Developer, Sophie Viger has been leading the network of 42 coding schools launched by Xavier Niel since 2018. Present in the four corners of the planet with a particular self-training pedagogy accessible without a diploma, the network trains thousands of people each year. Called 19 with us, it has just announced the opening of an additional campus in Antwerp, after that of Brussels.
How do you explain that people are still surprised to see a woman at the head of a coding school?
Prior to the 1980s, computing was a profession in which 35 to 40 percent were women. It was a legacy of sewing machines and then typewriters. There was a filiation to the computer keyboard. At the time, it was seen as a profession that was absolutely not valued. Everything changed with the arrival of the personal computer in the 80s. It was seen as a new technology, an innovation. The families who bought it at the time also saw it as an electronic toy.
“We want to become the largest school of caring coders in the world.”
And who says electronic toy, says boy?
It was the little boys that we sat in front of these computers, and not the girls. My parents, for example, bought a ZX81 for my brothers. In addition, it was very expensive, so it was well-to-do and mostly white families who were able to afford it. This is how this geek community was born by capillarity. Around this community, a market has been organized, that of video games, which has targeted it around themes of boys such as war, fighting and sport. The geek archetype became a white teenage boy, awkward in sports and with girls, and computer enthusiast. This cliché will stick to the skin of IT and today it is a real problem in many respects.
Tech has evolved since the 80s, but remains a man’s business. Even in your formations, the rate of women remains a problem. what are the solutions?
In Kuala Lumpur, 60% of computer scientists are female computer scientists. It is also a cultural issue. Above all, we must remember why it is important to have more women: because diversity is a driver of innovation. We try to promote this diversity with our free training courses without the need for a diploma to reduce the number of barriers to entry. Unfortunately, we arrive a little after the battle, since they are at least 18 years old when they arrive at our place.
“We give opportunities to people who couldn’t find their way in the traditional system.”
But at the level of our campuses, we can do a lot of things. The proof, in Paris, we managed to increase from 14 to 30% of women on campus. So I’m hopeful that here in Belgium too, we’ll reach this rate. We must ensure that the universe they arrive in allows them to flourish and feel welcome with zero tolerance for sexism. Then, it is also a question of internal and external communication. It is also important to work with players such as Pôle emploi in France or Bruxelles-Formation. We also hold discovery sessions dedicated to women to show them that it is compatible with family life and that at the end of the day, there is a great job in a great company.
What is 42’s ultimate ambition?
Become the largest school in benevolent coders in the world.
Does this mean opening a campus in each country?
Even more, in some countries, depending on population density. What is very important in our international development is toto be present where there is a real needto find a partner aligned with our values and who has the financial solidity to ensure at least 3 years of existence.
In Belgium, the activities are 100% financed by companies. Is this the ideal model?
Not necessarily, we have lots of different models. There are wealthy philanthropists like in Japan and the Netherlands. Sometimes there are governments that directly fund. In France, it’s a private-public mix. In Italy, it is financed by a university and, in Germany and Spain, by a foundation. It doesn’t matter, the reality is that we are in a preposterous situation with a market that wants to recruit, it’s full employment, and opposite it doesn’t connect.
“Giving opportunities to people who did not find their way in the traditional system has a lot of value from an economic and human point of view.”
Anyone can go to your school?
Whatever their situation, religion, social origin, age or sex: everyone can try 42. This makes it possible to give opportunities to people who did not find their way in the traditional system. This has a lot of value from an economic and human point of view.
Can we consider extending your pedagogy to more traditional education to meet the demand?
It is to meet the demand that we are growing everywhere, especially in Belgium. The demand is such that we have never canvassed a country, people come to us. In France, we have even started an experiment with national education to put computers in school. We created a computer learning platform, not just code, where the teacher does not need any specific knowledge, you just have to equip the classes with tablets.
“At the time, it was seen as an absolutely unvalued profession. Everything changed with the arrival of the personal computer in the 80s.”
But the profiles you train are so sought after that you can’t retain them until the end of the training…
It is a real issue. In France, we have solved this problem with work-study contracts which allow continue the training having accepted a contract from a company. This is a model that other countries could emulate.