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This French tech school has no teachers, no books, no tuition (venturebeat.com)
236 points by joubert on Apr 19, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 118 comments



I'm a student at Epitech, 42 it's a fork of Epitech. They have almost the same program. I love the school methodology it teaches you that grades are not important and that learning is your responsability. I think the conventional system teaches students to be insecure persons that are always looking for validation from authority figures.

In this type of system you learn how to search knowledge it changes the pasive role of the student into an active role. Also you learn that healping others and teaching them is good for everyone and never a waste of time. I think the school works really well and one would need to measure the succes of their students in the happiness and sense of acomplishment they have.

The school is not a factory producing identical products. It's a human journey of knowledge seeking and personal developement and everyone developes diferently. At times it's very intensive and people that are not really passionate and motivated drop out.

As an example of what we do this year the first project we worked on was to recode the malloc function in c. To do this we have some videos explaining the basics as well as some introductory excercises. After some research i found that the projects at harvard cs61 are very similar to what we will be doing in the unix module so i used the book they recomend there Computer Systems: A Programmer's Perspective. I read the relevant section and afterwards i coded a lovely implemenation of malloc. I finished in time the project. Some times it is more dificult, for example for the assambler module i found that it is more dificult to find good explanations online. But this time another student explained some key things and afterwards i was coding in intel assembly.

The most dificult information to come by is with respect to parsing and compiler theory or coding in Ocaml. Sometimes i think that if i had a teacher which was an expert in the field this sort of thing would be easy. But the truth is that learning is a personal journey and no one will solve it for us. Education needs to evolve to generate mature people that study and learn because they find that doing so fulfils them and not because they are searching for validation or an external reward waiting for someone to clasify and rank them. Clasification and ranks are subjective and are only means and not ends.


I like your description of your journey through school but your anecdote is a bit odd:

> As an example of what we do this year the first project we worked on was to recode the malloc function in c [...] after some research i found that the projects at harvard cs61 are very similar [...] so i used the book they recomend there Computer Systems: A Programmer's Perspective. I read the relevant section

So you used the materials put together by the teacher responsible of CS61 at Harvard, and you read the book recommended to the class

You say Epitech and 42 are similar and it describe 42 as: "This French tech school has no teachers, no books, no tuition"

Yet to succeed in that case you used the Harvard teacher information(maybe some lecture notes, slides?) and read a book.(borrowed from the library? or 'found' a pdf online)

Also on a side note: you had to be able to read and understand that book so your English level had to be at a good working level, level that you do not really have when you're straight out of French high school, does 42 expect their students to be proficient in English?


> This French tech school has no teachers [...] Yet to succeed in that case you used the Harvard teacher information

I don't think anyone imagines that human beings can educate themselves into pushing the state-of-the-art in technology, especially in the XXI-th century, without benefiting from actively transmitted knowledge from former generations.

What's disrupted by 42 isn't the concept of mature people helping younger ones acquire knowledge and later expand it; it's the school setup, its organisation around academic authority, its mass production mentality (use exams to filter uniform kids--socially and intellectually--as input, so that you produce normalized batches graduates as output, through a highly scalable and repeatable process). The teacher's knowledge, and his ability to condense it into a synthetic form (here a book), remains as valuable as before, if not more. Teachers currently have to use the Ivy league bureaucracy in order to turn those skills into a livelihood, but that can be changed.

Schools destroy kids' curiosity and self-confidence, although those are the best individual learning drivers. That's not (only) willful sabotage: the problem is, those drivers are well suited for tailor-made education, but they're considered unmanageable to handle batches of hundreds or thousands of kids. What 42 questions is: can't we claim those drivers back, now that Internet has deeply altered how humans can interact? I'm thrilled to see the answers they come up with.


I think the title is obviously clickbait exageration. Epitech does expect its students to be proficient in english. But many are not at the begining and they find resources in french. I'm also glad to share the knowledge i gathered trough english sources with them. I still think that research and academic life are vital but there is clearly some place for improvement. It is good to challenge the monopily in knowledge some want to have. The oportunity to learn should be given to anyone and internet will change the dinamics in the interaction with knowledge which is power even more than the printing press did. Being prepared for this paradigm shift is vital.


The real difference between Epitech and 42 is that Epitech does have a tuition, it is actually rather expensive by French standards.

42 innovated on that, I think it is the only privately-owned school with no tuition. Schools with no tuition (or a very low one that you can pay in one or two months of internship) are not rare in France though, it is actually the norm for the public "Grandes Écoles" and universities.


At UIUC they teach compilers using Ocaml.

Here are the lecture notes: https://courses.engr.illinois.edu/cs421/fa2014/lectures/inde...

Hope they might be helpful to you.


Thanks.


I think it's a great initiative! It might work, it might fail, but at least it is trying! I hope they will manage to produce well rounded graduates, and not just monkey coders.

