STUDENT PROFILE: KHRIS

Khris Smith

AGE: 34
INTERESTS:  I like action sports, I grew up riding motorcycles, dirt bikes, snowmobiles, and BMX. Video games also kept my interest on and off over the years and naturally computers too.

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

My parents were in the military so we moved around a lot. I was born in the United States but two months after we moved to Germany. We lived in Germany for four years. A German couple took care of me during the day while my parents were at work. I ended up speaking German before I learned to speak English.

We came back to the states and moved to different parts of Kentucky for a couple of years. Then moved to Italy when I was nine years old and lived there for a couple of years. I remember more of Italy than I do Germany just because I was older, but while in Italy I went back to visit my godparents. After that we went back to Kentucky for a couple of months. When you live in other countries you see and hear different cultures. So it opens your mind (if you are accepting of other people and cultures).

My dad retired after 26 years of service and we moved from Kentucky to Iowa when I was eleven years old and lived there for a little while. That is when I got into BMX, snowmobiles and dirt bikes. I used to race on the weekends. We would drive a few hours to the track and be there all day and drive back. It was a lot of fun competing at a young age. Between the ages of 13 and 19, I lived in Kansas City, Missouri. Moving to a city after living in the country was a big change for me. There were more people of color in the city than the country, but it was hard to make friends because I was into outdoors stuff and had different interests.

We got a Gateway computer in 1997 and I was very interested in it. I remember getting an error message on the Windows 95 operating system one night. So I stayed up reading the entire manual and got pretty good at fixing errors. I went from working on our computer to helping out family and friends with their technical issues. Growing up in a time of technological firsts I’ve been able to watch it advance first hand. Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Playstation, just in the video game industry, car phones (typically installed in the car), pagers, cell phones (big clunky ones or even the first ones with a bag to carry it in). Even movies got better in visual graphics over the years. I feel really blessed to be born during a time when tech was changing so much and see all the things I’ve been able to see first hand.

What did you do before 42?

Right before 42 I was working for a consulting company that had multiple clients in Las Vegas. I was doing system administration. I would go to different clients everyday and help them with whatever issue they were dealing with or help them setup for new employees. It got to a point where I was doing computer networking for a long time. It started to get boring because I felt like I wasn’t being challenged. Getting bored in a job is the same as not liking it. You have to find the type of work that you enjoy doing so you don’t mind if it is raining, snowing or sunny you will gladly go and pursue it.

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

There is no real programming with IT.  You do a couple of bash scripts to find a file, or do a couple of tasks for you but that is very small and limited. It doesn’t get into how the system interacts with that stuff. I didn’t have experience other than that. The IT experience I had definitely did not help me in the piscines.

How did you hear about 42?

It was really random. A friend of a friend who was getting ready to go to the October 2016 piscine was visiting Las Vegas and told me about it. I looked it up and went home.  At the time, 42 had logic tests as part of their admissions process. I stayed up until 4 am doing those tests, and was really excited when I got the email that said I passed and I could come try the piscine.

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

They felt like it was about time I really apply myself and do something like this. My friends and family always thought I had the potential to do something big with computers. They were pretty happy and supportive.

What was the piscine like?

The first one was really warm and welcoming, everyone was nice and friendly. It felt like a meeting of all the intelligent people my age, everyone was really smart in their own way. I thought it was a humbling experience. It was definitely nerve-wracking because it felt like learning a whole new language in 30 days was too much and too fast. At the same time it was a fun challenge.

I failed miserably, I thought all the IT experience would help me and I was used to being the guy people would come to for answers. Since I didn’t get accepted the first time, I took a year off to study and learn C on my own. The piscine sparked a realization that software engineering is what I really wanted to do. That time off after failing the piscine was a personal challenge to learn as much as I could. I looked for a job to pay the bills, but I would code all night. I streamed myself coding on Twitch, and people would come in and talk to me. Before I came back for a second piscine I made sure I was ready.

During the second piscine I spent more time asking questions, even if I thought I knew the answer, just to see how other people approached problems. I have a good photographic visual memory and would mentally try to go back and fix my mistakes from the previous piscine. I reached out to more people and asked questions, tried not to be so final about my decisions, tried to be more open about how problems can be solved, and I talked to more people because I thought that might be more helpful.

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

The first one was disheartening at first. I cried and I’m not ashamed to admit that. I looked at it as a source of motivation.

The second time I knew it was going to happen. I tried and I crushed it. The first piscine I got level zero, fifty percent of level one. The second piscine I got to level 5 and on the final exam I did really well. I knew before they sent the letter I was going to get in, that is what hard work does for you.

How does the cadet program differ from the piscine?

It is a lot harder, it is more in depth. The way that cadets grade you versus how pisciners grade you is different because they have been there longer. It is a good learning experience, they help you learn what mistakes to look for. It is a good fit for what I want to learn. I like the fact you can choose any path that you want to focus on.

How do you find help with your projects?

I ask around and I try to do some research by myself first and get a good understanding of what questions I need to ask. I ask someone in slack how to do it and talk to them and ask them a bunch of questions. After that I try and see how far I can get on my own before asking more questions, so I know that I am asking good questions. When I hit a roadblock I do a lot of research and then ask someone and try to keep making progress.

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

I’ve been to a lot such as API world and I was at the ISSA Google Ventures event recently. I went to an OWASP event and basically, that was one of the most fun. We recreated the environments and the code that were similar to those major hacks that happened at Facebook, British Airways and a few other companies. Dev Week is coming up and I am going to volunteer for the hackathon they are hosting.

What do you like best about 42?

The people. You never know where someone is from, or what kind of experience, or what kind of information someone can explain to you, and the way they explain it may open your mind to so many ideas and things you wouldn’t have thought of if you didn’t speak to them. Everyone is unique and has been through their own life experiences. It is good to be in an environment where a majority of people are open and willing to share that information with you. You just have to go up and say hello.

What is the most challenging aspect?

Forcing yourself to learn something new or hard and not quitting midway or when you get stuck on something. With no one forcing you to be here, getting up and leaving to do something more fun is super easy.  

What do you like to do in the Bay Area?

Riding my motorcycle, I bought one recently. Basically, I was just thinking about and mapping out a road trip. The next time it is sunny I want to ride down the coast, I want to go out and see the ocean again. It is nice here year round, beautiful motorcycle weather for sure.

What is your dream job?

Anything writing code, backend code, building servers with code, DevOps security or any sort of DevOps backend job writing code all day for $$$,$$$.

What is your favorite quote?

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” -Mahatma Ghandi

Because putting your best self out there and living the life you believe will be recognized by your peers can hopefully inspire them.

Connect with Khris on LinkedIn


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

Interview by: Stacey Faucett
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