Stephen Gardner

AGE: 28
INTERESTS: Coding, Minecraft

Where are you from?

I’m from Melbourne, Florida. It’s kind of a weird area because it’s the space coast. So lots of government contracting. Lots of high level military system security and espionage stuff. But then there are also a lot of people who shop at Walmart. These are people who can’t really get the good jobs. Then the weather is super hot. Humid. Lots of bugs. It’s definitely a mix.

What did you do before 42?

I did medical coding for a Chiropractic group practice. I took doctor’s notes and converted them into billable codes. It was basically data entry kind of job — a terrible job, highly unethical. People would get these bad injuries from car accidents, for example, and if the insurance companies wouldn’t pay my job was to use paperwork to try and scare patients into paying. Some of these people would be at the end of their lives, and my company would try to get them to use some some extra services. It wasn’t inherently unethical, but it made me uncomfortable.

Did you have any coding experience before 42?

A little. I wrote Java plugins for this Minecraft server that I administrated. Nothing crazy. One of my plugins was like the waypoint system in Diablo 3. Another one was an experience plugin. This one let you convert your experience points into currency. Then you could take that and store it in a bank or buy better items. It was kind of interesting because the characters got a little overpowered. People started off banking all their experience; then, later on, I saw a lot of characters walking around with God tier level equipment. Most of my users were teenagers, so I think they appreciated it. I don’t think it did much for the game balance though.

How did you hear about 42

I saw a link to an article on back when people used to read — that was when they first started the 42 campus in Paris. Three years later, my dad linked me another article on Ars Technica about the campus in Silicon Valley. I thought, “That’s so awesome. I’m going to apply and get rejected because I’ll be competing against a bunch of geniuses.” Then I took the online tests–passed. I don’t have any post-secondary education. No college. Working that crap job. So it was a huge deal for me.

What was the piscine like?

I felt at home. I enjoyed it. I saw all these people, they’re all stressed out, shedding tears about how grueling it is. But it didn’t bother me at all. I’m kind of old, so I was really focused on getting good fast. The hardest part was toward the end when I was working on BSQ. The staff members got together and tried to find a way to break my program. And they did. That bummed me out a little because it was basically a difference of interpretation of the PDF. That was a little hard because I felt like I wrote decent code.

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

I didn’t have enough money to start the cadet program right away. I had to go home and work and save up for a year. Sold my piece of crap car. It was this 2008 oldsmobile Alero. When I first got it, I tried to roll down a window, and the switch fell into the door. None of the other windows rolled down. No air conditioning. And I’m from Florida. The paint started off silver, but I always parked it next to some sprinklers, so one side of the car eventually turned this yellow color. It had this weird sledging problem too. I gave my neighbor $20 bucks to sell it for me. About an hour later, I think he got me like $400 for it.

You’re a Cadet now in the new Starfleet Academy accelerated learning program. What’s that like?

The idea is to work a lot really fast. You do a lot of projects simultaneously and have to get them done very quickly. You’re kind of forced to work together with other people. It’s hard. The first project we made an infinite number calculator in any base for all kinds of arithmetic operations. There’s a lot of parsing because the syntax has a lot of flexibility. You can’t use your normal data types like INT or INTMAX_T because the number size has to be infinite. So I settled on a link list of structs for every digit in a number, which I don’t really like. The way I did it, it was four times longer than it needed to be. I’d use a character string if I did it over again. It was a good learning experience though. I’m so used to thinking about numbers in base 10 or 16 or binary because they are common in computer science. With this project I had to learn about weird bases like 13 or 26. To really solve the problem, I had to develop functions that were base agnostic.

How do you find help with your projects?

I just ask my friends. There was this one time in the piscine where I was using this really inefficient way to print to the terminal one character at a time. After my friend Justin Evans pointed this out to me, I rewrote my output function to build a buffer and open a stream only once. This tiny change got me about a thousand percent increase in performance.

What is your dream job?

It’s kind of hard for me to give an answer to that. I’d really like to just get started on my own project and see if I can get it to take off while I’m at school.

A fabulous photo of Stephen by Priscilla Vongdara:

[Stephen and the editor shared a piscine in Oct 2016: the following is a conversation they had]

Editor: Stephen, dude, like, every time I see you code, you’re so calm and composed. I never see you get frustrated or yell at the computer. Don’t you ever get pissed?

Stephen: Of course I get frustrated.

Editor: Don’t you ever get the urge to curse really loud or throw the damn computer out the window?

Stephen: No.

Editor: Why not?

Stephen: Because that would be illogical. [emphasis added]

Interview by: Robin Schramm

Robin is a writer, former English teacher, and 42 student. You can read more about Robin on his profile.