Episode 58 – Carlos is as Carlos does

Carlos Munoz Kampff and Arsalan Ahmed with Mentoring Developers

Starting a new career or adding a second career can seem like a daunting task to take on, but it doesn’t have to be. If you enjoy the kind of work that you are about to embark on, the opposite can be true. Sometimes in life, we make a career move that seems right at the moment only to learn later on that our initial intuition would’ve led us down the right path after all. Some might call it ‘living and learning’ and the learning often involves living with the path you currently have. But, if that path isn’t the right one, fear not! Sometimes in life, you have to take a chance to reach new heights that you never before thought possible. That’s what happened with our next guest, Carlos Munoz Kampff.

From the TI 84 calculator to music and back to tech, Carlos has done it all. Although music still tugs at his heartstrings, the overwhelming desire to code has been seeded there for years as well. But, Carlos never before considered tech as a potential for a career, until recently when he took a chance and enrolled in a code school. Now, he’s here to tell us his experiences that his path has created for him. Listen in to episode 58 while Arsalan chats with Carlos, a musical entrepreneur who turned to software development.

Carlos’s Bio:

Carlos Muñoz Kampff grew up in an entrepreneurial and musical family in Brazil, Mexico, and Germany. In 1999 Carlos moved to Boston to study audio production for video sync (aka film scoring). Since graduating, Carlos has been a rock and roll musician and circus music composer. He’s been on veggie oil bus national tours with the band Incus, reality TV shows with the ClownSnotBombs, and most recently started his own business and became an entrepreneur. He began Star Power Music School in 2011, developed Notabtion™ (his trademarked music notation and leveling system), and recently received a scholarship to participate in the Advanced Certificate for Entrepreneurial Leadership, of which he is now a graduate. He is currently in Portland and learning to code at Epicodus so that he can turn his innovative methodology and Notabtion™ into fun and engaging music apps.

Episode Highlights and Show Notes:

Arsalan: Hi, Everyone! Today my guest is Carlos Munoz Kampff. How are you, Carlos?

Carlos: I’m doing great. How are you, Arsalan?

Arsalan: I am awesome and it’s so good to have you here. We have discovered while we were talking that we have a lot in common, including the fact that you did something with your programmable calculator back in high school. You were cheating on an exam and you got away with it. Tell us a little about that.

Carlos: It’s kind of funny. Back then it seemed like a guilty pleasure, but now it’s becoming what my life is all about, which is kind of interesting. So, when I was in high school. They wanted us to use these TI 84 calculators and the thing about them was that they could do all kinds of mathematical computations, but they were also programmable. I hope my teachers aren’t listening right now, but they assume that if they didn’t teach us how to program that we wouldn’t just figure it out. As soon as I found out that you can program these I went through all the manuals and just created sheet programs for all my tests. So a lot of times I would have to twiddle my thumbs at the end of a test to pretend that I’m doing something because I’d be done already.

Carlos: So that got me curious about it. Then I went into different avenues. After that, and I started playing music. I joined the band and moved to the United States to study music and through that, I started to learn more about entrepreneurship. Years later I came back around to my interest in technology and coding.

Arsalan: So you’re currently in a coding boot camp in Portland, Oregon, right?

Carlos: Yes.

Arsalan: I was going to ask you to describe yourself because that’s one of the questions that we always start with. How do you describe yourself? Who is Carlos Kampff? But, I think it’s going to be hard because you have your legs in three or four different boats. But let’s see if you can. Who is Carlos? We want to see who you are.

Carlos: I’m trying to understand who I am as well. One thing I can really say is that I’m really a curious person. I like to learn about many different things. For example, I played music for a circus troupe that was on a reality TV show on truTV. That was an experience. I’ve toured with bands. I’ve started my own business. I’m always very curious and learning about different things. I’m an idea person. I think of ideas all the time, which has been hard in my life. It’s hard to describe ideas to people and not have people interact with you on that level or not be all about that idea as well. Until I found entrepreneurship and the coding community, that was the case. Now I’m really starting to feel like I’m finding my people because they are all about ideas too, and I find that really exciting.

Arsalan: That’s good. It’s good to have ambition and it’s good to have ideas. Yet it only matters and is beneficial when you put those ideas into action and actually produce results and you know that because you have your own business and you been working on it for years. We are going to talk about that, but first I want to know about your first encounter with programming. I know that you worked on that TI 84 calculator and that was pretty cool, but when we talk about programming we traditionally talk about sitting in front of a computer and typing on a keyboard and making stuff happen. So, what was your first encounter with programming?

