Kalindi Fonda

AGE: 30
INTERESTS: Tech, humans, and nature.

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

I come from the seaside of Slovenia, 15 km from Italy and 10 km from Croatia. So my background is a mix of all those countries. That means both in terms of languages, and culture, as borders are malleable in some way in those parts of Europe.

I always found it easy to play with computers and liked to build things. But I never really imagined the option of getting into tech until much later when the MOOCs (massive online open courses) boom happened with all the courses that became available online. I did film before which is actually comparable to programming. With both, you create a story, a trip for the user, which is actually similar to a product of any other kind.

Soon after I started learning online I decided to get into programming full-time. I got really involved with Udacity. First as a student, and then I started working for them as a mentor, then for the growth team in London. After that, I worked remotely for a team from Silicon Valley that connected students with companies.

I took a break from tech the year before coming to 42 and I went back to film. In the tech world, people sometimes forget about themselves. They forget about heir own emotions and the world around them. Everything is at such a fast pace.  

What did you do before 42?

I was in Slovenia most of the time in the year before I came. I helped out various friends that worked on movies, mostly behind the camera, writing scripts and some post-production stuff. In addition I took frequent trips and attended a few conferences, to keep my brain alive and engaged in tech on the side.

But winters are harsh in Europe so I decided to spend the winter here as well as learn more. I think taking breaks is really useful, especially in a different environment. So I felt like I was ready to jump back into the tech world and continue to get to know this place better. I wanted to learn how to program better and build more confidence. When you work, it is hard to learn new stuff. It takes energy and time that one might not have in that situation.

Before 42 I traveled a lot, and I generally never stopped anywhere for long. So 42 is a place where I feel like stopping because it feels like home, it allows me to grow even though I am stationary.

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

I worked with python and javascript, I even worked a bit as a programmer. When I got to know about 42 for the first time I was thinking ”Why would I want to learn C?” or “What will I do there for 3 years?” When I came here I realized C is pretty awesome to learn and compliments my previous knowledge of the higher level languages with more theory, and that one doesn’t need to be here for so long, but as long as one needs to. So I could have been here earlier, but actually, it’s good now, I have more to give back and contribute to the community.

42 is exactly what you don’t get when you are learning online by yourself. You get the people, the communication and the basics. And also, I feel that the piscine in itself is useful and I really like how there is no entrance exam or tests, how the application process is so easy. Hopefully, it helps some people take the leap. I have seen people get really discouraged in life, and sometimes an extra question on an application form might do it and stop them from progressing. I have been telling people to come and try it out. The piscine in itself is a really useful experience, and I’ve seen many people get hooked.

How did you hear about 42?

I think it was many many years ago that I learned about the Paris campus. It was while looking for a place to learn how to programme. But I was scared by the requirements and the length. I didn’t realize that even though it says 3-5 years, you can be quicker, work faster, there are no expectations. You can leave whenever, take breaks, there is even an incentive to be quick. The community encourages you to find a job / next opportunity. You take as much time as you need to go to your next step, no one expects you to do more or less than you are doing (sometimes your peers might expect you to do more : D).

Two years ago I met some people at a meetup that mentioned the Silicon Valley campus, and I heard about the dorms. So last summer, when I was looking for places to go learn, 42 fit everything I wanted. It felt like a thing I should try, and the fact that it is free is so helpful because I wouldn’t really be able to afford another program. It is great to be able to dedicate myself to something fully without thinking about money too much, now I only need money for food and fun. Savings can last way longer this way.

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

My family and friends think it is awesome, and they see how much I love it. They supported me in my decision to come, and now they see how much I enjoy it, so they are like “it is really awesome.” My brother’s girlfriend is actually from Paris, and I visited them in France a few months ago and when I was there I told various people I was attending 42. They were impressed because 42 Paris has a good reputation. Random people know about it, my neighbors on the plane, a university professor I talked to on the street, an artist on a bus, media content managers from the other side of the country. Not as many people know about it here which is a pity because it is such a gem.

What was the piscine like?

My piscine was in August 2018. I really loved it because I like fully immersive things that require stamina. I have pretty good endurance, I like to work long hours and intense periods. The speed and rhythm at which we had to submit projects meant we got a fresh start every morning, which I think is the most beautiful way to learn. No matter how much you fail you have a clean slate and you can do better today.

One thing I found really interesting is how people changed during the different stages of the piscine. At some point a lot of us started exercising, taking care of ourselves more, going to the gym and walks and runs. There were different lessons throughout the weeks, and one of the aspects of being self-disciplined includes self-care, both physical as well as mental. You perform better when you take care of yourself. A lot of people drop out, figure out they don’t want this or are not ready.

On the other hand, acceptance in the cadet program does not depend on how well you do in terms of points alone. It’s a mix of criteria. We don’t really know what it is but assume it has to do with the overall performance, the hours put into the work, how well we do during exams, the perseverance, and success with group projects. It’s encouraging to know that even if one doesn’t get many points on the daily tasks (which is often the case for people who come with no previous programming experience), one still has a chance to get in.

I would definitely advise the piscine experience to everyone. Even if you think it isn’t for you, you should try it. One learns a lot about oneself, both good and bad. But you also get the chance to try to fix yourself by the next day and be better.

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

I couldn’t wait to start, it was very very hard to wait even though I only had to wait a month. It was such a huge change from intense daily work and interaction with a lot of people to basically being alone, in whatever post piscine life there is. I house sat in that period and hung out with some cats and dogs and chickens.

