Elizabeth Locke

AGE: 28
INTERESTS: I like following startup news on Product Hunt, Hacker News, and the Indie Hackers podcast. I am into skateboarding and have been trying to revive the club here at 42. I originally studied architecture and spent a lot of time doing renovations, so you could consider flipping houses and fixing things hobbies of mine as well.

Tell us more about where you are from and what shaped you:

I was born in Calgary which is a Canadian city near the Rocky Mountains that runs on the oil & gas industry. My home is now in Waterloo, Ontario which is a Canadian city near Toronto that has two major universities and a thriving technology community. Waterloo’s tech community is anchored in Communitech.

Unlike some software developers, I did not have any profound exposure to programming as a child or teenager. When I was young, I thought programming was some boring thing reserved for nerdy white men. Both my parents are chemical engineers, so they heavily encouraged me to study engineering at university. I chose architecture because I thought it was the most artsy and creative discipline within engineering. After working at several architectural internships throughout university, I became somewhat frustrated and disillusioned with the architectural design process. At the same time, I met quite a few students who were writing code and starting their own companies, and I became enamored with the startup community and technology industry.

What did you do before 42?

In 2013, directly after graduating from my Architecture program, I co-founded DraftingSPACE. DraftingSPACE was a technology startup with a mission to democratize the home design space by providing homeowners with an online automated room designer. My co-founder, Laura Austin, and I originally thought we would find a technical co-founder to write the code for us. We had a hard time convincing any of the programmers we knew to work on a kitchen and bathroom design startup so we started writing code ourselves out of necessity. Our code was messy, but it was good enough to secure some funding and hire the help we needed. In 2015, we sold our startup to an e-commerce company, BuildDirect. I went on to work in Product and then as a Director of Product for BuildDirect. In 2016, shortly before declaring bankruptcy protection, BuildDirect included me in a round of layoffs.

After the whirlwind experience from startup to management, I felt somewhat burnt out. I took a year off from the tech industry. My husband and I bought an abandoned stone building from the 1800’s and renovated it into a student residence. I thought about going back into product management, but ultimately decided I would be happier spending the next phase of my career as a maker. I started doing FreeCodeCamp and looking into bootcamps to sharpen up my coding skills. I found 42 and have spent the past 7 months learning programming fundamentals here.

What did you take away from your startup experience:

I think there’s a lot of value in being scrappy and getting things done. Being a part of this startup community really gave me this idea of anything is possible if you work hard at it. I have seen a lot of my peers go on to build successful companies and have exits worth millions of dollars. Seeing my peers succeed gave me the courage to go after what I want with my own career. Another really useful thing I learned from the startup world is that you don’t have to be perfect or the best, you just have to build something that helps people.

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

At our startup, I wrote code that was hacked together with little to no understanding of computer science fundamentals. It was just good enough to get to the job done, but it was far from elegant. I had written quite a bit of python, javascript, and jquery, but it was like trying to speak Italian by reading phrases out of a guidebook. My guidebook was stack overflow and most of the time I didn’t really know what I was doing prior to attending 42.

How did you hear about 42?

Paul Graham, who started Y Combinator, tweeted about 42. I saw that tweet and then did a bunch of research on the program. I decided 42 was a good avenue to get back into the tech industry as a software developer.

What did your friends and family think about your decision to attend 42?

My friends and family have figured out that I’m going to make weird choices when it comes to my career, but that I’ll always land on my feet. It wasn’t always this way, but having a successful startup exit under my belt has definitely made it easier to convince my family of my career choices.

What was the piscine like?

It was like doing the entire first year of a computer science degree in four weeks. I learned a lot.

What was it like when you received your post-piscine decision email?

There wasn’t too much suspense for me, as I was pretty confident I would get in. After the piscine, it took me a bit to decompress and decide to come back though. I went home and slept for an entire week. I wasn’t ready to start right away so I signed up for a start date that gave me a few months to get ready before starting the full program.

How does the cadet program differ from the piscine?

The pace is slower, so I have more time to deeply understand things. I have side projects now. I didn’t have time for side projects during the piscine. I recently participated in the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon. Our team, Pulse, made it to the finals. I also like that there are different branches you can choose from. I started with the algorithms & data structures branch and am about to start the AI/ML piscine in the robotics lab.

How do you find help with your projects?

I make friends with people who are smarter than me. At 42, if you ask around, you can usually find someone who is a couple steps ahead of you and has already done the project you are working on. Most people are pretty friendly and will sit down and explain things. My googling skills have gotten better as well, and I have been taking Coursera courses to supplement gaps in my knowledge.

What do you like best about 42?

The other students. I think this program attracts people from diverse backgrounds who are incredibly smart. My peers here keep impressing me with their determination and ability to learn.

What is the most challenging aspect?

Successfully transitioning into a new career. During a recent career panel, a topic that came up a lot was imposter syndrome. It’s really hard to get over that imposter syndrome and put yourself out there for employers. The first time I did a technical screen I was shaking, I was so nervous. I have passed a bunch of technical screens now, and it isn’t intimidating anymore.

What do you like to do in the Bay Area?

Honestly, I haven’t really gotten out much since I’ve been at 42. I’ve been busy writing code.

I did go on a hike in Muir Woods and it was really beautiful. It starts with these short boardwalks, but then there are a bunch more challenging trails you can hike on. We hiked 12 miles the day we went. The fresh air in the forest there smells so good.

What is your dream job?

My dream job is working at a company that already has product-market fit and is scaling up, but is still small enough that it still has opportunity for autonomy and career growth. I’m also super interested in the indie hacker movement, and would love to work at a company where I can continue working on my side projects.

What is your favorite quote?

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt

That quote inspires me because it is so much easier to sit around and critique people or complain then it is to actually get up and change the world. But no one remembers the critics. The people who are appreciated are the ones who get up and do things. I like to think that I’m a doer.

Connect with Beth on LinkedIn

Photos by 42’s in-house photographer, Priscilla Vongdara

Interview by: Stacey Faucett