Milan Ray

INTERESTS: Programming, Japanese language, table tennis, graphics art, game design, piano, creating and meditation.

Where are you from?

From a suburb of Detroit. I went to a Montessori school in kindergarten and learned through hands-on experience. During that time I advanced my math skills to the equivalent level of a 3rd grader. This advancement in my math skills allowed me to relax a lot more during school because I didn’t have to struggle. At first, I really loved learning and my time in school was fun. But then I started to notice that when I was learning new things other students, who didn’t have the hands-on experience that I gained through Montessori, were struggling.

A side-effect of advancing my math skills in kindergarten was that I became bored a lot with school work. I started programming because the learning never stopped and challenges were always new. Programming gave me the ability to create things from almost nothing. And this gave me the idea that creating something of my own wasn’t impossible.

What did you do before 42?

I did one semester at the University of Michigan Engineering School with a major in computer science. One day when I sat at lunch with a professor I asked him the question of whether a CS degree was really necessary because of all the boot camps out there. My professor surprisingly said that they were still trying to figure out why a CS degree was really necessary. Also, I was developing an educational game for about two years and wanted to devote more time to the game. When I heard about 42 opening in Silicon Valley, it really stood out to me, but at the same time, it seemed way too good to be true. Soon I found out that on the contrary, the dream of 42 was more than real. 

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

I was given a computer when I was about 3 years old and started tinkering with programming when I was 6 years old. I always had a passion for programming but never thought I would do it as a job. At first, my aim was to first make enough money so my parents wouldn’t worry. So naturally, investment banking and high-frequency trading interested me. I dabbled in forex trading and automated graphical analysis for trading. But after a while, I found myself thinking of what exactly was the reason for earning this money and if earning money like this was really what I wanted to do. So instead I pivoted and focused on what I could do for humanity with the skills I had in creating programs.

When I entered high school, I switched to an online school for 3 years so I could go ahead and take several advanced classes at a fast pace. What I found was that my old passion for learning was going away. In high school, what I experienced along with many of my friends, was that learning was starting to become boring, and simply a repetitive task where there was not enough time to learn. All that we did was learn the way of doing things but never had the time to learn why. My experience of going from loving school to thinking of it as a chore inspired me to come up with an idea for an educational game. Developing and working on this game taught me how to think like a programmer and create things from scratch without any direct help.

How did you hear about 42?

I play table tennis and I have a friend who has played table tennis his entire life. He decided to go into the program and he told me about 42. My friend did the piscine and shared with me that it was a real experience. He told me how even a person who had a master’s degree in CS came to learn at 42.

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

My parents are very logical and always want me to be happy, so I simply explained to them what my CS professor said. Also, they knew I had experience with coding and wanted to pursue developing my educational game. Knowing I would have time to develop my game at 42 was a big reason for my parents. Another convincing factor was the fact that I had already completed two years of study through community college in high school, so there was no rush in completing university early. Ultimately, my parents were okay with me working on something that would contribute towards my goal of becoming an entrepreneur.

What was the piscine like?

At the end of the first week I was still skeptical, but after that, I saw people coding and working hard, and it seemed like a dream…the people who come here are motivated to do this for themselves. This really made me smile all the time because it was amazing. 42 has something that other places don’t have, and there is a sense of comradery because we all go through the same hard work together. You don’t deserve a free school if you can’t motivate yourself. There are people with zero coding experience who get through it…it isn’t about if you code or not, but if you believe in yourself or not.

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

I was relieved that I could finally settle down and focus on one thing. When I was in the piscine I was really desperate to get in, I felt I had to be perfect and show them that everything is good. If I didn’t get in I was going to go back into the next piscine to try again, no questions asked.

How does the 42 Cadet Program differ from the piscine?

There is a lot less workload, but unlike the piscine you can’t see the end so you need to manage your time properly, if you don’t, you can fall into a black hole. Unlike a traditional workplace, it is more strict because they want to give you an idea of what the most difficult workplace could be like. It’s almost like you’re an entrepreneur for yourself, and the mission of your company is to learn and improve yourself. They force you to see that you can do this on your own, but they give you support from other people. I didn’t have much team experience before and now realize how much more efficient it is. After the piscine, you realize what your potential is.

How do you find help with your projects?

I Google general ideas, try to break down difficult problems into many easier problems, and also ask other cadets questions. It is nice how there are so many cadets with so much knowledge and experience.

What do you like best about 42?

Everybody here is really passionate about things that most people would dismiss. For example, if I showed something to other people before I came to 42, they wouldn’t care or pay attention to the details. People really care here. They will even walk through it with you for 3 hours and wait until you get it. Unlike a teacher, where they are gone after the class is over, there is continuous support and a passion for what they do. No one says they don’t have enough time because everybody is both a teacher as well as a student. Also, the tests are more practical. What you wish was at college is here. Since it’s free, the motivation of 42 is that they simply care.

What is the most challenging aspect?

Managing your time! If you don’t manage it or are trying to make it perfect, you take more time and get less done.

What do you like to do in the Bay Area?

I haven’t gotten a chance to explore yet, but there is a good restaurant near 42 called Samraat Curry Hut.

What is your dream job?

To be an entrepreneur and help others, and give people a chance to learn things that they think they can’t. I am developing an educational game right now, so I am technically working on my dream job. Rabbit Cloud is an incubator for companies, so I would like to learn from them.

What is your favorite quote?

“I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [With analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.” -Elon Musk.

This Elon Musk quote gave me the reassurance that the way I choose to tackle difficult problems was not wrong. I was already doing something that a man as accomplished as Musk was also doing.

“Familiarity Breeds Contempt.” -Aesop

This is another quote that reminds me of how amazing coding actually is. I wanted to pick a direction in life where I would never breed contempt towards what I was doing. And I found that with coding.  In computer science, things are always changing and always evolving, like a living thing. There is a creative process, you can use your imagination more in coding than anything else. For me, coding is the closest version of transferring your thoughts from one person to many.

Connect with Milan on LinkedIn

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

Interview by: Stacey Faucett