Naomi Okiddy

AGE: 22
INTERESTS: Video games, anime, robots, and outdoor things

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

I was born in Nairobi, Kenya.  From a young age I had an interest in anime. Video games are the main reason I got into computer science. After I stopped focusing on video games I focused on robotics, AI in particular. I lived in Nairobi my entire life until 2014 when I came to the U.S. for university. Life in Nairobi is very different than life here. As a freshman at UC Davis, I majoring in computer engineering. There were a lot of opportunities my classmates from the U.S. had that I didn’t have. They knew how to code, they knew C and how to code in javascript. They didn’t have those classes back home so I started at a slight disadvantage. When I got to the advanced courses I noticed I was behind. It didn’t seem like it at first because I enjoyed my coding classes.

What did you do before 42?

I was doing my senior design project at UC Davis and I was the peer advisor for my department. As a peer advisor, I was helping freshmen figure out what they want to do with their degree, as well as what classes they should take, and how to talk to company reps at job fairs.

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

Just from school, I took a semester of programming in C, C++, and python. It was just 10 weeks of learning how to program in each language, it was similar to the length of learning from a boot camp. My degree was more like an electrical engineering degree with a couple of coding classes. When you looked at the curriculum, it wasn’t as computer science heavy. When I looked at the piscine I saw there was still a lot I didn’t know and needed to brush up on. I didn’t feel like I had an advantage over people who haven’t coded at all. In fact, I felt like I needed to rethink how to learn and rebuild a perspective on how to code. It has been interesting, I have enjoyed it so far.

How did you hear about 42?

It was in one of my horse riding lessons at university, there was another girl there who passed the piscine and was going to join as a cadet after she graduated college. She said it may not mean a lot to me since I was getting a computer engineering degree. I decided to try it anyway because I knew as an undergraduate international student I wouldn’t have as many job prospects. I literally started the piscine the day after graduation.

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

I never told my friends and family when I was initially applying. 42 used to have admission tests online, and I decided if I succeeded with the tests I would tell them, and if I didn’t I wouldn’t bring it up. I passed the tests and told my mom and sister about the program and sent them a link to the website. I told them about the piscine being part of the admissions process and that 42 looked like a good opportunity to improve my skills and get a job later on. My chances of getting a job after UC Davis were low and I wasn’t confident in my coding skills. My mom was a lot happier after I explained it, at first she wasn’t enthusiastic because she wasn’t sure it would be helpful. I told my friends after I passed the piscine because I didn’t want them to get upset if I didn’t get in. I also waited to tell my dad on my graduation day from UC Davis.

What was the piscine like?

The first week was pretty depressing because I failed every day. Some things were simple and some were more about following the instructions. There were a lot of red zeros. On the weekend after we had our first big project, that is when I actually felt like I was making progress because from that point on I started passing more days. I spent a lot of time working on it and understanding the norm. It became easier as I read the instructions and learned exactly what I was meant to be doing. The first week of the piscine I wasn’t talking to a lot of people and that was why I was failing. The second week I was talking to more people, asking how they tackled problems, and the piscine experience got better. It is an enjoyable experience once you get past the first week. I was proud of myself for completing it. I had wanted to go home and felt done. But the friends I made in the piscine were really encouraging and I decided to stick through with it. No matter what happened I could count it as a good learning experience overall.

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

The week they were sending out emails, the first day other people got their emails, I checked my inbox but I still hadn’t heard. Up until the second to the last day they were sending emails, I saw the acceptance message. I went on the slack channel and someone posted, “if you are a cadet now react to this message.” I scrolled through slack and reacted to all the “I am a cadet” messages.

How does the cadet program differ from the piscine?

The cadet program is a lot more relaxed. In the piscine, there is a new exercise every day. So you spend a lot of time focusing on what you had been doing the previous day. Because I wasn’t having that continuous pressure in the cadet program, I feel like I slacked the first few months after I joined. I did myself a disservice, I picked myself up and passed my first exam. In general, I like the cadet experience now. There is not as much pressure as the piscine, the projects that you get to work on are more in-depth. They may seem like simple projects but the topics they focus on need to be done more thoroughly. While I haven’t leveled up super quickly there is a lot more that I understand in C programming that I didn’t understand when I was learning C at university.

How do you find help with your projects?

Always try Google first. There is GitHub, there are online tutorials, and there are easy and efficient websites where people may have posted an explanation. I ask a friend who may have worked on a similar project. Or someone who worked on it and passed it and get an idea of the project output and structure. I may ask someone for their input if they are not working on the same project because they may have a fresh perspective. It may be helpful when you are stuck on something and nothing you have tried has solved the problem.

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

Next week I will be going to Startup Grind, I am looking forward to it. The types of companies you meet at the typical college job fairs are established. So I feel like this is a good opportunity to meet startups and see how they work and learn about what ideas they have.

What do you like best about 42?

It really built up my work ethic. I always hated waking up early to go to anything. I am the kind of person who doesn’t want to spend more time on stuff then I should. The good thing about 42 is everyone is working on something different at different times. Even if I don’t want to come in early I can still put in the time later in the day. It helped me understand that if I were to be hired by a company I wouldn’t mind having weekend hours as well. It has built up my self-reliance. I realized I was being spoon-fed all of the information that I needed to know. Because here you don’t have that strict guidance I found I have to rely on myself. So I have grown more independent in my research and my ability to make decisions. Overall I found myself doing more growing during my time at 42 than my entire four years at university.

What is the most challenging aspect?

Becoming independent. It took me a while before I realized that no one is going to come up and tell me that I have to do this project. Or that I have to be working on my code right now. I spent the first two weeks as a cadet not focusing on my work. And that came to bite me in the behind since people I started the program with progressed further. The hardest thing since coming to 42 is learning to be more accountable for my actions and being more in charge from day to day. I have learned a lot about myself and how I think in the process. I have a better idea of my flaws and how to work on them.

What do you like to do in the Bay Area?

I like going for walks. It took me a while to discover this but the school is in a really nice area. If you walk towards Tesla and go right and walk down further there is a wilderness park. It is a nice place for walks, you get to meet people who are walking their dogs too. So if you are looking for some animal therapy you may get to see dogs and get to pet them.

What is your dream job?

If you asked me when I was a freshman at university I would have said a CEO of my own company. I wanted to work in AI, and try to discover how medicine and AI can interact with each other to better diagnose people. Now my dream is to work for a VR company. I want to develop the hardware and software for a virtual reality experience instead of what we already have on the market today. Danny of Bad Honey Bun Games has been an inspiration.

What is your favorite quote?

Something that I read just before I graduated from UC Davis that reminded me not to stress:

“If we were to compare life to a day, then the youth who is 20 years old has reached only 6 am. So it is time to greet another start to the day.” -Unknown

It made me realize that I have the rest of my life ahead of me. As long as I keep on trying then something good at some point will happen to me. Since I came to 42 I have been seeing results. These opportunities have opened a lot of doors for me. I feel like coming to 42 was one of the best decisions I have made in a long time.

Connect with Naomi on LinkedIn

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

Interview by: Stacey Faucett