First 42 Silicon Valley Student Reaches Level 21 and Receives Certificate of Completion

Level Up: 21 and Almost 21 @ 42 SV

At 42 Silicon Valley, the curriculum is inspired by video games. Academic progress is accounted for using experience points. Students develop their competencies through each of those proposed projects and receive experience in exchange for this. Each completed project unlocks the next project(s); each successive project is increasingly more substantial and more high-rewarded. This gamification mindset allows all learning to be fun while enhancing students’ passion, persistence, and motivation to get to the next level.

We are excited to announce that one of our cadets, Andy Shih, was the first to reach level 21. In recognition of reaching our highest level, Andy received a Certificate of Completion from our Chief Academic Officer, Gaetan Juvin. We sat down with Andy, and a few other cadets who are close to level 21, to learn more about their experiences and what motivates them.

Andy Shih

Chief Academic Officer Gaetan Juvin with Andy Shih, first student at 42 Silicon Valley to complete level 21.

Where are you from?

Originally from Taiwan, we moved to Dallas, Texas when I started the 5th grade. I didn’t know a word of English. Although I went to normal classes, I didn’t know what was happening. In high school, there were computer science classes. They taught using Java and things came to me a lot easier than my classmates.

What did you do before 42?

I graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in food science. It is like applied chemistry with some biology and microbiology but it is not as scientific of a field as I thought it would be. Shortly before I came to do the piscine I worked briefly as a lab technician in a dairy plant. When they came in with a tank of raw unprocessed milk I would get a sample and run tests and screen for antibiotics, bacteria, those kinds of basic things. It was pretty routine and boring.

I first discovered 42 while browsing a website called 9GAG that is known for its memes. But sometimes people post useful things. Someone posted about a coding school without tuition. So I looked into the 42 website and did the online qualifying tests (that they had at the time). I wanted to give it a try, I programmed before but did not find things interesting or challenging or fun, I just did exercises out of a textbook.

Did you always have the goal to reach level 21?

That is such a long term goal. When I got here I just did one project at a time and decided what I wanted to do once I was past the point where you can choose a path. I was interested in graphics and algorithms. I just thought the systems stuff was something I wouldn’t be interested in at all.

What was it like to reach level 21?

Now I am not sure what I am going to do next. My next goal is to find a job. There are other projects here but I am not going to be able to finish them.

Are there any projects that you think people should try?

I would tell people to do the Unity piscine, it was the best piscine. Every day you are learning completely different concepts to develop different genres of games. It is very challenging, some people drop out, but it means they don’t want to do game development.

What advice would you give to 42 cadets who want to get to that level?

I never care about hours, I never look at hours. You just sit there and do things, and the hours will pass. Just figure out what projects you want to do, set those goals and deadlines for yourself.  

What do you think you want to do next?

I am open to looking into different areas, I want to do something I am interested in. It doesn’t matter if it is a big company or a startup, as long as it is something that motivates me.

Conan Wu

Where are you from?

In general, I do not associate with any particular place.  So far in life, I have lived in Shanghai, Toronto, Princeton, Jerusalem, L.A. and here. Outside of that, I have also spent years traveling around the world. So I am quite a nomad really.

What did you do before 42?

I did my Ph.D. studying knots in 4-dimensional spaces, painted props at Disneyland and worked as a management consultant in the consumer product sector. I left my job at the beginning of 2017 to do various things around the world. This included snowboarding, surfing, climbing, freediving, and skydiving. In general, they were activities I wanted to do but never had time for while working. Programming was one of such activities so when I came across a blog post about 42 I decided to sign up for the piscine. I was planning to just do the piscine and treat it as some sort of a liberal arts education I missed in college. But it turned out to be much more interesting and addictive than expected so I stayed on as a cadet.

Are there any projects that you think people should try?

I think Fractol is a great project when you first start. It can be done in a short amount of time and the results are very satisfying and motivating. Further down the curriculum, one of my favorite projects was Lem-in. It is a good project that is quite involved and has a sophisticated algorithm when you want to do

it well. It’s like any optimization problems, doing it badly is easy but quite a bit of thinking and research is involved if you want to find a good solution. Near the end of the curriculum, things branch out and it gets a lot more specialized. So picking a project becomes much more of a personal preference. Some of my favorites include Particle Systems and Gomoku. When it comes to projects, people should spend time researching and make sure they are happy with what they turn in.

