What we’ve learned from seven years of working to make RC 50% women, trans, and non-binary

In April of 2012, we announced our goal to make RC 50% women. Seven years later, we are close to reaching an improved version of this goal: 48% of new Recursers in 2019 so far identify as women, trans, or non-binary1. This post is a summary of what we’ve tried, learned, and accomplished over the past seven years, as well as our overall strategy and why we choose to prioritize this work.

Outline

Our strategy and why gender and other kinds of diversity are essential to RC’s success

Note: While the general approach outlined here can help increase many kinds of diversity, this post is primarily about gender diversity.

We believe nearly every aspect of RC gets better when RC becomes more diverse. The core experience of attending a batch and being part of our community, as well as our business model (recruiting), are all functions of the number, quality, and diversity of the people involved. This is what we mean when we say RC is community-driven. My cofounders and I have experienced RC across 60 batches: some with significant gender, racial, age, and other forms of diversity, and others with very little diversity. We believe firmly that the former are a better experience for everyone.

Additionally, we want RC to be a place where everyone can focus their time and energy on becoming better programmers, not worrying that they don’t belong or feeling like they have to represent their entire race or gender because they’re in the extreme minority. We focus on diversity so Recursers can focus on programming.

One set of things we want all members of our community to share are our admissions criteria. We want everyone here to be smart, pleasant, intellectually curious, self-directed, and to enjoy programming and want to get dramatically better at it.

The strategy I describe in this post informs nearly everything RC does, from how we approach marketing to how we structure our retreat and community. It boils down to: 1) Get as strong and diverse a pool of applicants as possible, 2) minimize bias and evaluate everyone on the same admissions criteria, and 3) build an environment where as many kinds of people as possible can thrive.

Most companies focus (if at all) on the first part of this process, and do little for the second and third parts. Getting a diverse range of applicants is essential, but it’s pointless if you then put them through a biased or ad hoc selection process, only to end up in an environment where only some groups can flourish or even want to remain.

1. Get as strong and diverse a range of applicants as possible

Since we take active, deliberate steps not to discriminate based on demographics during our admissions process, the makeup of our retreat and community is almost perfectly reflective of our applicant pool. If 5% of RC applicants identify as Black and 30% identify as women, then we can confidently expect the percentages of people in our upcoming batches who identify as Black and as women to be about 5% and 30%, respectively. As such, a core part of our strategy is biasing the top of our funnel — that is, getting more women and people of color to apply.

Here are some of the things we’ve tried.

We give money to women and people from other traditionally underrepresented groups. In April of 2012, we partnered with Etsy to fund living expense grants for women who can’t afford to attend RC otherwise. While RC is 100% free for all participants, living in New York is expensive. In 2014, we expanded our grants program to include people who identify as Black, Latina/o, Native American, and Pacific Islander.

By 2015, it had become increasingly hard to convince companies to contribute to our grants program, and we decided to begin funding grants ourselves, directly from RC’s operating budget. We have now disbursed over $1.5M in grants.

Grants have had a bigger impact on RC’s gender diversity than anything else we’ve tried. Continuing to provide grants to applicants who can’t afford to attend RC without them has been challenging but possible because we choose to prioritize it. For four months last year, my cofounders and I chose to take 60% pay cuts rather than cut our budget for grants. We were able to do this not just because we cared but because we knew that cutting grant funding would make our core product — the experience of attending a batch of RC — worse, and decrease our longterm odds of success.

We try to write clearly and frequently about our values. Writing is one of our organizational strengths, and in an otherwise unscalable business, writing lets us reach people around the world with a fixed investment of time and zero marginal costs. Next to the value of putting your money where your mouth is, this is the most important thing we learned from our partnership with Etsy. After starting our grants program, we saw an increase in applicants who identified as women and who did not need or request a grant. They said they applied because of the work we were doing and the clear way we explained it.

We’ve tried to critically self-assess the messages we are implicitly and explicitly putting out into the world, and we’re willing to make small and big changes. For example, we changed our company’s name four years ago in part because our old name (“Hacker School”) had unproductive connotations.

We’ve offered merit-based Fellowships. Late last year, we offered merit-based Fellowships of up to $10,000 to women, trans, and non-binary people working on open source projects, research, and art. Our announcement got a tremendous response, and our Winter 2 batch ended up being nearly 40% women, trans, and non-binary people, compared to the less than 20% we projected before announcing our Fellowships. The batch was also larger than any of our other recent batches, which is good for both our business and the experience of the people in the batch. (For more, see Alicia’s recent blog post.)

We’ve worked to make RC an experience people love and want to tell other people about. The number one way applicants hear about RC is from an alum who recommended it to them. The number two way is a recommendation from a friend or colleague who didn’t go to RC. Most encouragingly, applicants who identify as women, trans, or non-binary are 33% more likely to have heard about RC via word-of-mouth than cis-male applicants. Because of this we have experimented with a number of ways for our community to help spread the word about RC, but none have come even close to the impact that “just” having an experience people love and want to tell their friends about has.

Informational chats with prospective applicants. For the past several years, I’ve had a standing offer to have an informational chat with any woman or person of color that a Recurser thinks would make a good addition to our community. The chats are usually short and I answer questions about RC and our admissions process. I’ve done dozens of these now, but I have not tracked them. However, a number of the people I’ve met with have gone on to apply and attend RC. Speaking with prospective applicants has also been a good source of feedback, since it’s given us insight into parts of our admissions process we didn’t or don’t explain clearly enough on our website.

Not everything we’ve tried has worked. For instance, we’ve experimented with personal outreach to individual women and people of color. We did this in an ad hoc fashion for several years, and then last year tried a more systematic approach. Our team found over 100 women and people of color who we thought would make promising applicants, and sent personalized emails encouraging them to consider applying (while these were cold emails, we personally found, vetted, and emailed the people we contacted to ensure we weren’t being spammy). We tracked the (considerable) time we spent on this, and several months later, looked at how many of the people we’d emailed had applied and been admitted. We determined that the results weren’t worth the effort required and have stopped doing this.

Similarly, a few years ago one of my cofounders and I visited a dozen college campuses and gave talks about RC to their Women in Computer Science clubs. We met some great people (a few of whom have since become Recursers!) but we found that, at our size, the benefits of this weren’t enough to warrant the significant amount of time and money we put into traveling around the country.

Another example of an unsuccessful experiment is RC Start, a program we ran for most of 2016. We offered free, one-on-one mentorship to new programmers by matching them with RC alums for three sessions of programming help and advice. One of our hypotheses and reasons for trying RC Start was that we thought the applicant pool would have a higher percentage of women than the applicant pool for our retreat. Unfortunately, this turned out to not be true. Additionally, we realized that the program was a strategic mistake. My cofounder Dave explained this in detail in Why we stopped RC Start.

Though it’s too soon to say whether they’ll be successful or not, there are also a number of new things we’re trying. One of those things is targeted advertising. Before last year, we had spent effectively no money on advertising. Currently, we are experimenting with ads directed exclusively at female-identified Facebook and Instagram users. There are two things that make this particularly challenging. First, coming to RC is a major life decision, and so there’s commonly a long time between when people hear about us and when they apply (in fact, the majority of people who come to RC heard about it more than a year before they applied). Second, we’ve chosen not to use some of Facebook’s more powerful but troublesome features, like Custom Audiences (which would require that we upload personal information to Facebook) and Pixel (which would send all of our site traffic to Facebook).2 We don’t know yet whether or not we’ll be able to get new qualified applicants cost effectively through ads.

We’re also working to develop ongoing relationships with CS departments and Women in CS groups. This started on a small scale organically as people came to RC, had great experiences, and spread the word to their schools and departments. Recently, we’ve begun a more concerted effort to establish ongoing relationships with groups at a number of universities around the US.

We’re also investing for the long term. Last year we launched Joy of Computing, a site that features technical work by members of the RC community. We designed it to give the public a way to see the incredible diversity of delightful work Recursers do. Our long term goal is to build Joy of Computing into a new way for people to hear and learn about RC. We don’t expect this to have a meaningful impact on our applications for at least a year, and probably longer.

2. Minimize bias and evaluate everyone on the same admissions criteria

We have spent many years refining our admissions process and eliminating bias wherever we can. Here are some of the most effective things we’ve done so far.

We use pseudonyms and hide demographic information. In 2014, we updated our admissions review software to replace people’s names with pseudonyms (e.g., “Keyboarding Animal” or “Temperature Jeans” instead of “José Smith” or “Kimberly Lin”) and to hide demographic information during the first part of our application review. While far from perfect, this helps us shape our initial assessment of applicants without knowing their demographics.

We have explicit admissions criteria. This is one of the most basic things organizations can do to reduce bias in any admissions or interview process, and most companies do it half-heartedly or not at all. If you don’t have a clear idea (written down and understood by everyone involved in the process) of exactly what you are trying to select for, how can you fairly and consistently evaluate candidates, and how can you know if your process is filtering for what you want it to? We publish our admissions criteria on our website.

We document and explain our process. Once you have criteria by which you’re trying to evaluate applicants, you need to create and document a process for evaluating those criteria. You must also be specific about what precisely you mean by your criteria. For instance, if you say you’re hiring for “go-getters,” what does that actually mean to you, and does it mean the same thing to your colleagues? In addition to sharing our admissions criteria publicly, we have many thousands of words of internal documentation of the what, how, and why of our process for our interviewers to draw upon.

We train our interviewers. Many companies will say hiring is one of the most important things they do, and then ask their employees to just start doing it. You want your process to be as consistent as possible across interviewers so that regardless of if an applicant speaks with interviewer A, B, or C, the outcome is the same.

We prioritize facts over opinions. When we write notes and grades for our admissions interviews, we think it’s more valuable to write about facts than opinions, or even conclusions. Consider the difference between the notes “the applicant can’t program at all” and “the applicant asked to use Google to look up how to write a for loop. After 10 minutes, they were unable to write a syntactically correct loop in Python.” The ideal interview notes would include a complete transcript of the interview, since you can always reconstruct an opinion from the facts, but you usually can’t reconstruct the facts from an opinion. We also take the context of a person’s experience and past educational opportunities into account when making decisions. For instance, while RC welcomes and admits people with a wide range of programming ability, we expect different things in our interviews from people who have been Staff Engineers than from people who are only six months into teaching themselves to program.

To collect interview notes, we’ve written custom software and have a standard format, which includes space for each criterion to includes the facts the interviewer sees as relevant, as well as radio buttons for whether they got a positive signal, negative signal, or no signal for that criterion.

We record interviews for quality control and training. In 2017, we began to record video of our interviews (with applicants’ consent, of course). These videos have been particularly helpful when training new interviewers. For instance, before conducting or even observing any interviews, prospective RC interviewers watch recordings of past interviews and then write up notes and grades as though they had conducted the interviews themselves. Then, with RC faculty, they talk through and compare their assessments and decisions to the ones made by the actual interviewers.

We have ongoing support and a process for giving interviewers feedback. Our interviewers meet regularly to discuss challenges, ask questions, and give feedback based on their recent interviews. We also regularly audit all interviewers’ notes and grades and provide feedback on how the notes are written, as well as their admissions decisions.

3. Build and nurture an environment where as many kinds of people as possible can thrive

There’s no sense building a pipeline if it’s leaky, or a funnel if it only leads to a cesspool. No marketing or admissions efforts matter if you have a toxic environment that hampers people and drives them out.

Here are some of the things that have helped us foster a healthy environment.

We have explicit social rules. We have a set of four lightweight social rules that help make RC a friendly, productive place to program and grow. These include No well-actually’s and No feigning surprise. Our social rules are intended to give people a shared framework and an easy mechanism for addressing small annoyances before they fester and become big problems.

We have a code of conduct, a system for reporting violations, and a response protocol. Where our social rules are meant to help with annoying behavior that most of us do from time to time, our code of conduct is meant for serious infractions that might warrant removal from our community. Our code of conduct is more than just words, we also have an established process for how people can report issues, and how we will handle them when they do.

We are intentional about how we welcome people and make them part of our community. We want people to feel safe and secure at RC so they can focus as much of their energy as possible on their own growth and work. Having a genuine community requires that people know the other people around them, and that everyone shares some fundamental values and purpose.

We start working towards this before people even begin RC. We run RC Gateway, which gives admitted Recursers the option to request an introduction to an existing member of our community based off their interests and background (e.g., someone might ask to speak with an alum who came to RC after leaving the industry to raise a family, or an alum who had worked as a web developer but focused on machine learning at RC).

The first day of RC is unlike every other day. While nearly all of RC is unstructured and Recursers decide for themselves how they want to spend their time, the first day of a batch includes a welcome breakfast, tours, an introductory ceremony, and a skit about our social rules. This is because our goals for the first day are different than for other days. When people first come to RC, we want to prioritize helping them get acquainted with our physical space, meet others in their batch, and set a healthy tone for the remainder of their time here.

We continue to make RC more accessible. In addition to attending RC for six or 12-week batches, people can now come for just one week and become an alum and lifelong member of the community. This is a change we made in early 2018, with the goal of making RC more accessible to people who can’t attend for a full six or 12-weeks. We hoped this would make it easier for parents to attend RC, and hypothesized the applicant pool might skew more female than the pool for our longer retreats. The latter turned out to be false (men and women apply to our different length retreats at effectively the same rates) but anecdotally the applicant pool has skewed older and included more parents. (We don’t have data here because we don’t track age or parental status in our admissions process.)