> France already has a reputation for creating great engineers (in software as well as in many other fields).

Engineering schools[1] however have a lot of teachers, students have more than 35 hours of class a week. The tuitions are already very low compared to US schools (and there is already no books). Their process is a lot different from what École 42 tries to do.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandes_%C3%A9coles#List_of_gra...


In my opinion the goal (as with Epita/Epitech) is to produce monkey coders. What is at least sure, is that these school give a very limited background in cs theory, which is very difficult to overcome to go beyond the monkey coder stage.

Because of the shortage of coders, big french consulting companies (Atos, Cap Gemini, ...) hire since decades graduates from every domain more or less related to science/technology and give them a six months training (in the best case) before sending them to the clients.

So I'm not that surprised that such a school will be successful as long there is a coder shortage. When the next bubble blows, these graduates will probably be the first to be layed off.


I was graduated from Epitech and it's right the background in cs theory is very poor but the goal isn't to create monkey coders.

The goal of this school and by extension of 42 (the school mentioned in the OP link) is to create real hackers, people able to learn by themselves. Most of the projects are coding projects right but it's oriented in a way that forces you to learn all along the way if you want to succeed. Learn from internet, books or your peers. RTFM is the motto of the school.

You'd be surprised by what the students are able to achieve.

If that matters some Epitech students work in very successful companies (fb, twitter, google or microsoft) and the Docker founders were in Epitech.


I come from a French grande ecole but from my experience, I prefer people coming out of Supinfo and Epita/Epitech than people fresh out of a French Grande Ecole.

The problem of most people coming out of grande ecoles is that they lack experience, after a few years on the job, they can become great, but newly graduated engineers from Grand Ecoles are not very efficient at the beginning on average.

On the other hand, I've seen great candidates from Supinfo and Epitech who learned a lot of the CS theory on the side by themselves and were really good...

I think learning CS Theory without a good practical background is actually wasted a bit and that more Grandes Ecoles should try to get students to have more practical experiences which would help them connect the theory to actual situations they've had.


That sounds about right, although it does indicate how programming jobs are fairly different from traditional engineering jobs. What you describe with new graduates is not far from what engineering companies have traditionally actually wanted. The expectation is that the university teaches the fundamentals, both "pure" fundamentals like math and physics, and also classes of techniques like finite-element modeling. But becoming proficient with applying a specific finite-element-modeling package within the context of a particular engineering domain, workflow, and procedures: that's more the responsibility of a new-hire training program. Of course completely new graduates will typically take longer to get up to speed than people with years of work experience in a similar job, but that's also why junior engineers get paid less.


Did you see a difference in ability to abstract and or learning speed ?


No I didn't, but then I do have to say it's not a huge sample size (6 people altogether 3 from Grande Ecoles, 2 from Supinfo, 1 EPITA) but the effect of lack of actual practical experience and slowness due to that was flagrant for the Grandes Ecoles.

It was for Rails web application which I have to say requires somewhat less pure CS theory (although it is very useful to reason with).


Fair enough, that said I feel it's a waste of resources to allocate someone from a 'Grande Ecole' to low level things like a rail app.


I wouldn't say either that a Rails app is low level. Developing a rails app that can handle really high level of traffic does need a lot of specialized and deep knowledge.


Fair enough, I was too quick to judge.


>> RTFM is the motto of the school.

That sounds like theory, probably closer to RTFSO (read the fucking Stack Overflow)


> In my opinion the goal (as with Epita/Epitech) is to produce monkey coders

The creators of Docker and React Native come from Epita/Epitech, so it does produce a few gems :)


Docker : from Epitech ;).


Typical french elitism. Part looking down at "lesser schools", part afraid of a model that might be different and yield better results.

Docker comes to mind, as a silicon valley success story founded entirely by monkey coders.


Sorry for using monkey coders term, just took it back from the original comment. My comment was not meant to be elitist at all. I know that Epitech/Epita produces lot of great coders, no problem with that.

The thing is that the french system lacks a proper CS education. "Grandes Ecoles" has the best student but offers pretty limited courses in CS (except maybe TPT, not that sure) and not that much coding experience. Universities are the only offering deep theory education and sometimes good coding experience but their degree are not well recognized so they don't attract good students. As a consequence private schools try to fill the gap by offering a great education in programming, however lacking the CS foundation.


It is not elitism. I know several developers from Epitech that are very very good at what they do. However, they can't be compared with graduates from the top grandes écoles, simply because none of these grandes écoles focus as much as Epitech on training developers. It is a broader education. As a result, graduates from grandes écoles can work pretty much everywhere and most of them don't actually work in tech (usually finance, management consulting, etc...). Epitech graduates can't.

Graduates from Epitech, or 42, are very far from having the same ability with mathematics and quantitative sciences in general. That being said, it probably doesn't matter since most tech projects don't require such skills.


