Music or Technology.

Work to live. Don’t live to work and equally, play to live. Don’t live to play. This is my new aspiration. I’m lucky. I love my job but lately I’ve been spending far too much time working and not enough time playing. Finding a better balance is something I need to prioritise sooner rather than later.

I don’t mind saying that for a long time now I have been giving serious consideration to moving away from my career in computing into the life of a full time musician. It is a very attractive option but it would be a huge change with a lot of draw backs. My father once said that in his opinion. Being a musician carried limited opportunities for advancement. Once you reached a certain level there was no possibility for improvement. I’m sure he wasn’t just talking about musicianship, technical ability and skill. He was quite rightly pointing out that especially in Irish traditional music; there is a certain limit to the size of the proverbial ladders that someone and clime. Once you reach that peak there is nowhere else to go. In the Information technology industry, the ladder is much higher leading to many more possibilities for improvement, promotion and let’s faces it, increased remuneration. There is also a lot of competition in Irish music. That’s a great thing. Don’t get me wrong. It means that the quality of the music is constantly improving at a rate that can be described as nothing less than astounding. Just listen to the children being taught at the moment. Their incredible! It would mean that I would need to ensure that I actually practise once in a while though.

Working with computers every day is posing its own set of problems. I am continually hampered by the fact that the assistive technology that I depend on so much is in a constant state of catch up with the rest of the world. Almost every new application that is released by Microsoft, Symantec, Mcafee, Trend micro, HP, Dell, VMware and IBM causes yet another problem for me as a screen reader user. It has reached the stage that I need to regularly enlist the assistance of users of iPhones and iPads who can take the time to talk to me over face time so they can see the errors on the screen when my assistive technology cannot read them. I ask you this openly. How can we expect employers to see us as having the same potential as people who have sight when a new application is released and a screen reader user can’t access over 50% of the interface. When you administer dozens of systems, how can your employer be expected to look the other way while you struggle to use simple parts of applications because the screen reader can’t read what’s on the screen. I am frequently in the position where it probably looks like I’m just being lazy or wasting time but in actual fact, I’m prolonging a particular job because during my spare time I’m trying to write a script for my screen reader to get around some strange application. Or, worse, I’m waiting until I can get someone to quickly let me use their eyes for 2 minutes. See, I’m stubborn. I hate admitting that I can’t access systems. I’d rather be seen as incompetent, lazy and slow before letting people see that I’m struggling with accessibility. It’s probably silly and without doubt a lot of you think I’m crazy. It’s probably also true that a lot of you are wondering why I’m writing so bluntly with a basic admission that I’m finding it almost impossible to do my job. Simple. I find it almost impossible but I’m absolutely completely committed to doing the very best I can and until that stops, I know I will succeed. That’s not me being over confident or having a big head, I’m simply saying that I can’t afford to give up. I spoke to someone on Twitter two weeks ago and although he doesn’t know me, he was able to see my frustration within ten minutes. I don’t know who this person is really. I don’t’ know how much experience he has or even where he’s from. He however said something that hit home to me. He told me to be careful. “Constantly fighting accessibility battles can very easily burn you out”. How true this is! I would bet that all my stress is caused by trying desperately to access systems. I’m quite good under pressure. Outages, major changes, upgrades and problems don’t bother me too much. They all have a logical solution and it’s not like with the day to day work problems come up every day. Accessibility or the lack thereof is just driving me crazy. I sometimes fear that I may have hit a glass ceiling in this type of work. I can see… excuse the pun… what’s above me and I know how to get there but I can’t get past the step that I’m on now. It’s not like I couldn’t go in and configure a Dell KVM. It’s not difficult. But, the interface is QT based so I can’t access it. See what I mean? That brings me to a very quick point that I wanted to make: This is not the fault of the assistive technology developers. If leading companies such as Microsoft do not use good design practises in all of their applications how then can we hope for any other company to? Making an accessible application is not difficult. It just takes consideration. That’s a topic for another day though.

So, you can see my dilemma. Play music full time, earn less money with fewer prospects for promotion or enhancement or feel like I’m banging my head off a wall every day trying to make a square peg fit into a round whole. I’ve often said that I’m lucky. I love my job. I love working with computers but the more I achieve and the higher on that ladder I keep talking about I clime, the more I seem to hit this inaccessible wall.

Another very important point to consider is, music is my escape. I heard it described yesterday as like jumping off a peer into a deep river. You start off in one world but when you hit the water you are in a completely different world with different rules, different movements, different priorities and different goals. Hold breath under water. Breathe while swimming. Use different muscles. Music is like this. While playing music the same rules don’t apply as working. It’s a very focusing activity. I would be very afraid I’d lose that escape if I played music full time. Where would I go to relax then? Back to a computer? Could the worlds work in reverse?

My mother commented before that until I suddenly announced one day that I had made my mind up to go to college and study computing that she always felt that it was a fore gone conclusion that I would be a full time musician. That’s interesting isn’t it? Here’s a little known fact. Out of both my parents, I would consider my father to be the more musical one. So, that perspective surprised me a lot. In a way, I considered myself very lucky. By fourteen or fifteen, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I even knew the course number. DK054.

It’s an interesting question and an interesting choice. I don’t expect I’ll answer it any time soon. I’d still like your perspective though.