Non-Traditional Pathways: How 42 Can Help You Pursue Almost Anything in Tech

Not Just For Future Software Engineers

Not everyone who studies programming wants to become a software engineer, and the tech industry, especially in Silicon Valley, has a lot of different and exciting roles. 42 is the perfect place to get those foundational tech skills and build out your own pathway from there. There are people who come to 42 who are certain that they want to become a software engineer, and there are other people who know they would excel in other roles, such as a product/project manager, UX or UI designer, mobile app developer and more.  We sat down with some members of the 42 community to learn more about their non-traditional pathways in tech. From someone who is just starting the program to cadets and a former 42 student who just began their career, we want to learn more about their individual journeys.

Switching Gears: On the Road to Project Management

Alan Roger Barrett is coming in as a new cadet this month. Before trying out a piscine at 42 he bicycled completely across the United States in order to challenge himself.  During that journey, which he recorded on a vlog, he came to the conclusion that he needs high-income skills while on the road.  Alan wants to learn project management so he can have the skills to create a successful startup. Alan came to the piscine with no programming knowledge, although he was always interested in computers.

Alan decided to attend 42 because he wants to make a positive change, “it is amazing how with code you can take your thoughts and manifest them into reality.” Although Alan is just starting out, he has some knowledge of what skills he may need to be a project manager, “I think you need to be able to communicate with a team, the way that we learn here is amazing, you learn how to solve problems because you get a chance to essentially teach yourself. The ability to learn new skills, use your creativity, work on problem-solving individually and with a team and build on your determination are the most important skills that you learn in the 42 program.”

When it comes to students who are interested in project management, Alan advises them to come and try the 42 piscine. He shared how at 42 there are people all across the board, people who want to be a software developer or test the waters and try other things as well. Overall, Alan finds the environment at 42 to be a great place for anyone who wants to learn new skills to make it in tech, “I like the community at 42, you are surrounded by similar people with similar interests. As long as you are motivated you can continue learning, there are no limits on you, there are no boundaries. This place is truly amazing, I went from doing physical stuff to testing myself mentally.”

Programming and Design: When Art Meets Tech 

Robyn Kostour is a student at 42 who has a background in musical theater. She is interested in the UX Design/iOS development side of programming. Growing up, she did a lot of art and she attended a performing arts high school. After high school, Robyn traveled for a year and then went to college where she majored in global affairs with the intention of following a pre-law track. She left college and thought about going into acting school, and decided not to go back to school until she figured things out. Robyn learned about 42 from her former high school math teacher who now works at an online security company in the Bay Area.  Although she dabbled a little bit with design, she didn’t have that much experience until she came to 42, “I am learning a lot with the projects that I am working on now such as terminology and what makes a design. I would say iOS development is my first choice, and secondly, I want to experiment with working remotely and also working for a big company.”

Robyn shared that it has been a learning process since she has been here. She went through the piscine two times, and she thought it was fun because she learned a lot. Experiencing a time where she felt like she plateaued during the cadet program, Robyn elaborated, “My brain isn’t built for backend, the really rigorous side of C. I like using my creativity more. I was talking to developers where my husband works, and they told me to learn Swift, so I started experimenting around with it, and for me, it clicked a lot more.” The skills that Robyn believes are most important when it comes to iOS development are remaining flexible with deadlines, working within a team setting, having confidence with your code, and creativity…and of course, you need to learn how to code!  When asked about how 42 has prepared Robyn for the workplace, she answered, “I would probably say the community, even though everyone is from different backgrounds you all start on the same page. The type of teamwork is one of my favorite things, everyone is very independent but is willing to help out.”

Robyn’s advice for other students is to try to hone in on what you want to do, Google it, do tutorials and see if you really want to do that. She said it is easy to say you are interested in something but once you get into it you aren’t, so it is important to explore what you want to do, “You may think you want to do iOS but you really want to do web development, but you need a separate set of skills for that. So explore what you want to do and talk to the bocal about it because they will support you in whatever you want to do. I was talking to Kim [who manages 42’s social media] randomly at a get-together and told her I was learning Swift on the side. She found me later in the day and just asked if I wanted to do a side project, and I have been working on them ever since. I am having fun doing the stuff I want to do. The point of 42 is doing what you are actually interested in, it wasn’t an option until now but they opened these doors for me.”

