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外卖小哥如何实现人生逆袭?来这座学校免费学编程

Vivienne Walt 2019年03月22日

这所编程学校没有课本,没有老师,也没有教室,学生在这里能学到什么?

在2016年10月的时候,从大学辍学的詹姆斯·埃勒放弃了教中提琴的梦想,在堪萨斯城靠着送披萨勉强过活。回忆起那段日子,他说道:“在我脑子里有个声音说:‘你没有事业,也没有未来。’”

这时,他听一位朋友说起,在1800英里外的加州弗里蒙特,有一所新建立的、名为“42”的编程学校,免费教人学习编程。报名者不需要懂任何电脑知识,甚至连高中文凭也不需要,就连宿舍都是免费的。听到这天方夜谭似的传说,现年30岁的埃勒嗤之以鼻。“我说:‘好吧,呵呵,免费。’”转念又一想,反正自己也没有什么好失去的了。于是他卖了自己的汽车,买了一张西行的机票。

两年多后,我在巴黎市北部的42学校本部的大厅里见到了埃勒——没错,这所学校的本部位于巴黎,加州弗里蒙特只是它的分校。42学校是一项非常大胆的教育实验,旨在解决科技行业长期缺乏熟练编程人员的难题。埃勒表示,送披萨的日子早就成为历史了,他现在正为下一步的工作发愁——是今年夏天毕业后加入一家公司,还是自己创业呢?“毕竟有这么多的可能性。”他说。

早在2013年,也就是42学校刚刚招收第一批学生时,我就曾代表《财富》杂志造访过这所学校。当时很多新生刚到巴黎时身无分文,晚上就睡在睡袋里,外卖餐盒和啤酒瓶散落在各个房间。站在一片乱哄哄的人群中,42学校的创始人、电信行业高管泽维尔·尼尔(他也是法国最富有的人之一)显得激动不已。当时他对我说:“我们会造成一些影响的。”

尼尔创办42学校的创意来自于他本人的经历,他并没有大学文凭,而是自学的编程。早在国际互联网出现之前的Minitel时代(由法国自行建立的一个国家网络),他就开始了自己的编程生涯。他甚至还编过一个约炮软件,并且以5000万美元的价格卖了出去。后来他创办了一家名叫Iliad的上市公司,它也是低成本电信公司Free的母公司。2017年,他在巴黎东部创办了一个名叫Station F的科技孵化器。现年51岁的尼尔认为,法国的传统教育(用他的话说是“最糟糕的”)将孩子们限制在了预定的轨道上,让他们思维僵化、无心进取。他在自己的公司里也感到了这种影响。

为了打碎这些传统,尼尔自己掏出7800万美元创办了42学校。这所学校没有学费,没有教师,也没有教室。学生们全靠自学,如果他们需要帮助,就去问其他同学,或者自己解决问题。为了保持这种叛逆精神,他给学校起名为“42”,因为在反主流文化的经典之作《银河系漫游指南》(The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)中,42是“一切问题的答案”。学校的第一幢楼外面还挂着一面海盗旗。据悉,每年有40000余人报名参加42学校的在线逻辑测试。从这40000人中,学校会选择3000人参加为期一个月的新训营,这个新训营名叫“Piscine”,在法语中是“游泳池”的意思。根据表现,最终从这3000人中选择1800人,进入学校的两个校区学习。

现在,那面海盗旗已经不见了,走廊里的睡袋也不多了。学校的墙上陈列着不少令人印象深刻的艺术作品。经常为法国电信行业站台的马克龙总统也是这里的常客。不过,42学校仍然给人一种创业公司般杂乱而有生气的感觉。比如经常有几十个人盯着电脑显示器专注地学习,学校大厅里则堆着一堆滑雪板。

42学校创办以来,差不多6年过去了,它究竟造成了多大的影响?

尼尔相信,经过6年的发展,42学校已经证明了他的观点——程序员的成功只需要两件事,一是要掌握逻辑,二是要有雄心壮志。他坐在Iliad集团总部大楼顶层,从这里可以俯瞰巴黎全景。“你并不需要懂所有技术才能编程,也不需要擅长数学。随便从大街上抓几个人……”说到这儿,他打了个响指道:“他们也能成为世界上最好的程序员。”在42的学生中,大约有40%没有高中文凭。“我们的想法是,你不是通过看人们能做什么而去选择人,而是要完全忘了他们之前是做什么的。”

42学校已经有了很多令人印象深刻的成功故事。

贾丝明·安泰尼斯今年26岁。21岁的时候,她从美术学校辍学,成了42学校的第一批学生。两年后,她与42学校的两名同学共同开发了一个名叫Recast.AI的人工智能聊天机器人,并于去年将它卖给了软件巨头SAP。我问她:“你现在有钱了吗?”她的脸红了:“啊,是的。”

今年25岁的巴尔萨泽·格洛农是安泰尼斯的同班同学。今年2月,他离开巴黎,在旧金刚创办了一家名叫Ashlar的区块链公司。尼尔表示,现在就连银行、时尚公司等“老式”的法国公司也在招聘42学校毕业的学生。

但是42学校的美国加州分校自2016年创办以来,却一直名声不显。该校可容纳3000名学生学习,但目前的在校人数只有三分之一左右。(为吸引更多学生,该校现在也在更频繁地开办Piscine新训营。)尼尔在法国是个著名的富有远见的企业家,但在美国却没有人认识他。讽刺的是,42学校的免费政策在美国似乎成了一种障碍——哪怕很多美国人都深受学生贷款的困扰。对此,尼尔表示:“当你说自己免收学费时,很多人都认为你是个骗子。”

Back in October 2016, James Aylor was scraping by, delivering pizza in Kansas City, having dropped out of college, abandoning his dream of teaching viola. “The voice in my head said, ‘You have no career. No future,’ ” he says.

