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Apr 05 2024

When things went wrong

Since I mentioned two episodes that marked my pre-tech-transition life in my introductory post, I thought it would have been appropriate to dig more into them. And so we shall.

The meaning of life

42 presented itself as a new ground-breaking coding learning experience. As every school and bootcamp and anything in between does.

The point is 42 truly seemed different from others. At least on paper.

Their focus is on peer-to-peer learning. There are no teachers and no classes. Only projects you have to solve in order to advance in your curriculum. Some projects might require you to work in teams, although most of them can be solved individually. Despite that, you’re naturally inclined to collaborate since no one is leading the charge. You and your peers have to share brains if you don’t want to be stuck on that same “Intro to bash” for a month.

Another cool thing for me (which might be a limitation for others) was the in-person-first approach. Yes, you could login to your account from home. However, 42 gave you two entire floors in Central London full of top-notch machines and all sorts of amenities to chill and relax during breaks. I’ve never worked with computers so big and powerful before and that, paired with the possibility of interacting with your peers in person, and added to the opportunity to attend live talks and Q&As, was reason enough to be there as much as possible.

Bare in mind that, although there were no teachers, you could always reach out to supervisors/members of staff in case you needed to. You are free when it comes to learn and work, but support wasn’t neglected.

It sounds like you kind of liked it”, you might think. And I would say that, yes, especially the peer-to-peer approach was very fascinating to me. Given the sheer amount of knowledge and tools and the fast pace at which they both change and evolve, peer-to-peer is a widely used approach in tech when in comes to learning anyway. Even what I experienced with School of Code were numerous sessions of pair-programming in between talks and lessons.

However, that peer-2-peer experience was ruined by the unnecessarily highly competitive culture that 42 had embedded in itself. Being an international project started in France years ago, it comes with no surprise that the company brand grew and spread thanks to an ideology perpetrated by staff, alumni and students. Ideologies aren’t inherently bad. Believing in free and open source software forever is beautiful for example (although people tend to interpret this in very interesting ways). However, when your ideals have roots in the tech bro/brogrammer culture, we all know what the consequences are.

I won’t discuss those aspects I luckily missed having left quite early in my journey, but there is more than what I will write here if you want to delight yourself by looking online.

Anyhow, during the Piscine, which is a month of intensive coding used as a way to filter who is worth of joining the school, it is recommended to be in the office and work on projects every day. It is also recommended to go to home and sleep at night. However, in case you don’t want to (or you can’t), you’re more than welcome to bring a sleeping bag and stay in the building overnight. On top of that, although no forms of scholarship and funding are provided, advice from the staff is to avoid having a job because that would mean taking away hours from precious coding. It comes with no surprise that, once you combine competitiveness with what said above, you quickly started having people (mostly wannabe tech bros) spending whole days without leaving the building (or their desks for that matter).

It is important to notice that 42 is free. However, we all know what’s the reality of London, the UK and today’s society at large. The Piscine, the “entry test”, was meant to last one month while the school curriculum lasts for about 2 years and a half. It is ridiculous to even think someone can go that long without working, without any income. And we know what kind of people are the only ones who can (clue: they rhyme with night pitch pen).

When it came to the peer-2-peer experience, there was a clear lack of effort into wanting it to be a reality. The curriculum, the projects, were just a long sequence of katas, of coding puzzles. Imagine being given a list of exercises on a language called C when the most you know about programming is the keyboard shortcut to open the terminal. I believe an introduction to the curriculum would have been beneficial before doing anything else. What is the shell? What is C? Why are we learning C? What can we do with C? Instead, you’re left by yourself, researching pieces of code for a language you don’t know on Stack Overflow to then try and glue them together to solve a puzzle that lacks any practical and meaningful sense.

So, here there are two floors full of people frantically tapping at their keyboards in order to solve coding riddles while they have no idea that, for example, the same very language they’re randomly typing code for, is at the foundation of the operative system powering their machine.