Carlos: My first encounter with programming. More recently was just being curious about Swift and learning to make my own apps. I created a metronome app for my students to use.

Arsalan: Yes, we need more of those. We don’t have enough. Okay, that’s a joke, folks because there are 1 million metronome apps. But, if you make it without ads and it is fairly accurate and then a metronome is a very useful tool to have. So, tell me a little more about this app when you get a chance, maybe outside of the interview because I’ve been learning music and trying to play the guitar for a while and would love to know more about your metronome app.

Carlos: So, that was really just a project that I was coding. I don’t think I’m really going to take over the world with my metronome app, but I think there’s a switch that we can all choose to engage in which is whether or not we are consuming technology or are we creating technology? I think that when you’re creating technology, even if you’re just reinventing the wheel in your own way, it’s kind of magical to see how things work and to create new things in your own way. I notice every day when I’m going to coding school that I need to get on the bus on time. So, in Portland, there’s a Tri-Map API which we can use to get the exact time of the bus, so I made an alarm that tells me if the buses on time or late. The cool thing about coding is there’s always a niche. Maybe that Apple only work for people in Portland, but there are just so many problems and solutions out there. It’s really fascinating.

Arsalan: That’s true. Programming is like that superpower that can literally allow people to change the world. Sometimes it can make people’s lives better and it’s fun, but it’s also useful. There is also an opportunity that if you make something that is very useful, maybe somebody will pay you for that. So, that could turn into a product or business. So, programming, software development, and entrepreneurship are sort of tied together. As long as there are people making software, there will be entrepreneurs who are programmers.

Arsalan: Now, you didn’t study computer science in college?

Carlos: That’s correct.

Arsalan: Did you study something else in college? Did you go to college?

Carlos: I did go to college. I went to the Berkley College of music for film scoring which is music for movies. So, there is some technology involved. You’re learning about audio and interacting with video and whatnot. But, that’s only half the program. Most of it was learning about music and learning how to orchestrate and write music for different types of ensembles and arrangements and stuff.

Arsalan: I’ve heard that Berkeley’s entrance exams or auditions or whatever you have to do to get in are incredibly hard. Did you have to go through any of that?

Carlos: The thing about Berkeley is that it’s the biggest music school there is based on the number of music students that they have. Berkeley is a very tiered program. There are a bunch of different entry levels. It’s almost like a bunch of different conservatories altogether in the same place. So there’s this leveling system that kind of carries you through the whole thing and can give you different experiences. It’s been an inspiration for me. In my business, I’ve been implementing a leveling system as well because I felt like it was really effective.

Arsalan: When you’re talking about a leveling system, you’re talking about a kind of multi-tiered system where you can get more out of it if you invest more. So, help us explain what you mean by leveling system. I think what you mean is, you can either go to a level I or level II and level II is everything and level 1+ some more.

Carlos: Absolutely.

Arsalan: So, I would personally describe it as a multi-tiered system like tier 1, tier 2, or tier 3. I think people would understand that better.

Arsalan: Okay, so you didn’t study computer programming until you started this code camp.

Carlos: That’s correct.

Arsalan: That’s the first question. You have a business that you started back in 2011 and you were making money. Was it making money?

Carlos: Yes.

Arsalan: Was it making enough money for you to live on?

Carlos: Not in the bay area. It was definitely difficult to live in the bay area. It was a bootstrapped kind of business. We need to make money to be able to spend money. It’s been growing slowly and steadily and we try to keep our overhead to the minimum.

Arsalan: Tell us a little bit about this business. A lot of people would be curious by now. What business are you running and why are you doing this in the bay area? I know because you told me about your business, but the listeners don’t know. So let’s talk a little bit about what business it is and has it changed over time? Also, why did you do this business is not something else?

Carlos: The idea for this business came while I was in New Orleans. Have you ever been to New Orleans people?

Arsalan: I have.

Carlos: it’s an amazing cultural experience while you’re there. You can experience the best blues you’ve ever heard and then walk across the street and hear the best jazz you’ve ever heard and then down the street find the best southern rock you’ve ever heard. It’s just a really enlivening experience there. I was there visiting a friend, and that’s when I started crafting the business plan for the music school. The question was how can we give a little bit of the richness of the culture of that city to your city?