We have also changed some of our policies and updated our space to make RC more family-friendly. We have added a lactation and wellness room, and updated our guest policy to allow parents to bring their children with them to RC when childcare falls through.

Results and parting thoughts

Before we set our goal to make RC gender balanced in early 2012, only 5% of Recursers were women, trans, or non-binary. Today, 34% of our community of over 1,400 people are. Even more promising: Of the nearly 150 people who have already joined or who have confirmed for an upcoming batch this year, 48% identify as women, trans, or non-binary. As promising as this is, we’ve seen these numbers fluctuate. We know it will take continuous investment and work to have any chance of consistently achieving a gender-balanced environment at RC.

We have been able to prioritize this work over an extended period of time because we have built a team, culture, and company aligned with it. Caring, while important, can never be enough if your institutional priorities and incentives are working against your good intentions. The things you actually prioritize will always win in the long run. If you are serious about prioritizing diversity and inclusion at your company, you must make it inseparable from your product and overall success, and recognize that prioritizing anything necessarily implies de-prioritizing other things.

What about race, age, and other demographic factors?

Currently, 6% of our community identifies as Black, 6% identifies as Latina or Latino, and 0.2% identify as Native American. This is more racially diverse than the tech industry at large — for example, just 1.5% of the employees Google classifies as “tech” employees identify as Black.3 But Google’s is a low bar to compare ourselves to.

While we have made some progress in the past year — 7% of new Recursers so far in 2019 are Black, compared to 5% in 2018 — RC is still overwhelmingly white and Asian. We know that this will not change unless we invest the same amount of time and money in making RC more racially diverse as we have in making it more gender balanced.

We expect the challenges we’ll face to vary among different demographic groups. For example, Black applicants are slightly less likely to have heard about RC via word-of-mouth than our applicant pool as a whole, while women, trans, and non-binary applicants are much more likely to have heard about us from friends. We assume this is reflective of the small number and percentage of Black people currently in the RC community, and the systematic racism and racial segregation that persists in the US.

We do not have demographic data for age. Anecdotally and by observation, we know the majority of people who come to RC are in their 20s and 30s, but have ranged in age from 16 to early 60s. We believe RC would be a better experience for everyone if we had more older and more younger people in our community.

  1. Our initial goal in 2012 was to make RC 50% “women.” Over the years, as we’ve learned and thought more deeply about gender diversity at RC, we’ve refined this goal to “make RC 50% people who identify as women, trans, or non-binary.”

  2. This might seem odd or even hypocritical since we do use Google Analytics. We agree that sending all our traffic to Google is just as bad as sending it to Facebook. We plan to migrate to our own internal analytics eventually, and in the interim, thought it was better to not make the same mistake twice.

  3. According to Google’s 2018 report.

Meet RC’s first Fellows

This January we launched an experiment: we offered Fellowships of up to $10,000 to women, trans, and non-binary people who planned to work on open-source projects or research at RC.

The quantity and quality of the applications we received was incredibly impressive. We were able to fund Fellowships for six folks: three for one-week mini retreats and three for full 12-week batches.

How Fellowships improved RC

Our forecasted gender balance for the beginning of 2019 was concerning, and we ran this experiment in December to reach and support more women, trans, and non-binary applicants to RC. The results have been very encouraging: two of our batches so far this year have had at least 50% women, trans, and non-binary people! Across all four of our batches that have started since January, nearly half (46%) of new Recursers have been women, trans, and non-binary. In addition to the six Fellows we were able to fund, many more people heard about RC for the first time or were encouraged to apply after seeing our announcement. It has been interesting to see what a more gender-balanced Recurse Center is like day to day.

Like the rest of RC, the Recursers who joined our community after hearing about Fellowships have a wide range of interests, backgrounds, and expertise. RC feels more like itself when there are more programmers who are women, trans, and non-binary here: that is, a more creative, curious, and rigorous place to program.

Anecdotally, the past three months at RC have also felt more interdisciplinary than ever. Recursers have worked on programming projects related to music, art, games, design, language, philosophy, history, biology, activism, civic data and urban planning, and more. There have been weekly study groups formed to discuss the political ethics of tech, as well as the creative applications of deep learning. It is thrilling to be in a space filled with smart, curious people who are experts in all of those domains.

Many of our Fellows who do research noted that they chose to come to RC to be in a diverse environment with an interdisciplinary focus—to get out of their bubbles and be around programmers from different domains. At RC they found an infusion of creative energy, the serendipity of new connections made, and the opportunity to learn from experts in a completely different field, all of which fed back into their own research.

Meet the Fellows

The Fellows also did some incredible work at RC, from building new genome-sorting algorithms to recreating vintage computer art to building a blockchain for prayer. Read more about each of them below!

Nicole carlson 150
Nicole Carlson, Mini 1, 2019, Chicago
Nicole is a data scientist and a Python programmer. She recently open sourced pymc3_models, a library that allows people to build custom probabilistic models in pymc3 on top of the scikit-learn API. Nicole used her week at RC as an opportunity to focus full-time on maintenance and making improvements to her library.
Isla jean carson 150
Isla Carson, Winter 2, 2019, Copenhagen
Isla is a researcher with a background in bioinformatics. During her time at RC she continued work she started during her master’s thesis, developing specialized algorithms for genome assembly. Genome assembly is incredibly memory-intensive, and Isla focused on optimizing compression and sorting algorithms. She succeeded in creating a proof of concept algorithm that competes in terms of speed and memory-efficiency with the others currently being used in the field.

Having somewhere to ask the questions you’re nervous about, and receive thorough, supportive, and informative answers, is awesome. From the basics of C++ to the niche problems I’ve encountered there’s always someone willing to talk through it or pitch in. Even from afar, it’s easy to keep in touch and ask questions (programming or otherwise) within the community forums. Everyone on the forums has been to RC, so our culture is ingrained there too.

Sher minn chong 150
Sher Minn Chong, Mini 1, 2019, New York
Sher Minn is an artist and software engineer. She spent her week doing deep research into the history of computer graphics and art, and she even reverse-engineered some of the vintage computer art she found along the way.

I had so many conversations with thoughtful and excited engineers. RC for me is always a reminder of how great the tech community could be if everyone was friendly and passionate about programming.

Meredith finkelstein 150
Meredith Finkelstein, Winter 2, 2019, New York
Meredith is a software engineer, entrepreneur, professor, and artist. During her batch she explored conscious computing and the intersection of philosophy, consciousness, and cryptocurrency by building a prayer blockchain. She blogged extensively about her time at RC.