By saying this you're implying that it is a school that teaches you only one skill, versus teaching you how to teach yourself new skills. Or that the people who attend such school don't have the mental structure to do so.

Are you considered more apt to be a leader, or qualified to be a finance quant (even if you never trained for it) with a top school or your resume ? Yes you absolutely are.

Also "most of them don't actually work in tech". Yes, that. Programming is considered a dirty job in France by most people from grandes ecoles. They would all rather be architects or consultants. It sounds better on the business card. But someone needs to actually do the job. And this is why there are only tech services companies, but nothing close to a Google.


The top grandes écoles have the best math/physics students coming in. These students are obviously likely to also be the best math/physics graduates coming out.

The only way that wouldn't happen is if the grandes écoles brainwashed their students into stupidity, while Epitech and 42 had a time-distorted super saiyan training chamber.

That doesn't say much about the quality of the curriculum.


> That doesn't say much about the quality of the curriculum

I agree.

However, this thread is not about the schools themselves, but their output, the graduates (c.f. parent and GP: "produce monkey coders", "yield better results").


No need to say "monkey coder" instead of just coder or programmer.

My school's undergrad curriculum focused very heavily on theory and I appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think I've had a much stronger theoretical foundation than most I've seen with similar experience. On the other hand, I don't really feel like any of my jobs have really required that knowledge whatsoever.

I certainly don't see a problem people learning any theory necessary as they go if they are just planning on working in the industry. I certainly appreciate the theoretical background but I really would have a hard time believing having this theoretical knowledge is necessary to becoming more than a "monkey coder" whatever that means.

It's not as though these people are going to a research university or planning on doing research; they are going to learn to program and maybe gain the skills to find a job, and that's certainly what they are getting.


Beware of the confusion between Epita and Epitech. These two schools are very different.

Epita is an engineering school and it is absolutely not focused on producing programmers. The school teaches electronics, physics, OS, embedded systems, compilers, management, security,... _and_ programming.

Epitech, is not an engineering school and is focused on creating programmers (but still provide some other courses).


For me, it's the complete opposite. Coding is like learning a music instrument, it's 10% theory and 90% hard try-and-try-again practice to figure out how things works in real life. Nobody would suggest that you can learn an instrument by sitting in a class all day studding music sheets. But suddenly for programming, people create absurd degrees where you only have theory courses.


Getting paid to write code before you've taken CS 101 seems far preferable to taking out piles of student debt, does it not?


France doesn't have such thing as student debt, higher education is close to free in the public system(tuition <1K€/yr)


Sounds like you're somebody who doesn't have much to be proud of beyond a diploma.


> Yet École 42 is harder to get into than Harvard

If you select the very best few, you could get them into an empty barn, or have them walk the Appalachian Trail or whatever and the "school" will have great success measured by what the smart motivated students accomplished.


Actually I don't think it's harder to get into than Harvard. They have many, many applicants because they don't put any restriction. You can apply even if you didn't go to high school.

Also, they have no tuition but neither do the public universities in France ("Grandes Écoles"), and the most selective and prestigious schools are public. So while the "no tuition" thing is impressive for a private school and may sound like a dream for Americans, it's not really rare in France considering the choice you have with public schools.

Finally, not really related to the way they teach there, but here's the director (same guy in the picture on the article) spanking a girl in a classroom during off-hours (nsfw). http://www.19h59.com/WTF/10238_Le-directeur-de-lecole-42-don...


What's the deal with the spanking story? Is that part of some private sexual education tutoring? I guess only in France somebody is able to keep his job after something like that.


It's no big deal, the girl was not a student. It's just the director thinking he's at home in the school. We 42 students are a little bit pissed off (we fear some misinformed parents forbid their kid to attend the school because of this), but mostly wildly amused by this story.


i will love know how did that video get to the internet?!!!


Maybe?

The question to me is

a) how well do they learn things and understand the deeper principals such that their understandings generalize?

B) what do they end up learning/creating? Is it like the mit media lab where they're encouraged to innovate 5-10 years out, or are they building stuff that's existed for a long time like Ray tracing?

C) if everything is team based, do the smarter/type a ppl end up doing all the work or does everyone contribute equally enough to learn?

D) is there any kind of mentorship? The stuff I've learned from my mentors across school was never what was being assigned in class; understanding that there are things that you would never think of as entire fields needs guidance for the not yet educated

Sounds like a cool concept for self starters however.


a) projects are here to teach us notions, for exemple the first minishell we had to code was there to teach us execve and fork (basics to code a shell).

b) first we are building stuff the way the school wants, basically you have to do a programm that do certains things (like recoding a wolf3d for exemple) and you have to follow the coding norme of the school, you are free to do it the way you want as long as you follow the rules for the project. But there is also free projects, during 6months you can do what you want the way you want as long as it is a real project and not 6months of vacation.

c) not everything is team based, except for rushes and some projects, all projects are individuals, we learn together yes but we don't code all the time together.

d) You don't have one mentor, every student can be your mentor, the concept of the peer learning is exactly what you describe, talking to other students to get help, another approach of the projects, learning new things, etc.


