INTERESTS: I play tennis, code, swim a lot, and code more.
Tell us more about where you are from and what shaped you:
I’m originally from the suburbs of North County San Diego. Out of high school, I served in the US Army as a military intelligence analyst. Then I went back to school: I have a BA in English from UC Berkeley and an MA in the same from UC Davis. I also taught English for a couple years at low-income continuation high schools in South Korea.
What did you do before 42?
At the time, I had been working at a defense company as a technical writer. This is the kind of work where dreams go to die. It was like writing really complicated stereo instructions. Not a fan. But the experience helped me face a truth: my life was not what I wanted. I needed to make a major change.
Did you have any programming experience before 42?
No coding experience. When I was a little kid, I played with legos all the time. Also, I played a ton of video games.
What did you like best about your 42 experience?
First, I love that I tried a life path that was so untested. To this day I’m still in awe of the experience. When I joined 42, nobody had heard of it in the United States. I’d tell my friends about 42 being this free coding school, and they’d look at me like I joined a cult. Going through the school turned out to be really cool because it wasn’t a cult and I learned how to code really well.
Second, there was this one interaction with a 42 staff member I had that I still think about. This was toward the end of my time as a student at 42. I had been working on one of the hardest projects in the curriculum — 42 shell — mostly by myself for about three weeks straight at 60+ hours a week. I had bags under my eyes from all the lab time. I had lost weight from forgetting to eat. I probably smelled something awful. And I was super frustrated with this one part of the project that was giving me loads of problems. Then this staff member came over to my desk; he had been watching me code like this for a while, and I think he could see that I was not pleased with my progress. So I’m sitting there, and he says, “Robin, you need to code more.” I didn’t know what to say. Dumbfounded. I had been coding. A lot. All the time! Was this guy crazy? I was sorta pissed. But then a few more moments passed. I ran what he said through my head again. Then a few more times because I’m stubborn. “You’re right,” I said. “I do need to code more.”
How did 42 prepare you for the workplace?
Simple: 42 teaches you how to code. It teaches you how to code well — in the C language. There’s no garbage collection, no generic data structures, pointers are confusing, and 42 doesn’t let students use libraries. Students must build their own from scratch. The benefit of this low-level approach is that it forces you to understand everything that is happening underneath the hood. In the short term, it’s a major pain in the ass. In the long run, it’s awesome. Transitioning to other, high-level programming languages becomes a simple process. It takes weeks, not months.
The other thing that 42 does really well is it teaches you how to socialize in a technological context. The peer grading process at 42 does a great job at teaching students how to talk code, how to use simple, clear language to explain complex implementation details. This helped me with the technical interviews and, now, daily standup progress reports.
How did you get your foot in the door where you work?
I applied to the Microsoft LEAP program on the website. I didn’t know anyone at Microsoft, no previous experience with C#. When I applied, I had zero hope that anything would come of it. I literally spent 10-20 minutes applying, finished, and never gave it a second thought until I got an email from Microsoft a few weeks later.
Describe what you do:
I work on the Microsoft Office 365 build team. We are responsible for the infrastructure that tests and builds Office. We coordinate the code contributions of hundreds of developers.
What does your typical workday look like?
My job is nerd heaven. They stock the refrigerators with soda and drinks. One time the espresso machine broke. I think they had that thing working again before lunchtime. The coffee machines don’t break. My chair has like 4 levers for changing stuff and making everything just right. The desk has more buttons for doing similar things. It’s sort of a button and lever bonanza at my desk. The office attire is fairly casual: most of the people on my team are fans of the Marvel cinematic universe, so lots of superhero t-shirts. One coworker has pink hair. Another wears a quilt.
The main requirement is that we have a standup meeting at 10 am, and everyone must be present for this and have something meaningful to say about the status of their work.
I usually get into work at 8:30 am and code until the standup. Then I code more until lunch. After lunch, I usually do a lot of meetings and coordination with other developers.
What have other interns/co-workers at your work or in your program found difficult that you found easy?
Would you recommend the 42 program and if so, why?
I would absolutely recommend the 42 program — with a single caveat: if you’re willing to work hard. Don’t be casual about it, especially if you have no previous experience. Prepare your war face. Treat it like you’re about to climb Mount Everest. Bring all your equipment, prepare yourself mentally: no matter what, I won’t give up.
If you hesitate at those conditions, I am not sure the 42 program is for you. 42 has all the tools you need to learn to become a fantastic software developer. You just need to bring the drive and perseverance to see it through to the very end.
Do you have any advice for 42 students when it comes to securing an internship or job?
Prepare yourself: Getting a tech job is just as challenging as training to become a programmer.
I had a system. Every day before breakfast, I spent an hour sending out my resume. I did this for months. I used LinkedIn for the top tier companies, Indeed and Monster for mid-tier, and craigslist for the bottom tier. I also spent a couple of hours each week retooling my resume based on what I had learned from all the failure of the week. The failure was important too: it had a numbing effect. This was helpful because when I finally did get a few interviews, I was less nervous.
The key thing I had to learn in order to have a successful interview was how to balance the problem solving with the problem sharing. How much should I be thinking about the problem, how often should I be telling him about my thought? And that just comes with practice. 42 has the peer review grading process, so that helped a lot. I was used to talking about code with people. But then the interview itself had added pressure too. So it’s a trial and error process.
The hardest part about searching for a job is having faith. All that rejection is depressing. It makes you think it will never happen. It makes you feel like you’ve got leprosy or some contagious martian pathogen. Nobody wants to hire you. The key is to keep trying — keep moving forward. Keep studying, keep applying. Focus on what’s right in front of you. Never give up.
Connect with Robin on LinkedIn
Photos by 42’s in-house photographer, Priscilla Vongdara