Well into a music career — but noticing friends who were still trying to find gigs to make ends meet — Ben Morss faced a life-altering pivot.
“I got sick of it and I turned to programming full time,” said Morss, a developer advocate at Google. “As a musician, I was trying to call people that I could work for on their album or that could hear my stuff, but as a programmer, it was the opposite. Recruiters were calling me like, ‘Come work for our company!’”
A New Jersey resident who now travels for Google to pitch new technologies and developments to different organizations, recently ventured to Kansas City for the first time as a part of Techweek Kansas City. Morss led a workshop at Crema before serving as a keynote speaker for the event’s Big Data Summit track.
Programming efforts at Techweek were impressive, he said, noting the Kansas City entrepreneurial community needs to continue to build and expand.
“I met people while I was there who were trying to do all kinds of things to help the startup community, help people meet each other, and help people who couldn’t learn to program before,” said Morss.
Although he started his career at Google in sales and advising clients on best practices regarding mobile websites, Morss had his sights set on the online giant’s developer advocate position from the beginning, he said.
“I kind of fit the Google model in a weird way. I’m pretty independent-minded and I have strong opinions,” he said. “But I can hopefully draft the kind of things that could move the web forward in a way. It’s been a good fit for me.”
Everyone in his family is in the sciences, said Morss, which lended an exposure to programming at a young age, but discovering an unusual talent for music set him on a slight detour before finally landing at Google.
“At some point, when I was 13, I learned that not everyone could hear a song on the radio and just play it on the piano. I thought it was a common skill but I found out that it was, in fact, pretty rare,” said Morss.
Perfect pitch led him to abandon programming after earning a computer science degree. He later dropped out of a Los Angeles arts school to play in several rock and punk bands — his current project is called “Ancient Babies” — as a piano player and keyboardist.
“I mean, I was told that [pursuing music] was not a practical degree. So finally, I finished my computer science degree, and I took a lot of music classes, and to justify this, my final thesis was software that uses algorithms to write original music,” said Morss.
While successfully appearing on alt-rock band Cake’s 1998 “Prolonging the Magic” album, Morss returned to higher education for a doctorate in classical music composition, he said, and briefly became a college professor. He left soon after because he had more of an inclination towards pop music, he said.
“I didn’t want to be stuck in that life … when I was musician. I was lucky to have the option, I guess, to go back,” Morss said. “Very few people that do music have the kind of background that I have, to be able to go back and do some computer work again.”