Keeping Up with 42 Students Under Lockdown

Even though the 42 Silicon Valley lab is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our students continue to learn and use their skills outside the 42 curriculum.

Meet 42 Cadet Victoria, who is working with a non-profit on an application that will anonymously alert users if they may have been in contact with COVID-19. We interviewed her to ask more about her project!

WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?

I graduated with a B.S. in Biology from Howard University and worked in the Emergency Department for 2 years. After seeing hospital inefficiencies but lacking the skills to improve the healthcare system, I came to 42 Silicon Valley to introduce myself to the realm of computer science and bridge healthcare and technology. Luckily, while studying computer science full-time at 42 Silicon Valley, I was offered a medical annotator position through Vituity, where I was a Google vendor for 6 months, and first handedly witnessed the potential health-tech has. A year of perseverance landed me an internship offer at Microsoft and an unconditional acceptance letter at America’s Military Medical School. Hopefully, my unique pathway will empower the next generation of health-tech innovators and encourage more students to pursue interdisciplinary studies in this era of technological innovation.

HOW FAR ARE YOU IN THE 42 CURRICULUM?

Although I had started 42 Silicon Valley in September 2019, I am still relatively new to the curriculum and coding! With the new cursus rolling out and 42 becoming remote, I was reset to Level 1. Despite this small setback in level, I learned how to use the terminal to code, was introduced to web development, and ventured into scraping Twitter feeds for healthcare information around COVID-19 time. So, in short, I’m not far in terms of the 42 curriculum but I have learned a lot just by being at 42. The cadets here are supportive of each other and are more than happy to guide you through debugging your code. The interdisciplinary and unique backgrounds of 42 cadets are what drew me to studying at 42, and I would, without a doubt, say that 42 was one of the highlights of my life.

HOW HAS COVID-19 AFFECTED YOUR DAILY LIFE?

Because we are coders, we can program from anywhere. Even so, to be honest, I struggled quite a bit to set up my Windows computer to mimic the MacOS environment. I was honestly debating purchasing a MacBook Pro just so I could code in the same environment. COVID-19 has given me a few hurdles but these obstacles are part of the learning process. As we are taught at 42, if something does not work, try to debug the error, then Google for a solution, and finally ask a peer for advice. By the second round of the new cursus onboarding, I was able to set up my computer to code, so prior today, I have mainly been working on the design and user research for a COVID-19 project known as Covid Watch.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT YOU’RE WORKING ON?

The project that I am currently working on is a nonprofit, global effort to give people the power to reduce the spread of COVID-19 through a mobile application known as Covid Watch. In short, this application anonymously alerts users if they may have been in contact with COVID-19.

Unlike other competitor apps that collect massive amounts of personal data and claim a privacy focus by promising to “secure” the information, Covid Watch researchers discovered a way to build an anonymous exposure notification system, which collects no identifying information in the first place/ Google and Apple later partnered together to adopt a similar exposure notification layout for developers to use in apps. Our app checks for other apps in proximity using Bluetooth, and anonymously notifies users if they were in contact with someone later confirmed to have COVID-19.

Covid Watch was the first group to release an open source protocol for decentralized Bluetooth exposure notifications, and have been collaborating with the TCN Coalition of apps, and our partner apps like CoEpi and SafePaths, to encourage open source protocol standards across apps and jurisdictions like the Google/Apple standards.

This application foster the adoption of decentralized Bluetooth technology that preserves people’s right to privacy while protecting their community.

Here’s a sneak preview of the most recent screens for the Covid Watch app:

If you are interested in learning more about the project or volunteering, feel free to check out the website: https://covid-watch.org/. Currently, we have more than 400 volunteers, many of whom are professionals in their field, so it is a superb learning opportunity.

ARE YOU WORKING ON IT ALONE OR WITH OTHER 42 CADETS?

I have mainly been working on it with a team of volunteers outside of 42; however, some 42 cadets occasionally jump in or provide advice regarding the project. I would love to see more representation from 42 students! Nonetheless, I have heard about some amazing projects regarding COVID-19 relief initiatives by other 42 students (such as an app that connects those in need of food to restaurants who are willing to provide food free of charge), so I am glad that 42 cadets are using their skills to help solve some issues in the community. #42Power

WHAT ARE YOU LEARNING FROM BUILDING THIS PROJECT?

I am honestly learning grit — the sustained persistence toward achieving a long-term goal. Because there are so many experienced people volunteering on this project in comparison to the skills I have (perhaps, a representation of imposter syndrome?), I sometimes do feel like my thoughts or contributions are not valuable enough. However, this team of Covid Watch volunteers are super supportive. In some ways, it is like an internship or 42 applying its methodology to real life situations. Because this is a relatively new technology (the concept of a Bluetooth alert system for COVID-19), there is a lot of vagueness and trying to figure out what works and what does not work.

In terms of my role in Covid Watch, I am mainly working on user research and design. When I had joined this project, there was no one working on the app design and one of my friends, another bootcamp graduate, had taken on the process of building the website use VueJS. As a result, with the 42 mentality in mind of “embracing challenges,” I began to tackle the app design for Covid Watch using a blank canvas. Since then, two designers refined the original design, and I have gained a lot of insight through hearing their feedback and seeing the progression of Covid Watch.

HOW HAS BEING A 42 STUDENT HELPED YOU APPROACH THIS PROJECT?

It has further enhanced my perspectives on life which was then demonstrated in the Covid Watch project. In the age of the internet, we are given the tools and resources to find the answers to our questions. It is up to us to take charge of our education and learn through our experiences. 42 provided me a network of students who I feel comfortable enough with to ask for guidance and a mentality that I will forever take forward with me: there is a light in everyone; it is just a matter of using the right lens to see it. #BlackbodyRadiation

When I began Covid Watch project, just as I had begun 42, I was clueless at how I could contribute at all. However, I did not let that stop me. I initially began by seeing what Covid Watch needed and what aligned with the skills or experiences I had. Then, I started learning about the design process and developed a prototype via Figma. To be perfectly honest, I was so proud of the initial prototype I had created until I showed it to my peers, haha. I did not realize that what I thought was appealing was not appealing to others. The feedback I received from my peers and other volunteers did not deter me from continuing this design process because 42 ingrained me the thought process that feedback is a valuable process of learning.

Perhaps, I guess, 42, or the people at 42, was the answer to life for me. The way that they had interacted with me – through questions rather than purely giving me answers – developed my critical thinking skills, and I will carry these skills through my pathway of merging medicine and technology.

WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS FOR YOUR PROJECT?

The next step for the project is to do pilot testing for the Covid Watch app! We are currently in talks with a few different counties across a few different states, so keep an eye out on our website for any updates.

Check out their website here!

published by Kim Alvarez – May 7, 2020