Evan Johnston

AGE: 29
INTERESTS: Dance, reading, music, hiking, and video games

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

I’m originally from Benicia, a small city in the North Bay.  It is nice to have an opportunity like this that is so close to home. I was homeschooled as a child. One of the things I like about 42 is that it has the same emphasis on self-discipline and self-motivation that I had as a kid. I went to UC Irvine and majored in dance and biological sciences. My plan at that time was to go to med school and specialize in sports medicine for dancers.

After college, I took a gap year to dance. I realized that the number of doctors in the world wouldn’t change whether I go to medical school or not. There are other ways I could help people. I only have so many years to dance, so I wanted to do that while my body was in good shape to do it.  I like working hard, so both dance and med school are appealing to me for the same reasons that 42 is appealing to me.

I’ve danced for a bunch of different companies around the Bay Area, including Bay Pointe Ballet, Sarah Berges Dance, and my current company, Menlowe Ballet. I have been with Menlowe since last Spring. As a contemporary company, we do a mix of classical ballet and contemporary movement. I see a lot of choreography as a set of logic problems, setting up puzzles and solving them. When I teach ballet I often use algorithmic structures — I like finding patterns like that, starting with the obvious and intuitive and going away from that before returning and finding a resolution. I think it’s a satisfying way to structure things. I want to study as many different modes of expression as I can. People get locked into one mode of thinking or expression and you do so much better when you try different things.

What did you do before 42? Did you have any programming experience?

I was dancing and teaching dance full-time. I have messed around with code a little bit before. In college I investigated how much choreographic intent matters to the final product, using a computer-generated score written in a movement notation language called Laban Movement Analysis. I’ve also done a little bit with HTML and Python, but nothing very serious or focused.

How did you hear about 42?

I ran across it online, I was kind of thinking of doing some sort of coding bootcamp for a while. But one thing that really struck me about 42 is that while the vast majority of bootcamps focus on web development, 42 uses C as a substrate where you learn how to teach yourself how to code instead of being taught a defined set of skills. I really wanted something that emphasized flexibility and that I thought would help me learn to program in whatever language I invested the time in learning.

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

My family were all very supportive. A lot of my friends are dancers and they didn’t understand why I spend so much time on all this weird nerdy stuff, but they’re happy for me anyway. Overall, people have been enthusiastic and they are all surprised to learn it is free.

How has the self-paced learning method at 42 helped you keep a balance between work and school?

My work is seasonal and I teach, so I average around 30 hours a week at 42. The self-paced curriculum and the fact that the lab is open 24/7 allows me to continue making progress even during the most intense parts of my dance schedule. When I am dancing less I can be even more productive at school, so it is a really good system for someone like me whose work is seasonal ranging from 0 hours to 80 hours per week.

What was the piscine like?

The piscine was above all else intense. We were told that we needed to be ready to fail, and we did a lot, all of us. I think I might have been more comfortable with failure than my peers because of my background in dance, but it was still emotionally challenging to work 12 hours a day and sometimes more, and still get a 0 on that work. You will put a ton of work into it, and feel good about it even though you could have done it cleaner. It works, but it’s messy — you have to be able to balance when it’s time to move on. I tell people we are learning C at 42, and people are like, “Why would you do that to yourself?” But it does pay dividends.

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

I was surprised but not shocked. I felt that I had worked really hard and learned a lot and I had a lot of faith that it would be recognized. But I was very happy and super excited to get started as quickly as possible.

How does the cadet program differ from the piscine?

The cadet program is more of a marathon and less of a sprint. It is still a lot of hard work, but there is a little more room for self-care and relaxation, whereas in the piscine it was about pushing as long as I could and sleeping when I couldn’t push any longer.

How do you find help with your projects?

I found a great group of friends with a variety of backgrounds so that I have different people I can go to depending on what I need help with. And if none of my friends can help I can always ask in the Slack channel and usually get pointed in the right direction.

What do you like best about 42?

Everyone has such a different story. That is what I love about our student body, it is so diverse, from all socioeconomic backgrounds.  I like how 42 strives to offer opportunities to everyone equally. I think it is a really worthwhile goal. And I see it helping a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to this kind of program.

What is the most challenging aspect?

I would say just putting up with being frustrated most of the day. For me coding is periods of building something, testing it to see if I built it correctly, finding out that I didn’t, and spending long periods of time trying to figure out where I messed up.

What do you like to do in the Bay Area?

We have a lot of great museums here like The Exploratorium, The California Academy of Sciences, and The Musée Mécanique. There’s also a lot of beautiful nature and good access to hiking trails. So when I’m tired of being indoors all day at work or school there is always something to do.

What is your dream job?

After 42 I would like to get a job in a medium-sized company that might not be glamorous but makes people’s lives better. I want my effect on the world to be a positive one. I see programming as a force-multiplier I can use to make that more impactful.

What is your favorite quote?

“What is true is already so.

Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse.

Not being open about it doesn’t make it go away.

And because it’s true, it is what is there to be interacted with.

Anything untrue isn’t there to be lived.

People can stand what is true,

for they are already enduring it.”

-Eugene Gendlin

I really like this quote because it encourages people to tackle the challenges they’re afraid of, which are often linked to the issues that most need solving. It implies that if you have the emotional strength to ignore your problems, you also have the strength to address them directly.

First photo by Ralph Granich. Second photo by Peter Lichty. 

Interview by: Stacey Faucett