Carlos: With that mission, I started the business in Danville, California. I already had some connections they are and I started step-by-step having music students and then hiring other music teachers. I was also part of a group that started another business called JJ music camps, which does summer camps and puts kids in bands. I’m the music director for that program.

Carlos: Parallel to that I started Star Power Music and Star Power Music is all about the actual learning part about how to play your instrument and that’s where I started implementing the multi-tiered system. What we saw with that was immediately after I created and implemented it, the students sparked up. The reason is they all want to get to a certain point where they can feel really proud of how their playing music, but they’re generally confused as to how they’re ever going to get there.

Carlos: By creating that multi-tiered system, people light up because they can envision themselves taking each one of those steps. It’s kind of like a ladder, in a way, that students feel excited to climb. Some people might find offense to that because they see it as they just want to play their guitar without having to worry about the different levels, but most of the response to it has been great. The parents love it. The students love it, and they want to know that they’re making progress, and this allows them to have their small wins.

Carlos: Many things are hard to learn. So having those little wins really helps you stay motivated. There’s also the philosophy of doing community events and bringing the community together and getting people to meet each other because that’s the ultimate goal. You have to have something that you want to see you like the child improve playing music that’s improving, and pleasing to your ears because otherwise, you probably wouldn’t want to come. So that’s the fireplace, but you want people to come to that fireplace and meet each other and create friendships. That’s how you create a community kind of like the one that exists in New Orleans. In a way, I was trying to bring a little flavor of that to other communities.

Arsalan: I think that’s a really interesting idea, especially in music because music is something that a lot of us want to do, including myself. We would love to be able to play a certain kind of music and play efficiently and not suck. But, as soon as people start learning how to play a new instrument they realize that they do suck because it takes years of practice. It’s not like programming where you can potentially start from zero and in six months churn out a product which would look very good. It’s possible that within a few months of starting you can actually be hired to do this professionally, but it’s not the same with music. Music takes a lot of patience and a lot of practice.

Arsalan: As far as I can tell, you’re talking about assigning levels to people based on their proficiency. So, if I don’t know anything, maybe I’m level 0 and then I go and learn a few basics and a few chords and then maybe I progressed to level I. So, you can graduate from level 1 to 2 to 3 and it makes you feel like you’re actually making progress. It’s not like it’s a huge continuum. It’s not like 10 years later you’re either a professional or an amateur. There are levels in between. That’s a really good idea. So, I think people should check it out. We are going to have all the links in the show notes. So, if you’re listening to this podcast, and you’re not able to take notes, don’t worry about it. We’re going to have all the links in the show notes, so you can go check out his academy. You’ll need to be physically in the bay area, right?

Carlos: Yes, for now.

Arsalan: Okay, so if you are in the bay area, then I think this would be great. It looks like with this program that you’re targeting kids which I think is a good idea, but there are lots of adults who like to learn as well. So, maybe you should think about that, Carlos.

Carlos: Well, that is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot and it is part of why I am in coding school. What I found is that adults are very busy. So, for them to be able to meet at a certain time and be willing to spend money on something like this, it always ends up being on the chopping block with their other bills. So, what we’re trying to do is make it more accessible, especially for adults and young adults.

Arsalan: Like myself.

Carlos: Yes, Your 29, right?

Arsalan: I’m 19.

Carlos: So what I was going to say is that young adults often don’t have the money or the time to have a teacher come to their house or for them to even go to a school. So, I’m trying to introduce technology where I can stream lessons and have tools that would make it easy to do the lessons remotely because I see the technology getting better every day.

Arsalan: I think that’s an idea worth pursuing and hopefully you will find success. People who want to learn more about an instrument or become musicians who just never had a chance may be able to get in touch with you and I’m sure you’ll help them out.

Arsalan: So, you are in a code camp and the question is why? First of all, why do you want to be a developer? Lots of people just go online and read books and just hack their way through coding, but now you’ve decided to go through a code camp. The first question is why do you even want to be a software developer? The second question is why do you want to go to a code camp?

Carlos: The school year prior to this one. I went to an entrepreneurship boot camp where you learn all about starting or growing a small business. Constantly during the entrepreneurship program, they were referring to different types of technologies and what you find as a small business owner is you end up having 10 different accounts to 10 different things. So in the end, you have all these different services and they’re not speaking to each other and everything is disconnected. So what I’m hoping to do in learning to code is to create something that is more integrated and something that I can understand and have some level of ownership over. I want to be able to know what it’s for and how it works. So that if I want to go in and create a new feature than I can create a new feature. So it seems like a natural progression to learn about business and then learn the technology to actually implement a lot of these ideas.

