Kristine Vilnite

AGE: 28
INTERESTS: I’m interested in transformative technologies that shape, shift and disrupt the world. That is one of the reasons why I love tech and am involved in the tech industry.

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

I am originally from Latvia. I grew up in the countryside but moved to Riga (capital of Latvia) when I was 16 years old to study. Eventually, I studied business, and after went into finance. I worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) for almost 2 years and Ernst & Young (EY) after that. After I joined EY I left quite soon after. I took some time off to figure out what I was going to do next.  I left a good, well-paying job without figuring out the next steps. Not something I would suggest to anyone. Nevertheless, some of my friends were in tech, so I started to look into that. Probably the best industry shift I could possibly make.

My first interaction with tech was a business exchange program called Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs.  I shadowed an Estonian CEO who at that time worked on a mobile education game in London. I realized, “I want to be in this industry, the startup scene is great!” After that, I got involved with 500 Startups, a venture capital firm in San Francisco that one of my mentors introduced me to. I came to work as an intern for a mentor’s startup in October 2016.  It was my first time in the U.S. and I helped with marketing, growth and UX testing. Overall I spent two months in San Francisco and gained incredible experience with how the tech industry works. The pace in San Francisco is 10x what it is in Latvia, everyone is so tech-oriented. I was overwhelmed, it was a lot to take in mentally, emotionally and financially.

What did you do before 42?

After going home I felt like I failed myself and the people who gave me this opportunity. I saw life back home totally differently.  It was so slow, I knew I needed to go back and continue what I started. I figured out a way to get back and when I started to work on my own ideas, I realized how important it is to know how to code. You don’t necessarily have to be a developer, but you need to understand how to explain your idea to technical people so they can turn your idea into a product.

I tried to learn how to code by myself through online courses. I took some online javascript courses on full stack development and I absolutely loved it. So I decided to go on the tech side and try to build some apps, websites and so on. This was really hard to learn on my own. One day I was watching this TechCrunch video about Xavier Niel and he mentioned 42. I looked into it and was like, “oh my gosh, there is this coding school in Silicon Valley and it is free!” Deciding to check it out, I did the logic tests that used to be part of admissions just for fun. I passed them and decided to go participate in a piscine.

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

I had some understanding from self-learning but basically zero experience.

What did you like best about your 42 experience?

42 was life-changing. The piscine was crazy and it was a lot to take in, especially with no coding experience. I met amazing people, it was really challenging but at the same time really rewarding. It was hard but 42 helped me realize that I can do this. I can learn how to code. I think the most interesting part, especially during the piscine, is that you are so hyper-focused that you don’t even acknowledge the skills you have. Until the moment when you sit there and realize – wait, I am coding. And you have your peers, which is amazing. I was in awe of how 42 built this program, the idea of no teachers, allows you to learn how to learn.

Is there anything that you do now in the startup world that you don’t think would come as easily if you hadn’t attended 42?

42 was a big turning point in helping me understand how startup products are made. There is a lot that is involved with startups, but 42 gave me the confidence to talk about the tech and product side of it as well. For a person involved in the tech industry, not only is it important to know how to connect with people but also to understand the product that you are building. Without the knowledge I gained at 42, I would have less understanding of the technical aspects of a product or service.   

What is the inspiration behind your work?

I am a community-minded person. Overall, I want to make the world a better place. My goal is to work on impact. I work with communities, create space for people to make great things happen. The work that I do centers around how to develop communities and create synergies. I want to go beyond it and build something that is impactful on a global scale, helping to solve issues that are very individual involving mental health, mindfulness, personal awareness, and growth. I’m a true believer that if we use our strengths and work hard we will be able to create unbelievable synergy and powerful change in the world.

Describe what startups you have been involved with:

I am still working on my own startup project, forming a team and looking for investors. On the other hand, I am involved with the tech ecosystem communities. The latest project I’ve been involved in is the Digital Freedom Festival, one of the most impactful tech events in the Baltics where I overtook startup and investor relationship management. This is how my work looks like now, evolving my own ideas and helping others to evolve theirs.

What does your typical workday look like?

It is actually more about communicating with people. Lately, it has been about planning, coming up with ideas, figuring out how to execute them. I help people who are building products by figuring out better platforms, partners, and cooperations for more successful results.

Would you recommend the 42 program and if so, why?

Yes! Absolutely. Not that everyone should be a software engineer, but 42 gives you a chance to explore and see if it is a good fit. Tech is integrating into every industry. 42 is a free opportunity to understand how these things operate, giving you the knowledge you need to reach your goals in the future that is and will be very tech-oriented. Coding is an important part, but also what I do, managing tech products and working on strengthening tech communities and ecosystems as a whole is something I learned more about at 42.  

Do you have any advice for 42 students who are interested in startups?

42 has a pool of amazing people with their own strengths. So if you are interested in building a startup or working for one you have to be open, communicate and share your ideas with others. You have to be very proactive. 42 actually is an amazing place to do this. There is a pool of very diverse and driven tech-oriented people. If you are really confident and passionate about an idea and have the motivation to really pursue it and build it, 42 can be a great place to find partners, cofounders, and team members. I have seen people get their teams up and running at 42, and I found helpful hands for my startup idea there as well.

Connect with Kristine on LinkedIn

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

Interview by: Stacey Faucett