It’s a coding school, except it takes three to five years to complete. It calls itself a “university,” but there are no professors or SAT requirement. Each cohort has roughly 1,000 students, but no one is paying tuition.
This isn’t a fantasy—it’s 42, a French-born educational experiment with the goal of educating 10,000 talented software engineers over the next five years. The non-profit, headed by French telecom entrepreneur Xavier Niel, said on Tuesday that it’s opening a brand new 200,000 square foot building in Fremont, Calif. where it will educate its students for free and house at least 300 low-income students. Niel, who is the CEO of telecom giant Illiad, is funding it with $100 million of his personal money, according to a press release.
While 42 may sound crazy, the organization has already built one such school in Paris, France in 2013. The original 42 currently has 2,500 students enrolled. As Niel explained to Fortune in a 2013 profile of his initial program, 42 is a response to France’s rigid education system that is focused on “formalized, nationally controlled testing that favors workhorses over creative geeks and maverick innovators.” Niel himself is no stranger to this pirate spirit: he skipped college altogether and learned to code holed up in his bedroom.
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Gaining entrance into 42 is a bit like the “Hunger Games.” After submitting an application, prospective students, who must be between 18 and 30 years old, are thrown into the piscine (the French word for “swimming pool”) to see if they sink or swim through coding and logic assignments. Only the best of each group of 1,000 will make it into the program, which will begin in November.
Nevertheless, it’s still a big bet. So-called “coding bootcamps” are still in their early days, so it’s hard to tell how well they can compete with traditional computer science programs in the job market. And the quality of teaching and job preparedness has varied widely across the many bootcamps that have sprung up, which means employers have embraced their graduates to varying degrees.