Abu Dhabi: With no teachers and no traditional classes, it presented a unique approach to learning; more than 10,500 applicants participated in an initial pre-selection online game.
Now, 135 select applicants have joined the first cohort of Abu Dhabi’s new tuition-free coding school, 42 Abu Dhabi, and are fully immersed in exploring a skill that has come to define the workforce of the future.
Smashing global stereotypes about coders, nearly half of this first cohort of students — 40 per cent — is female. There is also a significant number of Emiratis, making up 42.5 per cent of the students.
“Coding has become an essential skill to progress your career, and it will create the jobs of the future. But 42 Abu Dhabi is also all about developing local talent, because whenever you try to get talent from outside, it misses some of the nuance [of the UAE]. Having software developed here means that it is much more likely to be relevant for the [country and the community],” Marcos Muller-Habig, chief technology officer at 42, told Gulf News.
“The methodology of learning here also allows students to develop the spirit of lifelong learning, which means that they will always be relevant, regardless of what their future jobs look like,” he added.
Indeed, the method of learning at the school has been called disruptive. Students, who must be aged at least 18 years, learn at their own pace, completing projects that are reviewed by their peers. The approach has been likened to gamification, with students being ‘eliminated’ if they fail to progress through the projects. In fact, all students selected for the programme had to first pass an online test, then complete a Piscine, an immersive 26-day test over the summer as proof of their endurance and commitment.
The school — a joint initiative by Abu Dhabi’s education regulator, the Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), and the emirate’s Ghadan 21 economic accelerator programme — is open 24/7, and students must keep their own hours and discipline themselves to keep up. A typical student takes between three to five years to complete the programme, which equips students to develop web and mobile applications and even leverage Artificial Intelligence tools. Those who are interested can even choose to continue with levels of mastery beyond the basic 42 programme.
Too good to be true
Gulf News visited the school, located in Abu Dhabi’s Mina Zayed warehouse district, to hear from the students who have joined the inaugural batch.
“When I heard of 42 Abu Dhabi, it felt too good to be true. Having completed a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, I was looking for a position when I came across the initial call to applicants. And so, even though computer games and mobile applications had been what I believed to be my only exposure to the world of coding, I was immensely interested in it,” said Azza Al Harasi, a 26-year-old Emirati in 42 Abu Dhabi’s first cohort.
If she completes the programme and became an experience coder, Al Harasi said she would be willing to take up the career shift it could mean.
“Code is everywhere, and I can see myself building it for any future workplace that I join. I thoroughly enjoyed the Piscine, which required us to manage our time and meet submission deadlines,” Al Harasi said.
In these first three weeks, Al Harasi has learnt that every individual goes on to create his or her own coding style, and is excited to develop her own.
Different way of thinking
For 24-year-old Allan Thekkepeedika, 42’s programme represented a chance to explore another of his intellectual interests. The economics graduate from India said he had initially planned to specialise in law after a few gap years.
“I had returned to Dubai, where my family lives, then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This got me thinking a lot about technology, and also the fact that I had never really explored coding after my brief experience with it in high school. This was a personal shock to me, especially as I felt that I had the flexibility to still do so while I am young. I was able to complete the Piscine, and then decided to do this at least for year to see if coding is for me,” Thekkepeedika said.
In three weeks, he has already completed his first project, which involved replicating library functions. “Coding is a completely different way of thinking, so even if I go on to find out that I am not good at it or that I don’t like it all that much, it is [still a valuable experience],” he said.
Already well-versed in web development, Ilia Mazourine, a 22-year-old Dutch expat, has found 42’s programme to be a natural fit for him.
“I was never interested in school, and only Computer Science ever interested me, briefly, as a subject. So after I had finished school, I went through a four-month web development bootcamp, and then began to work in full-stack web development. I worked with an Italian IT and marketing for 18 months to provide full stack web development services, which includes both websites and the logic behind them. When my brother, who lives in Dubai, told me about 42, it felt like a good opportunity to also learn coding,” he explained.
Completing his first project at 42, Mazourine said he had mixed feelings about it, and wants to do even better going forward.
“IT is ingrained in every industry today, from public transport to medicine to mining, whether or not one is aware of it. So in my opinion, coding is for everyone who enjoys logical thinking and problem solving,” he said.
The 42 Abu Dhabi student added that he sees himself opening an IT services company in the UAE in future.
First in the network to provide certification (from the UAE’s National Qualifications Centre, which regulates occupational standards federally)
Follows an atypical peer-to-peer teaching methodology, so there are no teachers or courses. All learning is peer-to-peer, gamified and project-based.
Selected students do not pay any tuition. They must be aged at least 18 years old, and must take an online test that further qualifies them for a 26-day, immersive assessment phase.
Students must complete projects at their own pace to progress through the levels.
On average, students take three to five years to complete the programme.
42 graduates enjoy a 100 per cent employment rate in France and the United States.
Located in Mina Zayed warehouse district in Abu Dhabi.
School is open 24/7, allowing students of all ages to adopt their own schedules.
Maximum capacity of 750 students at 42 Abu Dhabi, with 135 students in inaugural cohort that began in September 2021.
Internationally, the 42 Network has trained more than 12,000 students, and they have gone on to develop more than 400 start-ups.