Reflections from the Piscine
The Piscine, a 28-day coding challenge, is the only part of the admissions process at 42 Silicon Valley. It also is one of the best aspects of a student’s experience because it gives you a chance to get a strong foundation in C while learning to work alongside your peers. The journey is intense; coding 7 days a week, day and night, alongside hundreds of other people. Before they left, we asked some of the July 2019 pisciners about their experiences to learn what kept them afloat.
“I am from Brazil. Before the piscine, I was producing a documentary on women entrepreneurs that will be released by the end of this year. I traveled to 24 countries to interview these women and I launched a book called On Our Own Terms. Before that, I started my career as a lawyer, then I did business and started working for consulting. In 2013 I worked for Deloitte and left to come to the US. In 2016, I left the US to do the project about women entrepreneurs.
When I was traveling, I met a lot of women entrepreneurs in tech. I always had the idea of doing something in technology, and talking to these women made me want to try it. In Brazil, I met a 19-year-old who got into a computer science program at a college, and he told me about 42 in Fremont. I was curious because I lived in the Bay Area from 2013 to 2016, but hadn’t heard about it before. I researched it back home and decided to apply earlier this year.
My favorite aspect of the piscine has been the mindset shift. I am 44 so I come from a generation that had the professor and he told you what you had to learn. In the piscine, you have to find your own teachers, your own online tutorials and you have to be disciplined about learning. Before I came here I had no idea how to code. So when I started the piscine it was really hard for me. I had to Google everything, and it was very time-consuming.
The most challenging aspect has been to keep up the energy every single day. You cannot give up, you have to be resilient. There are a lot of ups and downs, I am happy because I literally feel I am improving. Even though I may feel miserable about failing you have to keep telling yourself that you are learning.
I would definitely recommend the piscine. Especially because when you are here you are forced to be immersed in what you are learning. It is a great environment, and you have people at different levels. There are people like me with no background in tech, and some come with a lot of knowledge in tech. So there is a lot of exchange of knowledge. I think sometimes people focus on the free part of 42, which is amazing. But that is not why it is amazing, it is more about self-learning. You don’t have someone telling you what to learn. 42 prepares you to learn everything and anything by yourself.”
“I am from Fremont, California. Before I joined the piscine I was actually an elementary school teacher and taught 3rd and 4th grade. Eventually, I want to become a computer science teacher and work with middle school kids.
I heard about 42 Silicon Valley because I had some friends from church who are currently part of the program. I decided to join the piscine because I wanted to try a different field from teaching. Also, I wanted to get my foot in the door with programming. Overall, I saw it as a chance to possibility dive into a new path or career change.
What I like best about the piscine is its diversity. I love being with all of these different people from all over the world and meeting people from countries such as China, Kazakhstan, and France. The friendships you can make here and the fact that you can learn a new skill are other favorite aspects.
This entire experience is brand new to me. I appreciate how it is all about learning at your own pace and that you have the flexibility to understand things before you move on. If I have a video or website I can review, I can teach myself pretty well. But I also learned here that having someone walk me through it is better. Having someone else look over things is great, especially when those who are helping you are more experienced in coding.
The most challenging part of the piscine is definitely the content. When it comes to assignments, half of the time I have no idea what I am doing. The other challenge is understanding how to write code. I can read it and understand it, but I am still trying to understand how to write it myself.
I would absolutely recommend the piscine. It is a great experience for people to learn how to learn. It exposes you to alternative methods of learning that you don’t see at a traditional school. I also think it is a great way to meet people from all over the world and build connections with others. Everyone has a story, and you can see where people are coming from and why they are here. If you are a coding noob like me, and just getting your feet wet, it is a great place to come learn the basics. The piscine is challenging but worth going through.”
“I am originally from Las Vegas, Nevada. Before the piscine I was studying at UNLV towards a bachelor’s degree in computer science. One of my friends has a brother who actually works in the bocal; he told her how he really enjoyed the school and that it was a great experience. I looked into the school and saw how practical it was and how you can work on your own projects. It sounded interesting and innovative to me, so I decided I wanted to try it for myself.
My favorite thing about the piscine is that you don’t have to be afraid of failing or experimenting. I don’t have pressure to know everything. It is a great environment to say I don’t know how to do this and figure out how I can. When I compare it to studying in a traditional school, there is a lot of pressure to get a good grade. But getting a good grade doesn’t mean the student understands the material or can apply it. Having a deeper understanding of how things work is important in my field.
The most challenging aspect for me specifically is that I am really bad with edge cases. I have had to learn how to be more meticulous. Also, I am very shy, so it has been hard to be part of a more social environment. I have to work up the courage to be part of that, and I am learning so much from talking to other people.
I would absolutely recommend the 42 piscine. Even if you aren’t interested in pursuing a career in computer science, the environment has something that a lot of people would find valuable. Especially for people who experienced the traditional U.S. educational system; 42 helps you fall in love with learning again. Here you are learning for the sake of learning, and not just for a grade. At 42 you learn about time management and how to interact with others in social groups. I really enjoy it and would recommend it to anyone.”
