Robin Schramm

AGE: 34
HOMETOWN: San Diego, California
INTERESTS: Snowboarding, skiing, surfing, writing, coding, movies, and sleep

What did you do before 42?

I started off joining the military after high school and working in military intelligence for a while. I did imagery analysis during operation Iraqi Freedom, then I went to college at UC Berkeley and majored in English. Then I went and taught English in South Korean low-income high schools for a couple years. Sometime after going to Korea, I also got my masters from UC Davis (in English).

Why did you choose to join 42?

So many reasons. In California, the job market for people who have only a master’s degree in English without credentials wasn’t good. You needed to have a PhD to really be able to get a job in the secondary school markets here. A master’s degree alone is basically useless. So, my choice was I could go to credentialing school for another two years to become a high school teacher—a process that costs tens of thousands of dollars—for an occupation with a pay ceiling of about $100k when you factor in benefits. Or I could come to 42 where there are no tuition fees and free dorms and no pay ceiling. Great programmers can write their own ticket.

How did you hear about 42?

I googled “how to become a computer programmer” and there were a bunch of coding academies that turned up in the results. I looked at another one for a little while, but I saw that for two or three years you have to pay 10 percent of your salary or something like that. That is a lot of money. Then a link came up for 42 and basically said “learn how to code for free.” And I was like “done!” I read more about it and did all the proper research to make sure I didn’t have to donate a kidney or my first-born child. But, emotionally, I was sold as soon as I saw the tuition.

Did you know how to code before coming here?

Not at all. The most coding experience I had was a tiny bit of html a long time ago when the internet first came out.

Did you enjoy the intensive basic training?

The first day was horrible. I was so scared. I didn’t even know how to navigate through the shell. And throughout the whole “piscine,” I felt like I was falling further and further behind. I just didn’t know anything and there was so much to know. I’ve been through the University of California and I have to say that, hands down, the 42 piscine was the most intense intellectual experience of my life. I was not the only person who felt this way. This sentiment was common, especially for people with no programming experience. But it was also super fun. I made friends with this small group of about eight guys. We sat next to each other every day. I was one of the slowest, so I sat sort on the end. I made sure never to ask for help from the same person too much, and always tried to do as much on my own before I asked for help. I think these guys could see how hard I was trying because they’d always drop by and point to something and offer help on something I was struggling with. From an emotional standpoint, I couldn’t have gotten through the basic training without their support. It was great.

What do you like about 42 academics?

If I could pick just three things: the decentralization of the curriculum, the staff, and the grading. Unlike traditional universities, which put teachers and administrators in charge of those tasks, 42 actually has students running things. After you register for the intensive basic training and you go on Slack for the first time to get information, you will be talking to actual students, not school admins. Students are responsible for all of the long-term dorm upkeep and the majority of the network and computer maintenance, and all of the grading.
The grading is the best part. During these peer-to-peer grading sessions, there is, in fact, an actual dialog that takes place between students about real ideas. Students talk, exchange, and learn from each other. Sometimes that process is intense: I’ve seen grown men get into arguments over the pettiest of syntactical issues. These guys are actually upset too. But everyone makes up in the end and I think the fact that people can get so passionate about a topic shows that they truly care about it in a deep and personal way.

What are the best parts of learning at 42?

The best part is when I’ve been working for four or five days and my forehead has bruises from banging my head against the monitor and keyboard. Invariably there’s always this moment that comes where you understand. The way forward is revealed—you can basically see all the code you need to write beforehand. That moment is the most satisfying, empowering moment—the epiphany. Everything is already finished and all that remains is a lot of extremely satisfying and very high WPM (word-per-minute) typing.

Who are your sources of support at 42?

The people in the Cantina help me a lot. My boss, Kat is a super star. She’s been extremely flexible with the schedule and making sure I get all my lab hours and get to participate in the C++ piscine. The RA community is a big help. I’ve had several misplaced keys, and they’ve always been super personable and responsive. Matt Gould is a big help. He’s a peer who took a separate curriculum branch. We had a lot of conversations where he would explain concepts from his branch and vice versa.
One thing about 42 is that you sort of develop a network of people who help you, and each of these persons has a different level of expertise and authority.

Describe 42 community.

I think the community here in 42 is unique. My old roommate, Max Burson, had a great way of describing everyone. “The people here have a lot of grit,” he said. I think that’s pretty accurate. Coding as a profession requires a lot of failure before you can succeed. It can be near soul crushing, but, if you stick it out, the transformation is palpable and rewarding.
What I would say about the 42 community is that it tends to be composed of people who are frustrated by the traditional educational model in the United States and abroad. When I think about all the members of my basic training support group, I don’t think any of them could have gotten through a traditional classroom lecture on pointers without falling asleep. These very same people, however, if you gave them a few beers and brought up the same topic, they can talk about pointers and memory allocation and proper syntactical norms—literally—for hours. I have witnessed this!

What activities are you involved in in 42?

I am part of the 42 ambassadors club and I work in the cantina. And I am part of the informal skateboarding club.

What is your dream job or your long-term career goals?

In general, I’d just like to work with a tight group of coders who get along well and operate as a team. When you get that going, the work becomes its own reward.

What is your most inspiring education quote?

“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.”

Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien