October 26th, 2013
The application process for 42 reminds me a bit of what happens to people who try to get into the French Foreign Legion.
The Legion doesn’t care about your background, they just want to know if you’re up to the job. If you don’t know about the French Foreign Legion, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the application process and then read the piece below.
A new computer school in Paris has been overwhelmed by some 60,000 applicants.
The school, called 42, was founded by a telecom magnate who says the French education system is failing young people. His aim is to reduce France’s shortage in computer programmers while giving those who’ve fallen by the wayside a new chance.
In the hallways of 42, suitcases and sleeping bags are piled, and people are stretched out on mattresses in some of the corners. There are showers and dozens of colorful bath towels.
Living here for the next month are some of the 4,000 potential students who already made the first cut by passing cognitive skill tests online.
Now they have to clear another hurdle. They’re thrown together and challenged with computer problems for 15 hours a day. Only 800 students will get a place, says 42′s director, Nicolas Sadirac.
A Demand For Thinkers From Any Class
“It’s very, very intensive,” Sadirac says. “It’s a kind of selection, but [for] the long term. So we don’t just do an examination. We spend four weeks choosing each student.”
The only criteria for applying is to be between the ages of 18 and 30. Applicants don’t need money, or a particular level of academic achievement. A third don’t even have high school diplomas.
Sadirac says they’re not looking for how much students know, but how they think. One of the school’s main goals is to unearth talent in poor areas, where kids don’t fit into the traditional French academic mold.
Youth unemployment in France is at a 14-year high. At the same time, French companies cannot find enough IT specialists, and thousands of young computer enthusiasts can’t get training. That prompted 42′s founder Xavier Niel to invest $90 million of his own money in the school.
Niel, the creator of France’s third largest telecommunications company, Free, says the social elevator in France is broken.
“If you’re the son of a blue-collar worker, you’re going to be a blue collar worker,” Niel says. “Children of elites stay elite. We have 200,000 kids a year who drop out of the French school system and have no hope. They become a drag on society. We want to help these young people take control of their lives.”
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