School 42, meshing skills to stimulate innovation15/04/2015
By breaking the traditional codes of teaching, could School 42 be training not only expert programmers but also the most performing innovators of tomorrow? Created in 2013, this novel Computer Science School chose to do without… teachers and classes but favor collaborative work. Funded by Xavier Niel, founder of Iliad-Free. Encounter with Kwame Yamgnane, vice-principal of School 42.
After two years of operation, is School 42 still particularly innovative?
Kwame Yamgnane: Our approach remains performing and innovative since we focus on artisanal and not scientific issues. Here we “make” things while opting for hyper precision. For instance, to achieve the realization of a connected object, you need skills in electronics combined with skills in computer science and industrial design, which is hardly within everybody’s reach! Today, no global stream exists that allows the reconciliation of as many different approaches, in one single school, as we do. We train 800 students each year.
How do you help students think differently so that they become familiar with disruptive thinking?
Kwame Yamgnane: writing code is wielding the world. Once students master encoding, they work with other programmers, then with different experts in different fields. That means, for example, working with students of the French Fashion Institute or the Ecole de Condé on the subject of smart fabric. Our role consists in giving a dynamic to the place and creating emulation. Which other school can proudly claim the integration of both an Italian philosopher and a Tibetan monk?
Which role can School 42 play within the French and international innovation ecosystem?
Kwame Yamgnane: school 42 has developed links with American universities such as MIT. The school is already very well known within the French Tech Engineers Network, while42. Many French students’ ambition is to develop new businesses in Europe. This became possible with low-cost transportation. We also attract all North-African countries. Our Startup Studio was created to support the creation of companies in their seed and start-up phase. Four to five young start-ups are currently in creation, in collaboration with HEC Business School. One of the main keys to innovation is transversality between departments; it goes hand in hand with the questioning of hierarchical chains and the need to mix generations.
According to you, which company creation is a good example of what leads to success and could inspire today’s young entrepreneurs?
Kwame Yamgnane: Uber is an interesting case. Uber links users to drivers who act as taxi drivers. This idea could not have bloomed in the head of a student who takes the subway everyday. Therefore, we must fight against the popular belief that only young people, who will become millionaires one day, can start successful companies! A start-up also results from maturity. It has a three-phase development: first comes the idea, then the implementation and, finally, the outcome. A whole ecosystem is required in this blooming process. This is why we felt it necessary to mix generations! School 42 is opened to students aged from 18 to 30. No other school offers such a 12-year gap. It’s completely unique!
Can you explain the craze for hackathons, these events where developers get together and program non-stop during 48h? Is it just a fad or true emulation?
Kwame Yamgnane: School 42 regularly hosts hackathons. There is a current craze for hackathons, such as GDF SUEZ’ drones’ hackathon, for instance. It is an undeniable space for creativity, but what is most interesting is when the event leads to a long-term support. Hackathons are great for projects at launch phase!
Source: Alexia Guggémos