Written By Ben Penchas, iXperience '15 (Coding), Stanford University
“Non long! Non long!” I shouted, but Mary Poppins completely ignored me. Even 6,000 lb Asian elephants have their moody moments.
As part of my gap year before college, I trained, rode, and lived with elephants in Thailand—or, more accurately, elephant in the singular, since becoming a mahout (professional elephant rider) entails bonding with one and only one elephant. And now my elephant was refusing to listen. Unbeknownst to me, it was iX and my month in Cape Town that prepared me for this experience.
iX is so much more than a bootcamp for technical skills. As our hoodies say, “It’s a lifestyle.” A lifestyle based on a few simple truths:
People. Mahouts live in a supportive community of people who feel equally passionate about elephants—the energy of the group immediately pulled me in, turning tedious activities like cutting bamboo into exciting projects. The same was true at iX. If coding seems dull or monotonous to you, you haven’t done it with the iX team. Speaker Jim Rohn had a theory that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Broadly, we all know this to be true. If you surround yourself with apathetic, defeatist people, your work becomes sluggish and your enthusiasm disappears. But when you hang around people with infectious energy, you get infected. With the right five people, you can let your drive and curiosity loose, and you start to see opportunities everywhere. Suddenly, you feel passion for everything you do.
Passion. We all know the cliche posters that urge you to “find your passion” or “do something you are passionate about.” These lines always bothered me—passion, singular? The idea that you should go out, try some things, pick one that is your passion, and then concentrate all your energy on that one thing seems not only restricting, but impossible. It’s certainly not how iX views passion. Don’t have a passion. Bring passion to everything you do. The mahouts I met aren’t just enthusiastic about training elephants—they passionately engage in wildlife conservation, in educational programs for kids, and in fundraising for wildlife non-profits. iX participants and staff bring just as much energy to coding as they do to sand boarding, poker, and salsa dancing. Even in the classroom, the program stresses non-coding skills like how to design a great UI, craft a compelling presentation, and create a personal brand. That’s because iX-ers aren’t just passionate about coding—they’re passionate about solving problems.
Problems. In general, you can judge what an institution values most by what it dedicates the most real estate to. At the elephant conservatory, the area dedicated to elephant playtime was roughly five times the size of the next largest area, the elephant housing. At the iX house, the single largest space is the outdoor coding lounge, an area filled with music, popcorn, and the immense slogan “Solve a problem” printed on the wall. That’s what iX values most: solving problems that matter. Of course, solving problems means taking risks and refusing to accept the status quo. It also means having the tools needed to bring your solution to the world. That’s where iX comes in—giving you the skills to code a winning web app, crush a technical interview, or simply train an elephant to lie down.