During my studies at 42 Prague, I have been approached a number of times with questions related to what an ordinary day at the campus may entail. Given the freedom to do so, I took the opportunity to write up my experience from one cold January Monday. This text is aimed at those interested in enrolling at 42 Prague, or simply wanting to know more about the day-to-day happenings at the institute. Disclaimer: Apart from being a student at 42 Prague, I am also contracted as a media content creator for the institute (you’ll get a glimpse of that too).
Today was going to be a long one at the 42 Prague campus. Let me explain — as a self-employed person, my work schedule can sometimes be quite random. Well, it just so happened that this Monday, there was nothing in my calendar but a quick job in the early evening. In other words, I could spend pretty much the whole day coding. I would’ve never guessed 2 years ago, when I was still studying for my degree in a completely unrelated field, that this would be something that excites me. But here we are! And so, with no clue about when I’ll have such an opportunity to progress my projects again, I head on.
On these long days, I always try to arrive at the campus early, usually some time between 6 and 7 AM. As I do not live in Prague, all of this is in attempt to beat the morning rush hour (I truly hate commuting — who’s with me?!). And since the campus is open 24/7, that poses no problem. However, as early as I think I am, I am never the first person in on that day. That honour goes to Peter, 42 Prague’s CEO, who always startles me when doing his rounds around the floor. Not that he aims to do so, it’s just that even though I consider myself a morning person, my ‘sociable’ switch doesn’t turn on for the first few hours.
Anyway, getting in early allows me to do some deep work, and the mornings are usually when I can get the most done. With headphones on and VSCode started up (no, I will not switch to Neovim, it scares me too much), I manage to fix two issues that I found in my code the day before. In the meantime, more people come pouring into the campus. Before noon, it’s generally students tackling 42 full-time, or people with flexible schedules like mine.
Among those people is also Andrea, my team partner, with whom I am undertaking the first team project in the core curriculum. It’s called ‘minishell’ and I believe that the presence of the word ‘hell’ in minishell is not merely a coincidence. In short, it’s about trying to recreate bash with limited functionality in C from scratch. If you have no clue about what bash is, no worries, I had none either just a few months back. Anecdotally, it is the hardest project in the curriculum to overcome, mainly due to its many layers and edge cases to cover. Which is why we are stoked to be almost done with, taking our time testing the code and cleaning it up. I was very lucky to be paired up with Andrea, who can pretty much always pinpoint and correct any problems I might face. And in the case when neither of us can solve an issue (believe it or not, as brilliant as we are, there were one or two such occurrences in this project), we turn to our peers, who are more than willing to share their own experiences with minishell.
Waking up early also means early lunch (finally a decent trade-off!), and so with half past 11 on the clock, I log out in search of a succulent meal. More often than not, I pack my own lunch, which I can store in one of the community fridges located in the campus kitchen. However, this is not one of those days. Up until recently, one would have to venture outside the AFI Tower (the building in which the 42 Prague campus is located) for a proper lunch — that is, unless you consider vending machine baguettes as such. But, a few months back, a restaurant/buffet has opened up on the ground floor, providing a healthy eating option just an elevator ride away. Since everyone else in my cluster seemingly has their life together and made their own lunch, I head downstairs myself.
The main clientele of the restaurant is all the employees situated on the other floors of the tower. But since I’m quite early, I beat many to the punch and can enjoy the full selection of meals. The menu updates daily and usually consists of a soup and 3 meals, one of which is vegetarian. The prices range from 170 to 200 Czech crowns (or 7 to 8 Euros), so not exactly student-budget-friendly. But so far, I have not been let down by either the deliciousness, quality, or portion size. Fuelling the body and brain well is essential in order to have energy to learn new things. But, admittedly, having a filling lunch also means being a bit drowsy for the next hour, so I take my time getting back to my work station.
What comes next is more code testing, and after verifying that everything works as it should, merging a new feature into our main branch of the minishell project via Git. In layman’s terms, you first want to properly ensure that this new little thing you’re about to connect to the big thing you already spent tens or hundreds of hours on isn’t going to blow everything up. But thanks to Git, in the case that does happen (I have been known to use the dreaded ‘git push –force’ command a few times), you have a previous ‘game save’ to come back to. Unless you really mess up, that is.
By now, I’ve spent about 6 hours of focused work coding, which is also around the time when the ability for my brain to learn starts dropping exponentially. I find that it’s certainly possible to do more hours of intentional learning in a day, but at least for me, I need a proper break to alleviate mental fatigue first. And so, the next thing in my daily planner is… a run! Fortunately, the campus is located only a few minutes from a trail leading to the Smetanka park, which is the perfect destination for an easy jog. With several paths to take, you can stretch this route anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour. If you’re a fan of body strengthening, you can opt for the local outdoor workout gym, which is located nearby also. Finally, the AFI building is bike-friendly, with a dedicated (and monitored) bike storage space in the underground garages. Perfect choice for the spring and summer months. By this point, you might be thinking — okay, but how and where do you change into your sporting attire? Well, next to the bike storage room is a changing room equipped with lockers and showers. So no need to sweat about being sweaty.
To bring you back on track, as I return from my dopamine-releasing run, I feel refreshed and ready to bang out an hour or two more of focused work. This time, I’m not going to be working on school projects, but rather doing the work that pays my rent. In 20 minutes, I am meeting with David, the Marketing Lead at 42 Prague, to discuss content creation for the institute, and plan new stuff that I’m not going to spoil here just yet. Therefore, I don’t head back to the work station I usually sit at, but rather the coworking space. As the institute’s PCs are understandably reserved only for project-related work, this room has several desks (and even a few displays you can freely plug into) where students can sit down with their personal laptop and work on whatever they please. I spend the rest of the hour organising my thoughts and preparing for the meeting, and head on to one of the two conference rooms, which are also available to students on a booking basis.
As we finish the meeting around 4 PM, the campus truly starts coming alive, since many people arrive following their day jobs only to spend their evening learning how to code. I have special admiration for everyone who chooses to tackle 42 Prague along a full-time commitment, whether that be employment, taking care of children, or, in some amazing cases, both. If you are a potential student considering such work-life balance, I think it’s very important to realise that choice will leave you with little to no free time for the next 12 to 18 months, depending on how fast you can progress through the curriculum. No one said that becoming a software engineer is easy, but I would urge you to reduce your other work-related commitments to part-time before enrolling at 42, if given the choice to do so.
By now, all that is left on my today’s to-do list is… Trivia Night! 42 Prague organises a plethora of events. Non-formal meetups with professionals from various fields of IT, networking events (I would lie if I said the connections are the only good thing about these, because the food selection is always top-notch), partner events introducing new and exciting technologies… There are certainly many opportunities to learn apart from the coding projects themselves (and if you’re looking for something truly hands-on, there’s talk of the first 42 Prague hackathon coming later this year!). Anyway, today’s happening is neither of these, but rather a community-focused event aimed at fostering peer relations. And honestly, just having bloody good fun. A perfect opportunity for my brain to wind down through some peculiar but entertaining questions. And also capture a few moments with my camera to later showcase on the institute’s Instagram. I thought that it might be a bit awkward if I have to pose as a winner and also take the picture, but, as fate would have it, I nor my team were not on the podium that night.
From this point onward, many attendees of the Trivia Night choose to go back to coding. But with 6 PM on the clock, I’m ready to call it a day. There’s talk of hitting the pub later in the evening, but I am already imagining myself counting sheep. And so I head out into the same cold darkness that I emerged from in the morning, yet again one step closer to my future coding career.
Should you, the reader, have any questions related to studying at 42 Prague, feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Cheers!