I tried continuing to work on some stuff, but working without peers just wasn’t the same. We tried a bit over slack, but I just wanted to be back, and just talk to people and push each other. My start date was October 2018, and even though I say I wanted to start right away it was actually really good to have that month so I could prepare for this next phase. Clean up life and to-do’s, to have a clearer mind coming into 42. And having random little pets to give love to really helped too!

How does the cadet program differ from the piscine?

The size of the projects. I really enjoyed submitting something by the end of the day in the piscine. While in the cadet program you decide when something is ready to be submitted. I heard someone say that done is better than perfect. I try to remind myself that done is better than more done.

The other thing is, you can get wrapped into doing other stuff, so you don’t get as much progress. The piscine is all about 42, and being a cadet is more about life. And there are a lot of aspects of life. 42 is not only about programming, but it is also about entrepreneurship and startups and learning how to communicate in the work environment and talking to others about your ideas, and friendships and dreams and laundry and all the other day to day life stuff. So we do have the project map, but there are all of these other projects that go on at the same time.

How do you find help with your projects?

This is the thing I really love about 42 is the fact that you need to talk to your peers. The way the system is set up is you end up talking to a lot of different people. But you don’t need to show off to authority figures or teachers. If someone is slacking off, (i.e. in the cadet program you can get lost with no progress because you get stuck on something) it is nice to see other people try to catch you and say, “you can do this.”

We try to help each other not just with coding and bugs but also emotionally. And people are so nice, you can walk up to anyone and talk to them, and they’ll stop doing what they are doing and share what they know. I have been surprised by the ease with which this happens here since the beginning, it is inspirational. You learn a lot about yourself, about self-discipline, how to ask for help, read your code, and read other peoples code.

Can you tell us more about the positive messages you have been sharing?

I’ve been posting little messages with things I like about the school or life around here on our internal slack for a bit. It’s easy to get all wrapped up in the day-to-day stuff, and be gloomy about something not working out. But at the end of the day, we are all here and things are good. It’s so easy to forget. I am so grateful for a lot of the opportunities that I have been given and found. For example, 42 is free and it’s like a present for me,  so I try to give back when I can.

The good we have becomes the norm so we forget what we have and how beautiful and awesome we are. If people are aware of how good things are, there is more power and motivation within ourselves. It is easy to get trapped in everyday things like I can’t get over this silly code bug, or I still haven’t written that email. In the big scale of things, you find out you have learned more. You are better than you were a while ago. With the people I hang out with, we talk about bringing the best out of ourselves and each other. It is cool to see how we are trying to set the positive framework to start the day. It is very nice how we are pushing each other to believe in ourselves.

One of my aims was just to spread it to the wider, whole community. Communities are organic in general, but especially in a place like 42. It is malleable, really responsive to what its members do, we can influence it, shape it and help it grow. And so if I can do a very tiny act that doesn’t cost me much maybe I can make someone’s day better. Or maybe I can make them think about something that will make the mind lighter for a bit.

What do you like best about 42?

42 is a build your own adventure life endeavor. As such, you can tailor it to your wishes and dreams. After coming out of the piscine you do what you want to do. You make it what you need it to be for you to thrive in the tech world, which I think is such a valuable opportunity. You are encouraged to make it work for you and that is unbelievable for me. I feel I can grow so quickly in whatever direction I want to take.

What is great about the location of 42 is that San Francisco and Mountain View are close, but far enough. There are no distractions day to day and the hills are so close for runs and a view of the bay and the sunset. But you can also go to all the meetups and conferences that are only an hour away. Silicon Valley attracts a lot of insanely driven people that do all kinds of stuff.

I joined an underwater rugby club in Mountain View and fell in love with it. Sp I get to play weekly, and it’s a great break from the day to day. 42 and the life I have around here has that feeling that it is like home. Which is a big thing for me because I have traveled and moved a lot. The weather here is great too. When you fail and the sky is blue and the sun is shining it is easy to start again. When it is raining then it’s nice too. California is so thirsty and it makes me think of the hills going green.

One other thing I like about 42 is how there are people of different ages here. There are people just straight out of high school or university. And then people with more work experience. This makes peer-to-peer learning even more effective and rich. During my time with Udacity, I also worked with students from different walks of life who were building their careers in tech, so there are skills I can share with students here too. The fact that I know something is a way I can contribute to the 42 community as a whole. I am a big believer in lifelong learning. And one of the reasons is that we can learn so much from having a diverse community. Sharing the different lives and paths and ways people figured it out.

What is the most challenging aspect?

Working effectively. I want to do more, too much sometimes, and then it is easy to get lost. Really early in the morning, I come into the lab. I am not as productive in the afternoon, so I have to learn when to stop the day since I keep wanting to do more. It is important to know when to stop and when to take breaks. I have been trying to get out in time and go for a run and maybe when I come back I am energized.

What do you like about the Bay Area?

The reason why I wanted to come to the Bay Area is that people really want to do well. People are trying to do a lot. When you are surrounded by people who want to do well, it helps you do better as well. When you have a lot of motivated people, a lot of things happen.

People at 42 are here because they are very self-driven, motivated and curious. A friend visited a few days ago, and I gave him a tour of the school and got him to talk to a couple of random students. As he was leaving he said: “I can see that spark in people’s eyes.”

What is your dream job?

I want to have a positive impact on the world and try to find a way to use my skills and my knowledge to do this. I really think it’s useful to leverage what comes easy and natural. So I want a job I really really trust and then build my own thing at some point.

One life dream I have is to build a playground for adults one day. A place like 42 definitely helps shape what I think works to get people to play.

What is your favorite saying?

Life is precious because there is only one and life is quick, so make an effort to enjoy life. I want to grow a lot, and learn a lot and have a lot of fun.

Connect with Kalindi on LinkedIn

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

Interview by: Stacey Faucett