Our first Piscine is over

by Sophie Heinz

The first screen fills with faces. The number in the bottom corner of the video call quickly increases and the number of pages that have to be scrolled through in order to view all the participants is growing. The number stops at about 150 and the 42 Heilbronn team takes a deep breath before the start of what they have been working towards since the contract was signed in February 2020: the launch of the first Piscine.

How do you actually get into a Piscine?

It doesn't matter what previous qualifications, grades or socio-economic background the applicants have. The only requirement is motivation, and this will be proven in the application process. It starts with two logic games that can be played at any time on our application platform. In regular online events, the 42 Heilbronn team explains in the second step what exactly this study program is all about.

Because it is so different from a university degree or any other existing training, applicants need to understand what will happen to them. They have to learn that they will not have a schedule and that no one will tell them what to do. They will learn through peer-learning, so they will learn from and with each other and they also evaluate each other - that's a responsibility you will also have to your peers. Through project-based learning, participants in the program work their way through a learning plan that is structured like a video game. With each completed project, Experience Points are earned and the progress is measured in levels. It's an exciting experience that is in high-demand.

This is not the only reason why the third step in the admissions process is extremely important: the four-week Piscine (French for swimming pool) allows participants to find out if this type of learning is right for them. Vice versa, 42 Heilbronn finds out, if the person is suitable for the peer learning system.

Camping instead of swimming

In a regular piscine held on site, people code for four weeks. 42 Heilbronn is part of the 42 network, which counts a total of 33 campuses worldwide, and has used the "basecamp" model from the Sao Paulo Campus for the Corona period. What does that mean in concrete terms? Basecamp is the online version of the Piscine. It also takes place for four weeks, but online with small modifications.

Here is the structure of such a Basecamp:

Week 0

Bringing the four-week peer learning experience, which involves a lot of interaction, online is a big challenge. In order to pick up all participants, Basecamp does not do any programming within "Week 0", but is primarily about participants getting familiar with the tools and building social relationships with other participants - all the things that would automatically happen if they were physically present. To this end, we have set up a Discord server with various channels where participants have the opportunity to interact with each other.

Week 1-3

Projects: Starting in week 1, participants then begin their own projects, which they work on at their own pace. A project is then handed in, reviewed by an automated program, and corrected by two other participants. Through this peer evaluation, what has been learned is tested and at the same time feedback is obtained on how the counterpart would have solved the task. A continuous exchange of knowledge.

Exams: On Fridays, participants take exams. Here we find out whether what has been learned has been internalized. Even in an online exam, we can easily see whether someone is cheating by logging times and the time spent on the platform, and our participants know exactly: "anyone who cheats is only cheating themselves". ?

Rush: On Friday evening, the participants are divided into groups of 3, in which they will work on the so-called Rushs over the weekend. These are group projects in which they work together on coding tasks and must also present these as a group in the coming week. Everyone in the group must be able to describe everything.

Side program: And of course, social interaction is also very important in weeks 1-3. At the start of each week, all participants come together for a community meeting, where new challenges are discussed but also the program of the week is presented. At events like "Around the Campfire", participants are sent to breakout rooms to get to know each other better and exchange ideas. Each morning, a bot named "Marvin" sends participants tips for the day, and motivational videos also help participants not to give up.

Anyone who works so hard in front of a PC for so long has to take good care of themselves. That's why a yoga instructor offers participants back and relaxation exercises in two 21-minute and one 42-minute session per week.

Each week also features career inspiration in the form of keynote talks. Here's a sneak peek of the talks from the first Basecamp (the program is subject to change). For example, coding artist Bleeptrack combines artificial intelligence with art, showing participants how to get creative with simple programming and open source. Emil Wallner, a former student of 42-Paris shows how they can build a good portfolio early on and how networking can benefit them in their future career. Or Emre, employee from local company Camao gives insights on agile working in a team with flat hierarchies and an assessment on the job market for future coders.

What do the numbers say about the first Basecamp at 42 Heilbronn?

A total of 131 people started at the first four-week online event. From 18-57 years old, people from a wide range of interests and parts of the world came together to learn programming. With 56%, slightly more than half of the participants were from Germany, the rest mainly from EU countries such as Poland, Greece, the Czech Republic or Hungary, where there are no 42 sites yet. A total of 94 people lasted the entire four weeks. Those who didn't make it through found out for themselves that it wasn't the right learning system or had to drop out due to personal incidents.

What do participants say about the Basecamp?

Feedback from participants is already overwhelmingly positive even before the first Piscine is completed.

  • This experience is great. I would never have thought that programming is so fun and interesting to me. I'm way more productive and motivated than I ever was in school or my studies. Only one week passed and I already wake up in the morning thinking about my projects and what I could try, only to find out that it doesn't work :D
  • Guys, just a huuuge thank you for the experience.
  • I really want to get into 42, but even if I don't: I had a great time these weeks, met a ton of great people and made some friends.
  • Thanks guys! You are making this an incredible experience! Working +75h last week felt like <40 <3
  • I was worried that my motivation might run out because it's an online thing and it has happened before but I feel quite engaged with the experience, too engaged maybe cause I even dream about code. Anyway, thanks for doing this :)
  • I thought that this will be life changing experience, but I didn't expect that it will change my life so much. Never had in my life such support.
  • Before I wasn't sure if the learning concept of 42 would suit me, I couldn't imagine how I would really learn a subject without a teacher. But through the 3 weeks I have now learned that this is very possible and that it's not that you don't have a teacher, but that you have 100 teachers who all know something about some subject and who get involved with you much more than an actual teacher could and because I am also a teacher and teach others something, I deepen my knowledge all the more and am asked questions that I would never have asked myself, but which are good questions and which take me a step further :) I find it totally fascinating how great this concept is and how such a community has developed in such a short time (and online too).

What happens next?

First of all, all participants have to cope with the fact that they can sleep more and have weekends again ? .

Our team will evaluate the Basecamp results in the next days and after about 2 weeks the participants will get the information if they will be admitted for the 42-Heilbronn program. Fingers crossed and then it will start for these people in June 2021 with the learning program at 42 Heilbronn ?.


Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

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