Then a friend mentioned he had heard about a new, tuition-free coding school 1,800 miles away in Fremont, Calif. Named 42, it required no computer skills or even a high school diploma, and dorm rooms were free. “I said, ‘Yeah, whatever, ha ha, free,’ ” recalls Aylor, now 30. Still, he decided he had “absolutely nothing to lose.” He sold his car and bought a plane ticket west.

When I meet Aylor a little more than two years later, he is in northern Paris, strolling through the lobby of the original 42 school, of which Fremont is an offshoot. The radical educational experiment is geared to solving the tech industry’s chronic shortage of skilled programmers. With his pizza gig a distant memory, Aylor says he is now juggling potential jobs, weighing whether to join a company when he graduates this summer or launch a startup. “There are so many possibilities,” he says.

Back in 2013, I visited 42 for Fortune as its first batch of students was moving in—literally: Many had arrived in Paris with no money, rolling out sleeping bags in 42’s factory-style campus. Takeout cartons and beer bottles littered the rooms. Standing amid the tumult, 42’s founder, billionaire telecom exec Xavier Niel—one of the richest people in France—was thrilled. “We’ll have some impact,” he told me then.

Niel’s brazen idea drew from his own experience. With no college degree, he taught himself coding and created programs (including a sex-chat app he sold for about $50 million) on France’s pre-Internet Minitel service. He went on to found the publicly traded group Iliad, parent of the low-cost telecom company Free, and in 2017 opened the giant tech incubator Station F in eastern Paris. Niel, now 51, says he was increasingly convinced that France’s traditional education (“the worst!” he says) boxed kids into preordained tracks, leaving them bored and uninspired; he felt the effects in his own companies.

The 42 school, which Niel built with $78 million of his own money, tries to shatter those conventions. It has no fees, teachers, or classrooms. Students work their own hours. If they need help, they ask each other or figure it out themselves. In keeping with the rebel spirit, the school’s name refers to the counterculture classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which says “the answer to everything” is 42; the first building had a pirate’s flag outside. About 1,800 students are admitted each year between the two campuses, chosen from about 3,000 who are accepted into 42’s grueling monthlong boot camp called Piscine, French for “swimming pool.” Those 3,000 are picked from the initial 40,000 people who take 42’s online logic test every year.

The pirate’s flag has gone, and there are only a few sleeping bags in the corridors. The walls display an impressive art collection, and President Emmanuel Macron, a cheerleader for the French tech industry, is a frequent visitor. Yet 42 still has the feel of a messy startup, with dozens of people at monitors and a stack of skateboards in the lobby.

But how much impact has 42 had, nearly six years in?

Niel is convinced that 42 has proved his point: that programmers need only two things to succeed—a grasp of logic and driving ambition. “You don’t need to know anything to be able to code. You don’t need to be good at math,” he says, sitting atop Iliad’s headquarters, with a sweeping view of Paris. “You can take anyone in the street, and”— he snaps his fingers—“they can become the best coder in the world.” About 40% of the students have not graduated from high school. “The idea was you don’t choose people by seeing if they can do something,” Niel says. “You completely forget what they did before.”

Indeed, 42 boasts impressive success stories.

Jasmine Anteunis, 26, joined 42’s first intake after quitting fine-arts school at 21. Two years later, she created an artificial intelligence chatbot, Recast.AI, with two fellow 42 students. They sold last year to software giant SAP. Are you rich? I ask. “Ah, yes,” she says, blushing.

One of Anteunis’s classmates, Balthazar Gronon, 25, left Paris in February for San Francisco, where he launched a blockchain company called Ashlar—in a sharp break from his original plan to be an economist, he says. And Niel says even old-style French companies like banks and fashion houses are now recruiting 42 students.

But in California, 42 has struggled for credibility since opening in 2016. It fills only about one-third of its capacity of 3,000 students. (To attract a greater number, the school now offers more frequent Piscine boot camps.) Niel, famous in France as a visionary entrepreneur, is unknown in the U.S. And ironically, a major hurdle for 42 appears to be that it is free—despite Americans being crippled by student debt. Says Niel, “When you are tuition-free, people think it is a fraud.”

****

泽维尔·尼尔。 图片来源:Francois Moris—AP/Shutterstock

坏小子泽维尔·尼尔

年龄:51岁

来自:巴黎

劣迹:从开发约炮软件,到参股性用品连锁商店,尼尔的生意经总是跟桃色沾边。2006年,他被法院裁定曾挪用他参股的性用品商店20万欧元公款。

不走寻常路:美国歌手法兰克·辛纳屈唱红了一首歌《我的路》(My Way),泽维尔·尼尔竟然是这首歌的版权人之一,因为这首歌一开始是用法语写的歌词。

新闻人:这一点可能让法国前总统萨科奇最为不爽——与萨科奇龃龉不断的法国《世界报》(Le Monde)在2010年被一个财团买下了,尼尔正是出资方之一。(财富中文网)

本文另一版本登载于2019年4月刊《财富》杂志,标题为《42是答案吗?》。

译者:朴成奎

L’enfant Terrible: Xavier Niel

AGE: 51

FROM: Paris

RISQUÉ: From sex chats to a stake in a chain of peep shows, Niel’s business history has been colorful. He was convicted in 2006 for embezzling 200,000 euros from one of his sex shops.

HIS WAY: Niel is co-owner of the publishing rights to the song “My Way,” popularized by Frank Sinatra, which was originally written with French lyrics.

NEWSMAN: To the chagrin of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, Niel was part of a consortium that bought the prestigious Le Monde newspaper in 2010.

A version of this article appears in the April 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “Is 42 the Answer?”

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