I have been a part of a bunch of different art/tech/business communities. The level of curiosity, open mindedness and congeniality is on a different level at RC. The people, individually, are fascinating and since everyone is technical, many conversations from yoga to hip hop to brewing beer are filtered back through the lens of computers and programming… and maybe even turned into a technical project.

I would recommend RC to anyone who loves coding, is interested in being creatively diverted, and wants to be introduced to new technical challenges. To paraphrase Alan Watts — life not a journey but a musical thing and the goal is to dance while the music plays. RC is a ton of fun and makes for good choreography.

Kathy jang 150
Kathy Jang, Winter 2, 2019, Berkeley
Kathy is a machine learning researcher at the Berkeley AI Research Lab who is interested in building smarter cities. Her research focuses on using reinforcement learning to develop intelligent traffic systems for urban planning and transportation networks. At RC, Kathy focused on bridging the gap between her research and its potential implementation in the real world.

RC achieves something very unique through the mindset it fosters. Learning occurs through osmosis, because the type of crowd that RC attracts is comprised of people who are actively excited, willing to share, and keen to learn.

Christina kim 150
Christina Kim, Mini 1, 2019, San Francisco
Christina is a software engineer who works on infrastructure and machine learning at Sourceress. She’s interested in language and style transfer, and spent her week at RC working on language models with self-attention to predict lyrical or rhyming choices based on a corpus of poetry data. She used RC’s community cluster for her work and learned a lot about speeding up model training and memory management in the process.

It’s great to work and explore a project while surrounded by other people whose top-level goal is to learn. Even though it was my first time at RC and I only spent a week there, I still feel like I’m part of the community, and not just a visitor. I think part of that is the magic of RC’s community.

In the next few weeks we’ll be writing more about how we’ve improved RC’s gender balance over the years, and how it affects our community and the retreat.

If this type of community and work appeals to you, apply today to spend one, six, or 12 weeks at the Recurse Center! As a reminder, RC is free for everyone, and we offer need-based living expense grants for women, trans people, and people from racial and ethnic groups traditionally underrepresented in programming.

Why you should work at RC

We’re hiring a Facilitator to help build the best place to become a better programmer. Read on to see if this job might be a good fit for you or someone you know.

This role offers meaningful and impactful work, novel challenges with opportunity for growth, a collaborative environment with supportive colleagues, and a healthy work-life balance with good benefits.

Below, I’ll expand on and provide evidence for each of these claims. I’ll also share some good reasons not to work at RC, the most significant downsides of this job, what we’re looking for in candidates, and what to expect from our interview process.

This post is long, but whatever time you invest reading it will pale in comparison to the time you spend at your next job. It’s worth investing the time to find fulfilling work that fits with the rest of your life.

Meaningful and impactful work

By helping to run, improve, and grow RC, you can have a huge impact on a small but increasing number of people.

People love RC. Alums routinely tell us RC was one of or even the most impactful, important, meaningful, productive, or educational periods of their lives. We’ve helped people go from poverty to six-figure salaries. We’ve helped people accomplish things they never thought they could. Female programmers have told us RC is the reason they decided not to quit the industry. Other alums have told us RC changed how they think about programming, education, and even how think about themselves and relate to people. One alum summed up her thoughts on RC this way:

We work to make RC as accessible as possible. That’s why RC has been 100% free for all participants since we started, and why we’ve fought to keep it that way for the past eight years. It’s also why we provide need-based living expense grants to people from groups traditionally underrepresented in programming. We have now disbursed over $1,500,000 in grants since launching the program in 2012. All of this money has gone directly to people who identify as women, trans, nonbinary, Black, Latinx, and/or Native American to pay for living expenses during their time at RC.

Novel challenges with opportunity for growth

RC is an odd institution. We run a programming retreat, community, and recruiting agency, and all three are integrated with and support each other. Our views on education are unorthodox: We reject the overt and subtle coercion of school and believe people should get to decide what they learn and why and how they learn it. We don’t have grades, teachers, or any kind of curriculum, and instead provide time, space, resources, and a supportive community in which to grow.

We have big ambitions but we aren’t a venture-backable company. We’ve been around eight years but still make big changes.

As one-seventh of the company, your work will matter. We’re always making structural improvements to all aspects of our business, and as a Facilitator you’ll have a big role in helping us do that, and the autonomy to propose and lead projects. There isn’t a blueprint for how you’ll do this, and whoever we hire will hopefully make the position their own. In the past facilitators have led the installation and documentation of a computing cluster for Recursers, proposed and drove the adoption of one-week mini retreats, developed a Code of Conduct, made RC more family-friendly, and made numerous improvements to our recruiting process, including building a corps of mock interviewers.

You will also face hard problems. An important part of facilitation at RC is improving the experience of doing a batch for Recursers. This involves a lot of one-on-one work with folks who are currently at RC, making policy changes that affect the entire community, and supporting Recursers who are in difficult situations. There often aren’t easy solutions to these kinds of problems, but you will always have the rest of the team to draw upon when you need support.

A collaborative environment with supportive colleagues

We’re hiring for this role because Alicia, one of our two current Facilitators, has decided to leave RC to pursue a Master of Public Health degree this fall. Alicia told us last year she wanted to pursue an MPH, well before she’d even started applying to schools. This was good for Alicia — she didn’t have to worry about hiding things from her colleagues or feel awkward during longterm planning conversations, and she could ask me for letters of recommendation — and this was good for RC because it gave us ample time to plan a smooth transition.

We believe that it’s best for the team and for RC that we foster a transparent and trusting company culture. Towards that end, here are some of the things you’ll find here:

  • Clear company-wide goals and a framework of why we have them.
  • As such, you’ll have an understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish together and why we’re doing it.
  • Quarterly planning and off-sites to decide on our work for the upcoming quarter, and weekly all hands to track and discuss our progress on our goals.
  • A writing review stream in our private chat and an accompanying culture of review. We copyedit and review all our writing, from blog posts to tweets.
  • Weekly one-on-ones to give and receive regular feedback and help you work through frustrations or challenges with your work.
  • Complete organizational transparency. You will have access to whatever information about RC you want, up to and including how much money we have in our bank account.

Good benefits and a healthy work life balance

All of us at RC work hard and care deeply about what we do. At the same time, all of us have lives and loved ones outside of work, and we know you do, too.

We strive to have a culture that supports you in doing your best work in a sustainable way, so you and all RC employees can contribute effectively over the long run. Here are some of the things you’ll find here to help with this:

  • Full health, vision, and dental insurance. RC covers 100% of the premium for the standard plans for all employees as well as their partners and families.
  • A 401k, with a 3% non-elective contribution from RC. The company contributes 3% on top of your salary to a 401k for you regardless of how much or even if you choose to contribute yourself. RC also covers the annual administration fees.
  • Three months of paid parental leave, which you can take within a year of having or adopting a child. In addition, you can do an optional one month of working from home after your three months of leave. We also have a lactation and wellness room, and adopted new policies to make RC more family friendly last year.
  • 15 days of vacation (we effectively have unlimited vacation, but we have a number to make sure people actually take it), a 10-day winter holiday (Dec 23 to Jan 1), and observe seven additional federal holidays. We also have five days for personal development, which you can use for anything that supports your personal and professional goals and growth.

