Anyone, At Any Age, Can Learn How to Code @ 42 Silicon Valley

42 Silicon Valley: Offering All Ages a Chance to Succeed in the Field of Programming

42 Silicon Valley is an innovative, higher education coding school that is open to anyone over 18 years old. At 42, we embrace the inclusion of a wide representation of different ages and we want to give people a chance to succeed in the field of programming. We believe that having a student community that is diverse in age leads to greater learning opportunities, engagement, and teamwork. According to NPR, “The majority of today’s college students have characteristics that describe them as ‘nontraditional‘: They work; they’re raising children; they’re not coming straight from high school. And while some just take a couple-year detour to make money or care for family, others are going back far later in life.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics job outlook from 2016-2026, the demand for programming skills will increase 24% in the next 10 years. However, there are barriers to individuals returning to school because high-quality computer programming education in the U.S. is expensive and restricted to a single model or system of learning. It is understandable that people don’t want to pay such high tuition and/or risk going into student-loan debt. Since 42 Silicon Valley has opened, 13% of our students who start our program are older than 30 years old. We hope to continue to increase access to computer programming education for all ages.

We sat down with nine of our students who are in their thirties to learn more about their unique backgrounds and their experiences at 42 so far:

Brian Bauer

Age: 31

Interests: I was recently told on a Tinder date that I am a comically self-aware hipster. I drink a lot of artisan coffee and express strong opinions about craft beer I can’t afford while rocking to obscure genres… Strangers are often unbiased judges so I’m going to embrace it. I’m also getting into mountain biking and going to the gym. I’m a DIY builder, #vanlife enthusiast, and I want to travel the world but feel bad about burning the oil.

Where are you from and what did you do before 42?

Most recently, I am from Bozeman, Montana. Before 42 I was working in entry-level tech support. Sometimes on call I would go to someone’s house and turn the router on and off or fix the printer. It wasn’t super fun. I studied more advanced certifications but wasn’t finding any opportunities. I did phone based support for a while as well – that is where I got interested in programming. Often something would go wrong in the datacenter and I would be on the phone with upset customers all day. Sometimes it got stressful and I could always see the programmers with their headphones on, completely focused and relaxed. They looked happier than the tech support people. And they got better pay.

Did you have any experience with programming before 42?

I did a not-so-good boot camp before I came to 42. It was the first cohort in a smaller city and no one with more than 3 months experience was involved with it at all. I got a little bit out of it, but it created more questions than it gave me answers or experience. It left me wanting a more thorough understanding. When I heard about 42, I ended up ditching the boot camp a couple weeks early to attend a piscine at 42.

Why did you decide to return to school?

I decided to return to school because I wanted skills that I could get a good paying job with. I wanted a better life. Growing up in a small town in Montana with 7,000 residents, agriculture was the main business. I saw a lot of people working at the gas station forever or becoming a rancher on the family farm. I didn’t immediately see the value of education beyond high school and squandered a couple of years. When I eventually started traveling and moved to bigger cities, I started to see the opportunities that having advanced skills can afford you, I wanted to be a part of that world. I didn’t want to be left behind.

What was the piscine like?

The piscine is hard to describe. It was one of the most challenging but fun experiences I’ve ever had. I made some of the best friends I have made as an adult in the piscine. They have gone all over the world and gotten jobs and I still keep in touch with them daily, it’s hard to make friends like that. Otherwise, the piscine was grueling, sleepless, exhausting, frustrating, and, in the end, satisfying. I loved every minute of it and I recommend it to everyone.

What is your favorite thing about 42?

It feels like there is a lot of inspiration here at 42. You see people exploring, they find something that really interests them and they have the time to really dive into it and push the limits of the field.

What has been the most challenging aspect?

The most challenging aspect, the whole thing is challenging.

Do you have any advice for someone your age who is thinking of trying 42?

My advice for other people my age is you should try the piscine and go for it. It is only a month, you will find out fairly fast if you like coding or not. There isn’t much to lose. Even if you have a skill set already, chances are that you can combine that with programming to make yourself even more valuable.


