Ziyan Feng

AGE: 27
INTERESTS: My main interest here at 42 is to learn as much programming as I can. Outside of coding I like talking to people, hanging out with friends, and traveling.

Tell us more about where you are from and what shaped you:

I was born and raised in Xi’an, China. It is a very ancient city and recently has become really modern. I was into science and for high school in China we need to choose a concentration. Some people choose humanities where they learn history, geography and political science. I chose the science path where you take biology, chemistry and physics.

After high school, I came to the U.S. for college. I went to UC Berkeley where I studied chemical biology. And the reason I studied that was pretty simple, I liked chemistry in high school and was good at it. At first, I wanted to do research. I wanted to do maybe bioengineering or material science. So in my last summer, I started to do research for two different labs. I was also working for the DNA sequencing facility. I took an extra year at Berkeley to work in the lab and do research.

The whole reason I did research is because I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. I eventually came to the conclusion that it wasn’t a good option for me. So I decided to get my master’s degree in chemical engineering at Columbia University and moved to New York. Towards the end of my degree program, I found myself interested in data science. So I took online classes for a year. I learned Python through a Machine Learning Engineer Nanodegree that I earned through Udacity.

What did you do before 42?

I got my first job in data science at a data consulting company. We had a really small team and basically would get projects from the clients and come up with data solutions. I like data science and during the process of me working for the client I felt like I could write code, but the production level wasn’t good. I wanted to become a better programmer. One thing I did for my client was proof of concept. So I applied some research level stuff to solve a real-world problem, but in between, I lacked software development skills.  I wanted to learn more about coding and programming, and computer science in general, so that is why I wanted to come to 42. I finished one project and was into the second when I quit my job to do my piscine in October 2017. After the piscine, I went back to China to spend time with my family. 

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

I had experience primarily with Python, it was the first language that I learned. I also had a little bit of experience in R, but it was mainly statistical analysis. R is more for academic purposes, for industry Python would be a more popular choice.

How did you hear about 42?

I heard about 42 from my mom. My mom lives in China and one day, in 2016, she shared a blog article about 42. I looked at it and saw there was an online test, I tried it and passed it and registered for a piscine. I got that job in data science, so I postponed it into the future, but 42 was always in my mind when I was working. So after a year I registered for another piscine and came here.

What did your friends and family think about your decision to attend 42?

Some of my friends were like, “Why are you going back to school again? You already have a job, you can switch to another job with your experience.” Some were supportive and said, “What a cool idea, I never heard of a school like this.” My mom wasn’t expecting me to go back to school, but she is always supportive no matter what I do.

What was the piscine like?

It was oh so stressful, but it was fun too. I know maybe some people will do research on 42 and get to know what the experience is like before they get here. I wanted to try this adventure and have it be a surprise. So I came here and I didn’t know what to expect of the experience. But it was fun, I was learning a lot. Towards the end, I made a lot of friends. It was kind of nice to go through this whole process with friends.

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

It was very surprising because the results came out so fast. Saturday morning I checked out of the dorms and Sunday night I found out that I got accepted. I was expecting it to take longer. It felt good, during the piscine there were a lot of rumors about what they were looking for and how you could pass.

How does the cadet program differ from the piscine?

I started as a cadet in February, and I started Starfleet in April. You have deadlines for every project but they are not a hard deadline. They want to give you an idea that once you pass this deadline you need to move on to other stuff. They have a timeframe for how long it should take, they allow you to open multiple projects at one time but most people focus on one project at a time. With Starfleet there is more of a cohort, you are working with other Starfleeters. With my wave, we had 7-9 people in our cohort, and we had to split into 2 teams. For people outside of Starfleet the project isn’t open to them yet so they don’t have permission to work on it. The pace of Starfleet is faster than the cadet program, but at the same time you don’t level up higher than others. What happened to me a lot is that I would start a project, be 60-70 percent through, and had to move on to the next thing. It is a way for you to get to know different topics faster.

How do you find help with your projects?

It is very easy to find help at 42, basically, you ask whoever has done it before. People are pretty nice here, you can get help from your peers and online.

What do you like best about 42?

The community, because I did some self-learning before when I made the transition from my previous background in chemistry to data science. Learning alone and learning from a community is very different. I think 42 gave me this environment where there is always someone you can go to, and speed up your process of learning.

What is the most challenging aspect?

It is also the community. For me, I haven’t been in a school environment for a long time. I found it challenging because the people you work with are people you hang out with, so you basically see them every day.

What do you like to do in the Bay Area?

In the Bay Area hiking and running. I am going to Yosemite soon. I have more friends here in the Bay Area than in New York, I felt like the people I met in New York all moved to California.

What is your dream job?

I am realistic, for my next step I want to be a software engineer in a big company. Here at 42, they are trying to teach the most fundamental things because a lot of the curriculum is in C. After level 5 you can start to branch out with your interests. I think that would appeal to a bigger company, they will always train you on the job, you just need to know the fundamentals and need strong learning skills.

What is your favorite quote?

One quote I really like is “一期一会 (Ichi-go ichi-e).”  It originates from the Japanese tea ceremony. The literal meaning is “once-in-a-lifetime encounter.” To me, it can mean “carpe diem,” so seize the moment to enjoy or do your best to grasp the opportunity. It can also mean things are always changing and every encounter is different, therefore treasure each of them with a fresh mind.  This encounter could be with anyone or anything or even yourself. This phrase keeps reminding me that every moment is new and I should get ready to embrace it wholeheartedly.

Connect with Ziyan on LinkedIn

Photos by 42’s in-house photographer, Priscilla Vongdara

Interview by: Stacey Faucett