Many companies have stated policies that aren’t followed in practice, but that’s not the case at RC. For example, every one of us took at least three weeks of vacation last year, and I (RC’s CEO) am currently planning paternity leave for later this year after my wife gives birth.

What we’re looking for in candidates

  • You have high emotional intelligence (“EQ”).
  • You have excellent communication skills both online and in person.
  • You can think systematically and are good at project and people management (you won’t have direct reports but you will need to be able to coordinate the efforts of many people).
  • You are secure with your self, and are comfortable giving and receiving candid feedback.
  • You are intellectually curious, excited about programming, and ideally have some background in it.
  • You have good judgement, do what you say you’re going to do, and you do it well.
  • You share our core beliefs about education and our business. Dissent and skepticism are great, but if we don’t all agree on enough of the big things we’ll never get anything done.

Lastly, there are some things you might think are required for this role but aren’t. You don’t need to have a specific degree (or any degree at all), you don’t need to have worked at a “name brand” company, and you don’t need an existing connection with RC to be a strong candidate. You also don’t need to have any professional programming experience, though we welcome candidates who do.

Downsides of this job and working at RC

No job is perfect, and this one is no exception. Here are what we think the biggest downsides are:

  • You will sometimes have to deal with hard situations, most commonly tricky people problems. When something goes awry or there’s conflict in our community, it’s our job to help resolve it. This can be frustrating and emotionally draining.
  • Some of the work is unglamorous (we’re a seven-person company, so we all have to do some amount of mopping up, figuratively and occasionally literally).
  • We regularly host events for our community after normal work hours, and this role requires attending many of them.
  • The salary for this role is $100k, which is much less than you could get as a programmer or in many other roles at tech companies.

In addition to the things above, which we think are objectively bad (who wouldn’t prefer more money?), there are parts of this job that are subjectively bad. That is, they’re bad depending on your perspective or personality. These are:

  • RC is a dynamic place — some might say chaotic. You need to be comfortable with some amount of uncertainty to be happy working here.
  • Relatedly, we are small and our success is far from certain. This is exciting or stressful (or both) depending on your perspective.
  • The type of work you do will vary week to week or even day by day. This isn’t a role where you can spend 90% of your time doing just one thing.
  • This role will have you working and interacting with a lot of people. You don’t need to be an extrovert to succeed here, but this role is likely not a good fit if you find interacting with a lot of people overly draining.
  • This is a full-time role, and you need to be able to work on-site at our office in Brooklyn, NYC. Given the nature of our work, the whole team works largely overlapping hours (i.e., we’re not the type of place you can do a 2pm to 8pm shift).

What to expect from our interview process

Our interview process has three parts: an email, a phone call, and a day of in-person interviews at RC.

The first step is to email ops@recurse.com with your resume or publicly accessible LinkedIn profile. Please include short answers to the following three questions:

  • What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve learned recently? (This can be about anything and certainly does not need to be related to RC.)
  • What are your career goals for the next few years? (For example, how are you looking to grow, and what type of work would you like to be doing three years from now?)
  • What’s your biggest concern about RC or this job?

None of these are trick questions. Instead, like every part of our process, they’re meant to help us assess how you meet the requirements listed above. Please don’t write more than a few sentences for each answer. Please do use thoughtful, conversational English and proof-read what you write.

We’ll let you know within one week of when you apply whether or not we’d like to proceed with a phone screen, which is the second step of our process. Our phone screens are between 45 and 90 minutes long. This is an opportunity not just for us to learn about you, but for you to learn more about RC and to suss out if this role might be a good fit for you. As such, up to half of our time on the call will be reserved for you to ask us questions.

The third and final step of our process is a set of on-site interviews at our office in New York. These interviews are meant to be as representative as possible of the work you would do at RC. Throughout the course of your interviews you’ll get a chance to meet with every RC employee, as well as a few Recursers, and ask lots of questions. At the end of the day, you’ll choose an RC employee to give feedback to (about your interview with them, or any other part of our process you’d like to share feedback on). We do this both to hear your feedback and because giving direct feedback is an important part of working at RC.

A few extra things to know

  • Most of the company gets in around 10am and leaves around 6:30pm, but some of us come in early and/or stay later.
  • We’re personally and institutionally committed to combating sexism and racism.
  • If you’re considering applying, you should spend some time reading our about page, blog, and User’s Manual to get a sense of our company and your potential coworkers.
  • We are happy to sponsor visas when possible. We cannot sponsor H-1Bs, since the soonest someone could start work on a new H-1B is October 2020, which is not feasible for us (we may be able to transfer existing H-1Bs).
  • We’ll pay for your travel and a night of accommodations if you’re coming in for interviews from out of town. If you’re coming from really far away, we may ask you to do an extra video interview before inviting you to an on-site.

$10,000 Fellowships for women working on open source programming projects, research, and art

Rachel vincent circle Rachel Vincent

Update: As of December 17th, we are no longer accepting new applications for the Fellowship. You may still apply for our regular one, six, and 12-week retreats.

We’re accepting applications for $10,000 Fellowships for women, trans, and non-binary people who would like to work on a project or research at the Recurse Center this winter. The Fellowships will be funded directly by the Recurse Center. We will be reserving at least 50% of our funding for women, trans, and non-binary people of color.

Support to work on what you want to

Is there a project you’ve always wanted to start or contribute to, but you haven’t had the time or resources to do so? Now’s your chance: apply to RC this winter for a one, six, or 12-week retreat. We’ll provide up to $10,000 in funding (depending on batch length), 24/7 access to our space, and a supportive community of fellow programmers.

You can work on whatever programming-related project you want. The only hard constraints on what you can do here are that it must involve code, and the code must be open source so that others may freely use, learn from, and build upon it.

For example, you could make experimental games, or algorithmic art or music. You could build software for accessibility, like screen readers or automated transcription. You could make a better ad blocker, or other tools to protect people’s privacy and security. You could contribute to existing developer infrastructure, start a new programming language, or kickstart original long-term research.

At RC, you’ll have a space where you can focus on your work without the regular obligations of school or a job. You’ll also have the freedom to approach your work however you see fit, and will retain all rights to anything you do here. You don’t have to “finish” your project during your time here, and you won’t be reporting to an advisor or a boss. If you realize that it’s not the best thing to continue doing, you can set it aside and choose something else to work on.

