I was born and grew up in Chelmsford, Essex, but have spent most of adult life in London.
During the day, I work as a software developer. Software development is not strictly an engineering discipline as some would have you believe. Don't get me wrong, I know some very good software engineers. But the design phase of software has more in common with architecture than engineering, more art than science, but a bit of both. I have always mixed science and arts, even at school. I like to think I still do. However, I found science at school unsatisfying.
I find the mutual antagonism between some people in the arts and the sciences, very odd. Like those Arts programs on the radio where a bunch of writers and critics attempt to patronise the token scientist. It seems to me to be based on some sort of sense of the superiority in one field of human endeavour over the other. Sometimes, I think I'd like a return to the notion of the "renaissance person". But, I also like the ability the modern world gives us to specialise in things, to explore things to greater depth than might otherwise be possible. Maybe, we should just encourage people to widen their horizons by helping them to experience variety. Too often, peer pressure stops people trying different things.
People say that those who are good at music, tend to be good at maths. I'm not sure that is true. I think some of the basic skills of maths and music are similar, and that those basic skills are foundations that are never very far away from daily practice. There is also the ability to work in symbolic notations that is common to the two and to many other disciplines. But, I think there are more differences overall than similarities. Designing and implementing software systems and writing counterpoint are, in my opinion, very similar exercises, but in a very intangible way. At least, they seem to me to exercise the same parts of the brain and the process, for me, ends up "feeling" the same in a way that I find odd and very hard to describe. It is something to do with horizontal lines of execution, points of synchronisation and so on. One key difference is that in counterpoint, you are definitely trying to emphasis the difference, to make each part in itself interesting, whereas in software, the emphasis is on how the various process work together and synchronise their behaviour.
I went to college to do Music and Media because it sounded interesting. I specialised in harmony and composition on the music side. For people who have not taken a traditional music course, harmony is about developing basic music skills (music theory, learning about the instruments, arranging and so on), whereas composition is intended to develop the creative side. In harmony, you would be given weekly exercises in particular styles for a particular instrument or instruments to complete. During the seminar, these pieces would be performed and discussed by the group. I like the discipline of having to produce stuff for a given date. In composition, the main task was to build up a portfolio for each year of pieces for examination. In the end, composition at college was just "glorified" harmony.
I got to use my first synthesiser at college, an EMS Synthi. It was designed around 1971 and was aging by the time I got my hands on it. It came in an integral brief case. It was/is a monophonic synthesiser with 3 VCOs, ring modulator and envelope and noise generators. It had a real patch bay with pins. However, it didn't interest me all that much at the time because our recording facilities where too limited to make much use of it. Apparently, you can still buy them from EMS or, at least, you could until very recently. They operate out of a barn in Cornwall. Love it. At college, I spent more time with tape machines than the synthesiser!
I started my working life with, like many before and after, no prospect of any work. I was lucky enough to come away from college with a First, so the college was encouraging me to do a higher degree. I never really figured out why. I was tired of education, so I left and got a job as an AV technician in the business studies department at a large technical college. Mainly, I was just servicing office and language equipment. This was in the early days of personal computers (just before the IBM PC came out). However, we had a minicomputer and a few primitive 8-bit micros (Apples, Commodores, a BBC micro and so on). I was interested, so went on a day-release Electronics course and set about learning about computers and programming in my spare time. I wrote a few programs at this time, including a terminal emulator for the BBC. My plan was to use it as a minicomputer terminal instead of the relatively expensive ones we were buying at the time.
My big break in programming came when I got a job writing educational software for ILEA (an education authority). Initially, we worked 8-bit RM machines as used in ILEA at the time. These had 8" floppies, Z80 CPUs and a massive 56 K of memory! Later, we migrated to 16-bit PC clones, based on Intel 80186 CPUs. I specialised in system level software and wrote graphics libraries and various utilites in Pascal, BCPL, Assembler and, later, C. I also started a project into computer technology and music in education. I built a MIDI hardware interface for the RM PC and wrote a few pieces of MIDI software. It didn't go anywhere because, at the time, it cost too much money to build. Life was fairly easy, if a little tedious. I worked in education for a couple of years and then left for the City during the Big Bang in the late '80s.
My first job in the City was working for Reuters on Workstation Software Environments in C and Windows (1/286/386). It was all much more exciting. If you have ever seen TV reports in the City with analysts standing in front of screens with flashing numbers, that is the kind of thing I worked on. I have my doubts now that the software I wrote was really necessary, but it was good for me as it got me into the fundamentals of handling real-time financial data. I also learnt lots of other things like Unix, Smalltalk, networks and so on. This was the time when I really started to get interested in software design.
A few companies and a divorce later, I was doing software architecture, building big systems and fairly enjoying myself. I have been interested in software design and architecture for a long time. A lot of it is actually plain, old-fashioned analysis, but you get to invent things too. There is a joy to inventing a new algorithm or finding a better way of doing something that is really hard to describe. When you are dealing with the bigger systems, it helps to be able to hold lots of things in the mind at once. I joined Telerate/Dow Jones in the mid '90's and worked on financial workstations again (just like Reuters). In fact, most of the people I worked with there were my ex-Reuters colleagues from ten years before. The stuff we designed and built is still some of the most advanced front-office software on the market and that is five years ago now.
After Dow Jones, I was a bit fed up of the whole big company thing, so I set up a small company with a couple of friends and designed and built some middleware (if you don't know, don't ask, it's not that interesting) called The Press. It worked really well, but we just didn't have the resources to market and sell it. We finished up selling the whole shebang to a big American outfit called Primark as their strategic infrastructure software. Later, Primark were acquired by Thomson. I was tied to them for a couple of years. After a while, I left and started up another small company. We designed and built a number of products including a mail archiving tool called ArtiSan which we sold to a large US company. After a few years, we decided to fold the company.
I now work on ultra low latency software for a major international news provider. The idea is to get embargoed news stories and alerts to people in the shortest time possible. This involves designing and developing ultra fast software solutions.
Music for me is a relaxation, though I do take it quite seriously. If I didn't, I probably wouldn't find it relaxing at all.