The title is misleading.

As koolkat said, 42 is a fork of Epitech. In those schools, programming is taught by projects, and supervised by teaching assistants. The teaching assistants are older students selected by their CS knowledge and their human abilities.

This method is preferred by the school because a TA costs less than a real teacher ; and preferred by students because the TA have a closer relationship with them and have a better understanding of the projects (they coded this project 1 or 2 years before).

Personally, I was head of the teaching assistants in EPITA for 1 year. EPITA follows the same principles of projects and teaching assistants. We were a team of 30 students and lead the projects for approx. 300 students.


If you or anyone can suggest a less misleading title, we can change it.


It should be a bit more nuanced but I don't have a better suggestion.


There isn't such thing as teaching assistants in 42.


I think it is fantastic to make many programming hours during your education.

However, I am wondering if these students would learn the computer science fundamentals which are usually found in more or less dry books. Programming analysis, logic, fundamentals of programming language implementation etcetera. You can't say: look on the internet and find the relevant papers in all those fields and synthesize the theory by yourselves. That would be highly inefficient, a problem we tackle with education. If you make the comparison to Harvard you aim for more than educating people to become good/ exceptionally effective developers in my understanding.


It is an interesting idea to see if forgoing formal learning through tutoring, reading material, and textbooks; and learning through team collaboration and a lot of practice would work.

Like others on the thread, my hunch is that there will be a small group of self-driven students who will teach themselves using the same formal education methods: replicating the courses given in other universities, reading textbooks/papers/research, researching online, and watching MOOC style videos.

This group will end up teaching the others in their class through project collaboration. But unless everyone in the class is self-driven, the result would be a couple of successful self-taught developers, and a whole lot of below average ones.


> the result would be a couple of successful self-taught developers, and a whole lot of below average ones.

Sounds like most CS schools I know then.


You're right, they don't ( i've interviewed people from the epitech, which was created by the same people). That's the one big shortcoming of the curriculum. They're claiming to teach the next zuckerberg or page, but they forgot that those two people have a strong general scientific background.

Yet, they do create people that are truely amazing at coding.


zuckerberg doesn't have any relevant computer science or non-basic programming skills (page has ~4 years more relevant computer science background that motivated google.com algorithm), and 99.99% of people in any of these schools are not going be the next zuck or page. facebook was one of dozens of social networks that were poppping up in the 2000s, and its success had more to do with investor and hiring connections then anything special about the original product.

For both zuck and page, their uncommon technical accomplishments came from people they hired: a small army of very-well-educated engineers with traditional education.


How was Page and Brin paper on web indexing by graph connectivity received back in the days ? I get that being PhD students, paper reference numbers may be a simple thing to imagine and realize. But it was still a lot better than the technical foundation of common web search at that point. I think I remember only altavista used crawlers + index, and may not have ideas like page connectivity to sort results, while other websites being only hand collected directories.


I do agree on Zuck, and shouldn't have added him on the list. The first version of Facebook really didn't have anything special tech wise, and pretty much anyone could have done it.

Google seems much more "bleeding edge" though, and i doubt anyone not working in a university on the field could have come up with the ranking algorithm.


Is it possible to pick up what they're missing later? Or is it something like Calculus or Accounting, where if you don't pick it up by college, the odds of picking it up later are negligible?


I don't think it's impossible, but if you have any desire or love for abstract reasonning and theory, you'll probably feel a bit sad eating projects after projects of low-level C programming.

The kind of people going out of this school will most likely build OS implementation stuffs, or security appliance, or VM or compilers. But probably not a new compression or distributed concensus algorithm, unless they already have a personnal interest for the fields.


And it's ok. We need much more glue code coders than compression algorithm coders, right?


Sure. I think this school is very useful and a genius idea btw. I just don't think that it will be the key to creating the new google in France. Unless it becomes so popular that it starts to attract people who are strong in maths ( at first this school attracted people that didn't fit in the very math oriented french education).


For people that are actually very bright in France, education is not only free but they are actually paid for it.

The greatest French hackers like Jean-loup Gailly (zlib) and Fabrice Bellard (ffmpeg, QEmu and much more) actually went to Polytechnique (X), where they actually got something 42 students are very unlikely to get, an extremely strong math background readily applicable to multiple fields. Fabrice Bellard was already an excellent self taught programmer at age 17 when he released LZEXE. What got him to superhero level was likely more the well rounded, traditional French generalist engineering coursework he followed at X.

I completely fail to see what would attract such bright people to the 42 school, when X, ENS and a few good engineering schools and university programs are available.

