INTERESTS: Computers, math, physics, music, and art. I like outdoor activities such as hiking, camping and going outside and doing things. I do 3D modeling and use music synthesizer software.
Where are you from?:
I was born in Los Angeles, CA but was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. I graduated high school in 2005, and Hurricane Katrina happened that same year. After Katrina, New Orleans was a ghost town for 4 or 5 years. It is bustling again but there is a gentrification thing going on. Growing up in that culture and environment you become a part of that, seeing it change is really disheartening sometimes.
Tell us more about what shaped you:
I attended Southeastern Louisiana University where I majored in computer science. During my first year, I didn’t do too well. So I ended up working to save up money to go back to school. I found a job with good hours and good pay. But the work was sporadic and unstable so I didn’t continue with that like I wanted to. Throughout that time I was trying to find a way to get back to school. My family is pretty distant so I had no family support. The only person in my family I am close to is my brother.
During that time I moved from New Orleans to Hammond, then back to New Orleans then to Baton Rouge. I lived in the FEMA trailer parks, it was a 5-year program during that time, and many families needed it. At the time, I was working regular jobs, barely making any money. I was trying to save enough to go back to university. I was looking at my life and was like, “I am not getting anywhere,” That was one of the bigger turning points.
In 2009 I thought I needed to do something so I decided to join the military. I tried to get in the Air Force, but the Navy tried to recruit me for the nuclear engineering program. The Army offered bonuses and money, so I was like, “yeah let me sign up with you guys.” I joined the Army Reserves so I could go to school. I am still in the military, I have been in it for 10 years now. When I joined the military I started to have some stability for the first time in my life. I was able to save money and started taking classes at Baton Rouge Community College.
What did you do before 42?
About a year ago I was deployed overseas with the Army. A year before that I was at community college studying for a pre-engineering degree in computer science and electrical engineering. I eventually had the opportunity to be a part of a NASA project. Students from several universities formed teams which were responsible for one payload each. Our school comprised two teams to build twin payloads to record atmospheric data in a near-space environment. I spent two semesters learning electronics and the science behind it.
The first semester we focused on the scientific aspects of the project, such as electronics soldering and sensor calibration. The second semester we were able to apply our knowledge directly. We assumed full responsibility for our payload and the instructor took a step back to let us learn by doing. Everything from project management to material design, to electronic and software implementation. I learned about the hardware components.
It was more hands-on and was basically pretty textbook in terms of requirements and specifications. Every aspect of our craft had to be detailed with precise measurements and accurate documentation. It was about implementing what we learned and creating a physical product based on scientific calculations, the same way NASA scientists do.
We ended up sending the payload into the upper atmosphere, 100,000 feet, that is pretty much in space. My brother created the graphics and logo for that. The payload itself consisted of sensors that picked up data and I had to take that data and put it into the onboard processing chip. I had to create a format to store the relevant data from the sensors as floating points. They were attuned to a specific frequency, whatever the value given by the sensor, we had to reinterpret those details as a real-world value.
Did you have any programming experience before 42?
As for prior experience, I made a sort of program once using only Windows batch files and a program called rtmpdump.exe to automatically (haphazardly so) detect online streams from a list of accounts and download them. I managed file handling, file versioning, and created redundancy in case of the connection failing. I left this system running on my home computer while deployed for over a year and managed to record 1.8 terabytes of games and art streams from Twitch and a few other sites.
Afterward, I took on the responsibility of Lead Software Developer during my participation in the NASA project. I was responsible for configuring the onboard software to articulate electronics sensor input as a voltage, enumerate that voltage as a scalar number based on thresholds given to me by the Electronics Team, and store data from three sensors in a compact text format, separated by a comma on each update. In addition, I took on the responsibility of editing and formatting our scientific documentation, storage, and project versioning.
I also used to create games in Game Maker as a kid and I became familiar with scripting in Flash and Maxscript.
In comparison, what I learned then was very little in comparison to what I am doing at 42. However I still see the usefulness of that experience, and the memory is much more vivid in detail now than ever before.
How did you hear about 42?
I was using an online chatroom because I was curious about making a plugin and asked people if they knew how to do it. Someone in the chatroom was from France and he was really nice and explained the coding aspect to me. We ended up talking and he told me that he knew how to do all this stuff because he was at a school called 42. He showed me his intra profile and it looked like a videogame, so my impression was like, “what is this? This is so cool!”
He told me how the school works and I was pretty much sold and decided I wanted to do this. He told me about the piscine, I took the admissions logic tests (which were required at the time) and passed them. I learned about 42 in 2016, but couldn’t go because I was deployed. The first thing I did when I came back was to go to the piscine.
What did your friends and family think about your decision to attend 42?
