Kwame Yamgnane: “Everything has a Ending”
The 42 community is a little sad today. That’s because our larger than life Co-Founder and Managing Director, Kwame Yamgnane, told us that it was time for him to move on with the next chapter of his life. He announced on Twitter, “I can’t really tell you how proud I am of that incredible job we have done with incredible teammate over the last 6 years. Everything has a ending.” With his uproarious laughter that you could hear all the way from the bocal to the computer lab, to his compassion towards others, his vision for the future of education, and his outstanding BBQ skills, it is an understatement to say that he will be missed.
Originally from Brest (In Finistère, Brittany), France, Kwame’s interest in coding started at a young age, around 10 or 11, “My mom was working as a math teacher and the state provided a home computer. One of the first programs I worked on was connecting the heating system in our home to the outside with a thermistor, but it didn’t really work. I also accidentally destroyed my mom’s washing machine, because I destroyed the firmware when I tried to connect to it. I didn’t tell her what happened until decades later, but we were able to laugh about it. I wasn’t really good at school, I think I had undiagnosed dyslexia, so I always tried to do things myself and experienced a lot of failure. I went to the equivalent of community college/vocational school and earned a degree in computer science. Afterwards, I attended EPITA, the “Graduate School of Computer Science and Advanced Technologies” which is in a suburb of Paris. I met Nicolas Sadirac in 1998 and we started the school Epitech in 2012 with Florian Bucher.” A man of many interests, Kwame was in the French navy, was on a handball team, and played rugby. He practices kendo, which is a modern Japanese martial art that is based on swordsmanship, and he is second rank which is known as “dan.” Another interest of Kwame’s is cosmology, the science of the cosmos.
We sat down with Kwame to get some more insight from him before he leaves, although we know this is more of a “see you later” than a “goodbye” because he will always be part of the 42 community.
Is there anyone who inspired you to take this path?
I think there are a couple of guys who inspired me, one of the most important was Alejandro Jordowsky, a filmmaker and artist. He really inspired me to do something where you can bring people out of their destiny and give back freedom and liberty to people. I learned from Jordowsky how to experience myself. I come from Brittany, the western part of France, that part of France is known as the “End of the World.” When you are born at the end of the world, it is like a dead end. By reading Jordowsky, I understood the meaning of finding your own freedom and getting out of your own path, which is quite funny because it was really important to me. It is hard to understand the impact of Jordowsky on me and the impact of me on students. My hope is that all the students who go through the 42 program will understand you can do things by yourself, you can choose where you want to go and choose your own path.
What is your favorite story about a student?
The story that I love the most here is about a student who is a mother of three and she came to the school and is now working at Apple. This is for me, very typical of the efficiency of our model, this type of story reminds me how the educational system is broken here in the U.S. because basically, the traditional system told her to be a mom and stay at home. At 42 we think there is a way to bring more and find genius in populations that are marginalized in a traditional system. That is exactly what we did at 42, the school showed that it was working less than a year and a half after we opened the school. The fact that we are open 24 hours, 7 days a week made it possible for her to make choices for the best hours that worked for her and her family, being able to take care of children and make arrangements with her spouse. You are not in a straight system where you must fit. This flexibility makes it possible for students to be able to do something on the side, it is efficient by doing that they can do these types of things.
I also love the story of the student who created a VR game with no prior knowledge of programming. It is another example that shows how we are able to pass by the traditional educational system. The system told him you are from Stockton and there won’t be a lot of job opportunities for you. 42 gave him the knowledge needed to work on VR games and create one in just a year and a half. This story shows that if you give someone an opportunity you can find real genius that can bring a lot to the tech industry and the world.
What will you miss most about 42?
I think the people and the students. I love the team it is really really efficient and has a good understanding of what should be done. I am going to miss the students. You know how it is fun to see students when they come on the first day, not knowing anything about coding and doing the first exercise that looks like crap, doing errors on segfaults all day long and don’t have a piece of programming that is working. You find them again 10 months later and they had an interview at Google and got a job there. It is good to see the power of the human brain working, you see the students rising and it is nice to see.
What impact are you hoping 42 will have in the future?
I think 42 is going to be kind of a movement, I think it will take a lot of time but people will start to realize the importance of education. Not the superficial understanding, but a really deep understanding where people will see in a personal and deep way how we can change a lot of things through education, My hope is for people to take that for themselves and remember the kind of legacy of what we have done. It is possible to change things, we change every year the destiny of thousands and thousands of people all over the world, and it is magnificent.
Do you have any imparting words for the 42 community?
“ Au nom de la lumiere noire… je me retire !” which roughly translates to “In the name of the dark light…I retire.”