42 is an excellent opportunity for the people that for some reasons didn't strive in the more traditional system, but I find the possibility it start to attract top people very remote, because being taught by students two years older than you isn't nearly as attractive as being taught by top researchers, and being on a campus and mingle with top mathematicians, physicists, biologists chemist is IMHO a lot more stimulating than being among only rejected by the system computer geeks.


Poly (& the Ecoles) are a fantastic education. It's a stretch to call it well rounded since it's 100% math, science and engineering, but those programs produce a ton of grads. They can't take everyone, though. (Hyper-competitive. It's kind of like asking if Harvard produces the superstars, or are they superstars before entering) I'm a huge fan of the elite French schools, but 42 seems to fill out the rest of the pyramid. It's not a place for people in lieu of X, it's for everyone else.


If this is the free equivalent of an auto mechanic's apprenticeship for coders, I'm all for it. Although many folks look down at that type of work, there's an enormous quality and productivity difference in people who sort of know what they're doing, and people who have put in the hours to get good.


Very rarely is spinning your own distributed consensus algorithm or compression algorithm something useful, let alone required.


It is if you want to learn to do it well enough to push the state-of-the-art.


It's not the odds of picking it up, its the need or willpower to do it. Most people just get by with what they already know and don't bother to try and learn anything new after a certain age.


(French Engineer inside)

The project looks awesome obviously. What you need to know out of the context with it's director (Xavier Niel), is the guy is an ace of communication.

Looking a little more into details and feedbacks from people who did the school, it's a VERY different story. I would highly doubt anything that comes to the communication about 42.

Probably the vision is achievable, I'm not sure it is by this school.


Xavier Niel is the founder, not the director. He donated money for it.

He's one of the only french businessmen having actually disturbed anything in France, a country where "innovation" is usually driven by publicly owned big companies and public grants. He has driven telecommunication prices down dramatically with his internet provider company, and then his mobile phone carrier. Internet is cheap in France mainly thanks to him.

I trust him probably more than anybody else in France to actually achieve something disturbing the system in place, precisely because he's one of the very very few that has done it before and he does not come from the elite making system of "grandes écoles".

Amusing fact, he started his fortune with sex messaging newtorks on the french precursor of internet, the Minitel.


> Internet is cheap in France mainly thanks to him.

And I'm pretty sure we have one of the best offers in the world for mobile plans thanks to him as well. I haven't seen a lot of places in the world where you can get pay on the go unlimited calls/texts/data for such low prices (10€/m)


The downside of Free is that they fight mostly on price. They did interesting things with mobile plans, but mainly they drive the prices down, and everything else with it (speed, quality, etc.).

France used to have some of the best internet access in the world, only behind the like of South Korea or Japan. Now it's down to #30 [1]. Same (or even worse) for mobile networks: 4G took forever to come to France. Investing in better infrastructures is expensive, and ROI is just not there to be on the cutting edge anymore.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Internet_c...


I would not hurry up blaming the prices.

We can have a look at USA with probably the most expensive internet / mobile plans and worst internet (excluding undeveloped countries). On the other hand, there are many emerging EU countries like Lithuania, where you can get stable 4G across a country for 5 eur/month.


Of course prices are not the only reason. Population density, local monopolies, legacy infrastructures, etc. also play a huge role in quality of access. But I don't think the idea that price wars take a toll on quality of service is particularly controversial.


I have Free and I have SFR and I can't tell the difference except the SFR bill is far higher. With Free I don't pay much so my expectations are curtailed (outages, useless CSR, occassional slow speeds). With SFR I pay more, expect more, and get far less.

FFS, I just received a bill from the hussier about a service SFR never provided, billed me for, and I've been arguing with the useless CSRs for over a year now.

The old mobile cartel in France used to have the best speeds but now they are more interested in paying their investors instead of delivering what their clients have paid for.


Another downside is that Free has been pushing for tiered internet access where you have to pay extra to access a specific website like Youtube. And most people like their low cost so much that they don't even care if it means the end of a free and open Internet.


> Looking a little more into details and feedbacks from people who did the school, it's a VERY different story.

I'm curious to know where are those people who came out of42. The school opened like 4 years ago right? So the first graduates must have been last year.

If you have any stories to share I'm curious :)


> If you have any stories to share I'm curious :)

I did 42 for 1 year. Now I'm working as sysadmin.

During the first year, we had projets with limited time (depends on the difficulty, from 1 to 6 weeks). We had 2/3 projets at the same time.

This school is kinda like Epitech. The staff is composed by students (I was one of them, I joined them after 3/4 month of learning at 42) and people who came from Epitech (sysadmins, 'teachers', web dev). Yes, there is a kind of 'teachers'. They create the first videos, the subjects (mostly taken from Epitech too :))

But this year, there was a big change. Now student can create subjects, videos. The projects are not limited in time. We are not working for 100hours/week, but a lot of people are at school for more than 50hours/week. This depends on their faculty to learn and their motivation.

But...

There is some bad points for 42.

