Amanda Ang arrives at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) dressed for battle: an oversized band T-shirt, crocs, and a bulky backpack that’s somewhat incongruous with her small frame.
The battle in question is the piscine (French for “swimming pool”).
It’s a four-week intensive training course where prospective students get together and learn to code. For 26 days straight.
In Ang’s case, that might be more than a figure of speech.
“I brought a few T-shirts,” she explains, gesturing to her backpack.
“I want to stay overnight.”
There’s good cause for her determination.
If she makes it through the notoriously selective piscine, there’s a pot of gold of sorts at the end: an offer from a full-time, world-renowned Information and Communications Technology (ICT) programme.
Housed at SUTD, completely free of charge.
Now that’s something worth fighting for.
About 42 Singapore
It’s hard to picture a school without the things we’ve all come to associate with it, like teachers, classes, and so on.
But 42 Singapore, as it’s called (catch the Hitchhiker’s Guide reference), is exactly that.
First, a bit of background. 42 — or Ecole 42, as it’s also known — is essentially a coding school.
Novel as it may seem, it actually isn’t a totally new concept: 42 already has a fair number of campuses around the world, including Tokyo, London, and its original iteration in Paris.
Unlike most schools, 42 was designed to be entirely free, entirely practical, and available to everyone aged 18 and up, no qualifications required.
That’s also true of the Singapore campus. Potential applicants need not have any qualifications, nor do they need any experience or knowledge in coding.
In fact, all you need to do is pass a test and complete the piscine (more on that later).
Not an online class
You might think it sounds kind of like self-directed online learning, but not quite.
42 is a full-time, in-person course. It requires about 35 to 40 hours a week to complete and, in total, spans about three years: the first year for the core programme, and the next two for specialisation.
While there are no teachers, there’s plenty of learning to be done.
Just like in real-life work, students at 42 collaborate in groups to find their own solutions.
Students also need to be physically present on campus, which is located at SUTD and open 24/7 — useful for those who might want to take on the course while working or freelancing.
The campus is where the coding sessions will take place, as well as activities such as guest speaker presentations, hackathons, career fairs, and social events.
There are some similarities with self-directed learning.
For example, students take charge of their own learning and create their own portfolios.
And while the core programme must be completed within 24 months, the specialisation period is fully self-paced, and can be done flexibly alongside work, internships, whatever.
Despite its unconventional nature, it’s entirely legit.
42 Singapore is supported by the Ministry of Education and co-funded by SkillsFuture Singapore.
Upon ending their training, students will also receive a certificate that reflects their highest level of completion, with grades in the various subjects.
After reaching Level 17 and Level 21 (which can be reached by completing projects and obtaining points), students can also apply to obtain a “Répertoire National des Certifications Professionnelles (RNCP)”, which is a recognised certificate in Europe.
- Level 17, 42 Singapore = Level 6, RNCP = Bachelor’s degree
- Level 21, 42 Singapore = Level 7, RNCP = Master’s degree
Getting thrown into the deep end
First things first, though, you need to actually make it into the programme.
While no prerequisites are required, applicants do need to pass two stages: an online game test, and the aforementioned piscine.
The former is a two-hour-long memory and logic test, no coding knowledge required.
According to Ang, it “challenges your innate problem-solving skills, without coding experience”.
The latter — the “piscine” — is a bit more complicated.
This is where applicants “dive into the world of coding”, as the website puts it.
Or get thrown into the deep end. Whatever floats your boat.
At this stage, applicants start from the very basics of programming.
Divided into teams, prospective students work together and code — “26 days, seven days a week, day and night”, the website promises.
That’s probably why Ang, who I met at the piscine’s launch, is prepared with her overnight bag.
It’s clear she’s steeling herself for an experience that — as one ex-participant describes — “to call it intense would be too soft a word.”
Unfortunately, there’s not much room for failure.
Participants only get two shots in their lifetime (300 days apart), in the interest of fairness.
There are only 150 slots per intake, after all.
For those who do manage to make it through, congratulations!
The 42 method is a fit for you. Go right ahead.
But that’s not the end; the 42 programme is known to be very competitive.
A quick search online shows that while rewarding, the experience is undoubtedly gruelling.
“It felt like battleschool from Ender's Game,” another ex-participant confessed.
At the end of the journey, however, graduates emerge well-equipped to pursue roles in the tech industry, at no monetary cost.
According to data from 42 Paris, 100 per cent of students who complete the core curriculum are employed.
As they say - no pain, no gain.
For people like Ang, 42 Singapore holds an obvious appeal.
The 26-year-old is probably the furthest thing from a typical coder, with her marketing and photography background (she informs me that she has invested in “a very expensive camera”.)
But her interest has always been tech.
“It’s something I’ve always been interested in, but I haven’t been able to pursue, due to not meeting the traditional academic requirements for universities,” Ang explains.
While she did well in primary school, her grades in her teenage years suffered because of her health problems, ruling out her dream career (a full-stack software engineer).
This programme presented an unprecedented opportunity.
“It’s free, and anyone can join, even though I didn’t have a high cutoff point,” she points out.
“And to enter you just need to work really hard,” she adds. “It’s skill-based, effort-based.”
Ang has since quit her job in marketing, leaving her free to focus entirely on 42 Singapore over the next few years - if she gets through the piscine, of course.
But despite having no coding experience, she is determined to try.
The prospect of working through the night(s) doesn’t scare her.
“I’m planning to get good,” she says candidly. “Get good. Try hard. And try harder.”
Register for the next piscine
Sounds interesting? Register for the online game test here.
Who knows, you might be on your way to becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs.
Writing this 42 Singapore-sponsored article made this writer remember that she still hasn’t finished paying her tuition fee debt.
Photos by Ilyda Chua and Berlinda Ang