Elias Lousseief, Full-Stack Programmer on Music Composing & Fire Fighting


What I love the most about Music is that it is a language with which we can tell emotional and abstract stories that are not possible to tell with words only. To invent, develop, and iteratively refine these stories through the use of motives, tempo, dynamics, and all the parameters and properties of music is really an intricate art form, perhaps the most refined if you ask me.

My name is Elias Lousseief, I’m 38-years-old, and I work as a full-stack programmer at Schibsted, a media company in Scandinavia. I was born and raised in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden.

I have always lived here in Sweden, but for a while, I studied music composition in Bellingham, north of Seattle. The TV show Twin Peaks drew my attention to that area. I lived there for a year, and I hope I can return and work as a programmer one day.

My father was the person who inspired my career. He was always interested in technology, maths, and computers – when I was a kid in the early ‘90s, he had a PC and a Mac. We used to play simple games on the PC. Later, when I was about 12 years old, he showed me some basic stuff on how to build websites, and I got hooked. It was mostly just HTML and CSS back then. I remember registering my first website, blackwinged-angel.com, at that time. It was inspired by the video game Final Fantasy 7, where the final boss was called “One-Winged Angel”. Consequently, I had for a long time a mail address that was both terrible to spell out, but also made people think about goth/emo teens!

Outside of work, I love to play music. I first became interested in music when I was 13 or so – I watched the movie Amadeus and I got totally stuck; I loved it and adored the power of music! In my childhood home, heavy metal co-existed with classical music and opera. Having played the drums since the age of 10, I’d like to think that I had a quite broad musical perspective already at a young age, but as I grew older, I turned more and more to classical music. One day, my friend at school showed me how he had learned to play the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata on piano, all by himself. I remember thinking, “if he can do it, I can do it”, and I asked my sister and mother (who could both play the piano) to draw me an overview of all the notes so that I could translate the sheet music. After some time, I could play the same movement as well – as a bonus, I had created a connection to a new instrument that has lasted all my life until this day. Somewhere around there, I also started to compose. It was so romantic and full of freedom. I dreamed of living off of music and visiting romantic places in nature that would inspire me to write great things. This vision stuck, but it was quite long before I felt obliged to do something with my interest in music, leading me to a Bachelor of Music in Music Composition.

I love to use all the instruments when I’m composing music! What I really like is the large symphony orchestra – it is history’s greatest musical invention because you can create so many fantastic sounds and atmospheres with it. A lot of people associate it with classical music only, but let’s not forget that most of the movie music and video game music of today is still based on orchestral music. Since I studied the composition of classical music, I’m used to writing sheet music directly, either by hand or in some music notation software (such as Sibelius). Typically, you can get some basic idea of what a piece of music sounds like in such a software, but whenever I write music for others, I also try to provide sounding samples of higher quality by using instrument sample libraries in sequencers (such as Cubase).

Most of what I have done with music only lives in my computer, which is a little sad I guess – maybe I will make a website and showcase it one day. But some of my most memorable moments with music are when we got the chance to write for a symphony orchestra during the final year at university, but also when I orchestrated a set of songs that my friend wrote. It took quite some time, but I was really happy with the outcome – I felt that even though the songs were hers, the orchestration had a lot of me in it, so it was a beautiful fusion of two musical personalities. Another highlight is my master’s thesis in computer science, in which I wrote a music-composing neural network from scratch – I would very much like to think of this as the summarising pinnacle of my entire era at university.

As I’m so passionate about computers, I’m currently having problems finding time for my composition. My future goals in this area are to get more time for composition, invest in some new equipment, and start looking into electronic music and new cool stuff in sampling and sequencing. A dream is also to work in some field where I can use both my composition and programming skills, perhaps at a games company.

Aside from Tech and Music, I have also spent many years working as a Fire Fighter. In Sweden, we had mandatory military service up until the early 2000s. You could do either military service or civil service. Historically, people with religious faith and other weapon-refusers did civil service as fire fighters or electricians, and the rest did military service. Anyway, at the time when I was supposed to join ranks, you’d typically go to some evaluation facility to determine physical and mental fitness before any decision was taken. Often, at this time, the final say-so landed in the lap of someone who would let you off if you didn’t want to do your service (a few years later, it became entirely voluntary to do it). Nonetheless, I ended up with a really tough guy who had NO intention of letting me off the hook, even though I wasn’t interested. He said I HAD to do my service and I got to choose between being an airport fire fighter or a military police commander in the north of Sweden. As I had just watched some brainwashing videos on fire fighting in the waiting area, I decided to go with fire fighting. When my service was over, the military / civil service in Sweden had had even further cut-downs, and one of the places where they would now need to hire was at Sweden’s biggest airport, where I had been positioned. I was asked to join, said yes, and ended up staying there for about 16 years. So all in all, what happened in that room 20 years ago has had a huge impact on my life, and it turned out to be something that I have never regretted.

On the regular days working as a fire fighter, you would have a handover meeting with the previous crew at 7:30 AM. Afterwards, you’d check the vehicles to make sure that everything was in order and then have breakfast. The rest of the day you’d spend exercising (gym or doing sports together), running drills, cleaning and maintaining vehicles and facilities … and going on alarms, of course. In the late afternoon, we’d cook dinner together and then watch a movie. On holidays, the food and movies would take up an even larger portion of the day. I have actually spent quite a lot of Christmases and New Year’s Eves working, which has been delightful.

One of the most rewarding things about being a Fire Fighter was meeting people I would never otherwise have met (both colleagues and people you would meet on alarms). I grew up in an academic family and I mostly met academic people during my adolescence. Meeting people outside of this bubble was very refreshing, as well as becoming part of a world where knowing how to start a chainsaw counts for more than equation-solving. Also, when you go on alarms, you meet people from all the social layers, which broadens your horizons in a very rewarding way.

Finally, as a fire fighter, you meet people when they’re sick or have had an accident – in this situation, they’re vulnerable; it’s real in a way that programming rarely is, and you’re making a difference. That is amazing, even though it can also give you some heavy memories (such as my first cardiac arrest or a terrible car accident on a New Year’s Eve). But there are still loads of exciting stories – one of the best is when I got to go to China and train fire fighters at the Airbus assembly line in Tianjin.

I definitely think that my experiences with Music Composing and Fire Fighting have been a benefit to my technological career. One of the most important parts of all jobs is to be sociable and be good at reading other humans. My background has really given me a broad experience in people, and I think this serves me well in many aspects. One other benefit is, of course, is if I started working for some company where these other skills can be useful. A software sequencer company — or, for example, FLIR, who manufacture the thermal cameras that fire fighters use when they smoke dive — would probably appreciate a background like mine.

My advice to anyone interested in a new passion is to try many things, cultivate hobbies, and listen to your heart. It sounds like a cliché, but I think you must be absolutely sure that you’re not pursuing a career for status reasons or based on someone else’s opinions. For young people, it can sometimes be hard to distinguish these things from each other, which is why it can be good to take a break and do something else and learn to listen to yourself. No résumé or experience can beat genuine motivation and determination – once you have that, you’re on the right track (which employers will also see).

There is always more than tech. I think it is a very important mission to encourage other hobbies on the side in a business where programming tends to take up most of our waking hours. It’s also interesting to learn about fellow programmers and what they do when they’re not debugging C++ code. And for someone to whom there is not more than tech (yes, they exist), there are always more aspects of tech that can be elaborated on and further given insight into.

Elias’ Website: https://elias.lousseief.com/

Elias’ Facebook Profile: https://www.facebook.com/elias.lousseief

Elias’ GitHub Page: https://github.com/fast-reflexes

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