Mike Brave

Age: 34

Interests: I want to use AI to make art. My long term goal is to make tools that help other people make art.

Where are you from and what did you do before 42?

Originally I’m from Southern California, but I’ve lived in the greater Western United States over the past 10 years. Most recently I lived in Austin, Texas where I worked at the W Hotel. Before that, I worked at a hotel at the Grand Canyon for two years, owned a small business, was a graphic designer and almost became a professor in China (it is a long story). I’ve been a bit of a drifter for a while.

Did you have any experience with programming before 42?

Learning to code has been a lifetime of starts and fails. I grew up around computers and always liked them, but ended up using them more for graphic design rather than code. But I’ve tried to learn several times. I had my dad buy me a copy of C++ when I was 10 years old, but wasn’t able to learn it or find anyone to teach me. I tried taking a programming class in college and after giving it my all really truly failed the class.

Finally, at a Comic-Con I heard John Romero speak, famous for making Doom. He said, “you should learn how to code,” and I was like “yeah, I should.” So I applied to another college to get another degree, this time in computer science, but I ran out of money and ended up working hotel jobs. I was going to do a boot camp but again didn’t because of money. Now at 42 and I’m actually doing it, I’m actually learning what I’ve always wanted but have never been able to. There’s nothing like making a lifetime dream come true to help you get up in the morning.

Why did you decide to return to school? 

Honestly, I don’t care about making money, it’s not something that drives me. I care about making things, I want to make incredible and amazing things. I want to code because the kind of things I want to make requires a skill set that I just didn’t have. If I was a prodigy in anything it was design, I was taking college courses for it and doing freelance for it when I was 12 years old. Those skills weren’t enough though. It felt like I only had half the ingredients to make a cake. To get the other half I needed programming. It’s not about a high flying career, it is about getting the skills I need to do the things I want to do.

What was the piscine like?

The piscine was hard, it was really hard and it was emotional. But it was the first time in my life that I learned how to code, and that was exciting. But honestly, the most valuable thing I learned then was learning how to learn. Even if I didn’t get in, I would have kept on going. I had what I needed just from that, and have gained a lot of other things since being a cadet. But the main thing was knowing how to figure things out. When I failed the coding class in college I was thinking it was because I had a horrible professor, which was true. But now learning what I learned from the piscine, I know I could have made any situation work, even that one. Before that, it seemed impossible.

What is your favorite thing about 42? 

My favorite thing about 42 is being around all the smart people.

What has been the most challenging aspect?

What I find most challenging is that learning to code is still hard for me. I am probably learning about half as fast as other people. And maybe it is because I am older, or maybe it is because I am used to making art, I am not sure.

Do you have any advice for someone your age who is thinking of trying 42?

It takes a bit of humility hanging out with 20-year-olds and seeing them work faster.  But it works out because we teach each other, they help you learn to code better and you give them some life advice. Being a good developer is more than just your coding ability. it’s also about your social skills, your ability to lead, and the ability to prioritize decisions. Having a little more life experience gives me an advantage with those, and here at 42, those skills are just as useful and just as much a part of the curriculum as coding.

As an example, I participated in the Build the Bay Hackathon. I didn’t write much code on the team, but my team was better from having me with them. Word got around and I have had 10 people try to recruit me for their next hackathon team. Most of that is because of those random skills that I have due to being older, and a little from knowing design. There is more value than just programming ability and I definitely have overcompensated in that area. Now I need to improve my coding ability, but I at least have the foundation to be a good team lead or project manager once I do.


Joanna Margueritte Nurmis

Age: 33

Interests: Human and machine languages, environmental communication, human rights, and international relations.

Where are you from and what did you do before 42?

I was raised in Poland, but I am half French and half Polish. In 2011 I came over to the United States to do a Ph.D. in Journalism Studies. That resulted in a dissertation in the field of visual environmental communication. After my Ph.D. was over in May 2017 I had a lot of experience teaching, writing and doing mostly qualitative research. But I wasn’t enthusiastic about the traditional job prospects in my field, which would be to become an assistant professor of journalism. Having worked in the field for only two years prior to my Ph.D., I didn’t feel I could have any legitimacy in front of students hoping to learn journalism from me.

