4 Questions with Diana Ilithya

Mai Schwartz

In this series, we sit down with current Recursers to learn about the work they’re doing at the Recurse Center and what they’re most excited about right now! Our first interview is with Diana Ilithya, who’s attending RC virtually from Germany. She’s treating her batch as an artist residency, working on a variety of shaders and creative coding projects.

Diana Ilithya

Diana Ilithya

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m a digital artist, a creative developer, and a designer. I’ve been freelancing for about 12 years. I started out in web design and then became a front end developer, so I was always bouncing back and forth between doing web design and front end work for about a decade.

About three years ago, I discovered creative coding and it blew my mind! It changed the whole perspective I had on programming. I had always struggled with my twin interests in design and front end work, but there was no job at that time where I could do both. I always had to pick one and then I would miss the other. When I discovered creative coding, I felt like: Oh, this is where I can apply both things, and also work with the arts, which has always been a hobby of mine.

So I started doing creative development and only taking on front end work that’s related to WebGL, which is more creative even if it’s corporate. That’s where I am at the moment.

Shader with black and white striped snakes on a hot pink background

Snake shader

What brings you to RC at this particular moment in your life?

Since I started to do a lot more visual art and installations last year and really think of myself as an artist, I learned that there are these things called artist residencies where you go and work on something digital art related. I was searching for one all year and I couldn’t find anything that I really liked.

Then I heard about RC from Char Stiles and Sol Sarratea, who also do digital art and work with shaders. They had attended and they said that they really enjoyed their time and that you could work on any project that interests you. So I thought I could go to RC and create my own artist residency there.

Because I’m also a self-taught programmer, when I read about RC, it seemed like the perfect place to do this because I’d not only get to tackle and explore further the art that I want to do, but I could also improve as a developer and do pair programming and meet like-minded people.

That’s why I decided to join RC!

Shader with feathery blue and pink diagonal stripes

Feather shader

What are you excited about right now, programming-wise?

Shaders! When I discovered that a lot of the visuals in concerts are done with shaders, that blew my mind. Music is very important to me; it’s high on the list of things that inspire me. That’s one of the reasons I got into shaders.

The second reason was because I wanted to do more installation work as an artist and shaders are a big way to do that. Thirdly, I can also do shaders with WebGL as a creative developer.

Shader with spinning rainbow helix made of metallic hexagons

Glitch shader

What are you excited about right now, outside of programming?

Probably the most exciting thing is that I’m going back home to Mexico in December. I haven’t been back for three and a half years now because I’m based in Germany. I’m really happy that I’m going to be able to go there and spend three months back home. That’s the most exciting thing I’m looking forward to right now.


You can see more of Ilithya’s work on her website, GitHub, Instagram, and Twitter.

If you’re interested in learning and working alongside programmers like Ilithya, apply to RC!

We’re hiring! Join the Recurse Center as a Career Facilitator

James J. Porter

Update: As of September 24th, 2021, we are no longer hiring for this role.

We’re hiring a Career Facilitator to help run our recruiting business. This involves supporting members of our community in their careers and cultivating relationships with partner companies, with lots of room to help rethink and improve how we approach our work. This role offers a chance to help grow a unique company, fulfilling work, a supportive environment with collaborative colleagues, and good work-life balance and benefits.

Read on to learn more about RC and this job, and to find out how to apply. If you’re not sure whether you’re qualified, please do apply or email us at ops@recurse.com to ask. We’re a small team seeking a good fit, and we think qualities like good judgment and emotional intelligence are more important than the titles of your past jobs. We would much rather hear from you than not!

A unique business and community

RC is a unique institution. We run a free and self-directed programming retreat, a community of over 2,000 alums, and a recruiting agency, all of which are integrated and support each other. Our revenue comes from recruiting fees paid by our partner companies when they hire alumni we refer to them.

Until 2020, we ran our retreats in our space in Brooklyn, New York, and we started operating online when the pandemic struck. Once it’s safe to re-open our space, we plan to try a hybrid model, in which Recursers can choose to attend online or in-person. Like many things about RC, this is an experiment—we don’t know what the best approach is, or if it will succeed, but we’re excited to try it out and learn along the way.

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. Instead, we provide time, space, resources, and a supportive community in which to grow.

Our approach to recruiting is similarly unconventional. While many recruiting agencies operate on a “quantity over quality” basis by referring any candidate they can find to as many jobs as possible, RC is different. We work hard to understand what Recursers and our partner companies are looking for, and only make introductions where we think it genuinely makes sense for both parties, after confirming mutual interest. We also stick with companies and Recursers throughout the interview process, checking in and offering support.

We’re in this for the long haul. We’ve been running RC for ten years, iterating and improving on everything we do, and we’re still far from having it all figured out. As part of a small team, you’ll play an important role in helping us improve further.

Fulfilling work

By helping to run, improve, and grow RC, you can have a huge impact on our small but steadily growing community. Your work at RC may not change the world, but it will change individual people’s lives.

People genuinely love RC. Alums routinely tell us RC was one of or even the most impactful, meaningful, productive, or transformative period of their lives. We’ve helped people find their first programming jobs, meet lifelong friends and colleagues, and discover what they really want out of their lives and careers. Alums have told us RC changed their approach to programming, their beliefs about education, and even how they think about themselves and relate to other people.

Our community loves RC so much that they collectively donated over $300,000 to help us make it through the pandemic. When our business did better than expected and it turned out we didn’t need the money for operational expenses, we used it to restart our grants program, through which we’ve given out $1.7 million since launching it in 2012. All of this money has gone directly to Recursers who are women, trans, nonbinary, Black, Latinx, and/or Native American to pay for living expenses during their time at RC.

As a Career Facilitator, you’ll primarily be focused on our recruiting business, including:

  • Helping Recursers with all aspects of their job searches, whether they just finished their batch or came to RC years ago. This involves meeting with them to learn more about their goals and backgrounds, editing their resumes and professional communications, introducing them to our partner companies, helping them move through interviews and negotiate offers, and giving them feedback and moral support.
  • Supporting Recursers with their careers more generally. You’ll help them figure out their goals, make their jobs work better for them, negotiate for promotions and raises, and resolve conflicts at work.
  • Building and maintaining relationships with our partner companies. This involves learning about their hiring needs, finding Recursers for their open roles, organizing hiring events, on-boarding new companies, and soliciting and integrating feedback about how RC could better meet their needs.
  • Improving our process for doing all of the above. We have well-developed processes and software for doing recruiting work, but they’re far from perfect. After onboarding (we wouldn’t expect anyone to be able to do this from day one!), you’ll help us interrogate why we do things the way we do, then come up with and implement improvements.

Although the primary focus of this job is recruiting, we view RC as an integrated whole, and all of us sometimes jump in and help with other parts of our business. Working at RC requires being adaptable and willing to wear different hats as our organizational needs change.

For example, Sydney joined RC as a Career Facilitator three years ago and now splits her time between recruiting and product research for RC Together, the virtual space software we built to run RC online during the pandemic.

A collaborative environment with supportive colleagues

We work hard to foster a culture that’s collaborative, trusting, and thoughtful. Here are some things you’ll find working at RC:

  • Clear company-wide goals and the reasoning behind them. You’ll have an understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish together and why.
  • Our belief in self-direction isn’t only for Recursers, it also influences how we approach our own work. At RC, you’ll have the freedom and the responsibility to decide how to structure your time and your projects (with plenty of support).
  • 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 all employee and founder salaries and how much money we have in our bank account.
  • A culture of direct, but kind and constructive feedback. This helps us quickly resolve disagreements and work together more effectively.
  • 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.

Good work-life balance and benefits

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 our employees to do their best work in a sustainable way, so that all of us 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. RC also pays the full premium for basic life insurance.
  • 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.
  • 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 nine additional 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, RC’s CEO Nick took two months of parental leave when his son was born in 2019, and planned to take the third later in 2020 before the pandemic disrupted his plans.

Downsides and other things to know

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

  • Some of the work is emotionally draining.
  • Some of the work is unglamorous or tedious (we’re a seven-person company, so we all have to do some amount of mopping up, figuratively and sometimes literally).
  • This role also occasionally requires taking calls or responding to emails in the evenings or during weekends. We try to avoid this, but we sometimes need to help Recursers in time-sensitive situations (like negotiating offers with deadlines). Once we re-open our Brooklyn space, we plan to restart hosting regular events for our community in the evenings, and this role requires attending a few of these each month.

A few other things to know, which might be upsides or downsides depending on your perspective:

  • This is a full-time role, and you will eventually need to be able to work on-site at our office in Brooklyn, NYC. For now, some of us work from home and some of us work from the office, but we don’t plan to support remote work indefinitely. If you don’t currently live in New York, you will need to relocate here.
  • 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 salary range for this role is $100,000 to $115,000.

What we’re looking for in candidates

  • You’re a clear, effective communicator in writing and verbally, online or in-person.
  • You enjoy interacting with people: you’re empathetic, have a high emotional intelligence (“EQ”), and can handle occasional difficult interactions.
  • You’re intellectually curious.
  • You’re self-directed and collaborative.
  • You’re good at giving and receiving direct feedback.
  • You’re adaptable, and able to go from a goal to a plan for achieving it, then execute on that plan.
  • You’re conscientious and have good judgment: you keep your commitments, do what you say you’re going to, and 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.
  • You have career goals we can support. For example, this is not a great job for someone who wants to eventually be managing a team of ten, because RC is unlikely to grow that much anytime soon.

