Ivan Aleksandrovich Kozlov

AGE: 23
INTERESTS: I like chess, snowboarding, reading and the technical aspects of movies.

Where are you from?

I’m from Kineshma, Russia. It is the second biggest city in the state. I was born and raised there until I was 17. In Kindergarten and high school, I skipped grades. When they merged our classes in 8th grade I had a huge turn of events. After that, I went from a nerd to a cool nerd. My teacher who taught computer science was a role model and introduced me to programming. When I was 14 she suggested I take extra classes, and my journey to become a programmer started. I went to a couple of olympiads, I won the city ones but took second place in the state. I am really competitive so I was disappointed about that. When I went to university I moved to the state capital. It took me 4 years to complete my degree. In high school, I was really involved socially. But at university, I decided to work. So I got a job as a waiter and did that for five years.

What did you do before 42?

I actually met my best friend at the restaurant I was working in, and she told me about a work and travel program. Before that, I never traveled much. The only time I was abroad was when I was 11 and went to the Czech Republic. She said I should just try it out. Her husband was in this program before and gave me advice and guidance. I was excited to go to the U.S. but I didn’t know English very well. I watched the show Friends but it took me 1.5 hours per episode to watch because I was trying to understand what they were saying. No one understood me at first, I was shy about my accent. First I went to NYC, which is a place I always wanted to visit. Then I took a bus to DC to save money. After that, I ended up working in Avon, North Carolina, which is on Hatteras Island. I was on a J1 visa, which is a tourist visa but allows you to work as long as you have authorization. I worked in a grocery store, ice cream store, Subway, and a bakery. The bakery was hard because I had to wake up at 4 am.  You can stay up to 4 months during the summer (April-September) and you have 1 month (on status) to travel. I was here May-August than I stayed an additional month on that island. It was really cool and is really different from all the other places I have been in the U.S. The island actually felt like its own country. During that time I was still studying at my university. I already had a job as a developer in Russia when I applied for my second J1, and I took a paid vacation. I came back and I was working in Russia as a software engineer. At this point, I was asked a lot about the U.S because friends knew I spent some time there.

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

Yes, I knew C#, I taught myself javascript, I studied Prolog and other older programming languages. The main focus was on C#.

How did you hear about 42?

My best friend from university sent me a message with an article about 42. It was in my inbox for 2 months before I checked it out. The test they had online was fun and I got in. I got my tourist visa to check it out because when I learned it was free it seemed like a scam, especially since I knew the US higher education system is usually not free. I saw it was real, quit my master’s degree and I went to the piscine in April. From the first day, I was working really hard here.

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

My best friend was really excited. She really wanted me to explore the world and thought it was a good opportunity to do something for myself in general. Friends back home got used to me going to the U.S. often, but they don’t really understand what I am doing here. My mom was really upset at first that I was going to go far away. She really encouraged me a lot to get my degree, which I had done.

What was the piscine like?

It was brutal, but that is how it is. Even though I had a bachelor’s degree and one year of work experience as a software engineer, programming in C was kind of hard.  On the first day, I failed both exercises. The second day I was coding and someone asked if I knew about NORM. It shows all your errors, and I had a lot of them. I had to spend 6 hours refactoring what I wrote. So I didn’t do the first exercise properly and I was surprised that some people without a degree were doing better than me. I was far from the best in the piscine, maybe top ten. It was a shock to me and I had to take a moment and think about how much better I could be if I focused.  During my piscine, I understood I had no help except for other pisciners. You would walk around and ask people if they could check out your code, break it, and then I would have to fix it. I still liked the experience and was eager to come back here.

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

I was excited, I got an email 2 weeks later that said I got in. I was in California still and traveled to Yosemite, and also visited Hatteras Island in North Carolina. My piscine was in April, and I would have started in June. Instead of starting in June, I went back to Russia but 42 was in the back of my mind. I saw that everyone I was in the piscine with was doing well, some were getting jobs. I thought, “I should be there.” I quit my job in Russia and came back to 42 to study and experience more of the U.S.

How does the 42 Cadet Program differ from the piscine?

You feel like you aren’t a guest here anymore. It took me a couple of months until I felt like I could make suggestions and help with events. There is a lot of social interaction, there are no restrictions and it is really good. I like the project system better than the day system.  I would rather set a deadline myself and work on a project for a few days. Project-based education really suites me, I like that I can work on something and focus on it. There is a more flexible schedule, it is like the piscine but better.

How do you find help with your projects?

A friend from the piscine started as a cadet at the same time, so that was helpful. Because of my academic and work background, I understand code really well, but I am always ready to Google stuff. I analyzed other peoples GitHub if I need to implement an algorithm and I look into ways of doing it. I sometimes randomly message slack and people would help debug my code. There were other friends from the piscine who would look at my code and tell me what was wrong.

What do you like best about 42?

The people. I like how we have a diverse community from all over the world all in one place.

What is the most challenging aspect?

Social interaction was challenging in the beginning, although I thought I was good.  There are some moments where you have the knowledge to help another person, but there are some social barriers to help them figure out things. I think I was pretty comfortable with my home social environment. But people from the U.S. are raised on different ideas and sometimes it is hard to know how to communicate with a person.

What do you like to do in the Bay Area?

I will always love the Golden Gate bridge. It was really exciting seeing it for the first time. Walking down to the piers, I love San Francisco in general, such as the architecture. I love California with all of the parks. It is probably my favorite state so far.

What is your dream job?

Probably a software engineer, somewhere in the Bay Area. I read the first biography of Steve Jobs and found it inspirational. I think the Bay Area is a nice place to be, in general, it is where a lot of innovation is started.

What is your favorite quote?

“Sleep til dawn hustle til dusk” -Unknown

Connect with Ivan on LinkedIn

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

Interview by: Stacey Faucett