There is no labs. There is no books. There is no English class (as you can see with my poor english :) ), no math class, no French class (and a lot of people really need it....). When you see people reading the man pages in french, you feel sad for them. Whe you see people not able to do some math, you feel sad for them too. And, seriously, a library or some labs for the students can be a good thing.

42 is a cool thing for people who have not the 'baccalauréat'. I dont have this degree but thanks 42, now I have a great job. If I had this degree, my choice for a school might be something like ENSIMAG / ENSEIRB, but definitly not Epita / Epitech.

Btw.

> In fact, 40 percent of École 42’s students haven’t finished high school. Others have graduated from Stanford or MIT or other prestigious institutions.

Why someone from a prestigious school would like to come to 42 ?


Why having an english or french class when the school is actually paying so we can follow online course on a website like babel??? (don't remember the name). Truth is some people are lazy and don't want to bother learning another language.


It's optional. It does not give credits/point/xp whatever if you do it. So they don't go on it. Sometimes they may not know the existence of this thing.


Actually there are no graduates yet.


42 opened in mid/late 2013.


I once tried to find interns for my startup at Epitech (42 is a copy of Epitech). Their level in mathematics was abysmal. I mean they didn't even understand how to use basic trigonometric functions. There is a very good reason if the best engineering schools in France only admit students after a 2 years curriculum of pure math/physics/chemistry.


I have quite a few friends in Paris who have also told me that 42 is good at teaching most standard CS concepts but they were definitely not a good choice for "mathematical" projects.


Nothing revolutionary at all, its manager (Nicolas Sadirac) had created EPITECH in 1999 (I did this school). The program is exactly the same. The only things which change is that Ecole 42 is free and takes only the 3 firsts years of EPITECH instead of 5.


Doesn't prove anything but Google Paris organized a programming contest last month and 42 along with all Epitech perform very poorly

https://sites.google.com/site/hashcode2015/results


Some of the top schools on this list only let in people who are already extremely good _before_ they even get in the school (École normale supérieure for example), 42 accepts almost anyone. If people getting into a school are already very good before they get in, how do you know they got better thanks to the school? They would probably have scored very high at any school.

I think, if you consider that the job of a school is to educate people, then if 42 can turn someone with little education into an average to great programmer, that's a great accomplishment. In comparison, Ecole normale sup turns extremely bright and knowledgeable people into great programmers, not such a great accomplishment IMO.


> 42 accepts almost anyone

Well, that's not what the article says.

"Last year, 70,000 people attempted the online qualification test. ... In the end, 890 students were selected for the school’s inaugural class"

But I agree that it's difficult to judge the quality of formation considering that the student populations are different. But still, I don't see how how throwing programming challenges at CS beginners with no supervision can be better than university professors.


The "Ecole normal superieur" of the Ulm Street takes only 11 students in CS. So yes, in comparison, 42 accepts anyone.


The article certainly doesn't make it sound like they let in anyone:

""" Last year, 70,000 people attempted the online qualification test. 20,000 completed the test, and of those, 4,000 were invited to spend four weeks in Paris doing an intensive project that had them working upwards of 100 hours a week on various coding challenges. In the end, 890 students were selected for the school’s inaugural class, which began in November, 2013. """


French here who know a few people from 42. The tests to get in 42 are very basic and they're more about testing your patience than anything else. However, in order to get in the other top schools on this list, you need very high grades in math and physics among other things from high school. 42 let people in that haven't even finished high school. Not comparable. The reason they get 70000 people applying is because it's free, most applicants don't even finish the whole test (it lasts many days).


The real test is the pool, not the internet test. Learning up to binary trees in a month in c with no experience in programming at all ain't nothing like very basic


>42 accepts almost anyone

Not true :( Even though I thought I completely blew the preliminary tests I then received a mail telling me I wasn't accepted.

Although as an aside, my female friend who gave up before finishing and completed less of the tests than me got in, so I'm not sure I would even want to be accepted now but still, there is some heavy pruning going on.


The story that Xavier Niel (school founder) is trying to tell is that there are many bright students that didn't fit in the traditional/oldish education system, but they could reach their full potential in this new school.

I don't buy it. First, there's a large panel of CS formations in France, most of them virtually free. It goes from highly selective schools "grandes écoles", to universities or undergraduate programs that anyone with a high-school diploma can attend. There's room for many different student profiles there.

Then, I don't see why it would be such a progress to get rid of the teachers and the books, are they that bad that they prevent the students from improving?

> The students are given little direction about how to solve the problems, so they have to turn to each other — and to the Internet — to figure out the solutions.

Usually, this is what professors do when they are too lazy to cook up a real project.


Your comment made me realize that for instance at ENS (one of the French topmost Grande École) we had professors but the courses were focusing on theory, and for example there is no courses on a programming languages (there is a compiler / programming language course, but it is focused on the theoretical aspects of things, what I mean is that there is no C or C++ or Python course, you are just supposed to pick it up yourself if you need it).

