Kyle Davis

AGE: 26
INTERESTS: Figuring out what makes things tick. I also enjoy improvisational theater and board games.

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

I grew up in Newark, CA, about 5 minutes from where 42 Silicon Valley is now located.

In high school, I took a biotech class that introduced me to the potential of genetic engineering. The idea of a “blawberry,” a hybrid of a blueberry and a strawberry, being a possibility inspired me to pursue studying genetics. I wanted to understand how the code in our DNA translates into physical traits, so I sought a degree in genetics at UC Davis.

Throughout college, graduate school and lab work seemed like the only path ahead. I learned a variety of useful molecular biology techniques working in labs, but I also discovered that working in a lab was not the right place for me.

The most rewarding portion of my job was writing macros for Excel to analyze the data. I loved writing macros to make manual tasks quicker and easier. That is what inspired me to look at what I was doing with my life. I decided to change paths by leaving academia and focusing on programming.

What did you do before 42?

I stopped working in the lab and was looking to pursue an education in programming. I was in the process of signing up for a computer science course at Ohlone College when I learned of 42 Silicon Valley through an article my dad shared with me. Although I was initially skeptical, I decided to give the admissions test a shot; I took the admissions exams online (which they used to have). The exam was just like a game I had been playing on my iPhone at the time; it was meant to be.

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

I had experience with VBA, the macro programming language for Excel. I understood data analysis, which I found helpful when learning to program.

What did you like best about your 42 experience?

One of the things that really stood out to me was the community, 42 doesn’t exist without its students. The pathway of projects sets the learning foundation, but it is up to you and your peers to collaborate and be successful. Some of the best experiences were collaborating with other students.  From the very beginning of the piscine, you are put under immense pressure that forces you to work with your peers in order to progress. This force of collaboration is reflected in the peer-to-peer correction system. There is always something to learn during a correction session, both for the correct-tee and the corrector. 42 is a place where you are always learning something new.

Is there anything that you do now at work that you don’t think would come as easily if you hadn’t attended 42?

In addition to the basic understanding of programming concepts, 42 taught me the skills to tackle the unknown. Today, I have the confidence to solve a problem even if I haven’t worked in that area before. I realized that relying on my problem-solving skills, collaboration with others, and asking the right questions are fundamental and powerful tools.

How did you get your foot in the door where you work?

I just applied, honestly my current job was just one of a multitude of applications I sent out.  Having a degree may help me get my foot in the door, but what I learned at 42 greatly helps my job performance.

Describe what you do at Complete Genomics:

Complete Genomics is a company that sequences DNA. Based on our sequencing platforms we look at what might cause different trends. In order to understand how chemistry is affecting our experiments, I design and run simulations to compare against real data. My position is relatively sequencing agnostic. Rather I look at patterns that arise from the data output of our sequencing platforms and create a hypothesis on what may be a factor in the different trends we observe. I then create a simulation of what we would expect to happen given the hypothesis and compare that with the real data. My work allows me to combine my experience with programming and genetics, and is very rewarding.

What does your typical workday look like?

I get into the office around 9 am and start my day off by reviewing a ledger of projects I am working on. I then organize my tasks to ensure that I am progressing at a timely rate. Most of the analysis I run is automated, so I will often have them running in the background while I complete other tasks. My team meets periodically to review what is relevant, what discussions are going on, and what issues need to be addressed.

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

Yes, I would recommend 42 but when I do I ask, “are you willing to leave your job?” 42 is not something you can do on the side, it is a full-time commitment. It is one of the best learning experiences I have ever had, but it requires a lot of dedication; you get what you put into it. It is an amazing environment for learning how to learn, but it requires passion and a really keen interest in order to succeed. If you are interested in learning how to code, go to the piscine. In the first couple of weeks, you will know if you want to do this.

Before 42 I was really struggling with figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. 42 solidified that programming is a passion I have, and I feel extremely grateful and lucky to have had this opportunity. I am able to do what I am passionate about and apply it in a field I am really interested in. I owe a large part of that to the experience I gained at 42.

Do you have any advice for 42 students when it comes to securing an internship or job?

Just keep on putting yourself out there, recognize the fact that the skills you have are valuable and really useful. That was one of my biggest struggles, I didn’t have confidence. I knew how to program but didn’t know how to validate that experience. Once I started working, I realized just how valuable the skills I had developed were.

Focus on peer-to-peer corrections. The skills and lessons you learn during those sessions can be invaluable both on the job and during interviews. During my interview, my boss was really impressed with how I taught myself to program. It really spoke to my motivation and passion for the field. I urge you to keep pursuing and learning, to keep talking to people and to prove that you can do it. You are never stuck, there is always an alternative; 42 gave me additional training that I needed to make that alternative reality.

Connect with Kyle on LinkedIn

Photos by Abraham Chan

Interview by: Stacey Faucett