Our new space in Brooklyn has two floors, a wellness and lactation room, pairing stations, and lots of natural light. One of our floors is set up for pairing, giving presentations, and group work, while our other floor has a library of books and is kept quiet for focused individual programming.

In addition to attending the retreat, you’ll join a community of over 1,300 kind, sharp, and intellectually curious programmers who have experience in a wide variety of programming topics. They have done academic research, given scores of conference talks, started companies, and created art, games, and music. You’ll be connected with folks who can pair with you, discuss what you’re working on, answer questions, and contribute to generative conversations about programming.

Why we’re doing this

Nearly seven years ago, we set out to create a gender-balanced environment at RC. In early 2012, we partnered with Etsy and offered our first need-based grants for women who were admitted to RC but couldn’t afford to pay for living expenses during their time here. Over the years we’ve made numerous efforts to make RC a more diverse and inclusive place, from establishing healthy social rules, to expanding our grants to support people from traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, to introducing one-week mini retreats and revising our policies to be more family-friendly. In total, we have given more than $1.5 million in grants to people from traditionally underrepresented groups in technology since launching our grants program.

Ensuring a supportive and diverse environment is crucial to our mission of building the best place to grow as a programmer because RC is community-driven. While our community has grown in size and diversity along many dimensions, it has been increasingly challenging for us to maintain a gender-balanced environment. We are still very far from our goal of consistently having RC batches be comprised of at least 50% women, trans, and non-binary people. Despite regular outreach efforts, our applicant pool has skewed increasingly male, and thus RC has as well.1 Because our batches are relatively small, our gender balance can fluctuate significantly; at points this year RC has been about 40% women, trans, and non-binary people, but in recent months and looking ahead to our upcoming batches, we are doing significantly worse, which is why we’re trying this now.

We hope that our Fellowships will help diversify our applicant pool and encourage more people, especially women, trans, and non-binary people of color, to apply to RC.

Details

The amount of money you’re eligible to receive for a Fellowship depends on how long you come to RC for. We’re offering $10,000 for a 12-week batch, $5,000 for a six-week batch, and $1,500 for a one-week mini batch.

To qualify for a Fellowship, you must:

  • Identify as a woman, as trans, and/or as non-binary.
  • Be able to attend RC for one, six, or 12 weeks starting on January 7, 2019.
  • Work on code or research that’s open source, whether it’s your own project or a contribution to someone else’s, and share your work publicly however you think makes the most sense (as a blog post, paper, website, or something else).

Current members of the RC community who meet the above criteria are welcome to apply for a Fellowship.

The admissions process for Fellowships is very similar to our standard admissions process:

  • Apply for the Winter 2, 2019 (six- or 12-weeks) or Mini 1, 2019 (one week) batch.
  • Mark that you’re applying for a Fellowship in the “Winter 2019 Fellowships” section, and let us know if you’d like to be considered both for a Fellowship and a regular batch (if you’re not selected for a Fellowship), or just a Fellowship.
  • Write a clear description of the project you’d like to work on under, “What do you want to work on at RC?”
  • If you’re invited to interview, you’ll do a 45-minute conversational interview with a faculty member, where we’ll discuss your plan for RC. If that goes well, you’ll be invited to a 30-minute pair programming interview with one of our alumni interviewers.

Our admissions criteria for Fellowships is identical to our normal admissions criteria, with one exception. For a regular batch, we look for people who want to become dramatically better programmers, and we expect people doing a batch of RC to prioritize that, even above making progress on a project. But for Fellowships, the focus is making progress on a project or research, even if it doesn’t make you a dramatically better programmer (though we hope it does!). And so we’ll be evaluating applicants in part on what they hope to do at RC, and not whether and how they want to improve as programmers.

We review applications on a rolling basis. However, given the tight timeline before the session begins on January 7th, you should apply as soon as possible to ensure you have time to complete the admission process. We plan to do the majority of interviews for Fellowships between December 18th and 20th. Because of the holiday break, we cannot guarantee interview availability during the week of December 24th.

If you think this a Fellowship could be a good fit for you, we hope to see you apply. And if not, we hope you’ll share this opportunity with a friend or colleague who may benefit from it.

If you have any questions, email us at faculty@recurse.com.

  1. We do not take demographics into account when making admissions decisions: we hold everyone who applies to RC to the same bar. To reduce unconscious biases, we use pseudonyms and hide names and demographic information during our initial application review.

Discover the Joy of Computing

We’ve just launched Joy of Computing, a site where you’ll find one new link to a technical project posted each day.1 Everything on the site is made and submitted by Recursers.

Over time, we hope to grow the site into a destination for finding fun, technical work. We aim to convey the full range of things people create during and after RC, from neat gists to ambitious projects, gifs of prototypes, stories of odd bugs, games, apps, computer-generated music and art, compilers, dev tools, electronic crafts, works-in-progress, and so much more.

Why we’re doing this

There are over 1,300 members of the RC community in the world, and it’s nearly impossible to see all the neat stuff that they do during and after RC—even Recursers find it hard to stay up to date. We’ve also done a poor job so far of sharing Recursers’ work with the wider world. We think there are two reasons for this.

The first reason is that our priority has always been making RC a great place to grow as a programmer. For us, this means providing a space where people can feel like they belong, ask questions without fear, and focus on programming and learning with as few external distractions as possible. It is easier to build a space like this when everyone is there to learn, has committed to healthy social norms, and feels comfortable with each other. The side effect of this is that RC is a relatively closed community. It isn’t because we want to be exclusive, but rather the opposite: we’ve found this is the best way to make a genuinely inclusive environment.

But this comes at a significant price. It’s harder to let new people know about RC and even harder to let people see and experience what goes on here before applying and attending.

The second reason we’ve struggled to share what happens at RC is related to its structure. If RC had a curriculum and teachers that taught it, we’d have easy answers to the questions of what people learn here or what a typical day looks like. But we don’t have teachers or a curriculum, nor do we tell people what they must do at RC. Rather, Recursers decide for themselves what they want to accomplish and how to structure their time, and so the answers to what people do here or what a “typical day” looks like are as varied and diverse as the people who come to RC. This is what we mean when we say that RC is self-directed and community-driven.

Opening up

With Joy of Computing we intend to share much more of what happens at RC publicly, in a way that’s in line with our community-driven structure and which doesn’t disrupt the experience of people attending RC.

You can think of Joy of Computing as a bit like a big group Tumblr. Any of the 1,300+ people in the RC community can submit their own or other Recursers’ work to the site. Each submission is reviewed by one other Recurser to make sure it’s appropriate for the site (in short: the work must be technical, open source, and made by a Recurser), and once approved it gets added to a queue of upcoming posts. Every morning the site randomly publishes one post, weighted by how long it’s been in the queue.

