Rumor confirmed: Xavier Niel launches tuition-free developer school named ’42’

Mar 26, 2013
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We reported yesterday on a rumor, originating from Olivier Ezratty that Xavier Niel would be launching a tuition-free (see update below) developer school. The rumor was confirmed today in a press conference by Niel himself, who announced that the new school would be opening in November and would be called ’42’ in reference to science fiction author Douglas Adam’s book The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy where ’42’ is the answer to “the answer to life, the universe and prime numbers”. As suspected, 42 is being launched in partnership with Nicolas Sadirac. Inspired by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and a host of other tech giants and celebrities who publicly advocated for the teaching coding in school in a video by Code.org, Niel decided to finance (to the tune of €20 million) and launch 42 this year.

Niel confirmed that the school will accept 1,000 students each year, will be situated in the 17th arrondissement, and will open in November. The program will be anywhere from 3-5 years and according to Sadirac will allow students to learn about a range of digital career paths, enabling them to be “developers, social media managers, game developers, innovators in augmented reality space, etc”. No word if, as we reported yesterday, whether students will be weaned out after they’ve been accepted to the program, but it appears that the selection process will be quite rigorous (albeit it quite different from the traditional system). First, to apply there is no degree or diploma requirement. The only requirement is that candidates should be between 18-30 years old. As Niel puts it, “The french education system isn’t working. 200k youth leave the French system each year without diplomas. These could be the talents of the future and a part of innovative companies (of the future)” From there the application process will proceed in two steps. The first will require the candidate to respond to a set of questions and games that they can find on the school’s website. From the responses, 4k profiles will be selected to proceed to step 2. After that the 4k selected will participate in a coding session (perhaps kind of like a mini hack-a-thon) sometime during the summer, from which 1k “geniuses” will be selected.

In another challenge to the establishment, clearly Niel’s forte, he has not sought any accreditation of the school and, as a result, 42 won’t be recognized by the government. As Niel says “Enterprises don’t buy degrees, but know-how”. In theory, this is absolutely true. However, in practice not so much, at least in the corporate world. I suspect that startups, who are acutely aware of the shortage of developer talent, will definitely take a closer look at the graduates of 42. However, I’m skeptical that large companies will do the same. The degree, generally from a top school, is often used not as a means to asses a candidate’s potential, but as a way for HR to sort through the numerous applications they receive and to back up their claim of attracting ‘top talent’. Opening themselves up to different profiles will be a big leap for them. But, if anyone can shake things up and convince ‘the establishment’ to change track a bit, it’ll be Xavier Niel.

Update:  According to an article today from Numerama, Xavier Niel has declared Sources affiliated with the school’s management have declared that 42 will not be completely free.  The way it will work is that once students secure a full-time job upon graduation, they will have to allocate a part of their salary to repaying what in essence is a loan. If the student does not find a job, they won’t be required to pay back the loan until they do. There is, however, a good chance that the students will never actually end up paying back the loan as many of 42’s partner companies are being encouraged to pick up the fnal tab. Niel stressed though that 42 would remain a structure where turning a profit would not be the objective.

Update 2: Xavier Niel actually denied this report and said that the school would in fact be completely free. Things may still be influx, so we’ll take Niel’s word on it and see what ends up happening.