Meanwhile, we also had projects that we had to figure out by ourselves. For instance in the first semester of the first year, there is a course that explains theoretical stuffs that are supposed to have a relation with hardware (like 2-adic numbers [1]). The project for this course consists in programming a watch that displays time. But we have to program the watch in an assembly language that we have designed ourselves. And that asm has to execute on a processor that we have designed ourselves. And we have to write the processor code in a hardware/netlist language that we have to design ourselves. And we have to write ourselves the interpreter we will use for that netlist language.

That was what we were told to do, with no additional instructions. Some students learned C by themselves for that, some other C++, some other OCaml… And all of them learned or reinvented how to design memories, or a CPU (for instance, me and a friend decided to invent a single-instruction processor, just for the fun, we got it working but it was rather slow compared to other who decided for instance to learn how to implement a simplified MIPS).

All this to say that there is absolutely no incompatibility between having professors and teaching (partly) by projects.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P-adic_number


>Your comment made me realize that for instance at ENS (one of the French topmost Grande École) we had professors but the courses were focusing on theory, and for example there is no courses on a programming languages (there is a compiler / programming language course, but it is focused on the theoretical aspects of things, what I mean is that there is no C or C++ or Python course, you are just supposed to pick it up yourself if you need it).

The ENS is a special case, as it does not wish to form engineers, but researchers.


This is a fantastic initiative, and like a lot of businesses built by Xavier Niel, I hope it leads to positive changes in the industry.

This said, what I would be worried about with this system is how long it will take for the employment market to adapt to this/those schools. When it comes to jobs, French companies, especially large ones, have a really strong bias towards applicants from well known and somewhat elitist public schools, no matter how efficient those might actually be at their jobs.

Unlike the US, France doesn't really have a strong and major software industry competing for raw programming talent, so developers have nowhere near the salary, status, or lifestyle they could expect in places like SV or NY. Very few companies have a real incentive to hire a great programmer over a good one, which might reduce the efficiency of a school that focuses on training very good developers without giving them the access to the prestige of the (also free) traditional public schools.

It will be interesting to see how salaries and career paths available to programmers trained at École 42 will compare with those hired after they graduate from École Centrale Paris.

Nevertheless, I look forward to hire from this talent pool.


> French companies, especially large ones, have a really strong bias towards applicants from well known and somewhat elitist public schools,

Not only French companies, but also banks, hedge funds, companies like Google and so on...

I was saying that in an other comment, but recently Google Paris organized a programming contest. All teams in the top ten came from top schools (mainly ENS, but also ECP and X) whereas 42 performed extremely poorly.

There's a reason why employers are biased towards elite schools.


42 performed poorly because it's only been in existence for a year so they have no graduates yet. Only people who've been learning for a year. Time will tell if this school will produce great coders.


The people participating in the Google hashcode contest for any school do not have graduated from that school yet.


That's good to know, and I welcome the data point, but I'm fairly doubtful of the relevance of this Google contest. Way too many factors enter in consideration (did the best programmers of x and y school enter? did they prepare the same way? did they take it seriously? ...).

Does this provide real proof that the model on which 42 is based is wrong? Moreover, how well does a score in this programming contest correlates to real world performance?

From experience, the strengths of school networks is a much stronger reason why employers are biased towards elite schools. Please note that I'm not saying elite schools aren't good (it's a pool I hired and will hire from), I'm just welcoming the initiative and wondering how it will pan out.


FWIW I have heard terrible things from people studying there. While it looks good on paper, the sad reality is that it's basically a code monkey factory. Also, I don't really think that this kind of trade school are relevant in France where access to education is low.


Seems like another initiative to disrupt the traditional model <good university> -> <good job>, after the MOOCs and soon Star Fighter.

I think it's a good thing to disrupt prestigious universities that hire on credentials, but France is not exactly the country for that since education is mostly free and admissions (at least in engineering schools) tries to be more meritocratic.

EDIT: disclaimer: I did an engineering school in France.


It sounds very novel and interesting, but for me for example I know I need _some_ structure to learn something. It doesn't have to be a formal university degree structure, but some kind of arrangement of material, mentorship, progress tracking, experience sharing, feedback, etc. is necessary for me.

I kind of doubt that giving a person with no programming/CS experience Google and a task like "write a concurrent distributed high-performance database system" would lead to a good outcome. There is a lot of trade lore, experience, knowledge of what works and what doesn't, etc. which is better passed by a teacher in an carefully constructed narrative than by random discovery by an uninitiated person.

But it is interesting to see what comes out of it, maybe they prove me wrong.


"some kind of arrangement of material, mentorship, progress tracking, experience sharing, feedback"

There is (more or less) all that in 42, thanks to the "peer to peer" approach.


Mentorship from peers may lead to a "blind leading the blind" situation. I'd prefer some experience/knowledge transfer involved.


