Akia Vongdara


Akia Vongdara

AGE: 26
INTERESTS: I like to rock climb and I’m a practitioner of kendo (Japanese fencing). I’ve been practicing kendo for over 6 years and currently hold the rank of 2nd dan (equivalent to 2nd-degree black belt), and I’ve been rock climbing for almost 2 years now. Aside from physical hobbies, I’m interested in education systems and would like to contribute to it in the near future.

Where are you from?

I grew up on a farm in Oahu, Hawaii the first 10 years of my life, then moved to Rochester, NY. I moved around a lot, but I spent most of my life in Rochester.

What did you do before 42?

I went to RIT and graduated from their multidisciplinary studies program where you could combine 2 or more majors together. I went with a mixture of IT and CS, but I realized towards the end of the program that it didn’t quite get me what I wanted. After graduating I found a job as a programmer analyst for the University of Rochester Medical Center. There, I built web forms, generated doctors’ credentials reports, and build a self-service app for credentials to generate those reports.

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

Yes, I did have programming experience. I started programming when I was a 15 when my friend gave me a Macromedia Flash program. My family didn’t have internet at the time, and I had to print out tutorials from the library to learn how to build flash games.

42 helped me further my self-learning skills. In college, it was different because there were often few ways to think with the structured learning that the professor had to offer. The resources were often given to you, and the professors would be your back up resource if you couldn’t figure out the problems yourself. At 42 you have to figure out things yourself, or with your peers. I learned to interact better with other people, and that helped me the most and continues to do so at the startup I’m working at.

How did you hear about 42?

After a year at the University of Rochester, I heard about 42. I saw it on a TechCrunch article, I was pretty hopeful and excited. I read into it, learned it was a free school, free tuition, free room and board where all the techies are, it was a great opportunity to grow. I was always into education, so when I saw a new educational model I was like cool, let me try it out, this might be revolutionary and it is. It was the best decision of my life, I learned more during the 4 weeks of the piscine then during my entire 4 years of college.

What did you like best about your 42 experience?

Definitely, the friends I made, the connections I made for sure, but the hardship we all go through is imprinted in my memories the most. Struggling through projects with friends, being frustrated together, we persevered through it. Once we got to work on projects that is the fun part, working with friends and getting something to work.

How did 42 prepare you for the workplace?

The resourcefulness really, especially with startup culture, you have more responsibilities. There aren’t many people on a team so you need to do things yourself with very few management. We are given a big project, a whole widget to be embedded on a website, and I am working on that right now and figuring out the best practice or the best way to build it, to architect it, and design it. It is more than just working on a specific thing, there are a lot of little things like architecture, design, programming logic to it, making sure I talk to the backend, make sure the API is working, and always communicating with everyone else.

How did you get your foot in the door where you work?

For me, it was because I started this whole 100 days of React challenge, and a lot of my friends knew me as the React guy. So I kind of made a name for myself among my friends, there was a networking party and my friends told the CEO of a startup, who was looking for React developers at the time, about me.

Describe what you do:

Now I am working at a startup called Opus1.io. I’m working on a business management tool from scratch. Everything is still new, we only have 4 employees including the CEO, 3 of us are 42 students. We didn’t know much about each other before we started working together. One of my team members was part of the self-driving car project, and another was a part of the J-Gravity project. So I would describe myself as a software developer, this is my last month as an intern, it was a 6-month long program and I was offered and accepted a position to stay on.

What does your typical workday look like?

I leave the house around 10 am and usually don’t get back until around 9 or 10 pm because there is so much work to get done. Throughout the day, we discuss features and their designs and keep ourselves up to date with what’s happening in the React community or any of the libraries we’re using. Towards the end of the day, we have a meeting about what we’ve worked on to get everybody on the same page and discuss revisions or any new features to work on next. Even though we are interns, we have a lot of responsibilities as part of a small startup. We are learning so much, I am a much better developer now then I was when I first started, it is exciting to see self-growth.

What have other interns/co-workers at your work or in your program found difficult that you found easy?

I’ve had web development experience whereas my co-workers did not, so writing HTML and CSS came easier to me than it did for them. Though, they are much better than me in logic and problem-solving.

Would you recommend the 42 program and if so, why?

Yeah, definitely, well it’s because of the life experience that you learn here. There are many challenges to overcome here as a student. Over time, you learn more about your bad habits, and what good habits work for you. You’ll also learn about time management, dealing with different people, and how to become resourceful. Given a time-consuming task, would you do it in chunks or spend all day on it? 42 definitely helps you figure out a good system for yourself that can help you succeed in other aspects of your life other than programming.

Do you have any advice for 42 students when it comes to securing an internship or job?

Yeah, just be confident in yourself, though it’s easier said than done. A lot of companies now are looking for positive personalities rather than hard skills. If you show that you are excited, that you can get things done, that you want to learn and are in it to not just help yourself grow, but the business as well, you are likely to get that job. It’s more beneficial for the company to hire and train someone with a growth mentality than someone skilled who cannot adapt to working there for a while. So, don’t be scared about not getting the answer. Show that you can eventually get the answer.

A fabulous photo of Akia by Priscilla Vongdara:

Interview by: Stacey Faucett

published by Stacey Faucett – May 24, 2018