I don’t regret getting my Ph.D because I was able to devote many years to a fascinating research topic. But afterward, I was sitting around and wondering what to do next with my life. I applied to postdoc positions but didn’t get any.  My husband, who is also a European citizen, is doing his Ph.D. at Stanford. When I discovered 42, I was extremely excited because I don’t have any money right now. The free part was attractive, but also what drew me in was the innovative learning model.

Did you have any experience with programming before 42?

I went from feeling stuck not knowing what to do after my Ph.D. and this opportunity came along. I was always interested in coding but never dared to do it. When I was in my last year of high school I was bored and started to do HTML, and I really enjoyed it.

Since then I had temporary roles as a web editor or site manager. This involved very superficial web editing, not building but manipulating basic code.

Why did you decide to return to school? 

I was excited about doing something that would challenge me and give me an opportunity to learn. I learned about 42 by googling coding schools in the Bay Area. There was a lot of information about various boot camps, but all of those programs had astronomical costs. This was not in the cards for me. I decided to keep on looking and saw information about 42. The fact it was free made me check it out. I went to the website and saw it was real, and because it was started by a French man I felt a connection to that.

What was the piscine like?

The first 10 days of the piscine were very scary but interesting. The second week was the hardest. I felt very drained and exhausted and I just had to go to the bathroom to cry out of exhaustion. I also felt sick from being three months pregnant with my second child.

There was one prefect who was extremely helpful to me. I came in on that Saturday at the end of week 2 to work on projects, the day after the exam that I barely passed. This prefect asked how I was doing, and I broke down because I was so exhausted. He literally put me back together and said he remembered that this was also the toughest moment in his piscine, and to not worry, you are still here and you are doing fine. I am so glad I had someone who talked me through it at just the right moment. I can’t express how grateful I am for the community aspect of 42. It was such a nice gift to run into him, and it was like a prophecy. After we spoke things became easier and I realized how much I had learned already.

My husband and I have a 3 and half-year-old. I want to give a shoutout to France because we are living on a doctoral stipend, which doesn’t cover much besides rent. The French government gave our daughter a scholarship to attend a top-notch French bilingual preschool in Palo Alto. The reason I am here is because of France. I have this free time because I am able to put my daughter in this preschool and Xavier Niel decided to fund this school here. I’ve never been more grateful for my country, as it is helping even when I am so far from home.

What is your favorite thing about 42? 

My favorite thing about 42 is how you are taught from the bottom up. You have to recreate these basic functions because you have to make them from scratch. This gives you a better understanding of how they work and what they can be used for. I think a really great thing is the peer-learning and peer-evaluation system.

What has been the most challenging aspect?

Although the program is really well structured and well organized, is that sometimes a challenge for me to know how to start a project, especially a bigger, more complex one.

Do you have any advice for someone your age who is thinking of trying 42?

I think for people who are a little older, 42 is just a great opportunity to challenge yourself and make a fresh start. This applies especially to young moms like myself who may have had their career or learning trajectory interrupted by a few years of caring for babies and toddlers. You have this feeling once you are above 30 if you are not in the middle of some brilliant career, you feel like you failed at life. But you still have 40 years of potential activity ahead of you so there is no reason not to start fresh and do something new. It is nice how we are not judged by our age here. 42 doesn’t cost you anything but time and dedication.


Emmanuel Diaz Ortega

Age: 31

Interests: Robotics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and art.

Where are you from and what did you do before 42?

I am from Mexico, I studied IT engineering but I dropped out because I quickly and suddenly realized I didn’t need the endorsement of the school to be good in a field. Especially in technology where the community decides what the best path is in order to do things. I was working as part of a advisory team for a marketing firm. It was for a company that manages accounts for people all over the world. Even though I had a high quality of life, I wasn’t happy. I started as a Geographic map coder at HERE. Afterwards,  I tried to start a couple of startups in Mexico and they failed. I realized in Cabo I wasn’t going to spend more time doing stuff I didn’t like. I told a friend I was going to move to Silicon Valley and try something new.

