IT education at 42 Prague: Interview with Daria Hvizdalova

Written by
Femme Palette
Published on
December 20, 2022

Daria Hvizdalova is CEO at 42 Prague - a non-profit organization providing free education in the field of software development. We discussed how peer-to-peer learning works, how studying at an institution like 42 Prague can benefit women, or how lockdown has shed light on IT as an attractive and inclusive industry. Keep reading to find out what Daria shared with us.

Tell us more about 42 Prague and its mission.

42 Prague was founded in 2022 by Skoda Auto as a non-profit educational institute, focused on upskilling in the area of software development. It is a member of 42 Network, which includes over 45 schools around the world, united by the shared curriculum under the lead of Ecole 42 in Paris, founded in 2013 by Xavier Neil, billionaire, entrepreneur and philantropist. Our vision is to be the heart of non-formal & inclusive IT education in Central Europe, pioneering peer-to-peer learning with a world-class curriculum that empowers the next leading generation of tech talent. 

Based on peer-to-peer feedback and gamification, the most important software programming languages are taught practically, with an additional focus on continuous learning and strengthening social skills. After launching this year with over 2000 applicants, we embark on our 5-year mission to train up to 450 qualified software engineers who will design and build inclusive solutions for the challenges of today and tomorrow.

With the help of a strong network of partners that includes Trask, CSOB, Deloitte and many others, we believe that we can deliver the most up-to-date curriculum in the coming years, which will be the main reason for the high demand for our students. 

42 is open to everyone - there is no requirement of a minimal degree, or a maximum age to apply. All campuses in the world work together to offer the best learning experience to the broadest and most diverse population of students. We all aim to give our students the skills they need to become valued and wanted IT professionals, able to face any challenge anywhere. To put it more clearly: to get a good job and a good salary in a good tech company. The quality of our curriculum, multiplied by the commitment of partner companies, is an ultimate way to achieve that with the right motivation.

How do the courses at 42 Prague work and what does one need if they want to sign up? What kinds of resources and opportunities do students at 42 Prague have access to?

42’s curriculum is project-based, self-paced and based on the principle of peer-to-peer learning. It involves participants of the same level engaging in collaborative learning and knowledge-sharing activities in a moderated way, with the support of our pedagogy team and experts from the partners’ side. It also means that our students can benefit from the study campus open 24/7 and have the freedom to adjust their study schedule to the demands of their own life. They work on projects, either solo or in groups, that increase in complexity over time, in a gamified way. 

This enables more diversity and out-of-the-box approaches, which is beneficial for tasks that don’t have only one solution (and that includes most of the programming problems!). Our students are more comfortable in peer learning situations than they are in traditional training environments. Through mentoring or problem-solving sessions, they build strong connections with each other and share the lessons they’ve learned.

The study process at 42 starts with the core curriculum. Following each student’s personal pace, it lasts around a year and lets students learn C programming, develop simple software using classic algorithms, discover access to the file system, and learn management of the UNIX process. It also includes a simple first approach to network architecture as well as system administration. As a result, our students tend to develop an in-depth understanding of the computer and its operating system and how applications interact with them. Thanks to this more profound knowledge, it’s usually easier for a C developer to learn other languages as opposed to the other way around. The core curriculum is the same on each and every campus in the network 42. 

Once completed this part, the students have to complete an internship and then can join intercampus and exchange projects within specializations that feature AI & ML, video & game design, DevOps, cybersecurity, web & mobile development.They can pick their individual mix of projects in order to develop own unique competences and be prepared for diverse challenges and creative opportunities, be it in a role of a developer, CTO, cybersecurity specialist, project manager, or anything they’d like to be!

The selection process is rather challenging and has two parts: online admission games, and the on-site selection bootcamp called ‘’Piscine’’, French for ‘’swimming pool’’.  It is an immersive program with the mission to let about 150 other candidates to spend 4 weeks, seven days a week, day and night (including weekends) trying out the peer-to-peer learning method by working on solo and team projects and assignments.

