How Producing Code Is Like Producing Music (and a Message for the Agile Evangelists): An Interview with David Hussman


David Hussman is an agile coach and owner of Dev Jam. In this interview, David discusses the similarities between producing music and producing code, the Frank Zappa of the software world, and why he wants agile evangelists to “shut up and play your guitar.”

David Hussman has a fruitful career in software development, with most of us recognizing him as being an accomplished agile coach and owner of the Minneapolis-based consulting group Dev Jam. However, in his earlier years, David spent the bulk of his time recording and playing music, for a while attacking his guitar in the glam-metal band Slave Raider. In this interview, David discusses the similarities between producing music and producing code, the Frank Zappa of the software world, and why he wants agile evangelists to “shut up and play your guitar.”

Jonathan Vanian: Tell me about your life in music.

David Hussman: When I was a kid, I wanted to be like Ted Nugent or Jimi Hendrix or Brian May or Eddie Van Halen. I’m from Minnesota, and I thought I better go to school and get a job. So I went to this little electronic school, and then I was like, screw that, I want to rock. I just bailed at everything and was in this super weird band for a while, and then I got into, kind of like a big hair-metal band in the '80s. I always kind of wanted it to be a David Bowie meets Alice Cooper thing, but it kind of turned into Kiss meets All Star Wrestling.

I then got a record deal, and it was pretty cool. I started hanging out in all these recording studios, and because I had the electronics background and I was a musician, I was a shoo-in to be a producer. So I built this studio in Minneapolis, which was a hot bed of music. We had Soul Asylum, The Replacements, the Jayhawks, and just lots of good stuff going on. I met all these singer-songwriters, and I ended up working out of Prince’s studio at Paisley Park and doing independent records, where for [bands], it was a big budget because it was a couple hundred thousand dollars. And then I kind of burned out, because I ran into too many “bizmicians.”

I think it’s why, on my better days, I do well now. Because I just look at producing software like producing music. It’s just a different medium.

JV: How is record producing is similar to what you are doing now?

DH: I’ve always thought there’s a real strong correlation between software and music that’s more than just the simplistic stuff that’s drawn all the time. Very few people can pull up a sheet of music and say, “That’s a beautiful song.” Reality says that music is measured when it’s played. If you look at code—especially the syntax—very few people can print out a huge program or a large system and say, “Boy, that’s going to be a great user experience.” Most of us mortals have to use the software.

Where the music world is creative, I think the software world is the same way. When you’re producing a record—time, money, and egos are at play. For a producer, you have to figure out how to tell people, “I’m sorry. The tambourine track is over. No one cares about that, but you.” You have to have some kind of structure and order, but if you put too much structure in, you homogenize the music into something that’s uninteresting. I think we do that in the software world, like the heavy process stuff. People are so worried about all the wrong things.

User Comments

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Leyton Collins's picture

I almost didn't read this article but glad I did. The din of the numerous agile snake oil hucksters out there is pushing the real message of 'agile' to the fringe, and that irritates me to no end. Especially because I like to use the label "Agilist" for myself. The gloss over substance promotions of 'use this and everything will be wonderful' attempts and at times successfully confounds their audiences into believing in magic bullets. As Dave said, "Shut up and play your guitar." The challenge doing that successfully though is the prevailence of organizations akin to a bunch of 13 year olds playing off key and off tempo from each other in some parent's garage and thinking they all sound like accomplished rock stars.

December 12, 2015 - 11:53am

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