Did you have any experience with programming before 42?

I used to think I knew something about programming. Once I got to 42 I realized that even though I could do some stuff I didn’t know that much. When I was in high school they used to teach us C++ but I completely forgot everything about it. I did a little bit of Ruby and some front end web development. I used .Net and Nokia’s framework called Atlas for my job.  In addition to that, I worked on a product that uses some SQL. You need to think outside of the box to start working on different technologies to get stuff done.

Why did you decide to return to school?

I followed 42 like five years ago with the original Paris Campus, I heard about the school when I was in Montreal. The only reason why I didn’t start earlier was because my French language level wasn’t good, so it would make it harder for me. I heard about 42 Silicon Valley via Facebook. I came back to school because 42 provides something that none of the schools in this area provides, which is mainly an opportunity. Sometimes you have to go and take a risk.

What was the piscine like?

It was an incredible experience, the piscine for me was like running towards a wall. The piscine was mentally painful for me, as a foreign guy the challenges are different, not just the technical part, but the cultural. But at the same time it was an incredible experience. It was something you won’t forget, it literally reshaped my mindset.

What is your favorite thing about 42?

The poly-cultural environment. The fact that we have a lot of people from all over the world with different language backgrounds and we learn to communicate in different languages is incredible. For the past five years I have been working with people from all over Latin America, so I learned to work with different people. 42 gives me access to people from all over the world and I am learning how to communicate with them.

What has been the most challenging aspect?

I got to create my own habits in order to succeed and deliver results. The most challenging thing is owning my own time, so time management is my biggest challenge.  

Do you have any advice for someone your age who is thinking of trying 42?

Don’t think twice, just come and check it out for yourself. When you get to a certain age where you feel like your life experience is not valued, it is hard to overcome your fear. But I think 42 has shown me how to overcome my fear and see that the tools you need are right there.


Dmitry Fonarev

Age: 35

Interests: Machine learning, outside of that mostly sports.

Where are you from and what did you do before 42?

I’m from Moscow, Russia. I am still at my job, I am doing some small scale projects like supply manufacturing. I just want to switch to software projects because I got bored with supply manufacturing. Overall, I would like to create something.

Did you have any experience with programming before 42?

Before 42, I had no experience with programming at all.

Why did you decide to return to school?

I actually earned a medical degree, but I only worked as a doctor for 1-2 years. It has been a long time since I studied. It was interesting to try something new, the brain is not dead at 35, I can still learn.

What was the piscine like?

The piscine was a bit frustrating. I usually don’t stress too much, I just go and do all the things you need to do. My friend and I spent 14 or 15 hours in the lab, and after 3 weeks we passed all 3 exams. During the 4th week we began to run out of brain power. 4 weeks of 15 hours a day was too much for us. We had all the levels and passed the exams so I think we did alright.

What is your favorite thing about 42?

My favorite thing about 42 is the self dependence, the self motivation. Most of the time you are always free to leave and not do anything. If you want to get better, and like the feeling of doing new stuff, it is a bit empowering. You got to have discipline, you either choose to learn or do stupid stuff. I am not sure if I was back in my hometown it would be that easy, here it is easy to make that choice to learn.

What has been the most challenging aspect?

Nothing is that challenging to me because you can always talk to new people.

Do you have any advice for someone your age who is thinking of trying 42?

My advice for people over 30 who are thinking of trying 42 is to go for it, it is easy to try. It is just a month of your time, many people have wasted a month of their time streaming a TV series. Here, you can learn something new.


Edith Santacana

Age: 30

Interests: I am interested in ed tech, I was a science and design teacher, I want to stay in the field of education.

Where are you from and what did you do before 42?

