Johanna Nelson

Special Music School High School Class of 2017

What has your journey looked like since Special Music School?
Life in the last five years has been full of research projects, travel, code, new jobs, a bachelor’s degree and music. In the fall after high school graduation, I started my undergrad at Columbia University. I was originally planning on majoring only in Computer Science, but after meeting professors and students in the Sustainable Development department I was sold on majoring in both. It was a transformative period, to be pushing my programming skills to (and well past) their limits through courses in topics like artificial intelligence and computer vision, while also participating in insanely cool research for sustainable development. A couple of projects led to studying in different countries – I spent one summer researching negative emissions technologies in Iceland, a semester researching carbon capture and storage in Denmark, and a week learning about ice core technologies in Greenland.

At the same time, teaching has been a constant thread throughout these years. For the first few years of college, I still saw my Special Music School practice buddies regularly, and for the latter years, I gave private computer science lessons to elementary school children. I will always be grateful to Special Music School for giving me my first teaching opportunity, and for showing me how fulfilling teaching can be.

After graduating, I was unsure how to combine my different interests into a cohesive position. I chose to pursue both teaching and Computer Science and became a software engineering instructor for Fullstack Academy. Throughout all these years, I relied on the same persistence and work ethic that Special Music School helped me build through practicing daily while keeping my eyes on juries and concerts in the future. There was also the comfort of knowing that if I wanted to do nothing but escape whatever stressors I was facing, I could play piano.

What did you learn from Special Music School that you still hold with you today?
The year I spent teaching at the Bootcamp eventually led to my desire to be a software engineer full-time. For a bit over two months, now, I have been a software engineer at Atlassian. I was amazed by the number of musicians in the office – I have already hosted a sight-reading party for us, and I have a feeling there will be many others. Above all, this is what Special Music School taught me – that connection through music will come when least expected, and it is always a welcome and beautiful thing.

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