What advice would you give to 42 cadets who want to get to your level in the program?

Just keep doing projects, find ones that interest you and do them well. For me, I really enjoy this process as most projects last the right amount of time for my attention span. It is really satisfying to write these small programs and see them run. I always look at all unlocked projects and pick the one I like the most. It became a bit harder to find interesting projects later in the program but I think it’s quite healthy as this seems to be a good time to ‘graduate’ and solve bigger, real-world problems.

Did you hope to achieve level 21 someday?

It seems like 3 or 4 months ago I couldn’t find projects I wanted to do. So I decided to interview for jobs instead. If I had done internships I would have gotten to that level.  With my particular circumstances, it didn’t make sense to do internships. I don’t see a particular need to fill in the gap with more projects. Of course, if at any point in the future if I get interested in another language or there are new projects I like, I may still do them and get more levels.

So what are you doing now after 42?

I’m starting as a software engineer at Google’s San Francisco Office next week! Before finalizing this I did a bit of job searching, interviewed at 6 places and got 5 offers. Ultimately I chose to go with Google since it seems to be the best place where I can further develop what I have been doing at 42. My goal for the near future would be to enhance my programming skills and work on bigger projects. Compared to most other companies, which are somewhat more specialized, Google offers a more generalist-type experience. I see it as the second part of my education in software engineering.

Liam Dehaudt

Where are you from?

I was born in France but have been living in the Bay Area for the past 9 years. So I am kinda French but mostly American. When I was 12 or 13 years old I started modding, which is when you modify or add-on to an existing game. I didn’t have to code anything but used programming logic, so that is how I got started.

What did you do before 42?

I studied computer science for one semester at a community college. But I didn’t like it. One day my mom found out about 42 and told me to check it out. I took the admissions test they had at the time and I came to 42.

Are there any projects that you think people should try?

One of my favorite projects is particle system. But I also think a lot of people have different goals here. So I think it is better to follow whatever branch you are interested in. One thing people should do if a branch of the curriculum interests them is to do a few projects. They can get a feel for it and decide if they should keep on going on that path.

What advice would you give to 42 cadets who want to get to your level in the program?

I would say probably you don’t really need to get to level 21. Doing all the projects I did was good for me because I have a good understanding of things. But it takes a while to get there.  So I think the goal is basically finding what you want to do and do that. Don’t focus on the level and get skilled in the thing you are interested in.

Do you hope to achieve level 21 someday?

It would be cool. If I can do it because I am doing internships, I will take it. But it isn’t my goal.

Do you have any plans for what you want to do after 42?

I have always wanted to make games. I am actually looking for internships or entry-level positions in game programming right now. That type of position would be ideal.  

Alexandr Sarandi

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Eastern Europe. In 2006 I moved to Los Angeles, California.

What did you do before 42?

For many years I worked in retail. My last job before 42 was in an office, I was mostly on the phone with customers.

Are there any projects that you think people should try?

I would recommend the following piscines: Starfleet piscine, C++ piscine, Web piscine. I think those are both fun and offer a great educational value. Group projects and piscine rush projects are an excellent way to learn about teamwork and collaboration.

What advice would you give to 42 cadets who want to get to your level in the program?

Stay focused. Have a goal and pursue it. Self analyse (or ask others about your flaws) and improve. Share what you’ve learned.

Do you hope to achieve level 21 someday?

Yes.

Do you have any plans for what you want to do after 42?

I’d like to find a job that I love.

Theo Walton

Where are you from?

I am from England. I had an interest in tech from an early age, but it began with an interest in math. When I applied to university I wanted to study pure math. But while studying there, I didn’t enjoy it that much. There was one class slightly programming related. That was the class I enjoyed most.

What did you do before 42?

I left university and I was at home.  I hadn’t heard about 42 yet and I didn’t know what to do. My dad heard about 42 and thought it was something that I would like to try.

