Nathan Pantaleo – The fundamentals of Music and Computer Code – American Blues Scene

Nathan Pantaleo has been a lifelong musician and started playing low brass instruments as a kid and joined his school band in 4th grade. A computer programmer and musician, Nathan graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics and Computer Science. As a guitar player he speaks on the similarities between music and coding, “When learning to code, understanding the foundation such as OOP (object oriented-programming), data structures and design patterns is very similar to understanding how and why notes change as you move up the fretboard, what intervals are, and how chords are constructed using those principles.”

Currently a Senior Software Engineer for Braintree, Nathan was a Full Stack Engineer & Lead IOS Engineer for STATS LLC, an Android Developer at CSG International, and a Technical Lead for Solstice Mobile. Nathan excels in the field of Artificial Intelligence and his career has taken him across a myriad of technical stacks ranging from developing mobile apps, web applications, backend, and data and AI engineering. He’s worked for consulting, white label services, sports data and payments companies.

Another side passion of his is recording music. On the relationship between how logic is used to build programs and record songs he says, “In general, I’m very methodical on how I approach difficult problems. I break it down into small pieces that are trivial to solve and then build from there. In recording songs, I tend to do the same. I break down the song into sections to record.”

Who are your favorite musical artists and what led you to pick up the guitar?

Since high school my music tastes have drastically transitioned from country to rock to metal. I noticed my favorite songs tend to have well written guitar solos that I lose myself in and resulted in me always wishing that I could play guitar. I actively go to shows nearby and have in the past few years reframed my favorite artists to the performers that go all out during concerts. Seeing and feeding off that energy is intoxicating. Currently, Shinedown is probably my favorite artist. The energy and connections they make with their fans is unparalleled.

After starting my computer programming career, I noticed that I was missing music after spending 13 years of my life with it. I wasn’t that interested in continuing playing low brass instruments and wanted to be conscious of my neighbors while living in Chicago. Thus, guitar was an easy decision since it aligned with my musical tastes.

Can you talk about learning to play guitar and learning to code?

Like learning anything, both require you to spend the time learning the mechanics. There are no shortcuts to this because without the fundamentals you’ll never be able to connect the pieces together. I quickly realized this in both coding and music.

Are there any similarities?

Definitely! When learning to code, understanding the foundation such as OOP (object oriented-programming), data structures and design patterns is very similar to understanding how and why notes change as you move up the fretboard, what intervals are, and how chords are constructed using those principles.

Do you find recording a song similar to building a project using code?

In some ways it is. In general, I’m very methodical on how I approach difficult problems. I break it down into small pieces that are trivial to solve and then build from there. In recording songs, I tend to do the same. I break down the song into sections to record. When I get to a non-trivial part, I spend a majority of my time doing multiple takes and critiquing myself – similar to what I do with my code before submitting it to my team to review.

What programming projects have you worked on and completed?

A few projects I’ve worked on are major US financial intuitions’ customer-facing apps, a white-label Netflix-style app, an AI project that took broadcast videos, analyzed the players movements and allowed them to rank how similar collegiate athletes were to their professional counterpart (used in recruiting), and finally increasing performance on a global scale for payment transactions.

Can you talk about the analytical versus the creative in programming?

Many people assume programming is very analytical and to an extent it is. You want to be as performant and concise as possible so your solution isn’t convoluted and buggy. But at the same time there’s a lot of flexibility on how creative you can be. You often can decide the tech stack (language, infrastructure, etc.) as well as having your own style to the approach. As long as it is performant and readable you can express the solution however you want.

For a musician who has never coded before, how do you recommend they get started?

I highly recommend people invest in themselves first and learning to code is not easy or everyone would do it. I highly recommend enrolling in college courses or a bootcamp. Since school is a requirement for a good chunk of our lives, I feel it’s the most consistent and comfortable way to keep people on track and push through the frustration. There are many financing options available for each as well.

It sounds like you do a lot of Artificial Intelligence work. Do you think AI will take over live music playing or anything in the music related field in the next fifty years?

I feel the narrative around AI taking over everything has changed. As industry leaders have invested more into AI and its capabilities – I believe the industry as a whole has come to the understanding that AI is extremely powerful but better used supplemental to human intervention. In every industry AI is used, it allows others to do their job more effectively and enjoyably than actually performing the full task on its own.

What’s next for you and what else do you want to accomplish?

I’m currently at a spot in my life where I’m very content with what I’m doing. I have an excellent work life balance at a job I enjoy and a company I’m proud to be a part of. I believe I’m lucky to have reached this goal this early in my life.

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