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“It’s all about perseverance and having fun,” Sebastien Benoit, CTO, 42

The 3rd and last Selection Pool of this year has started at 42 Yerevan, and the main part of the educational program will start soon. In September, just before the start of the Pools, we spoke with Sebastien Benoit, the Chief Technical Director of the 42 School Network. Sebastien, who was in Yerevan at the time, was actively involved in setting up the branch. He had a lot to say to the participants of 42’s program.

First of all, what do you do here in Armenia?

I came here with my team to help set up the 42 learning environment and install all of the necessary equipment that the students will be working with. The whole layout needs to have a really good flow; students will need to move around and communicate as they work on their projects and navigate their way through the 42 curriculum. Once they log in, they’ll be able to work from any computer they want. 

If I’m not mistaken, you’ve been with School 42 from the very beginning. What goals did you hope to achieve? Did you meet those expectations?

The early days were very challenging, as things were moving very quickly. Within 10 days of finishing our building, we had to install 800 computers in anticipation of a new student visit. Everything was new, from the curriculum to the way that students work together and learn through collaboration. 

But things worked out, the first year flew by quickly and before we knew it people from all over the world were arriving in Paris to ask us to open schools around the globe. Before 2017, we were opening a school every year. Then, we were opening 3-4 schools per year. In these two months, 7 new schools will open. By 2025, we hope to have fifty 42 branches around the world. 

What other cities have you visited to open new 42s? Which communities have been your priority?

We started off by focusing on cities close to Paris, going to Lyon and then Brussels shortly after. We then opened new centers in Khouribga, Morocco, Amsterdam and Russia. Afterwards we started branching out globally, from Sao Paulo and Seoul to, now, Yerevan (the 22nd city I’ve traveled to open a School 42.) In the next two weeks I’ll be heading to Rome, Abu Dhabi, Quebec and Wolfsburg, Germany. 

I see 42’s mission as a social elevator. For example, in Morocco, if you want to continue your studies after your bachelor’s degree, you need to know how to read and write in French, but prior to your bachelor’s, everything in Morocco is done in Arabic. At 42, not only is tuition free, language isn’t essential at all; we work in the language of code. Another point, in Morocco, education is expensive. At 42, young people have the opportunity to learn completely free without needing to know how to read and write in French. I think this is making a big difference. And in Rio de Janeiro, we’re planning to open a school in the favelas. With 11,000 young people in these neighborhoods, we’re hoping that 42 will transform their lives and give them a bright future. Of course, it’s fun to open a school in places like Silicon Valley, but personally, it makes me happier to open new schools in places of need, like Morocco or Brazil.

What can 42 give to Armenia’s future developers and to Armenia’s IT sector, more broadly?

I think we can help Armenia in terms of developing your own highly skilled workforce. I think it’s very important that a country can improve its educational and industrial sectors and rely on its own professionals instead of depending on others. Nowadays, computer science is the foundation for economies all over the world, so if you have the right professionals who love their work and know how to solve the problems, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

Can you offer any tips to the Selection Pool students, and also to anyone who is thinking about joining in the future, on what it takes to succeed at 42? 

Programming is about solving problems through hard work, creative thinking and collaboration. The thing about succeeding at 42 is that it’s not about having a bunch of experience or being really knowledgeable about programming. After all, 9 out of 10 42 students have never coded before, but they all have found jobs in tech after graduating. It’s all about perseverance and having fun.

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