict who code is that we now have this wonderful web of professional artists who are professionals in tech throughout the United States and even some in Australia that understand each other and are willing to help each other and advocate for each other. And so just through our group, I think that, like a lot of these jobs that people are through, like personal connections that, you know, it’s gotten I have helped refer people for.

And so I think that that’s what’s really valuable and unique and needed for the artists on this path.

Dan

I love it. I could imagine a really nice alumni network for sure as you continue. Yeah. Um, for people who are following along, whether they’re professional artists or just if they, you know, are just curious about artists who code, what does it look like for someone to get involved with the path to getting involved with what you do?

Scott

Yeah, you want to make sure.

Catherine

So I think a lot of what we’re doing lately is we’re working on that part of our mission statement, which is empower artists through tech and events to advance through artistry. So we’ve been working a lot lately on kind of changing the public perception of what an artist who code looks like, what an engineer looks like. So if you just engage with us and follow our new we started a new Instagram and LinkedIn series profiling different artists who have made a huge leap into tech in this past year.

And what’s been really exciting about it is that people have been finding us. And what’s surprising is that they’re not always artists and they’re not always engineers. But I think people are inspired to hear these stories of the risks people taken and how much they’re willing to kind of just throw themselves into something new wholeheartedly. And it’s very exciting. So people are talking to each other on our social media platforms. If you yourself are a professional artist who is looking to dove into talk like, please reach out to us because we love to network with each other and provide support for each other.

And we’re also going to start writing more pieces, kind of like encapsulating all the things that we’ve talked about today, about like the struggles that we face, like tips and advice for breaking in and also kind of like thought pieces to to challenge the corporate world. And it’s like hiring practices. And kind of like from my perspective, I perceived a lot of Blocher’s that really were preventing me from showing my best self, which isn’t their interest. So we’re going to be starting a blog so you can follow all of this by going to our website at our artistwhocode.com.

Scott

Yes, yes. Yes.

Dan

Awesome. I love what you guys are doing, the whole movement. It’s just just really, you know, resonates deeply with me because it’s so much in line with, you know, my work with the meaning movement. And I know that so many folks that are listening will be really inspired, whether or not they’re artists, whether or not they’re getting into coding just to see it. People like yourselves both having successful transitions for one, helping others, having successful transitions for two is just it’s just a real inspiration.

I guess it was one question before we wrap up as we move towards wrapping up, because I know that as people listening, they often end up in spots where there’s something, a transition they want to make, but they feel stuck, they feel uncertain, they feel scared. And I’m just curious if you have words of encouragement for from your own journey from being on the other side of that transition or anything along those lines that you would like to share just directly to our listeners.

I didn’t prep you for this one. I didn’t tell you this one was coming. No.

Scott

I mean, I hesitate to give, you know, to just say take the leap, because I don’t know where you’re leaping toward, but maybe just know that it worked for us and it is working for a lot of our friends. Yeah. Yeah.

Catherine

I think I have a couple thoughts. This is a really good question, which is why we pause. I think that it’s important to always remember your why this is like an acting thing. Why are you acting it this way? Why are you saying this line? Because it can get really, really hard. Right. So as long as you’re always remembering your why, like, why are you going through this? Well, for me, it was like, you know, I wanted to face all of these challenges getting into tech because I knew my way at the end was to like have a different kind of life where I could, you know, own my decisions and own my life more.

And that kept me going. And so it’s also OK if you’re trying out a transition into something and you’re finding out that, like what you’re seeing as you get closer to the other side is that it’s not matching your way. It’s also OK to turn around and go into something else. Yeah. So I think that that’s actually really important and get that your Y can change throughout your life.

Scott

Yeah. And I think maybe where it gets tricky is when people tie. Their career to their identity, and I think this is why it’s really hard for artists especially to make a career transition, because it feels like a part of yourself. And I don’t know if I have a good answer for that because we’re still kind of working it out ourselves. But I do think that makes it harder to kind of like look up and see what else is out there.

Dan

Yeah, great. And all of that just really resonates with me. Thank you for that. And I think just on the piece about identity and time, your identity, your work, I think is really, really important. And I think, you know, I talk in terms of calling a lot of times people ask you, how do I find my calling? And that’s what somewhat brings them to the meaning movement. One important piece that is helpful is to think of your calling or your wife as being bigger than any one thing can contain that.

You find expressions for it. But the two things, they overlap, but they’re separate, whether it be a job, whether it be a pursuit, whether it be, you know, whatever it is you’re calling your Y is bigger than any one thing. And maybe for artists to think of yourself, for Catherine, for you as a performer, that you can still be the performer and not be a professional performer. And it’s not. For you, you can still be a cellist and not be a professional cellist.

I imagine that’s some of the work that a lot of people are doing as they’re kind of consider in these big transitions.

Catherine

I could really snaps to that. Very well said. Yeah. I’m also going to steal something that my friend Graham, an artist who code, said, which is that this is a very artistic way to look at things. I think like for you, you were saying if you know what your meaning is and for me, like, you know what your Y is like, my Y is I want to be someone who can provide for my family, who can help other people and inspire other people.

Dan

What medium I choose to do that in, it can change. So if I want to do that through dance, if I want to do that through coding and helping other people get into coding, either way, like we have our meaning and we have our way.

I love it. It’s great. I love the music medium, I think is a really, really good, really good word for that. That’s fantastic. Well, thank you both for this. Thank you for the work that you’re doing just on behalf of I know everyone out there who will be benefiting from it. I’m just so, so grateful that you’re out there working with people, coming alongside people, putting your arms around people to help help them through these difficult transitions.

It’s really, really beautiful and fantastic work. So, yeah. Thank you for being here on the show. Thank you for being so open. And I look forward to celebrating the continued transitions that you’re facilitating.

Catherine

Thank you. Thank you. Thanks for having us. Yeah. Thank you.

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