Jem Cope

AGE: 28
INTERESTS: Reading, video games(Overwatch!), travel, and cooking. Art–mostly digital illustration but I just like making things.

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

I am from the Southern United States, I have moved a lot with my parents for work.  I lived in the Philippines for a year during second grade, and I learned Bisaya. The crazy thing is that I learned this language and was fluent. When I was back in the United States my parents had to tell me to speak English again. But now I barely remember it.  

We always had computers in my house, my parents both worked as software engineers. They always pushed me to figure out stuff for myself, and that has made me a lot more resourceful as an adult. I have always been around computers, so I didn’t think of working with them as a job. At one time I thought about becoming a doctor. But after a year of nursing school, I realized I was applying myself to something I wasn’t as naturally interested in as computers. I also was taking care of a disabled boyfriend at the time and school was expensive.  The great thing about programming is that I was able to study it at home so it was affordable. I taught myself how to make websites when I was 12 years old, and I learned my first serious programming language (VB.NET) from YouTube tutorials.

What did you do before 42?

I worked as a software developer at Check Into Cash in Tennessee. I did various things there but I primarily worked on the Point of Sale system that is used in over 1000 of their stores. This would handle anything from deciding how much to lend to a customer, document what they need and keep track of customer data. Near the end of my time there we were working on moving things from ASP Classic over to Angular.

Before that, I worked on HVAC Proposal Writer with my dad for 2 years, which is when I got serious about programming. Normally when writing bids for HVAC jobs you have to sort through lots of catalogs and cross-reference which parts you need–this can take hours for a job you might not even get. We automated it and now it takes 10-20 min.

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

Yes, most of my background is with the .NET framework, SQL, and frontend (HTML, CSS, Javascript). I had never worked with C before 42 and it’s been great to get a better understanding of computer science fundamentals that I missed out on from a traditional education.

How did you hear about 42?

I play a lot of video games online, and one of the people in my guild, Elliot Tregoning, told me about the school.  

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

They have been really supportive, they understand I’m trying to further my career. They aren’t too worried, probably because I’ve already been working as a software developer for a while now but it took 3.5 days to drive here and it was a big move. I miss everyone but we still video chat often and hang out.

What was the piscine like?

Despite all of my programming experience, I was self-taught. So there were a lot of computer science concepts I had never seen before, and a lot of math I hadn’t seen since high school.  It pushed me harder than I had been pushed in a long time, and that is exactly what I was looking for. I have been purposely pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, that’s why I joined the ambassadors and the prefect team. That is the great thing about 42, there are so many people here pushing themselves to do more, it is hard for me to not do the same thing.

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

I knew I had a good chance based on my level, but they don’t tell you the criteria to get in so I was still a little worried. We went out to celebrate afterward, I was super stoked about it!

How does the cadet program differ from the piscine?

The piscine is hard but being a cadet is harder even though the hourly requirement is lower. Because the projects are getting more complex and you have to build off everything that you learned in the piscine. I really like that you can get a more in-depth understanding of each topic though.

How do you find help with your projects?

Mostly I just go on Slack, you have to be constantly introducing yourself to people so you can ask them questions. And they can ask you which constantly teaches you as well. In a peer-to-peer environment, knowing more people is your biggest resource.  Corrections and helping out around the school are great ways to meet people. I’m fortunate to have made a lot of friends here and we help each other out a lot.

What are some cool tech events you have been able to participate in?

We went to Oracle Code One and we got to see some of the projects they were making there. The coolest one had lots of Raspberry Pi’s lined up and you could take a Matrix-style photo with it. I have learned things about branches of software I have never worked with before like product management and cybersecurity. We visited Google Ventures recently for a cybersecurity event, I saw so many amazing products for things that I would never have thought about before.

What do you like best about 42?

The people. That is how you learn, that is how you push yourself, that is how you get used to talking to people which is an important part of the job.  I think the tendency for a lot of programmers is to keep to themselves but if you push yourself to talk to other people you become a better programmer because you can see problems from different perspectives.

What is the most challenging aspect?

I think for me, as an experienced programmer, it has been eating my pride when it comes to asking questions. I may have to ask the same question that someone with no background would have to ask. But even the most senior developers don’t know everything, we are just humans at the end of the day. You’re forced to get used to that if you want to keep moving forward. There’s no time to dwell on worrying about looking stupid.  

What do you like to do in the Bay Area?

We have gone out to do a few escape rooms, they have a lot in this area. We have also just been tourists, gone to Fisherman’s Wharf where they have that antique arcades museum, The Musée Mécanique. That was my favorite thing in the tourist area, it is super cool but also super cheap.

What is your dream job?

I’d love to develop software that is used by a lot of people and has a tangible impact. It’s important that I can have lots of chances to be challenged and learn. My time at 42 has me thinking more about roles that are half coding and half working with people like management or with clients.

What is your favorite quote?

“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” -Invictus, by William Ernest Henley

Despite all of the bad things that have happened in my life, I know if I work hard I can change those things. I will end up where I have steered myself to be.

Connect with Jem on LinkedIn

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

Interview by: Stacey Faucett