I am originally from France. After earning a master’s degree in science and education I taught physics and chemistry in France for one year. After that I moved to Japan, I worked at an international school  in Tokyo teaching science and industrial design. Basically, I was working in a maker space, where I worked on projects with middle school students.

Did you have any experience with programming before 42?

Before 42,  I didn’t really have any experience with programming, but I was teaching robotics and programming to my kids. We were using Scratch, so I had an idea of how the logic worked but I didn’t know about the language. I never did a project myself, I took some online courses for programming but you don’t work on actual projects.

Why did you decide to return to school?

42 Paris is very popular in France. I knew I was going to San Francisco because my boyfriend has a job here. I came last summer during my summer break. My boyfriend was working and I had two months with nothing to do, so I decide to do a coding camp. I looked around here and saw there was a 42 silicon valley. I decided why not, I’ll try it.

What was the piscine like?

The piscine was a love and hate relationship. I hated the first week, I never opened a terminal before. There are people at different levels, some beginners and some with CS degrees. It was confusing the first week, but after the first exam I did well. And I was like, okay, I am actually improving. One week before I couldn’t do any of those coding skills. The more I did it the more I loved it. I still wasn’t sure at the end if I would change careers or not. Two months after the piscine I was missing coding so much. The piscine was a good introduction and I just wanted to know more.

What is your favorite thing about 42?

My favorite aspect about 42 is the fact that you can learn at your own pace. You aren’t given a deadline, you can set your own deadline and take the time to learn. I just love that. You always find help when you are looking for help. I love the flexibility and the differentiation.

What has been the most challenging aspect?

There are a couple of different challenging aspects. I would say because I am a beginner, sometimes I feel like if I work in a group I cannot really help yet. Also, being 30, the most challenging personal aspect is going back to student life and living in dorms. I have to adjust to that lifestyle. I like a challenge though. It is great because at 42 there aren’t just people from one place, the diversity is a good thing for our future careers.

Do you have any advice for someone your age who is thinking of trying 42?

My advice for anyone over 30 years old thinking about trying 42 would be to talk with cadets. I know from my piscine I had some older pisciners who joined the school. I kept in touch with them and now they are ready for their first internship or job in just 7 months, so you can do it. It was a bit scary for me in the beginning because I was moving to a new country and starting over. But when you are mature the motivation can be deeper.

Coding may seem hard and not accessible. Being a woman, I had that idea. I majored in science when I was a high school student. I just didn’t have enough software engineers around me and I didn’t know coding was an option. So as a girl, I just decided to follow a traditional path. I learned about coding through my boyfriend and my job. Now I know I need these coding skills to be a better teacher.


Michael Kass

Age: 32

Interests: Primarily robotics and video games as well as being a futurist.

Where are you from and what did you do before 42?

I am actually from Stockton, an hour and a half drive from here. Before 42 I spent 4 or 5 years looking for work with no luck. I basically applied to a wide range of work, even applied to a union which didn’t work out. The union was to become an electrical engineer, but my body couldn’t keep up with the demands. I would help build and fix electrical components inside buildings. It was mostly revolved around fire alarm systems.

Did you have any experience with programming before 42?

I eventually tried a coding bootcamp for javascript, but apparently I needed to work on my social skills more. I wasn’t interacting with other people the way I needed to. Also, the bootcamp was too fast paced for me to understand how to do javascript that well. Prior to the bootcamp, I learned C++ and java at Devry.

Why did you decide to return to school?

I was getting desperate enough I was looking everywhere. Someone I knew referred 42  to me because he thought it would be the best case scenario for me to facilitate getting a career. If I had known a couple of years prior I would have done that instead of being an electrical engineer.

What was the piscine like?

The piscine was a lot of things, fun and stressful, a lot of anxiety, but otherwise fulfilling. It really pushed me in my paces and helped me realize what I was actually capable of. I was able to succeed on my first attempt to get into 42.

What is your favorite thing about 42?

My favorite thing about 42 is that I can go at my own pace so I can take the time to understand what I am doing. I never found schooling that allowed that kind of pace before. It is really refreshing for me to learn and do projects at my own pace. Eventually I will start looking for internships. It is a confidence booster to know I am capable.

