Written by Cameron Cross, iXperience '14 (Coding), University of Virginia

Enrolling in a coding bootcamp without ever having written a single line of code is an intimidating prospect. When I first met with Aaron Fuchs to talk about iXperience, I was sold on the adventure component, but wary of the coding part. If I didn’t plan on working in the tech space, why would I devote an entire summer to learning to code? Without a good answer to this question, I went out on a limb and booked my ticket to Cape Town anyway. Months later, I sit at a desk in a South African software development company with just a week left before I head home. As I try to distill the past 8 weeks’ worth of experiences into my biggest takeaways from this summer, I settle upon two things that I now know to be true:

  1. I will never be a programmer, or even take a job in the tech space at all.
  2. Despite the first realisation, iX has been the most impactful and eye-opening experience of my life.

These are revelations that I only have upon reflection at the end of this incredible journey, so I will re-trace my steps on paper in an effort to understand how I reached this point. So to future iXers: Here’s a preview of the roller-coaster ride you can expect, starting from day one.

First Week of Class

From flying into Cape Town and exploring Kloof Street, to figuring out how to work the showers and calling traffic lights “robots”, the first 48 hours in South Africa were hectic, to say the least. But none of this prepared me for how overwhelmed I felt when I sat down to watch the first session of iX students present their final projects. On the night of our third day of class, my classmates and I were subjected to two hours of the most impressive and intimidating presentations I had ever seen. Standing before us were fellow iX students, different from us only in their three extra weeks of class, showing off their fully-functional web applications. At first I wondered if the sessions were separated by skill level—but alas, I was told that I would also have to create a web app over the next 3 weeks. Since I described my iXperience as an emotional roller-coaster, I’ll call this moment that scary part at the top when you wait for the fall—that moment when you are anxious and even a little terrified.

Last Week of Class

Fast-forward three weeks, and it is again a Friday night in the iX house, decorated and ready for presentations. Only this time, we Session 2 students aren’t in the audience. As my partner, Leah, and I looked over our slides one last time before presenting, I felt a million different things: nerves, excitement, pride, victory. I could hardly believe that it had been just three weeks since I sat terrified of the seemingly insurmountable job ahead— and yet there we were, showcasing our very own apps to an impressed and engaged crowd.

At that moment I knew that I was emerging from the most intense and enriching academic experience of my life. There is a certain magic in the iXperience house that comes from the sheer focus and energy of the students, teachers and staff; and it is that magic that created the unique, unparalleled environment that turned us into programmers, and our ideas into reality. I was feeling the euphoria of surviving the rollercoaster ride, of having pushed through the toughest twists and turns. At this point in the program, I was feeling on top of the world.

First Week of the Internship

As it turns out, the ride was far from over. After a refreshing week off, we Session 2 students were split up as we headed to various tech companies across Cape Town to begin our internships. Right after settling into my desk at Platform45, a software development company, I was called into the board room with the other iX interns. The first thing we were shown was the work done by the interns before us: An incredible piece of voice-recognition software built by two iX interns from Session 1. I was back to square one, sitting in awe of work done by those more skilled than myself, wondering how I would ever be able to match their success. The rollercoaster had again reached its scary summit, and I was again anxious and terrified of what was to come.

Last Week of Internship

Fast-forward three weeks again, and it is yet again a Friday presentation day at the iX house. I’m back in the audience this time, ready to watch Session 3 show off their month’s work. Strange as this feels, it will be even stranger to welcome new interns to Platform45 and show them around as they settle in next week. They might be shown the app that I helped build during my time here, and they might be terrified like I was a few weeks ago. As with the end of class, the end of the internship brings about feelings of excitement, pride, victory. Completing my first product in a real work environment, as with creating and presenting my first web app, feels like the end of the roller coaster: I survived the twists and turns and am on top of the world once again.

Final Reflections

Twice, iX placed me in a situation that overwhelmed me; and twice, I was shown how to learn and grow to adapt and succeed. Naturally, these trials have taught me lessons about perseverance, determination and work ethic—but none of these are the lessons that made this such an impactful experience. To my surprise, iX taught me the most about what I want out of my life—professionally and otherwise.

As I work to find my path in life, I decided to try work in the tech space just to see if it clicked with me. After this summer’s experience, I can confidently say that a job in tech is not for me—and that’s totally fine, I learned exactly what I hoped to learn about myself. iXperience served the purpose I hoped it would serve. What I didn’t expect, though, is to find my path in a totally different place. Meeting and interacting with the creators of iXperience has been the most enriching part of this adventure, and it has forever changed me.

This summer, I met a group of talented young people who acted on an inspired vision for a tech academy that would spark positive social change in South Africa by designing and opening iXperience. These people, the iX staff, have shown me what it means to truly enjoy one’s job. To see people build an incredible business from the ground-up while surfing, dancing and laughing along the way—that has forever raised the bar for me.

I know now that I will never settle for anything less than the lifestyle I’ve led this summer. The greatest lesson iX has taught me is not how to code, but how to live.


iX Alumni Stories, iX UVA Alumni