Are there any projects that you think people should try?

Yes, I think that you should do the C++ piscine as soon as you can. It opens the door for object-oriented programming. I feel people who start writing C don’t structure their code with that in mind. Writing object-oriented code makes it a lot more maintainable. After that, I would suggest the Bomberman project.  It is a really long project so it forces you to write code that will be maintainable. A common problem with shorter projects is the code is very coupled and depends on a lot of stuff. If you try that for Bomberman you will get in a big mess and not be able to complete it. It is also a key project because you have to communicate with your team. You can’t do it all on your computer, you will have to collaborate.

What advice would you give to 42 cadets who want to get to your level in the program?

I would just say keep doing projects. Don’t focus on your hours because they only tell part of the story. You can be very unproductive and still spend a lot of time in the lab. Make sure when you get stuck with your coding you don’t wait for days. Go find someone to help. There are a lot of people who can help you. One thing I did with any new project was to talk to people who had done it before.  This gave me a real boost and stopped me getting stuck in common pitfalls.

Do you hope to achieve level 21 someday?

I think I will leave before I get to that level. If I get there it will be awhile. I hope to get a job before reaching level 21.

Do you have any plans for what you want to do after 42?

I enjoy C++ a lot and love working on backend projects and designing the architecture. What I want to do after 42 is get a job as a backend developer in the Bay Area.

Logan Kaser

Where are you from?

I am from Port Townsend, Washington. It is a small town on the Washington peninsula with only ~10k residents. Two other people from Port Townsend now attend 42 after hearing about it through my family. I was homeschooled before starting high school. From a young age, I had an interest in computers. I used MIT’s Scratch, a software for building simple applications with blocks. It was designed to get kids interesting in programming and I really liked it. That was when I decided I wanted to be a programmer.

What did you do before 42?

After high school, I was making sushi. It had been my job in high school, so I continued it during my gap year while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next.  My family didn’t have a lot of money. I didn’t want to get into debt. 42 is risk-free. If it didn’t work out I could go to a traditional university, but I wanted to try it first.  

Are there any projects that you think people should try?

Suggesting specific projects is hard because it depends on the student. In the beginning, try projects from the start of the three branches. If you unlock them early you can find a partner who wants to do the group project with you. Also, if you try them all earlier you will have a better idea of what you want to do. You will stay motivated if you go down a branch you are interested in. Another component is to try to round yourself out as a programmer. For example, I had not done graphics but I was familiar with UNIX and Algorithms, so I decided to go down the graphics branch because I thought I would learn more by doing that. I was trying to round myself out.

What advice would you give to 42 cadets who want to get to your level in the program?

It depends on the individual. Most importantly, don’t push yourself too hard by staying in the lab too late and getting exhausted. You can get in a cycle where you try to make up for lost focus and that self perpetuates. So you need to take some time off as well. Of course, you can take that too far. The single most useful skill is to quickly evaluate a document or blog post to see if it is an accurate resource. A common mistake people make is only reading the first resource they find.

Do you hope to achieve level 21 someday?

I do, I have come this far and want to go all the way. A lot of people ask my reason, especially because I had an internship with Ford, they ask why I don’t just get a job. When I came to 42 I was looking for a challenge, and for me completing that challenge means finish 42 by getting to level 21.

Do you have any plans for what you want to do after 42?

I want to work at a large company first. The reason is that I don’t currently have the experience to evaluate a startup. I think after a few years at a bigger company that could change, and I would have the experience to make the transition to a startup. I want to get a job where I can work on a lot of different things. In the immediate future, I am going to Paris to visit the 42 campus there, then traveling around Europe.

At 42 Gamification = Motivation

We spoke to 42’s Chief Academic Officer, Gaetan Juvin, about how gamification leads to motivation. He shared, “Education is about motivation. Everybody is ready to learn, the problem is being motivated to learn. Gamification is one of the methods we use to make students recognize their achievements along the way. We want to make learning as entertaining as playing.” At 42 Silicon Valley, students experience first-hand that learning can be fun. The gamification of our curriculum also helps them stay motivated as they navigate through major learning milestones.

published by Stacey Faucett – May 8, 2019