“I am from Wales, United Kingdom and I am in my second year as a computer science student at Swansea University. I first learned about 42 Paris a few years ago through social media. After that, I went on the website and looked around. I decided to apply for fun and got in. Eventually, I decided not to go to 42 Paris because I am not fluent in French. I later learned about the US campus, so decided to try the piscine here.
My favorite aspect of the piscine is the learning environment. Peer-to-peer learning is better suited to my personality. I am not a big fan of writing giant essays and stuff but I do love to code. At 42 they promote improvement through coding instead of improvement through theory. As far as coding goes, you improve much more rapidly here than in comparison to traditional schools, so I prefer it here. You generally learn more through teaching others than mindlessly memorizing information. The networking aspect is part of my reason for coming here as well.
The most challenging part of the piscine is probably trying to write tests. I don’t mind it, but it is difficult to write tests that are detailed enough to pass Moulinette. Sometimes the questions are more ambiguous than others. You have to either cover every edge case, or make assumptions, and if you make assumptions you fail.
I would definitely recommend the piscine to both people who coded before and people who haven’t. The piscine is a great opportunity to learn how to code and also learn how to learn. Coding is not the easiest to pick up on your own, because it is hard to know where to start. There are a lot of different languages and ways to learn. 42 gives you an opportunity to be in a structured environment where you can learn freely. There are plenty of people to ask questions because everyone is here to learn the same thing.”
“I am a freelance music producer and music artist. I am originally from Buffalo, New York. Two years ago, I moved to LA for music production. I first heard about 42 through my brother who lives in the Bay Area. One of his friends is a cadet. I always wanted to learn how to code; it was on my New Year’s resolutions list every year. I figured the best way to learn was to spend a month completely immersing myself in it.
My favorite aspect of the piscine is the community. Meeting people from all over the world and spending a lot of time together is not something you get to do often. Each one of my closest friends I have met here is from a different country, and that has been an incredible experience. Also the piscine requires you to be resourceful and to take initiative since the responsibility is on YOU to learn the material. I like the self-directedness mixed in with the community. You’re here to learn from your peers. My brother visited campus one day and he helped me make an electric scooter, and I have been flying around campus on it.
The most challenging part of the piscine is translating the concepts I’m learning into code. I didn’t have any experience with coding before this. It’s a new way of thinking. I’ve almost filled up an entire notebook with notes, and now I am practicing those concepts.
Since I didn’t have programming experience, it is easy to get intimidated and compare yourself to people who do. But it gets to a point where even people who do have prior experience also need to learn new things. My advice is to commit to learning how to learn what is unfamiliar to you in the beginning, and if you build that habit you will be able to sustain yourself. I have broken down a few times but decided to keep on going because it is worth it. Each time I felt like I had to rebuild myself and come back better.
I already have recommended the piscine to a few of my friends. It puts you outside of your comfort zone in many ways. It is really a crash course in all of C programming within a month. When traditional college courses may cover all of C in 15 weeks or so, we get a new concept every day and learn the entire C language in 2 weeks.
I think the piscine is good for teaching people how to learn, how to interact with others while collaboratively working together, and for opening yourself to meet all kinds of people. Remember, success and failure aren’t big drastic one time events, but they lie in the small daily decisions compounded over time. Sticking with it is what really matters. Even if you fail every day, you are still learning, and learning how to fail is a good thing.”
“I am from Russia. At one point I wanted to become a mathematician, but I decided that path wasn’t right for me. At university I was studying very basic, old-fashioned stuff, not what you do in the real world. Before the piscine, I was traveling around the world and I have been in the U.S. for the past year.
A friend of mine told me about 42. She knew I was staying in the U.S. and love programming, so she said you may be interested. I was already accepted to another school but they were going to force me to sign a contract to pay them a percentage of my wages after I finished. I heard that 42 is 100% tuition-free so I decided to come here.
My favorite thing about the piscine is the pressure. All of the guidelines on how to write code here seem like real-world scenarios. Huge companies are the same way, they give you a set of challenges and you have to solve them.
Also, the people I have met here have amazing backgrounds. I go to them to ask questions, or they go to me. It is like a small community and I think I can say I found new friends after just one month. After only two weeks of the piscine, it felt like I knew these friends for an entire year. That is probably because I spent all of my time with them.
When I began, the most challenging aspect was that I didn’t know people, and I didn’t know bash. I knew that I had to pass that day but I didn’t understand the rules. One time I did all of the exercises, but I misspelled one name of a folder and got a zero. Everyone else got a green that day and I got red. The worst part of the piscine is when you fail, but if you get over it and move forward you will become stronger.
I have already recommended the piscine to others. The friend who told me about 42 is an English teacher, and I told her she needs to come here and try it. In the beginning, you will hate it, but by the end of the piscine, you will love it. 42 Silicon Valley is like a video game. In video games, when you are in the red you are still alive. It is the same here, you may get a red one day, but you can go forward and see what happens in the end. Just don’t give up.”
Just Keep Swimming
We know, it’s easy to tell people to just keep swimming, but we want to remind you to not give up. It doesn’t matter if you are taking your first steps into programming or have taken CS classes and know how to code, we are here to support you. Even though the piscine is a grueling experience, it is also a great place to learn more about yourself and your passion for coding. We are proud of everyone who takes on the piscine challenge, and wish you all the best in your future endeavors!