By Brian Gaudreau
Musician & PNSQC Board Member
I consider myself a quality professional. I have been working in various software quality roles for more than two decades. I thrive on mixing innovation and technology to deliver high-value sustainable solutions for a wide variety of customers.
Being part of the Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference has been a privilege and as well as an eye opener for me. Through PNSQC, I discover the ways people and companies sustain and improve software delivery year after year. But here is a twist to this story: When people ask me what I do and what defines me at my core, I am a musician. And the parallels between software quality and music production are more similar than a lot of people realize.
Even since I was a little boy, I lived with a soundtrack running through my mind: beats, instruments, ambiance, performers, all working together on this symphony called life. I have always been thrilled to be a part of the band. While I have played many different instruments, the keyboard is my core favorite. Why? Because piano and synthesizers can create an infinite variety of sounds and styles.
As I learned more about music, I discovered more core facets of how to deliver quality software. And as I learned and applied software quality principles to music, I produced music with higher substance and quality. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Here are the key steps to applying software quality and testing principles to music:
Just like software and solutions, every musical improvisation needs a starting point. One has to start by choosing a key, a tempo, time signature, solo or band or orchestra, vocals or instrumental only. And let’s not forget the instruments and the musicians themselves. All of this takes forethought and clear communication to form a roadmap that fulfills what you expect to happen musically.
This is the sound itself, the perceived sound quality of what is heard. Just showing a note on a page means nothing without the concept of sound behind it. Some tones and instruments blend and chorus together better than others. Unless…you want to create dissonance and edgy music. That involves just as much planning which instrument or combination of sounds are used.
Two musicians can play the same note using the same instrument and it will be heard differently more times than it will sound identical. The pluck, the breath, the timing, the sustain, the energy and confidence behind the note are perceived with varying levels of intensity and qualities …. which in turn affects the overall quality of each note produced.
How much bass do you want to feel in the recording room when analyzing how to equalize a track or channel? This simple question requires taking into consideration so many facets of quality, individually and collectively, that there is not enough room in this article to list them all. First, we have the quality of the amplifier itself and what volume it is set at. Then consider the quality of the cables that carry the signal between all the various components without degradation. What about the mixing board, and the degree to which effects were applied to the original source signal? And do not forget there is always the speaker itself with the size and quality of bass frequency that it can produce. Did I mention that room size, shape, and materials affect the bass frequency, perceived and produced as well?
No, I am not saying that all music is Agile and produced using Sprints and Kanbans! But musicians are some of the most opinionated and passionate people in the world. Harnessing their capability using strong communication, flexible approach and diversified thinking takes overall music quality to levels often surpassing what was believed to be possible at the start of a project.
This is the musical synergy of DevOps and Architecture. After individual tracks are mixed and balanced, and mistakes are overdubbed and corrected, the mastering artists breathe life and fluidity into music. In many ways, this process seems magical when these engineers start with what was believed to be the final ingredients and then they create a gourmet musical course that exceeds the sonic fidelity and impact they started with on many levels.
All of these stages in music require quality processes to be applied at a singular and collective level for the highest possible outcome to be achieved and stand the test of time. I enjoy the irony of considering whether my musical experience is helping me produce higher quality software, or whether my experience with software quality is influencing higher quality musical production. I think I will enjoy both of these outcomes and not worry about which is the chicken and which is the egg!