Carlos: first, I started by self-learning like a lot of people, and used sources like Tree House and Udemy. I actually found the lessons very helpful and great, but the one issue is that you tend to run into a bug as soon as you are not doing exactly as they’re telling you and you and you try to do your own creative project. You run into bugs. So, then what do you do? You try to go to Stack Overflow or GitHub, but it’s confusing and it can be discouraging. So, I found that in a coding bootcamp, there’s that community. For example, last night I went out for beers with one of my cohorts. So, there’s just this sense of we’re all in this together and we understand each other and even though we are over beers and having snacks will still talk about coding and how to do certain things.

Just being around someone who understands these types of questions is incredibly valuable about being in a boot camp and learning with other people.

Arsalan: That’s very interesting. I think what a boot camp does for you is sort of create an artificial environment where we are all on this proverbial boat and we are all going together and you are all doing the same thing. I’m assuming that you are all doing similar, if not exactly the same projects. Is that correct?

Carlos: Yes, that’s true.

Arsalan: You’re given a project and everybody’s doing the same project just like in a college class, but in this case, you are forced to be together. So, you know that if you’re talking to the person next to you. They are also working on the same problem. That means that they will have empathy for your situation, first of all. They will also not have to learn what you are trying to do. For example, if you came to me with a problem or an issue and asked for help, I would first have to learn what it is you are trying to do. So I have to get some context. It’s going to take some time and I’m going to have to look at your code. It may take half an hour or an hour or two for me to really understand where you are coming from before I could even begin to help you. None of that happens while you are inside a cohort.

Arsalan: First of all, if you’re in a cohort, you probably don’t have kids. You’re probably not married because you probably got divorced. If I tried to join a code camp right now, I probably get divorced. There are certain times in your life when you just cannot do that. So, if you’re in a cohort than you probably don’t have a lot of responsibilities. I was just trying to say that in a funny way. If you are in a cohort and you are on campus, you’re not doing anything else. That’s all you’re doing.

Carlos: Right. It’s very demanding.

Arsalan: So, the barrier of entry for me to go in and asked somebody is low. That’s a really powerful concept that code boot camps bring that even colleges cannot do. When you’re in college, you’re taking multiple classes and doing multiple things and you might have jobs. But, if you are in a coding bootcamp, I don’t think you have the capacity to have a job on the side. That’s your job.

Carlos: Yes.

Carlos: Right. So, I’m going to Epicodus in Portland. The way they have us work is revolutionary. It’s a flipped classroom. You watch the tutorials at home and learn how things work and then while you’re there, you watch some tutorials on how to implement some things. Then you spent eight hours they are with a partner because you pair with a different person each day. So you spent eight hours trying to accomplish those things and meet those goals and lessons. You have tons of time with hands on coding, and that’s one of the most important things. Bill Gates even commented on the value in that. He even had time in the library where he was able to work on these computers and had tons of ours programming. It seems like it’s the most important piece. It’s the same in music, actually.

Carlos: You can learn a concept in music, but if you don’t know how to play it on your instrument, then it doesn’t matter. No one is going to come to the concert to watch you think about an idea. You need to be able to actually do it. I’m finding that at Epicodus I’m able to actually practice and learn all the key commands. It’s almost like a sport. You have to have a certain flow to it, and have certain good habits like copy and pasting certain names so that you get the spelling correct. You have to know how to check for common bugs. So, I’m finding boot camp very effective in that sense.

Arsalan: That’s good to know. It’s good that it’s helping somebody like you who has never really done any programming before. Did you ever write a program before this? Did you ever write a page with a function to do something? I know that you worked on your calculator for a little bit, but before you started Epicodus did you actually write a complete program? The metronome app was part of this, right?

Carlos: No, that was before. That was something that I learned from Udemy. They were teaching a tutorial on how to make a clock. I figured that I could make that into a metronome if I just added a sound to each time that there was a second and then I could change the duration.

Carlos: So, I’ve done a little bit before but there are plenty of people in the program who started from absolute scratch. One of my best friends there is a plumber. So give a shout out to Drew. He came from being a plumber in New Jersey, I believe. Now he’s doing amazingly well with coding. I won’t say that anybody can learn it because there may be some people who aren’t interested in learning it. But, anyone who’s really interested in and curious about it can really learn it because it’s a sequence of logical steps and if you can think logically, then I feel like you could build up the knowledge to understand it.

