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Musician and frontend engineer Joe Buono on the importance of careful practice

Hack Reactor

HR Alum Joe Buono

Studying music has more to do with preparing for a career in software engineering than you might think. Just ask bootcamp graduate Joe Buono, musician and Frontend Engineer at Amazon Web Services. 

Before changing careers, Joe earned two Master’s degrees: one in Bass Trombone Performance and another in Music Education from The Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. Based on his experience, he said there’s a thread connecting these two otherwise distinct fields: the art of careful practice. 

“If you study music seriously, then you know how to practice,” said Joe. In order to do so effectively, you have to be able to do at least two things:

  • Break down complexity into achievable sub-components. 

  • Have the discipline to focus on things that are difficult for you. 

“It's very easy just to jam and play music,” he said. “But it's a lot more difficult to find the things that are most challenging to you and to sit with those things and to focus on them for many, many hours every day, consistently. I think the ability to do that is what translates to learning programming, and honestly, any complex skillset.”

From music to software engineering: “I decided I was going all in.”  

After earning his degrees back in 2015, Joe worked as a music educator as well as the manager and co-founder of Melodica Men LLC, a musical duo popularized through social media and YouTube. The Melodica Men earned upwards of 100 million views on recorded performances, created multiple passive revenue streams and sponsorships, and performed live shows with the Atlanta Symphony and Philly Pops, to name a few. 

All the while, Joe was noticing a pattern among some of his close friends who were also musicians. They were moving from music into more technical fields – and they were finding success and fulfillment. He became curious enough to enroll in an online course that provided an introduction to computer science and his first encounter with programming. He loved it and started engaging in self-study while continuing his work as a musician and educator. 

But then came the pandemic, wiping his performance calendar clean for the foreseeable future. This time and space allowed him to consider what he wanted to do next. If he decided to pursue programming in more depth, what was the best way? More self-study, or should he go another route? 

“If you're learning on your own, you have to constantly decide what's most important. And if you don't know the landscape, it's easy to get trapped in things that aren't particularly pertinent or to ignore complete areas just because you don't know what they are yet. So I figured I needed more rigorous and guided instruction,” he said. “I decided, for various reasons, that I was going to go all in with learning to program. I haven't looked back since.” 

A new chapter at AWS (but with music still on his mind)

He landed on the Hack Reactor Software Engineering Immersive Bootcamp, where he felt the positive effects of learning alongside others. He especially appreciated the utility of pair programming. 

“The ability to verbally explain your thought process in a way that someone else can understand it while reading code out loud with another human being is so incredibly useful,” said Joe. “It's also very exhausting because you're trying to write code and communicate clearly with the team at the same time. That's a big cognitive load, but that was a massive contributor in building confidence for me.”

This confidence, combined with other elements of the bootcamp training and his ability to tap into dedicated practice, led him to his current role at Amazon Web Services. He works on the Amplify product, which is the company’s set of tools and services that help front-end web and mobile developers build scalable full-stack applications. 

Though only a few months into the new role, he’s enjoying multiple aspects of it: he works remotely (which he says aligns well with his working style), he’s on a team full of smart developers who are helping him find his footing and dig into projects right away, and he’s working on a product that aims to make life easier for other developers like him.

As his role and career continue to develop, Joe is confident that music will always be a part of his life. He still plays his piano regularly, he still teaches some private lessons on weekends, and he’s dreaming up ways to build an app that would help young musicians learn the power of careful practice, the key to success in whatever field they choose to pursue.

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Want to read more alumni stories? Here's one: Learn how Stephanye Blakely's love for gaming led her to software engineering.