I fell in love with coding because of the planning and the ideation behind and before every single line, every single script. I fell in love with the problem solving part of it, the part that deals with real-world issues. The 42 method was taking away my agency, making me live in everybody’s favourite blessed ignorance.

It took me two weeks of stress and sleep deprivation to understand that 42’s toxic culture wasn’t for me. In the aftermath, I should have been able to predict that from a school who chose Elon Musk’s favourite “philosophical” book as inspiration for their name.

Trans day of questionability

Networking is one of the key words every bootcamp teaches you. Going to events, joining meetups, talking to people, sharing contacts. It comes without saying that the majority of tech events have a very specific demographic due to the obvious correlation between attendees and industry workers. So, it was with great joy and surprise that I found out about Out in Tech, a non-profit org which aims to unite the LGBTQ+ tech community around the world. Like almost any other queer tech org, they are based in the States. Thus, I was even more joyful when I found out they had a chapter in London. And that their next event (at the time of my discovery) was going to focus on trans people in tech. The three speakers where three trans people, all of them founders and CEOs of their own successful startup companies.

I felt lucky. For a moment.

I channelled my gayest nerd self for the night and headed to the event. Alone, of course, since queer London rep didn’t seem to be high in my Cohort. Oh, yes, this was one of my first tech events ever attended while I was still enrolled in the bootcamp.

The beginning was a bit awkward. I rushed there thinking I was going to be late. Hence, I obviously ended up being early. I grabbed a slice of the only cold vegan pizza available and hid in a corner to check my social media apps. Until someone found and invited me to join their group for a chat. Cute! Sadly, the group split soon after, and I was left alone again. Then, I saw her, one of the speakers, and finally another trans person in the room. I approached and we chat and I even got to meet more trans people. Nice! We were a gang of few now and headed to the room where the talk was about to start.

Nothing inherently bad so far. If anything, being in a queer space, I felt slightly safer.
Silly me.

The facilitator welcomed the attendees and let the speakers introduce themselves. Then, he said he had three pages worth of questions, but he was happy to let the public asks their own since the beginning if anyone felt brave enough. So someone did. And the question was: What are your thoughts on trans women participating in women’s sports?

From there, the rest of the Q&A became a “bunch of cis people asking the most inappropriate and transphobic questions to three trans people they never met before, but still felt entitle to exploit”.

At no point the facilitator stepped in to handle the situation. Even just to remind the people that the event was, in fact, about trans people IN TECH. And that, as we all know, the trans experience, like any other identity, is not a monolithic one. On top of that, the very nature of most of the questions was problematic at the very least. I won’t be discussing the speakers “performances” because, although they handled it well, you could see, especially at the beginning, how the turn the event took really disoriented them. Lack of care for trans folks is common in our society, but it is devastating, emotionally and mentally, when a total disregard of a specific category of people happens in spaces that are meant to be “safe”.

Luckily, the last question was from a black folk to one of the two black speakers regarding their experience in navigating the tech industry as both trans and black. And so we ended on a “different” note. They had a nice chat. And the answer was very insightful and interesting.

Before leaving, I wanted to catch up with Z, one of the speakers, about what just happened. They were the most open and direct when it came to answers and they didn’t let the transphobic onslaught silence them. We felt sorry for each other and they said they were going to raise hell with the org. We had a couple of chats since then and they were apologetic toward me for what happened at the event even though they were one of the victims too. Just the usual trans people being silly. I wish them the best.

I haven’t been to an Out In Tech even since then. And my volunteer application got rejected. Might that be because I mentioned what I wrote above as a reason to get more trans volunteers? It’s never easy to hear the truth about yourself.

A thread

I didn’t think this post was going to be this long. Originally, I was worried I had to come up with a third anecdote to reach a decent length. It’s clear now I had loads to let out.

This could be one of those cases where I learn a lesson. Like, never trust the hype, or never trust rich people. But, in total fairness, it is just tiring.

As it is also clear that there is a thread unifying these two bad experiences, as well as all the others we hear about from the many underrecognized communities in tech.

And if you can’t see that thread, man, you have some work to do.