Lessons from my iX Family

By Sabra Meretab – iX Coding ’14, Stanford University

After 17 hours of immobility and lower back pain sitting in the Economy section of South African Airlines, the welcoming embrace of Alexis—COO of iXperience—provided an immediate sense of comfort. Exiting the airport into the bright Cape Town light, I followed her towards her small VW, sheepishly wondering if the massive overpacked suitcase that I lugged behind me would even fit. As she shuffled in her purse for her key, I awkwardly stood next to the right side of her car, forgetting that the passenger side was on the left in South Africa. She glanced up at me, a sly grin forming on her face as I realized my error. And then, I laughed—a much needed release of the combined anxiety and excitement pent up inside of me. From the moment I slid into Alexis’s car—this time, on the correct passenger side— laughing with her about my utter drive-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road “American-ness”, iX had welcomed me into its ever-expanding family. It was the start of the most incredible summer. Yes, iX taught me how to code, and yes, I built my own app—both of which are pretty amazing. But, most of all, through iX I had found “family” in an unexpected location and learned the most valuable lessons from each member of that family.

First, there was Alexis, a woman constantly on the go. Most of the times I saw her, she was either zipping out the door of the iX house to run errands around Cape Town, or, furiously typing away on her laptop to orchestrate events and manage the constant stream of logistical tasks. We often bonded over our mutual love for Lululemon yoga pants. However, as she juggled everything—gracefully and seemingly effortlessly—I realized that Alexis is the epitome of Lululemon—classy in style, bold and bright in energy, and most of all, always ready to hustle and “sweat” to get whatever needs to be done, done—no excuses. “Love your lulus!” At the end of college semesters, when four final exams, two essays and one oral presentation seems beyond the feasible ability of any human being, Alexis’s voice complimenting my yoga pants chimes in my head. Like Alexis in a sleek pair of Lulus, I find within myself just that much more grit to juggle the seemingly impossible—with efficiency and no excuses.

Then, I met Aaron, the CEO of iX. After studying Aaron for nearly 2 months, I still left South Africa both stunned and impressed with how someone that oozed such “chill” vibes and rocked the most gloriously rugged facial hair of any CEO, could have possibly overcome all the chaos and struggle of launching his own business in a matter of months. During class, he would peek over our shoulders to marvel at the new feature we added to our apps, commenting, “You’re such a legend, bru”. At first, I had no idea what he meant by the South African slang word. But then, I got it. He was right. We were legends, building something completely new and starting from scratch, much like he had. When Aaron started iX, he didn’t just play the generic college-grad game. Rather, he ditched the safety of a prestigious career to start a coding camp, and in doing so, walked along the risk of failure—the perilous line separating the “anonymous” from the “legend”. I remain inspired not by Aaron’s success, but rather by his drive and risk-taking. No matter what career path I pursue, I’ve certainly learned one thing about myself: I plan on being a game-changer in my field—a true legend.

Next, there was Salman, the professor for our coding boot camp. His spunk and witty humor often triggered bursts of laughter from the class, that so memorably punctuated the dense stream of coding content within his lectures. While all of his lectures were thoughtfully designed, it was his very first lecture, where he introduced himself, that I liked the most. “Know your story”. In that lecture, he talked about his winding career path, and encouraged us to embrace our own inevitably odd stories, so long as we were working towards what we love. I’m still working on my story, and trying to figure out what it is that I love. But, I have a newfound appreciation for my past, and a non-critical outlook on my uncertain future. Salman taught me that; a bit of uncertainty in your life story is more than just okay—it’s probably a good thing, and it probably means its time for a nice cathartic chuckle.

Then, there were the students of iX—the most energetic of which was Garrett. In class, he was that guy that asked innocently curious questions on complex topics beyond our scope, and cracked jokes in the fun and casual spirit that so greatly defines iX. With Garrett, there’s not a particular quote of his that I remember. Instead, I often picture his wide grin and bright red Crocs— the shoe equivalent of his joyful and quirky ora. I’ve lived my life in a fairly “by the books” manner, but Garrett and his red Crocs said, “Live goofy, and love being different.” I have yet to rock a pair of Crocs since leaving iX, but I’ve certainly embraced my inner weirdness with a shameless self-love.

While I was inspired by all the students in the iX family, I was certainly inspired most by German—my teammate in the app project, my partner in Cape Town mischief, and my most dear life-long friend. German had the most genuine passion for learning. When I was utterly confused and discouraged by the bug hidden in the convoluted lines of our Ruby code, he sat patiently beside me. And, this summer, when I’ll be sitting on the desk of my investment banking internship, struggling through the logic of an excel formula, his endearing Spanish accent will surely ring in my head. “It is okay hun, we’ll figure it out.” In addition to his admirable equanimity, German was also a fearless free-spirit, known for saying, “I’m down”, to nearly anyone’s activity suggestion. When our group went bungee jumping, I was barely able to see his speck of a body as it plummeted off the highest bungee jumping bridge in the world. But, I certainly heard the Spanish swear words echo the whole way down. At the time, I was grateful that I was not “down” for that particular activity, however, I have since made a more conscious effort to try the things in life that scare me most.

For anyone interested in iXperience, I suggest knowing the following three things. First, you’ll probably get an incredible background in coding, finance, or consulting that you never thought you’d be able to have. Second, you’ll probably nail that junior-year summer internship that you’ve been dreaming of since you were in the womb. And, third—the most important of all— know that the people you meet at iX will be the most invaluable resource of all. They’re not like all the other students in your Ivy League school—they’re a different breed. They’re the kind of people that wear red Crocs because they’re quirky and proud of it. They’re the kind of people that strive to learn because they actually care, and say “I’m down” to the terrifying things we often regret not doing, more than doing. They’re the kind of people whose unusual life stories led them to start companies because they actually believe in something—the kind of people that want to change the world. For learning that, and for being inducted into the life-long iX family that taught me that, I am eternally grateful.