ITT: French people busy scornfully labelling technically proficient Epitech/42 programmers as "code monkeys" (just ctrl-f for monkey). Meanwhile hackers in the US are too busy building things to care what other people call them. Makes me glad I moved over.


It's weird, Ive worked with a few people from Epitech. They say the same thing about software engineering in France, but they are some of the best developers I've had the privilege to work with. If it drives them to work over here, then glad to have 'em!


I did the online tests (which were pretty difficult, a lot of logic), and I was admitted to get in to do some additional testing.

It's in Paris, and the cost of living there is astronomic. Thanks but no thanks.

On top of that, what's the point of taking the smartest young individuals and teaching them how to be engineers ? It's elitist. I agree that the fact that it being free is great, but to me, those students would have been great programmers without that school.

It's easy teaching kids who already know almost everything.


Not the smartest, those who are born2code. The selection is here to separate those who can deal with the teaching system of the school from those who can't. The cool part is that there is no other requirements, you don't have to pay 8k per year for the school like students of other schools have to, and you get better results than public schools.

The only programming experience i had before 42 was some html/css (far from knowing everything), i could barely do a static website (and i'm not young either, i am 27years old), there is no way i would have learn so much (c, php/js/mysql, assembler, ruby on rails, using docker) all by myself with no guidance at all and absolutly no idea where to start. Being in 42 gives us the motivation, alone at home with a slower learning, not so easy.

Yes living in paris is expensive, but if you live in the suburb, maybe part-time work for some people (no deadlines means you can actually work if you want or need it), you can manage it, it's just 3years, with a 6months internship during the first year (you can be paid) and a third year with possible sandwich course if you need it.


I won't live in paris ever again, sorry.

As to learning how to code, I bought a C++ book, and I learned the basics of C by myself, but never really coded anything until I got into some french BTS.


Anyone knows where to find some sample projects from this school ?



hey, i'm a student of 42, would like to clarify a few things. About the teaching assistants : we do have a few students helping the pedago team, but they aren't TA, they are in the "bocal" to help the team in place to create new projetcs, maintain the school servers and the intranet, that sort of things. Except if you encounter a bug or if there is something wrong with a subject or some hardware you are not suppose to expect any help from them, at all.

Yes 42 is a bit of a fork of epitech, but they don't have the same program anymore, the basic program is the same (projects for the beginner) but new projetcs are totally new, and students are encourage to create new projetcs too (we actually have some, like a project including docker, a student is preparing a OcamL pool etc...).

"All of École 42’s projects are meant to be collaborative, so the students work in teams of two to five people" This is not true, the main concept of the school is the peer learning, you are not suppose to do solo projects with other peoples, you are suppose to learn how to do the project with other people, this is actually a different concept, we do have group projects though but it's a minority.


Hi. Does knowing only English allow you to feel comfortable in 42, or French is mandatory?


Personnaly i'm french, but from what i saw it is possible to attend 42 even if you don't speak french (it's a good opportunity to learn it though), sometimes it would be tricky (i think videos are only in french) but if you have question, people who speak english will help you. Actually we have people from usa, ireland, marocco, singapore, romania i think and probably others.


So basically, it is a big/free internet cafe?


Curious about the name I looked around further and according to http://www.42.fr/faqs/ it is a HHGTTG reference:

> Pourquoi 42 s’appelle 42 ?

> On vous met sur la piste… regardez du côté du Guide du voyageur galactique

"Don't Panic" would certainly be an appropriate slogan for a school like this.


Well the teachers are(will be since it's the first year) the students. Several engineering schools do that in France and abroad.

It's a good PR for Niel.


I think that without teachers, the concept is lacking. Even the brightest need teachers. An expert could have helped the students learn more.


>The only requirement is that they be between the ages of 18 and 30.

I'd estimate that well over half of my bootcamp cohort was over 30.


Now that you mention it, isn't this just age discrimination?

I would get in serious legal trouble if I posted an ad saying "Hiring software engineers; ages 18 to 30 only." Doesn't the same apply to schools?


...and France is well known for its leadership in modern technology, especially software.

the last big IT assets are being sold off, complete failures. europe as a whole basically is SAP plus its ecosystem. nothing else has survived. and even SAP is investing massively in its shift from Walldorf to the Bay Area.

so yeah, a lot of countries have elite schools. hint: all big founders never finished theirs....


Yes, and it's a terrible school ("citation needed"). There are also other schools (like ETNA for example) where the teachers are almost non-existant, your teachers are the students of last year, (you actually pay for this, it's not public schools).

Engineering schools do not have a lot of teachers in France, I don't understand where you get that from.


Thank you for the downvote. Sorry but I am just telling the truth. If you have any counter arguments, please tell them, I would be happy to learn something about the tech schools in my country.


What's with all the fruit? Is that really the best use of funds?




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