French Billionaire Opens Free Coding University '42' In Silicon Valley

A rendering of the free coding school ’42′ that will open in Fremont, Calif., in July for its first coding bootcamp. (Credit: Ecole 42)

French technology entrepreneur and billionaire Xavier Niel (#129 in 2016 and #7 in France with a net worth of $8 billion) is investing $100 million of his own money to bring his Paris-based ’42′ coding school to Silicon Valley.

The name ’42′ is a nod to Douglas Adams’ science-fiction series The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, where 42 is the answer to “the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.”

Based on a unique ‘open education’ model Mr. Niel launched in France 3 years ago, ’42′ has no teachers, books, curriculum or grades and is absolutely free of charge to attend!

The school’s U.S. branch acquired a 200,000-square-foot campus in Fremont – for over $62 million – that was previously occupied by the DeVry University, and which stands just across the bridge from Facebook's FB +1.89% sprawling campus in Menlo Park. The non-profit school will also provide up to 600 dormitories for free, for the most disadvantaged students, in an additional 84,000-square-foot structure.

“Studying in the U.S. is very expensive and the total amount of student loans is now larger than the American credit card debt, and out of reach for many ordinary working families,” said COO Brittany Bir in an exclusive interview. “At the same time, technology companies in Silicon Valley, but also worldwide, can not hire enough developers to grow and scale their business and we believe our revolutionary model will help solve that gap.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million new computer science jobs available, but only 400,000 computer science graduates will have the skills to apply for those jobs.

10,000 students in 5 years

42 is open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 30 – by the time the school year starts in November – with no academic degree, high school diploma or even coding knowledge required. And it takes 3 to 5 years to complete the curriculum’s 21 levels, depending on the student’s pace.

The selection process is also quite rigorous.
First, applicants need to register on the school’s website and take an online aptitude test. Again, no coding experience required. The best 3,000+ students will then have to come on-site to complete a 4-week intensive coding bootcamp; 7 days a week and between 10 to 15 hours a day.

“We call this continuous hackathon the piscine (swimming pool in French). Even if you don’t know programming, you will learn it by the end of the bootcamp, if you are motivated of course, or you will drown, figuratively speaking of course” adds Bir. The free dorms will also be available during the bootcamps.

Three bootcamps of 1,024 students each are scheduled in July, August and September. “We will then select the 1,024 best students to attend 42’s first class in November. That’s twice the number of students of our Paris campus,” said Brittany Bir.

The unorthodox curriculum is project-based and students must be physically present on campus to foster teamwork and collaboration between peers. “42 offers an ideal learning and working environment that allows talent to thrive. It’s open 24/7, with the very best in technology, with more than 2,000 new iMacs, high speed Internet or large capacity storage servers.”

Mr. Niel, a high-school dropout himself who racked some of his first money running electronic sex-chats, made billions selling high-speed Internet access and low-cost cellphone service through his telecom operator Free, a subsidiary of public company Iliad .

Two years ago, the French telecommunications company unsuccessfully tried to acquire U.S. mobile phone operator T-Mobile for $15 billion. For Niel, the launch of ’42’ in Silicon Valley is another way to raise his profile amongst American investors and entrepreneurs who will take him more seriously the next time he tries his luck in the U.S. market.

Author: Jean Baptiste is a Principal Analyst at Atherton Research, providing research and strategic advice to hypergrowth startups and FORBES Global 2000 companies.