What has been the most challenging aspect?

The most challenging aspect for me personally is being able to properly socialize with others. Whether casually or professionally, even after being here for a year, I still have a problem with overcoming that obstacle. I still go to social events, but I wish it was more frequent.

Do you have any advice for someone your age who is thinking of trying 42?

One piece of advice I have for people who are nervous about coming to 42 is to just give it a try. It is better to try and fail, then to not try at all. Don’t stress out about succeeding, chances are you will actually like it here.


Sanghyun Ko

Age: 33

Interests:  My interests is Robotics and AI.

Where are you from and what did you do before 42?

I am from Incheon, South Korea. Before I came to 42 I finished my Master’s degree in computer science. I worked in robotics in South Korea, mainly on the sensors and some 3D vision.

Did you have any experience with programming before 42?

My experience with programming before 42 was with C most of the time.

Why did you decide to return to school?

During my master’s degree I was frustrated because I know how to do higher level language programming but I never tried to do all of the fundamental basics. My code worked out most of the time, but I thought I needed to have more of a background first.

What was the piscine like?

The piscine was a really great experience and I learned a lot. Before 42 I used to code without fully understanding it. But during the piscine you are digging more inside of the basic functions. We weren’t allowed to use printf like you are with higher level languages.

What is your favorite thing about 42?

My favorite aspect about 42 is the learning environment. There are many people you can ask for help. They just keep on encouraging us, and I like that. When you have stress, and some pressure, I feel motivated. If I don’t have any pressure I don’t feel as motivated. It is also great to meet people from all over the world.

What has been the most challenging aspect?

The most challenging aspect can be communication because we don’t know each other yet. For me, it takes some time to feel comfortable.

Do you have any advice for someone your age who is thinking of trying 42?

Overall, 42 is a very fascinating place. I have met 5 or 6 people here who are my age but who had no prior programming experience. But they kept on trying and knew if they kept on going they could get through it. I feel motivated a lot by watching them try. I am sure if someone is looking to learn more about programming like me, they should just try 42.


Boris Goncharev

Age: 30

Interests: I like programming, football, photography, travel and books.

Where are you from and what did you do before 42?

I’m from Belarus but came to the U.S. a year ago. I worked in New York as a site administrator, and after that I found out about 42 and came here.

Did you have any experience with programming before 42?

My prior experience with programming was just as a hobby and was self-taught, I took some lessons through YouTube and Udemy.

Why did you decide to return to school?

The reason why I decided to come back to school is because I like programming and thinking about the future. So I decided to stay at 42 and learn. I think it will help somehow to be a future technologist.

What was the piscine like?

The piscine was a lot of programming. I slept a couple of hours a day, came to the lab and was working, working, working. I really wanted to pass the piscine and I did.

What is your favorite thing about 42?

During the piscine I made a lot of friends, my favorite thing about 42 are the people.

What has been the most challenging aspect?

The most challenging aspect was the beginner exam and print_f.

Do you have any advice for someone your age who is thinking of trying 42?

My advice for anyone over 30 who is thinking of trying a program like 42 is to just come here and try it. Don’t think about your age.


At 42, You Can Learn at Any Stage in Your Life

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal focused on our ability to learn at any stage in our life, “The fact is, we mature and develop at different rates. All of us will have multiple cognitive peaks throughout our lives, and the talents and passions that we have to offer can emerge across a range of personal circumstances, not just in formal educational settings focused on a few narrow criteria of achievement. Late bloomers are everywhere once you know to look for them.”

At 42, we believe that it is never too late to start a career in computer programming. 42’s Chief Academic Officer, Gaetan Juvin, shared, “Older students bring experience, in life and background, as well as diversity to our community. It combines perfectly with our younger students who bring a fresh approach to their early life journey. Silos in education are not efficient at all, you need people at all life stages in order to create a creative and innovative environment.”

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published by Stacey Faucett – May 30, 2019