A Passion for Blockchain from an Early Age

Elliot Friedman is a 42 student who has been passionate about blockchain ever since he was in high school. He is now working part-time at a blockchain startup, The DEN. Elliot explained why blockchain tech education is so important, “The blockchain space is very very new, and because of this, there hasn’t been an opportunity for universities and traditional educational institutions to make proper courses. At our company what we do is we take in engineers, entrepreneurs and business leaders in their respective fields and educate them in blockchain so they can command a higher salary. So essentially our main offering right now is the Ethereum engineering master class, so what we do is bring people in who are already software developers and train them in Ethereum. Right now smart contract developers are demanding much higher salaries than regular engineers.”

Elliot has been in blockchain for the past 5 years and after learning more about The DEN discovered that what they are doing makes a lot of sense. He explained how if you are starting as an engineer, what sets you apart from the other guy is knowing a different programming language. If you teach people to have a much more valuable skill, they can make more money. Since Elliot has been involved with blockchain ever since he was 16, he says it has been exciting to see all of the developments within the past 5 years, and that the whole ecosystem, in general, has matured so much within a short period of time. When it comes to the skills needed to work in blockchain, Elliot shared, “I think critical thinking is the most important skill. If you want to learn a new framework, you need to understand why it makes sense as well as how this new framework works. Overall you have to be able to think properly because there are few guidelines for these new contracts. It is very important that you can think critically and that you can understand how to write code and understand the whole ecosystem for the code that you are writing.”

Elliot credits 42 for teaching him how to learn and how to build anything.  At 42 he worked on a monster project known as DES, or data encryption standard, where you need to recreate an encryption algorithm from scratch. Facing this challenge has shown Elliot that he can really solve any problem that he wants to solve, all it takes is putting in some elbow grease, struggling with the problem for a little bit, thinking critically, and you eventually can come to a solution. When it comes to giving advice to students who are interested in other pathways in tech, Elliott gave some suggestions, “Come to 42 and learn the basics of coding. After you get past those first few projects you can start to branch into your field of knowledge. Once you have that requisite of knowledge, 42 is a great group of people learning how to code, you will easily be able to go and do what you want to do. Traditional school is not needed because you can literally learn anything at 42 for free.” Elliott also sees value in talking to people in the industry, attending meetups, and being active on GitHub where you can show your work and prove your body of knowledge.

Journey from Data Analyst to Data Engineer

Nikita Danilov is a student at 42 who is interested in data engineering. He wrote a great piece on Medium about the piscine which you can check out here. Nikita worked as a data analyst for 5 years in Russian banks. He shared that it was pretty close to data engineering because you are spending time talking with different divisions and businesses and asking what type of information that may be needed to perform your duties well.

So what is the difference between data engineering and data science? Data analysts and scientists must have access to data that is accurate and preprocessed. Data engineers are responsible for delivering data from different sources, such as internal data warehouse, partners services company’s website, social networks etc. so they can create a data pipeline. Nikita was inspired to go into this field because he was always interested in massive data, and he understood that this field is not only about data or abstract things but you can see how information might impact real business, it’s revenue and people. For example, with marketing what happens after A/B testing and you change the color of the text on the website, in finance you may increase the interest rate and track how people react to that change. Nikita shared how it is always interesting to observe people’s behavior when you change an attribute in your data. According to Nikita, when it comes to the skills necessary to succeed as a data engineer you need to have a good set of computer programming skills to be able to use tools to process the data, you need good communication skills to successfully convey your ideas, you need mathematical and statistical knowledge to know what will happen when you are creating a pipeline so it can process a lot of information, and you need domain expertise.

