George Tanev, Software Engineer & Jazz Musician

Can you tell us who you are and what you do?

My name is George Tanev and I am a professional software engineer with a computer science degree and a strong background in jazz music. I am also the author of the first linear algorithm for rolling binary trees and a few original data structures and integer sequences.


What inspired you to pursue a career in software engineering?

I have always been fascinated by technology and infinitely curious about the way things work. Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a natural inclination towards building and fixing things. I was also exposed to computers from the age of 4 and have spent enormous amounts of time tinkering with them and playing around with all sorts of gadgets and consumer electronics. Needless to say, it came to no one’s surprise when I decided to pursue a career in the tech industry — it was a natural progression.

Interestingly enough, I never wanted to become a professional programmer, as the thought of spending even more time with computers than I already did seemed off-putting to me. Instead, I wanted to establish a career as a jazz musician, something I found much more appealing because of the strong artistic component and emphasis on individuality. I began exploring this route in my early adolescence but eventually arrived at the conclusion that being a professional musician was not a career path or lifestyle that I can sustain or feel comfortable with in the long run. So, I naturally gravitated back towards computers and technology, where I felt at home and found opportunities more in line with my personality.

Long story short, I wanted to be a musician but became a software engineer instead. Solving intricate problems with software and technology turned out to be surprisingly fulfilling and rewarding.


Have you always lived in your current location? If not, what brought you there?

Having worked for various organizations as a technology professional for nearly a decade, I decided to set up a company in London and provide software and tech consulting services to clients based primarily in the UK and USA. Soon after the onset of the pandemic in 2020, I transitioned to working fully remotely and have been spending the majority of my time in my home country of Macedonia.

What do you enjoy doing most outside of work? 

Outside of work and related activities, I like playing piano, working on my music projects, and spending time outdoors.


When did you start playing piano? And how did you become interested in jazz?

I started playing piano around the age of 5, shortly thereafter enrolling in classical piano training until the age of 15. During that time, I received numerous awards at state and international competitions for classical piano performance. I especially enjoyed playing Frédéric Chopin, who was and still is my favorite classical composer. I was also exposed to jazz music at home and quickly developed a strong interest in it. This led me to apply to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, receive a scholarship, and enroll in studies for jazz piano performance.

Which jazz musicians and pianists do you admire the most?

My favorite jazz pianist is Oscar Peterson, widely recognized as one of the greatest pianists of all time. I have also been greatly inspired and influenced by Kenny Barron, whose eloquent style and lyrical approach to the piano have captivated my attention since I first got exposed to his music. Other pianists I love include the late Mulgrew Miller, James Williams, George Cables, Herbie Hancock, and Russell Ferrante.

I am also a big fan of jazz guitar and have listened to and transcribed many guitar players over the years. These include the great George Benson who played a major role in sparking my interest in jazz as a kid, as well as names like Lee Ritenour, Earl Klugh, Martin Taylor, Russell Malone, and Biréli Lagrène.


What do you love the most about jazz?

I see jazz as a vehicle for creative and emotional self-expression. It’s an art form that provides a lot of freedom and room for individuality, but at the same time bears collective responsibility when performed within a musical ensemble. As such, jazz is a lot like democracy — it is all about individual freedom with consideration and responsibility to the group. Another thing I like about jazz is that it is a very rich and ever-evolving genre encompassing a broad range of musical styles and influences.

Do you write or compose any of your own songs?

I enjoy remaking jazz classics and songs from other genres, but I also write my own original material. I like combining jazz with elements from R&B, hip-hop, pop, and electronic music — I also record, track, mix, and master my own music. Some of my tunes have been featured on the online radio station and on various indie music podcasts.


Do you perform live and do you have any memorable experiences with it?

Aside from the occasional jam session or small gig, I don’t perform live much nowadays, and I don’t practice nearly as much as I used to. My most valuable experiences with music are from way back, when I used to study music at school, attend competitions, play recitals, and actively perform with other musicians. I’ve been fortunate to hang out and study with some very interesting individuals, including pianists Jonathan Batiste and Shai Maestro, both of whom went on to become very successful musicians. And while I sometimes feel a little envious of people who have “made it” in the jazz world, I am also cognizant of the fact that every person has to deal with their own unique circumstances and personality, and carve their own path in life.


Do you have any future goals with your music?

Music is mainly a hobby for me at this point in time. It’s an outlet I use to express my emotions, nurture my artistic side, and procure motivation to pull through difficult times. Recently, I started putting together a set of new arrangements of jazz standards and some originals, which I plan to record with an acoustic band in a professional studio setting. It is somewhat difficult to find enough time and organize all the logistics around making this record, but it is something I intend to do in the near future.

Do you think that your experiences with jazz music have been a benefit to your technological career, or vice versa?

I think that coming from a strong musical background has benefited my tech career in two main ways. One is related to creativity — my experience playing jazz has made me adept at thinking outside the box and coming up with original ideas and solutions to problems. The other one is related to attention to detail, which I have solidified through countless hours of studying and practicing music, both jazz and classical. Being detail-oriented has helped me produce high-quality work, and identify and act on problems—such as bugs in programming code and flaws in software design—very quickly, effectively, and sometimes pre-emptively.


Do you find creating music and developing software to be similar or related in some way? 

Musicians and programmers have more in common than most people realize. Creating music and writing software both require the ability to think logically and analytically, to neatly structure and organize different elements in order to make them work in harmony. Also, the process of designing software systems is a creative one, much like that of writing music. You have plenty of room to improvise and be inventive in either scenario. Both fields require lots of patience, reflection, and time spent doing painstaking work alone, so they both attract introverted individuals comfortable with self-directed learning and solitary activity. However, in spite of all similarities, there is one crucial difference — music requires the innate talent for artistic expression. This is why musicians tend to make great software engineers, but the reverse is not necessarily the case.

As a final question, do you think it is important for technology professionals around the world to share and promote their creative talents and passions? 

It is always interesting to hear other people’s stories and learn about their interests. Many of us come from backgrounds seemingly unrelated to our careers or have hobbies that we are heavily invested in. Sharing these things with the world and amongst each other helps us grow, build empathy, and form connections. And you never know what, where, or who your next endeavour in life might come from or entail.

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