The site is in some ways a successor to Code Words, the quarterly publication of technical writing we shuttered in 2016. But unlike Code Words, Joy of Computing is designed to be truly community-driven, rather than carefully curated by RC faculty. It is meant to be serendipitous and a bit messy — just like RC. Additionally, we aim to reflect the diversity of work people do at RC, and not only the highly polished, long-form writing that Code Words featured.

Computing and joy

A lot of computing has felt grim recently, and rightfully so. Each day has brought a new reminder of Google and Facebook’s scandals and surveillance, and our industry’s broader failings. The world has realized that technology isn’t a panacea, and some of its effects are downright harmful. We as programmers must think carefully and deeply about the impact of our work, and change our behavior accordingly.

In a climate like this it’s easy to lose sight of the positive things that attracted many of us to programming in the first place. We hope Joy of Computing will serve as a healthy counterbalance to the news of the day, and remind you that there are still many good sides of computing and technology. Programming can be not only useful but also playful, intellectual, exciting, expressive, delightful, and humane.

  1. We released the site privately to the RC community earlier this month ahead of our public launch today, which is why the site already has a number of posts.

Making RC more family-friendly

We’re happy to announce a new set of policies intended to make RC more accessible to parents and caregivers of kids of all ages. You can read these policies in their entirety in our User’s Manual.

What’s new?

  • We will host more social events that can fit into a family schedule: they’ll happen earlier in the evening or on weekends. They’ll include daytime picnics, trips to museums, and early evening art nights. We are also changing our guest policy: all official RC social events will be open to the children and partners of Recursers who are parents.
  • You are welcome to bring your child to RC with you in situations where it might be especially difficult to find child care, like on school closure days (e.g. holidays, snow days), or if your infant is under 6 months old. Just let us know in advance.
  • We are installing a changing table in our restroom, and we have a small private wellness room that can be used for lactation. It can also be a space to use when you need a quiet moment with your child (e.g. to feed them, or calm them down if they’re upset).

RC's new wellness room

What’s already working?

RC already offers a flexible schedule while still being an immersive, full-time retreat. We’ve got a late start (10:30 am) and a four-day week (Fridays being optional). You can choose between different retreat lengths to fit your schedule. It’s alright to head out early every once in a while for an appointment, or miss a day or two if you tell us in advance. We don’t have any mandatory late-night or weekend events, and there are plenty of opportunities to socialize and bond with other Recursers during core hours, rather than off the clock.

We started offering mini retreats in part to allow Recursers with children to attend a retreat. After running the first two, we got feedback that those retreats were scheduled during school break weeks, which were especially challenging times to coordinate child care. We looked into the schedules for subsequent mini retreats, to ensure that the majority do not coincide with school breaks.

More importantly, the work, collaboration, and learning that happens at RC takes place both in-person and online, making it easy to stay engaged and active even if you’re on a different schedule than most other Recursers or if something is temporarily keeping you away from the space.

Why are we doing this?

We’ve adopted these new policies simply because we believe it’s the right thing to do. RC gets better as it gets bigger and more diverse, and we believe that more great programmers will be able to come to RC if we create a space that is easier for caregivers to navigate. We’ve also been inspired by an increasing number of Recursers with children attending a retreat, and by seeing many of our alums become parents for the first time over the past few years. Now that we’ve moved to a bigger space, more options for better supporting parents are available to us: we are able to have a wellness room, and we can host potentially loud events on one floor during core hours without disrupting focused work on the other floor.

Accessibility helps everyone, not just the folks whose needs are directly addressed by the changes. Hosting events at a wider variety of times will provide more socializing opportunities to parents as well as people with longer commutes or prior evening commitments. When it’s not being used by a parent or caregiver, the wellness room will be available to all Recursers who might need it to be comfortable at RC. We are committed to making RC accessible to anyone who wants to spend time here becoming a better programmer. We hope that the combination of living expense grants (available to people from groups traditionally underrepresented in programming), one-week mini retreats, and our new family-friendly policies will make it easier for parents and caregivers to thrive at RC.

If you’re interested in joining the RC community, apply today!

Localhost #15: Veit Heller on Carp, a programming language for the 21st century

Rachel vincent circle Rachel Vincent

RSVPs for our next Localhost talk are now open. Localhost is a series of monthly, NYC-based, free, public technical talks from members of the Recurse Center community.

On Tuesday, October 23rd from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, RC alum Veit Heller will be giving a talk about Carp, a compiled, type-inferred, and borrow-checked programming language that runs natively on any supported platform without the user having to write any types or think about memory management. The talk will be hosted at AppNexus, our Localhost partner through the rest of 2018.

You can RSVP, check out the full list of speakers and talk subjects, and find details about the venue and schedule on the talk’s RSVP page.

Talk format

Localhost talks are 30 minutes long, and are followed by a dedicated Q&A session. There will be a two-minute break after the talk for folks who wish to leave. There are a few reasons we run talks this way:

  • We’ve found that having questions during talks can often derail the speaker.
  • Having a break in between a talk and Q&A keeps the talk time–boxed and allows folks to leave if they wish.
  • Having a set time for questions leads to more equal audience participation and better discussions.

Unlike most RC events, Localhost talks are open to the public. We set aside a fixed number of seats for folks who aren’t members of our community at every talk. It’s been great meeting so many new folks at our Localhost talks!

We know that attending a batch of RC is a big commitment, and hope that Localhost talks are a way for people to get a taste of what the RC community is like (and maybe even apply for a batch afterwards!). If you RSVP, please read about our social rules before the event.

We’ll open RSVPs and post details for future talks on our Localhost page and here on our blog. Follow us here and on Twitter for updates on when RSVPs open.

All guests of Recurse Center events are required to abide by our code of conduct.

Localhost #14: Allison Kaptur on Mypy in practice

Rachel vincent circle Rachel Vincent

RSVPs for our next Localhost talk are now open. Localhost is a series of monthly, NYC-based, free, public technical talks from members of the Recurse Center community.

On Monday, September 17th from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, RC alumna and former facilitator Allison Kaptur will be giving a talk about how using Mypy, an optional static type checker for Python, has changed how she writes Python. The talk will be hosted at AppNexus, our Localhost partner through the rest of 2018.

You can RSVP, check out the full list of speakers and talk subjects, and find details about the venue and schedule on the talk’s RSVP page.

Talk format

Localhost talks are 30 minutes long, and are followed by a dedicated Q&A session. There will be a two-minute break after the talk for folks who wish to leave. There are a few reasons we run talks this way:

  • We’ve found that having questions during talks can often derail the speaker.
  • Having a break in between a talk and Q&A keeps the talk time–boxed and allows folks to leave if they wish.
  • Having a set time for questions leads to more equal audience participation and better discussions.

Unlike most RC events, Localhost talks are open to the public. We set aside a fixed number of seats for folks who aren’t members of our community at every talk. It’s been great meeting so many new folks at our Localhost talks!