Nikita credits 42 with helping him grow into a better version of himself, “To be a good data engineer you need to be a good software engineer. You are growing from one specialty to another, you can’t be good without that foundation. You need to know the concepts, algorithms and data structures. 42 is the best place where you can learn all the basics. It is the perfect first step to become the best version of yourself.” Knowing the rigors of 42 first hand, Nikita advises students to get enough sleep and to keep a balance between your studies and rest to maintain good health. He emphasizes how it is important to keep that balance, talk to people if you have some problems, and don’t try to solve things by yourself. You can spend hours and days on something but with a community, like at 42, problem-solving is much faster. Besides taking care of your mental and physical health, Nikita also advises student to know the tools that are out there that companies are using, and how it is important to research what a company is working on right now, “it is important to have domain experience, and to to get as much experience as possible. It isn’t just about having knowledge about the tools but knowing how to solve problems as well as the steps that you need to take to solve them. A helpful tip for that is to find a similar project to work on and try to do it for a week with the tools and the domain that the company uses. It will give you an advantage over other candidates, after all, practice is key.”

Integrating Tech Skills with People Skills 

Tomás Bisi is a 42 alumnus who is working as an integrations consultant at SmartRecruiters. Tomás explained that his position at SmartRecruiters involves 50% coding and 50% of a client faced role. He explained, “I wanted something like that, I am a social person and want to be more involved in product, not just the backend. There is a mix between software development and working with clients. It is all technical related topics, you are still coding but see the business side as well since you work closely with sales, implementation and product managers.” At the same time, Tomás explained he is getting experience as a Project Manager because each time that he works with a client he deals with the software development cycle, scoping, design and deploying to production. Tomás meets the client once the sale has been done and is responsible for walking the clients through the integrations process, making sure he hits the client’s success criteria. The technical aspect of his role includes identifying requirements between platforms, gathering system data, establishing data transfer protocols and building the integrations.

Tomás credits combining an outgoing personality with technical skills that make this job such a good fit for him. He shared that Product Manager is a role that is a big interest of his. It is not as technical when you are more involved with product development, which makes his current role a perfect mix of both. Besides needing the right tech skills, such as scripting language and how APIs work, you need to know about data structures, and how a database works. When it comes to people skills, Tomás shared, “You need to be good at communicating, you need to be patient. You don’t always work with super technical people so you need to be like a chameleon and make sure they understand you. Not everyone knows tech terms, you need to understand the concept of everything very well in order to express it clearly to others. You’ve got to always stay professional, no matter who you have in front of you, and understanding frustrations, when you need to push or not to, and when you need to ask for more. In order to understand how to communicate those things, you need to understand different personalities.”

Tomás explained how 42 prepared him for his professional life, mainly that it is important for his work to be sustainable and to write scalable code, it needs to work perfectly and not break. At the same time, Tomás appreciates how 42 is great at making you think about the best approaches to problem-solving and credits 42 for where he is now, “42 is not just a coding school, it prepares your mind. Whatever the project is, you need to be organized and prepared and you know you need to achieve this. Once your project is in good shape, the sky’s the limit.” Before working at SmartRecruiters, Tomás did other software development roles and enjoyed them. He encourages students that love coding to not let it go, even if you are not in a role that is super technical. Tomás thinks it is good to keep on developing on the side, “I think in 2018 it is important to have some sort of technical background. More and more positions, even business roles, will require technical experience. Having the background that 42 provides makes you think in a different way and it makes you think outside of the box.”

A Self-Paced Education to Prepare you for the Digital Revolution

The 42 program is self-paced and is designed to prepare you for a multitude of different roles that will emerge out of the digital revolution. Although there are some required paths your journey is individualized to your goals, learning style, and internships. All we ask is that you stay motivated throughout the process!  Rather than a series and language and specific technologies, we want you to learn how to adapt, handle setbacks, learn how to collaborate, and solve new challenges. Whatever you choose to do, follow your passion. When you combine what you love with a deep understanding of tech, the possibilities are endless. 

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published by Stacey Faucett – October 26, 2018