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“42 graduates have the software world open to them”

Interview with HR Director Gunnar Kilian and Max Senges, Managing Director of 42 Wolfsburg

In 2021, a new location of the renowned programming school 42 will start operations in Wolfsburg. Volkswagen supports the school through the association “42 Wolfsburg e. V.”. In this interview, HR Director Gunnar Kilian and Max Senges, Managing Director of 42 Wolfsburg, talk about the digitalization of the automotive industry and the exceptional learning approach of 42.

“Cars are becoming more and more digital and connected – which is why Volkswagen is increasingly becoming a software company.”

Gunnar Kilian Chief Human Resources Officer

With 42 Wolfsburg, Volkswagen is supporting the second programming school at the company’s headquarters. Why?

Kilian: Cars are becoming more and more digital and connected – which is why Volkswagen is increasingly becoming a software company. Our goal is to develop a large proportion of the software in our vehicles ourselves in the future. Currently, this in-house contribution is less than ten percent. By 2025, we want to increase it to 60 percent. To achieve this, we need highly trained specialists.

Last year, you already established Faculty 73. Isn’t that enough?

Kilian: Faculty 73 and 42 Wolfsburg pursue different goals and learning approaches, so the offerings complement each other perfectly. Faculty 73 trains basic software developers within two years and ends with a Chamber of Industry and Commerce degree. 42 Wolfsburg teaches the skills of a junior developer in around 18 months. Those who decide to continue their studies will acquire the skills of a specialized software engineer at a master’s level in one to three more years. Both programming schools will help us meet the demand for top talent in IT.

42 Wolfsburg works without lecturers and a curriculum – how does that work?

Senges: We focus on self-determined learning – alone, but especially together with fellow students. Students do not acquire academic knowledge with us, but train themselves to become top programmers by implementing increasingly difficult projects. We believe that know-how cannot be “transmitted” in lectures – but that you have to acquire it practically yourself. With the internet, students also have the world’s largest knowledge resource at their disposal. At the end, graduates will have software competencies comparable to a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science.

42 Wolfsburg does not issue a degree certificate with which you can use to apply with. Isn’t it better to study at a university?

Senges: We do not believe in certificates, but in competence. The École 42 concept is used at 33 locations worldwide. It has been continuously improved over the years. Experience shows that the students have the best chances of finding an exciting job – they work in large IT corporations, become self-employed or work in IT departments. By the way, this is not only due to their good technical knowledge. Our concept promotes teamwork and responsibility. The graduates are known for solving problems independently.

“Our concept promotes teamwork and responsibility. Graduates are known for solving problems independently.”

Max Senges Managing Director of 42 Wolfsburg

The school includes kitchen and rest rooms – open at any time. Why?

Senges: During the study period, not only learning is important – but also student life. That’s why the campus includes a number of common rooms in addition to the learning environment. There you can spend time with fellow students, discuss, play board games or read books. The campus is accessible 24/7 – so students are free to decide how to organize their day. Because of Corona, we will also make studying 100 percent online possible. But our “spaceship”, the Markthalle in Wolfsburg, will definitely remain an important magnet for joint activities such as hardware workshops, team building, thought leadership events and kickoffs.

What should applicants bring with them?

Senges: A high level of motivation and the ability to work independently are important. I like to compare this with learning a language: I can either start by cramming vocabulary and grammar. Or I go abroad and practice in everyday life – first simple things, then difficult things. Learning with us is the same as going abroad. This is also reflected in our selection process: We look for those who are comfortable with independent learning.

What does the cooperation with Volkswagen look like?

Kilian: Volkswagen supports the programming school through the association “42 Wolfsburg e. V.”. In the first year, the school will receive 3.7 million euros, followed by two million euros annually. In this way, we are helping to ensure that 42 Wolfsburg can operate on a non-profit and tuition-free basis. In addition, Volkswagen will certainly be able to offer many internships for the students.

Senges: Students spend a considerable part of their studies in practical learning assignments in partner companies. What makes this special is that during the practical phases, they are assigned experienced software developers as mentors who provide the students with intensive support. But perhaps the most important thing about the 42 education: The students learn-to-learn – and will thus find it normal throughout their lives to master new things again and again.

This is what the new programming school is supposed to look like: Talent and motivation count in the admissions process of 42.

What exactly do students learn?

Senges: The first small projects deal with tasks such as representations of “Hello World” on the screen. Later, students can specialize in 13 areas such as machine learning, distributed applications, IT security, Open Internet or 3D visualization. Since tens of thousands of software developers are in demand worldwide and our graduates all speak English very well, the software world is open to them. In Wolfsburg, we also want to develop and offer a specialization for the automotive sector. Here, students learn to write software for vehicles, mobility solutions or ecosystems. Among other things, to develop and pilot the learning projects in this area, we have launched a fellowship program in which experts from academia and business – including, of course, from the various organizations at Volkswagen – will work together.

How does corona impact your planning?

Senges: I assume that the “piscines” – the four-week admission tests – will take place entirely online. Actually, these are face-to-face events – but that will probably not be possible at the beginning of 2021. Starting in May, we would like to offer the in-person courses in Wolfsburg. But during the pandemic, we will also enable digital participation. Interest is considerable, by the way. But we are still looking forward to applicants, both for the bootcamps in spring – February, March, April – and in late summer – August, September, October.

Volkswagen is becoming a software company – what does that mean independently of 42 Wolfsburg?

Kilian: Software competence is elementary for our future. After all, software is becoming the brain of the car. That is one of the reasons why we have created the Car.Software organization within the Group. In the medium term, thousands of IT specialists will work there. Volkswagen will double its investment in digitization over the next five years to 27 billion euros. The money will flow into the Car.Software organization and into important technologies such as artificial intelligence or autonomous driving. The biggest challenge, however, will be to meet the high demand for education and training in terms of digital skills and thus enable our workforce to play an active role in shaping the transformation. In my opinion, this is the key to how quickly and sustainably Volkswagen will make the leap into the digital age.

Info for applicants:

42: The IT school, headquartered in Paris, was founded in 2013. There are now more than 30 locations worldwide, including in California, Finland, the Netherlands, Brazil, Indonesia, Armenia, Japan, Jordan, Colombia, Spain, Canada, Italy, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium, Russia and Morocco. The 42 boasts a student population of approximately 10,000.

Selection process: Talent and motivation count in the 42-admission process. Those who successfully complete the online aptitude test qualify for the selection phase called “Piscine” in which practice-oriented projects are worked on. The best participants receive a place on a one to five-year training program. In May 2021, “42 Wolfsburg” is scheduled to start operations with initially 150 students. The aim is to enroll 600 students by the end of 2022.

More at: 42wolfsburg.de

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