Ecole 42’s coder training program started in Paris in March of 2013. For this posting, we interviewed one of the members of the first class (or “promotion” en français), who is now in his last stage of his 42 experience—the final internship. Taking the time to answer our questions, he allowed us to gauge the reactions of this (almost) alumni. Balthazar Gronon, age 23, the first victim of this harsh inquisition, is also one of the few students to have visited our Silicon Valley campus after having completed the program in Paris and after having obtained an internship at a company in the US. Before entering 42, he had dabbled in a few small web projects as well as having studied Computer Science for two years. This latter experience had left him somewhat unsatisfied due to its lack of intensity in his estimation. Nevertheless, this certainly gave him a head start compared to most of his peers at 42, as some had little to no previous coding experience. Having survived to tell the tale (and at the tail end) of his 42 training, he provided our readers and current program participants some profound pearls of wisdom, which we will share at the end of this posting.
We pondered whether he had had a few positive experiences at 42 that may have prepared him for entering the workforce. He told us that the piscine was definitely the most interesting part of the experience because most of the people were at the same level of knowledge—which is to say, absolutely not knowing what to do and relying on any information one could get to finish an exercise. Nevertheless, he was inspired by how one can accomplish all that while also managing to guide one’s peers who, at times, may be having greater difficulties. Working as a group during his internship experience, he began to appreciate how the close collaborative networks he encountered during the piscine and afterward at 42 had conditioned him to be open and ready for tackling anything he might encounter. He described how it was convenient and practical having people upon whom one could rely when feeling stuck, which is an essential element to progressing in this field. He informed us that his first year at 42 was kind of like that too, since almost everyone was working on the same projects, but the pedagogy staff changed it to allow for more flexibility. The change was something that he may have initially favored, though noting that it began to seem as though it had the unfortunate drawback of separating people, and thus creating some group disunity in cases where the corrections didn’t help certain students who had not yet started working on those projects. He felt a bit less engaged in the assignments transpiring near the middle and the end of the program, but with a friend, he placed more of his focus on several open-source projects.
When asked about the style of work he developed at 42, Balthazar noted that it was primarily thanks to his extensive group work and getting to know his peers in those early days that had made him feel such a strong affinity for collaborative projects and a greater sense of team cohesion. Knowing that one is not alone is an essential element in this domain. In very few cases, whether during his training at 42 or during his time at Uber, has Balthazar encountered people working in an isolated manner or completely alone.
As for beginning his professional integration and his initial job search efforts, he stated that although it was relatively easy to find a position in Paris, which he had already experienced, he remained committed to the idea of looking for work at an American company. He continued to send out inquiries and resumés, yet visa concerns can make companies a bit reluctant to hire foreign candidates given how it requires some investment that most of them can’t afford to make. Eventually by being persistent and having some luck, he was able to find his current position, where he happily continues to build his repertoire of skills as well as his professional network.
As promised, Balthazar had some choice bits of advice particularly for our current program participants at 42 in Paris and/or in Fremont; he offered: “Find people you get along with and work together. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know something instead of bullshitting, as some might notice. One should always go forward at one’s own pace as it’s better to fail in school than on the job.”