42 is a higher-level computer programming school like no other. Founded in Paris in 2013, it doesn’t charge fees or have teachers, classes or books. Instead, peer-to-peer learning and project work takes centre stage.
The school’s watchwords are equality, openness and high-level education; it aims to democratise coding and also drive the participation of minorities and disadvantaged groups. Students are selected based on their performance during the Piscine, a month-long trial that assesses their potential, rather than their past exam results or ability to pay tuition. No degree is required to apply, and candidates don’t need any prior coding experience.
It’s a model that has been incredibly successful. The school’s graduates, armed with initiative and problem-solving skills, are in high demand even before they have finished their training. Since its launch, 42 has taken its movement global and now has 35 campuses around the world, from Paris to Rio, Tokyo and Moscow.
From day one, collaboration has been key to 42’s success. Its pedagogic model ultimately depends on students successfully learning from one another, and it relies on Slack to make that happen. With Slack channels – a central place for sharing messages, tools and files – students can collaborate on projects in real time, without worrying that their messages will get lost or forgotten in email inboxes. At every 42 campus, staff members use Slack to strengthen student communities, creating channels for everything from announcements and troubleshooting to clubs and social events.
Internally, Slack is integral to 42’s day-to-day operations. At a campus level, Slack channels are used for IT support, system administration and course design, while Slack apps unlock doors, open parking gates and play music in classrooms. At a network level, 42’s management team relies on channels to reinforce its connection with campuses around the world. Nicolas Baberian, 42’s COO, describes Slack as the school’s communications centre – here’s a look at why.
Keeping on top of incidents and alerts across a network of campuses
At 42’s central HQ, the team uses dedicated Slack channels to manage student learning, tech and support across its network of campuses. The #_changelogs channel, for example, is where it publishes any changes to its tools or curriculum, while it uses #_announcements to broadcast school news to staff all over the world. It also uses Slack more granularly with individual campuses.
‘As we onboard more and more campuses, we have more and more people to keep informed,’ Baberian says. ‘With Slack, it’s easy to spin up a channel where we can make sure that everyone has access to the right information, and they have a direct line to us if they have comments or questions.’
42 has integrated some of its most-used apps, including Stack Overflow, GitHub and Jira, into Slack. Updates on the status of its servers and certificates are now piped directly into dedicated Slack channels so developers don’t have to keep switching between interfaces and can move work forwards faster.
With the Jira integration, the 42 team automatically gets notified if a critical incident occurs. For example, if students on one of its campuses can’t access an exam, the app will automatically create a support ticket in #_it and also post a message about the issue in other key Slack channels. This visibility ensures that 42 gets eyes on the problem no matter what time it is.
‘If the central team is not awake, the other campuses step in to help,’ Baberian says. ‘For instance, Bangkok might help Tokyo because it is in a similar time zone. With Slack, we’re not limited to just one-to-one communication.’
‘Our people love how Slack streamlines work. They describe it as live, fast, integrated and open – those are the words that crop up most often in their feedback.’
A streamlined student experience, powered by Slack
Slack is integrated into all aspects of student life at 42. Every campus has open channels for student announcements, and there are a variety of dedicated channels where students with similar interests can connect. Campus staff use custom Slack apps to manage the physical environment. For instance, the Paris campus has apps that play music in classrooms, open the gates to the car park and unlock building doors.
‘If a student wants to get into a particular room, they ask the Slack app and it connects with the security system to action their request right away,’ Baberian says. ‘In fact, we use Slack to automate so many of the day-to-day tasks at 42. With Slack, we can reboot a computer, read a session and retrieve information. It can also create dedicated projects, trigger evaluations and even flag people for cheating.’
‘Thanks to Slack applications, we’ve been able to automate mundane tasks, which gives us a little more freedom to focus on the work that matters.’
Peer-to-peer learning is central to 42’s ethos, and Slack has become the place where it happens. Students use Slack channels to identify students with similar interests, manage project groups, assign tasks, host discussions and schedule exams.
Students have also built hundreds of custom Slack apps to streamline their work processes –
one of the most popular is dubbed Ah!ssistant. When someone types ‘!reset’ in a channel, Ah!ssistant explains how they can reset their session on their school computer. Or, if someone asks for the email address of a staff member, Ah!ssistant will automatically post an answer.
‘Our students use Slack from their first day with us, and they make it their own,’ Baberian says. ‘From spinning up their own channels to creating custom apps for anything and everything, it’s where they connect with each other and get real work done.’
‘Slack is present in the entire workflow of our students’ lives. It's one of the keys to how they interact with our pedagogy.’
42 started life as a single Parisian school with an innovative learning model. It has since scaled to become a worldwide network of campuses, all interconnected and dedicated to producing future-proofed programmers. Slack has facilitated the seamless collaboration that has been essential to that growth.
‘Slack is core to our success and our students’ success,’ says Baberian. ‘Our goal is to expand our network to 50 campuses by 2025, and we are going to use Slack even more as we take on that challenge.’
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