There are no prerequisites in terms of mathematics or previous coding experience, as the process is designed in a way to take various factors into account and make the chances equitable for everyone. The participation in this process, same as education at 42 Prague, is free of charge.

Studying at institutions like 42 Prague sounds like a great opportunity for women who want to start a career in IT. How can women benefit from your study program?

I think the biggest benefit here is the self-paced nature of study. The campus is open 24/7, and it is up to the students to determine if they have more or less time at a given moment to dedicate to the course. This allows for more flexibility when combining multiple social roles.

Also, peer-to-peer learning embraces the ‘try-fail-succeed’ approach. 42 Prague, especially in the selection bootcamps. creates a safe space to fail while learning - without the threat of being the only one who does not understand something, of receiving a bad grade, or having that jeopardize the job stability. As adults, I believe we especially need that.

Are you seeing interest among women to study IT? What kinds of career goals do women who join your program generally have?

We are proud to have around 30% of women among our applicants, as compared to the 42 network median 20%! Their career goals vary from full-stack software development, through IT project management positions, to using 42 in combination with medical studies to enter the field of biotech. Many of our applicants, though, do not know yet exactly which specialization they would want to pursue before they explore the core curriculum, and that is also fair - but are driven with passion for change. One of our students, Katerina, sees it this way: ‘’I was utterly excited and completely absorbed by the idea of studying at 42 Prague and with the strong partners that you have. I am aware that the journey can and will be challenging, especially for me, a single mother with two small children. But I am a hard worker, and I am also convinced that I could pave the way for other mothers and prove that anything is possible if there is motivation and I will. I have both in spades.”

As someone within the industry, have you recently seen any improvements in diversity in IT?

It has genuinely never occurred to me in my life and career that being a girl would hold me back in anything I chose to do professionally. I am happy to see that among the executives engaged with 42 Prague within our corporate partner circles, there is a big number of women, all the way up to the Board level positions - so I see a great chance to encourage and lead by example here. Diversity is especially crucial in these roles to help debias the technologies that make up an ever-present and evolving component of modern life.

My feeling is that the pandemic has proven the professional field of IT to be the most user-friendly, so to say, and that has a positive effect on the inclusion of women in many aspects. As IT mostly suggests a big part of one’s work can be executed autonomously or in asynchronous mode, people were very keen to accept and embrace this. Lockdown life has changed the perception of flexible and remote working on a mass scale, making it easier for people of all genders to share the responsibilities and joys of household life and parenting on a more equal footing, or at least have more options than they did before without having to feel judged or pushing against the status quo.  

The pandemic opened up a whole new world of hybrid working that can enable many to balance work and family life in a more productive way. For me, taking a more-than-full-time CEO role before the maternity leave was over was definitely a leap of faith. As the demands of my position and as a parent aren’t static, I’ve had to adapt to different working schedules and ways of working over and over. This wouldn’t have worked if I’d had to fit into a specific mould. I have instead always felt empowered to speak up and make change when it’s needed - and I appreciate the understanding from the side of partners and my team. Sometimes it means working from the playgrounds, sometimes it means working at night predominantly  - but a lot of my male counterparts do the same, as such cases are the new normal for all genders  in IT, and this is very encouraging. We can hedge all we want against family emergencies, but knowing that having conference calls with company’s CTO with a child on a lap can happen - ant it is fine -  is very encouraging, and can hopefully motivate more women to pursue this flexibility.

Before we wrap it up, is there anything you would like to share with women who are considering a career change in IT?

Go for it! There are plenty of opportunities in the field for career changers, and your previous experience in any field can be a huge advantage. Adding programming skills on top of expertise in marketing, HR or any other field creates a unique combination of high value on the job market. 

Please, do not fall for the impostor syndrome telling you you can’t be the best if you don’t know it all. To me, it is about having confidence and knowing that you will never know everything there is to know about everything. The beauty of the tech world is exactly its fast pace of change, where new languages and technologies come and go. Yes, sometimes you may be the only woman in the room. At the same time, you may very well be the only specialist in a particular topic in that very room 🙂

Believe in yourself, your abilities, and your skills, be prepared to learn all your life, and the world is yours!

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