By @SimonCocking

Marco Booth spent a year at NDRC and then a year at Trinity before taking off to 42 @42born2code, the new computer college in Paris which is attracting much attention for its highly off-beat teaching style and it’s tough work ethicHe is currently finishing his first year.

Why did you decide to do a computer course in Paris, in French?

I ask myself the same question because I would never have seen myself as doing computer science. What drew me there was the little I had read: “42” (the name is taken from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) is a very intense and very alternative learning atmosphere.  After a year in startups, I thought I really needed to learn how to code and decided a summer doing their entrance exam was the best way to learn. I had no intention of staying on in Paris originally but the whole challenge has caught my imagination and I am now determined to see it to the end.

How do they decide who is selected?

It is very open. There are a series of online assessments and, from those, 3000 students are invited to a one month trial each July, August or September. I went last year (the second year of the school) and got one of the 750 entrance places. It’s a bit like the French Foreign Legion in that they have no interest in your past! No cvs, no personal statements, no interviews. They push you to the absolute limit. I never learned so much as I did in that month with a different project each day. I have never felt so completely stretched. They wanted to see your rate of learning, your ability to work under pressure, your capacity to work with others. You work everyday for 28 days straight with weekly exams and weekend team projects. At the end, you sit an 8-hour exam to test your endurance as well as your progress. Fortunately, it is not that rough when you get in. I felt they were broad-minded to take in a non-national without any computer background who, at that point, only spoke very grizzly French.

How different is 42?

French businessman Xavier Niel @Xavier75 set out to open a college that would produce “60 computing geniuses” a year. He bought a building in the north of Paris, poached some of the top lecturers and thinkers from around the country and set them working out a teaching plan and a selection process. He wanted it to be open to all and the students do include all types including some who haven’t fitted in to conventional third level education (and it suits many that the top of the range computers are open 24 hours a day). But if it scores high on “egalite” and “liberte”, it is a bit shy in the “fraternite” department. You have to get used to the fact that there is almost no contact with staff and so you are driven to band together with others to survive. But within that group, you learn to be hugely supportive and it is amazing how a small group can draw on different strengths to deal with the most stunning array of problems. There is no formal teaching of any sort. Even correction is done by your peers. The school is incredibly practical with well thought out projects so that you not only learn the necessary concepts but become used to solving a huge array of problems.

How have you got on since the trial?

I have survived. I am not going to be one of the 60 geniuses but I am rubbing shoulders with some big minds. I have become more intrigued by coding than I would have thought possible and I am fascinated by their teaching methods. It is entirely up to each one of us what we learn, the speed we learn at. It takes getting some used to that you are entirely self-driven and self-motivated.

How much longer do you have there?

I probably have another 18 months left before I’ll be finished. It differs from more formal courses in that you are finished when the work is done. I’ve done my first six months and they’ve been pretty intense. I had never coded before which meant I had to work much harder to keep the pace of the group I was working with. I’m about to start a five month internship in Paris which I’m excited about. This will give me some time to improve the French and explore Paris, both of which require urgent attention.

Further on down the road?

Dublin would still be an attraction. Paddy Cosgrave and his team have really put us on the map and one part of me would like to get back to what is happening here. I will finish in about 18 months time and I do think that it will be easier to get back to start-ups with what I have learned. But it may well be tempting to stay in Paris. Xavier Niel has new plans. His next goal is to create the world’s biggest incubator, housing 1000 companies in the centre of Paris. There will certainly be opportunities for my skills there. I always thought that I would be bound for the US – it is interesting that I think Dublin or Paris will have so much to offer.

If people want to know more?

For the price of a good meal and good company, I am happy to chat about anything! @MarcoBooth

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