It was basically, just go for it man, you’ve got this. That is the typical response from most people. For me, the exciting part is that I am able to do something that makes me a better person overall. Not having strong family ties helps me bond with people a little more. I am very open and want to know more about other people.
What was the piscine like?
My first piscine was in 2017, and I flopped a lot, failed a lot of projects. I made the same stupid errors, I thought I was ready for it but didn’t know what I was doing and I felt overwhelmed. But I made a lot of friends here. I ended up not scoring high enough to get into the program. At first, I was discouraged and thought, “I must not be smart enough.” I came home and got into the flow of things and decided to study up. During that one month in the piscine, I was able to learn more than years of studying stuff on my own.
I took a year off because of military duty, and not being local to the area. So I was not able to come back until 2018 for my second piscine. I felt like I was in a better position the second time, I felt like I had a huge boost in knowledge. It was just one success after another and it was due to just studying and figuring out how things work. I like to teach people and also like to learn so I loved my time in both piscines. My first piscine I spent a lot of time but didn’t make progress, the second time I actually had a foundation.
What was it like when you received your post-piscine decision email?
The first time I got the email I was sad about it and felt like they sent the wrong guy home. I was still trying to figure it all out and I felt pretty confident the second time. The system reflected my progress and I knew I put a lot of work into it. I am more humble, confidence is a good thing, but I always have a little doubt.
How does the cadet program differ from the piscine?
I would say night and day. The piscine is like a forest. Once you reach the edge of that forest you have to climb a mountain, and the mountain is the cadet program. In the piscine, there is the uncertainty principle because you are preparing yourself to do everything you can to get into the school. There is a constant threshold of a fear of failure. Although that is what the piscine is teaching you, that you learn from your mistakes.
As a cadet, you still have that principle but now it is extended to how well can I assess the situation. I think it is more of how well can I apply my knowledge. It is more of a field application. You make one achievement and there is more to achieve, more to look forward to. I managed to do an entire algorithm in 4 hours even though the validation took 2 days. It all clicked eventually because I took time to think about it. I didn’t feel too intimidated, I didn’t feel scared. Now, I am more ready to tackle things. As a cadet there isn’t the fear.
How do you find help with your projects?
For me, it is interesting because I spend a lot of time thinking, I find myself thinking 80 percent of the time and coding 20 percent of the time. If the algorithm is comprehensive the coding comes more easily. If I am having difficulties, I ask peers for help. Generally, I try to figure out the solution on my own, and so I do a lot of research using search engines.
Sometimes I will listen to music and just code or I’ll dive right into a textbook. I talk to a few of my peers and we share ideas and bounce them back and forth, which is surprisingly effective. I enjoy talking to other people and seeing what their ideas are, seeing their logic, and how they understand it so I can better understand it myself.
No matter the level, I love exchanging information. Now I won’t give anyone the answer if they ask, because I want them to think deeply about what they are doing. I have noticed a lot of things we do here involve just as much logic as it does creativity, and to succeed you need to think of creative solutions.
We aren’t given any solutions to our projects and so we must come up with new ways of thinking to solve them. I find the creative process absolutely essential to learning. You can brute force your way, use math, and complex algorithms, or you can use some combination of both and that is part of the learning process.
What do you like best about 42?
I like how there is no sense of hierarchy, we are all in the same playing field, we all speak the same language, we are all studying the same thing. It is easy to access information from other people, there is always someone more knowledgeable, everyone is an asset in their own way. While I am good at logic and figuring things out, I learn from other people in the 42 community about techniques and style. For example, I am not that familiar with the tech industry or the business standard of what code is. I also like the community aspect, we are all trying to achieve all the same things.
What is the most challenging aspect?
I would say that it comes down to learning about yourself, how willing I am to use introspection to see where I am and to see if I am making progress. It is called metacognition, where I am thinking about how I am thinking. It is good to know more about that. I just made some more progress, so there is a current version of me and a previous version of me as a cadet. Before I was distraught, trying to figure out what I want to do. Now it is about time management, finding reasons to stay motivated and involved. One thing that helped me out recently is volunteer work and giving back to the community.
What is your dream job?
I don’t subscribe to ideals, favorites, or far fetched dreams. I have a few business ideas that I might want to implement in the future.
Is there anyone who inspires you?
I think it mostly comes down to visionaries. Those able to see beyond the limitations presented to them, and dare to reach beyond and challenge our assumptions. To be able to think dynamically, in such a way, does indeed inspire me in part.
These are people like Elon Musk, Nikola Tesla, Isaac Newton, Richard Feynman. My childhood heroes were always people who seemed to know how to get things done. And as of now, I’ve become interested in understanding what this means.
Connect with Victor on LinkedIn
Photos by 42’s in-house photographer, Priscilla Vongdara