Arsalan: That’s really good to know. If you’re a plumber out there and you’re listening to this podcast and you never thought that you could be a programmer, now there is proof that you can. Anybody who is motivated enough to go through the difficult parts will be able to make it, I think. It’s hard when it’s hard. That’s what you were referring to when you said that we run into bugs as soon as we go off the script a little bit on a tutorial. It’s going to happen.

Arsalan: Let’s say that you go to a website and you find a step-by-step tutorial on how to build a certain type of application or a website and you start following that step-by-step. Invariably you will find that one of the steps does not produce the results that the tutorial said that you should expect. Sometimes it’s because you did something wrong, you typed something wrong, or you made a mistake in the way you set up your computer. Sometimes the underlying framework or software library has changed and you are now on a different version and it’s not compatible. It happens all the time. It happens to me all the time. Yet, since I’ve gone through this so many times over and over, I’ve come to expect it.

Carlos: Right.

Arsalan: It’s good to have somebody who you can lean on and it’s good to us have somebody who you can talk to. Even if they don’t help you, it’s good to know that what you are experiencing is normal and that you’ll get through this. Sometimes, you need somebody to actually work together with you on a problem to get at it or find a solution that works. Sometimes what happens is that there is an actual bug in the framework. It’s pretty common. For example, if you’re using Ruby on Rails to build a website and the new version of Ruby on Rails that you installed has a bug in it or has a problem, that’s not your problem. Yet, now you’re building on top of it. So, you’re going to have to find a workaround. That’s just how it goes and that’s okay. Eventually, at some point they might fix it. We just have to constantly adopt the changes and adapt our skills and know that there is never going to be a perfect solution. We just have to find a balance.

Arsalan: I studied engineering. Engineers kind of know that instinctively because engineering is all about finding the right compromise between different options to get to the result. You just want to have the finished result that is acceptable and it doesn’t really matter which approach you take. That’s a nice engineering concept that I think when you’re building software. You should think like an engineer a little bit. It’s like these Lego pieces. You need to put those Lego pieces together to come up with your building. If a certain piece doesn’t work, throw it out and find something else that works in its place.


Arsalan: What I’m curious about is the sets of technologies and frameworks and so on that you’re using. Do you have a choice in your coding bootcamp to pick the technology or is it given to you?

Carlos: We do have a choice. I could’ve gone into the C# or .Net path or the Java or Android path or the Ruby and Ruby on Rails path. I chose the PHP and Drupal path. Part of it is because I’m into education and a lot of the universities will use PHP and Drupal. All of those different tracts learn Ember and Angular as well. It’s been interesting because PHP is a much older language compared to Ember and Angular, which has positive son negatives. The exciting thing about angular is that they are constantly updating it, and you can work with Firebase and you can do different things, which is great. The downside of them always updating it with new features is they are constantly changing all the things that you are trying to learn. I’m just getting started with that, but I’m seeing that it’s a beast and I’m in a fast lane. Yet, if you’re working with PHP and Silex then my experience is that it is what it is. You get to know it and you get to work with it. So, it’s been a kind of interesting experience.

Arsalan: Learning Ember and Angular is a very humbling experience because you are never the man. You’re never really comfortable or on solid footing because the ground under you just keeps moving and it’s generally true for all the JavaScript frameworks. I think the good attitude to have is to never be comfortable and never have the I know all there is to know and I don’t need to learn anymore attitude. That’s something you could probably do in Java, maybe. Maybe you could do that, and PHP, to an extent as well. But you can’t do that if you’re working on modern web development frameworks like Ember, ReACT, Angular, and so on. But if you have somebody who does not want to constantly be in a place where they have to learn then you could say that they could learn a language or a framework that doesn’t change so much or even fall much in the world. Maybe the versions keep changing, but the industry as a whole doesn’t adopt new changes as frequently. So, you don’t then have to keep on that treadmill. That’s an interesting thought. However, the reality is a little mixed. It’s not always true because if you are working on PHP or C sharp, or Java, and you’re building web applications, then the chances are that you will need to build something that works with the modern times. It’s faster. It’s more fluid. It updates more frequently. It doesn’t have page refreshes as often. The chances are that you’re going to need to use some client side framework along with it. For instance, Angular is a very popular choice or Ember or React or something else.

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