ALUMNI PROFILE: ISAAC RHETT, SECURITY INTELLIGENCE ENGINEER @ LOOKOUT

Isaac Rhett

AGE: Mid-twenties
INTERESTS: Video games, hiking and biking.

Tell us more about where you are from and what you did before 42:

I grew up in southern Virginia. I had been interested in computer science since a very young age. Originally, I wanted to learn how to code so I would have the skills to make video games. So I took some programming courses in high school. By senior year I had aced the AP Computer Science exam and was the teacher’s aide, but didn’t have the resources to go to a traditional 4-year college. 

After high school, I attempted community college but the curriculum was subpar. It was an introduction to CS class but it was more about how to use a computer and not really related to CS. When we started actually programming, the assignment was the traditional tedious write 10 ‘for’ loops; but to escalate insult to injury, that assignment had to be a screenshot of the code, pasted into Microsoft Word, printed out and graded by hand. The experience was disheartening and I dropped out.

I was living in the greater D.C. area and working at Starbucks for close to three years when I heard about 42. Their learning model was exactly how I thought computer science education should be done. At that point, I dropped everything and moved across the country to attend 42. 

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

Prior to 42 I knew Java through school and did some self-taught courses online. I had tinkered with a couple of side projects on Unix systems, but nothing I would define as proficiency.

What did you like best about your 42 experience?

I would have to say the environment and the community. When I went there everyone was like-minded in the sense we had no idea what we were doing, but we were there to learn this and figure it out. People were freely sharing information and having that in-person community was important. When I previously took online courses to learn how to code I did not have this level of engagement. 

Is there anything that you do now at work that you don’t think would come as easily if you hadn’t attended 42?

I would say probably just the overall adaptability. Picking up new languages and being exposed to the sheer width of the domain of Computer Science up front. Also being able to explore all of the routes and having the peer resources to connect with if I wanted to explore any of those branches deeper. Apart from the purely technical skills I learned at 42, it was more about the canonical mantra: “learning how to learn.”

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

While at 42, towards level 7 or 8, I was trying to get a job. My interest had shifted to cyber security, and I was going to meetups in the Bay Area. I participated in coding challenges and competitions, and did reverse engineering crack-me’s. At one of these meetups, I met a Lookout engineer who was also there for fun. He did introductions and found out I was interested in a job, and I ended up getting interviewed. They originally rejected me, but through the continuous interview process, they went back on the rejection and accepted me. 

Describe what you do at Lookout:

I’m a software engineer, and I develop multiple security-oriented services that work together in a large analysis pipeline and big data ecosystem. I also sit on the Diversity Steering Committee, and mobilized Lookout’s involvement in the Boston 2019 iteration of Day of Shecurity.

What does your typical workday look like?

An average day starts at probably around 9:30 am – 10 am. I spend my morning getting caught up on emails and code reviews. Because our team is geographically distributed we do most of our interactions online. Around lunchtime, we have our daily standup and sync up. After that, I  have the rest of the day to code if it isn’t interrupted by meetings. I’ll usually grab a beer and some snacks with coworkers while my code compiles, and leave anywhere between 4 to 7:00 pm depending on what is going on that day. 

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

Yes, I would recommend it. The education model designed around teaching yourself, and not necessarily having a teacher or a set schedule, allows you to explore at your own pace (and in whatever direction interests you). It helps provide the structure and goals to work towards, but the freedom to choose how you get there. The support of the community helps keep you engaged.

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

My advice to students looking for jobs is to network and attend events and meetups. And not necessarily hiring events, because you will be talking to a recruiter or hiring manager who just compares you to a checklist of skills. When you go to a meetup and work with developers, or to a hackathon and meet people organically, they will refer you as a person and you will have your foot in the door. If you apply online in a traditional way you will be just another resume. 

Connect with Isaac on LinkedIn
Interview by: Stacey Faucett
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