Freelance developer and jazz-musician, merging passions for coding and music.
Read Alexander’s unique story of how he went from growing up in Silicon Valley, to a History Graduate at Yale and now working in Berlin as a freelance Full-Stack developer, combing his passions of both coding and music.
I grew up in Silicon Valley but was, ironically, completely uninterested in learning to code while I lived there. Most of my background is in the humanities. I graduated from Yale University in 2016, where I studied History with a focus on the Soviet Union. I wrote my thesis on the history of jazz in the Soviet Union and led a student movement to start a jazz program at Yale.
After graduating, I moved to New York and worked as a professional jazz pianist/singer and as a music manager. I still do both of these things and perform professionally in Berlin now. During this time, I released the solo album (Portraits Drawn Without You), and I am hoping to record a new project soon. In 2017, I spent a year working at an international women’s rights law firm in London and am still deeply passionate about working to impact society.I didn’t know how to code per se. At Yale, I had done some work relating to computer music, including building a synthesizer for Central Asian throat singing that was featured on NPR. In 2018, I was fortunate to meet a professor at CCRMA, the computer music research center at Stanford University. This meeting exposed me to the powerful connection between coding and music, and I began informally attending classes at CCRMA and working increasingly with technology in music performance and research.
I realized that I would need to learn to code if I wanted to continue this work, and doing so would also be the best career decision I could make to have a stable income to support my art.
At first, I decided to do a coding bootcamp and started researching my options. The price differential, as well as the difference in pedagogical styles, was huge. I calculated that I could do an American Coding Bootcamp in Silicon Valley and stay with my parents, or I could fly myself to Berlin, rent a flat, and do Le Wagon and I’d still come out ahead. I liked that Le Wagon wasn’t focused on testing people out or breaking people down and had a more collaborative, creative environment. I also found out that a friend of a friend from Yale taught for Le Wagon in Shanghai, and she was incredibly helpful in guiding me to make the right decision.
I would say the biggest challenge is also social. During the project weeks, you work incredibly intensely in a small group environment without a firm idea of how to organize yourselves. It’s probably quite accurate as a concentrated experience of launching a startup. I honestly think this interpersonal element is an important part of the learning experience Le Wagon offers.
During my time at Le Wagon, the real thing that has stood out to me about Le Wagon is the community. It’s a special and unusual situation, with everyone coming from radically different backgrounds and perspectives to do something they’ve never done before.
I graduated from Le Wagon in September 2018 and earlier this year, I moved back to Berlin and have now gotten a freelance visa to Germany in both coding and music. I’m working on several exciting projects at the moment as a full-stack developer, from an eco-friendly housing development to a contemporary art agency, and I love that I get to make my own hours and work on multiple projects at once. I feel that I finally have a positive work/music balance.
I’m working on several exciting projects at the moment as a full-stack developer, from an eco-friendly housing development to a contemporary art agency, and I love that I get to make my own hours and work on multiple projects at once.
I’ve been fortunate to work with Toni Panacek and Martin de Frutos, both of whom are Le Wagon alumni from different batches. We’ve started a freelance collective together called Co/Obst where we focus on building creatively-designed and technically-responsive products for our clients. We take both the design process and back-end development seriously and work with ideas from their inception. It’s been fun working with a dedicated team of other freelancers and to have a community because freelancing can sometimes be isolating. I’ve also enjoyed working on creative and intellectually demanding projects.
My biggest piece of advice if you want to find a job after the bootcamp would be to find and maintain a community of peers, mentors, and mentees. I can't stress this enough. It's key to be part of and to support a community.