We know that attending a batch of RC is a big commitment, and hope that Localhost talks are a way for people to get a taste of what the RC community is like (and maybe even apply for a batch afterwards!). If you RSVP, please read about our social rules before the event.

We’ll open RSVPs and post details for future talks on our Localhost page and here on our blog. Follow us here and on Twitter for updates on when RSVPs open.

All guests of Recurse Center events are required to abide by our code of conduct.

Why we stopped RC Start

David albert circle David Albert

In September of 2016 we stopped accepting applications for RC Start, our mentorship program for new programmers. We stopped running RC Start because we didn’t get the results we expected, and because we realized it was a strategic mistake.

We introduced RC Start in January of 2016. It was a free, one-on-one mentorship program for people just beginning as programmers. Each person who was admitted to RC Start was matched with an RC alum for three 45-minute sessions, either in person or on Skype. What happened in the sessions was entirely up to the RC Start participant and their mentor, and if both people were interested, they were welcome to continue meeting after the initial three sessions.

We made RC Start because we thought it would be a useful thing to have in the world. Lots of people want to get started as programmers, but starting out can be intimidating. We knew from our own experience how helpful a few well-placed pieces of advice can be. We were also sad to regularly have to reject people who had $15,000 of debt from a programming bootcamp because they didn’t meet our minimum requirements for programming ability. We hoped there was a better way.

RC Start was also something we were well positioned to do: at the time we had almost 700 alumni, all of whom were qualified to mentor someone new to programming.1 The sort of advice that’s useful when you’re just starting out generally doesn’t require specialized knowledge on behalf of your mentor, and it seemed likely that all RC alumni would be qualified to work with most RC Start participants.

Finally, we hoped that some of the people who did RC Start would eventually apply to RC, attend a retreat, and become part of the RC community. While programmers of all experience levels come to retreats at RC, you need to already be able to program in some capacity. RC Start was designed to be accessible to a wider range of people by relaxing the constraint that you had to already know how to program to participate. We knew there were lots of people just learning to program who would eventually make great Recursers. By building a connection to these people early, we thought they’d be more likely to apply to RC when they were ready. We were specifically interested in building a more diverse applicant pool for RC by reaching people from groups traditionally underrepresented in programming.

What happened?

People liked it. Most participants found the experience valuable. Our alumni liked the opportunity to be helpful. Between January and September of 2016, we matched 167 RC Start participants with mentors from the RC community. Our community provided over 350 combined hours of mentoring. Where possible, we matched people who lived in the same city so that they could meet in person. Where it wasn’t possible, people met over Skype. Fifteen RC Start participants ended up attending a retreat and becoming members of the RC community. There was more demand than we expected, and we ran RC Start for nine months instead of the original two or three months that we planned.

Not everything went the way we thought it would. People who applied to RC Start had more programming experience than we expected. This meant that they had more specific requirements for mentorship that made it harder for us to match them (e.g. looking for a mentor with experience in Angular 2). The RC Start applicant pool also ended up being less racially diverse and gender balanced than the existing applicant pool for our retreats.

We also began to realize that RC Start was a strategic mistake: it didn’t help us build our community, which is the most valuable part of RC, and it wasn’t truly community-driven.

Our first mistake was that we couldn’t add RC Start participants to our community. We’ve known for a long time that the most valuable part of RC is the community. This is true from a business perspective – we make money by helping members of our community find jobs – but more importantly it’s true from an educational perspective. The people you meet, the projects you work on together, and the relationships you build are a large part of what makes attending RC valuable.

We couldn’t add RC Start participants to our community because our retreat had more stringent admissions requirements than RC Start. This meant RC Start participants couldn’t come to RC events, program at RC during alumni hours, or access Zulip and our mailing lists. We knew this going in, but we didn’t fully appreciate the ways that this would make things strategically difficult. It created some practical and logistical problems (e.g. RC Start participants wanted a place to chat online and ended up setting up a Slack instance themselves), but more importantly, it meant we were doing work that didn’t make the core of RC substantially better.

Our second strategic mistake was that while RC Start was superficially community-driven – all mentors were members of the RC community – it wasn’t community-driven in the way the rest of RC is. RC thrives on serendipity. When you come to a retreat, you meet and work with all kinds of people, many with wildly different interests. With so many people at RC, you’re likely to find plenty who are interested in the same things you are. The things you do at RC depend on who you meet, and how you collectively decide to spend your time.

RC Start didn’t work the same way. We paired each participant with one mentor. We did our best to make good matches, but if your mentor didn’t have the experience you were looking for, didn’t know the answers to your questions, or just wasn’t available, there wasn’t anyone else for you to talk to. This made RC Start fragile.

All of the things that motivated us to do RC Start are still true. We still think there should be more effective ways to support people who are just getting started with programming, and we’d still like to have more wonderful people apply to RC from an even more diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. While RC Start had some strategic issues, it’s given us insight into how we should approach these problems in the future.

  1. We now have over 1,200 alumni.

Localhost #13: New work from Recursers

Rachel vincent circle Rachel Vincent

RSVPs for our next Localhost talk are now open. Localhost is a series of monthly, NYC-based, free, public technical talks from members of the Recurse Center community.

To celebrate one year of Localhost, we’re trying a different format for our next talk: on August 21st from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, eight Recursers will give seven lightning talks about projects they worked on at RC, from ASL translators to landscape generators to adventures in implementing the Viola-Jones algorithm. The event will be hosted at AppNexus, our Localhost partner through the rest of 2018.

You can RSVP, check out the full list of speakers and talk subjects, and find details about the venue and schedule on the talk’s RSVP page.

Talk format

The format of this talk will be a bit different than our past events. The talks will begin at 7:20 pm. Each talk will last for 5-6 minutes, and will be followed by a 2-minute break for set-up for the next speaker. We won’t have a dedicated Q&A session, and we’ll still ask that you not ask questions during the talk. There will be time to chat with presenters at the end of the evening.

Our September talk will follow the usual format (one 30 minute talk from a single speaker, with a dedicated Q&A afterward).

Unlike most RC events, Localhost talks are open to the public. We set aside a fixed number of seats for folks who aren’t members of our community at every talk. It’s been great meeting so many new folks at our Localhost talks!

We know that attending a batch of RC is a big commitment, and hope that Localhost talks are a way for people to get a taste of what the RC community is like (and maybe even apply for a batch afterwards!). This is even more true for this event: it will be very similar to our Thursday evening presentations. If you RSVP, please read about our social rules before the event.

We’ll open RSVPs and post details for future talks on our Localhost page and here on our blog. Follow us here and on Twitter for updates on when RSVPs open.

All guests of Recurse Center events are required to abide by our code of conduct.

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