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.

What to expect from our interview process

Our interview process has three parts: an email, a phone call, and a day of interviews conducted online using Zoom.

Email us

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

  1. What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve learned recently?
  2. What are your career goals for the next few years?
  3. 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.

Phone screen

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.

Interviews

The third and final step of our process is a day of online interviews. 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.

A few extra things to know

  • 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.
  • Most of the company starts work between 9 and 10am, and leaves between 5 and 6pm.
  • 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 2022, which is not feasible for us. We may be able to transfer existing H-1Bs.

Grants of up to $7,000 now available for upcoming batches of RC

Rachel Petacat

Thanks to the generosity of our alumni community, we are delighted to announce that we are again offering living expense grants of up to $7,000 to people from groups that are underrepresented in programming, for all of our upcoming batches.

Eligibility

Our grants are available to people who identify as women (cis or trans), trans*, genderqueer, non-binary, Black, Latino/a/x, Native American, and/or Pacific Islander. Since the Recurse Center is free for everyone, the grants are intended to be used for living expenses during your batch, and to make RC more accessible to you if you could not otherwise afford to attend.

You may request a grant of up to $7,000 for a 12-week batch, $3,500 for a 6-week batch, or $500 for a one-week mini retreat. Apply here!

A brief history of our grants program

In early 2012, we began offering living expense grants funded by Etsy and other recruiting partners. In 2015, we began funding these grants ourselves, and continued to do so until early 2020. In total, we have disbursed nearly $1.7 million in grants and Fellowships.

Last March, when we closed our space and moved RC online, we prepared for a significant loss of income. RC makes money from recruiting fees, and we expected a major macroeconomic downturn that would severely impact our business. In order to keep RC in operation and avoid layoffs – our main priorities – we cut every expense we could, including our grants program.

Thankfully, not only did our business do much better than we expected it to do in 2020, we also received generous financial support from our alumni community. As a result, we are able to restart our grants program, with grants now being funded entirely by donations from the RC community.

Grants are the best way we’ve found to make attending RC possible for more people from groups that are historically underrepresented in programming. RC is already free, and right now it’s more accessible than ever: while we’re operating online people don’t have to pay for housing in or travel to New York City. Over the past year, we’ve welcomed people from over 100 different cities and nearly every time zone across the globe.

But there are there are still many costs associated with taking time away from work and family obligations: lost wages, childcare, health insurance, and more. And though our gender balance has been better than ever this year (our next batch is over 50% women, trans*, and/or non-binary people) we still have work to do to make RC more racially diverse and consistently gender balanced.

If you’d like to learn more about what participating in RC remotely is like, check out our Virtual RC page! And if you have any questions about applying to RC, email us.

How to improve your calls and reduce Zoom fatigue

Mai Schwartz

The core value of RC is the community: meeting people, programming together, and supporting each other’s growth and learning by sharing ideas and advice.

Because of this, we’ve spent a lot of time on video over the past year. And many of us have experienced “Zoom fatigue,” that hard to define but easy to identify lousy feeling you can get after too many video calls.

While Zoom fatigue is real, we think it’s too broad a term to be useful. Bad video calls — ones that are under-scoped, vague in purpose, un-facilitated, or awkward — are draining no matter their length. But thoughtfully structured group calls and productive pairing sessions can be energizing, even when they’re long.

This post is an overview of some of the practices we’ve developed to help make RC online as collaborative and dynamic a space as possible, while minimizing fatigue1.

Have a designated facilitator

When no one is explicitly in charge of a meeting, that role will often default to the person who is the loudest or has the most institutional power. A facilitator can help avoid this problem by making sure people are engaged, conversations are moving, needs are being addressed, notes are taken, etc. Like in real life, structure and facilitation make for more impactful remote meetings; better to have them and not need them than the other way around.

We’ve found that groups of up to six or so can interact pretty seamlessly on Zoom without a moderator, but only if they already know each other or have a shared connection. A facilitator is crucial for larger groups, or for meetings of any size where there are decisions to be made and everyone’s input is needed. Large meetings also benefit from a secondary support person to answer questions, troubleshoot issues, and post transcripts in the chat for accessibility (the latter is especially important for very large group calls, where it isn’t feasible to repeat things for someone who briefly lost their connection or was distracted).

Of course, just having a facilitator isn’t enough. The purpose of the call should be clear to everyone on it, and the facilitator needs to be skilled and comfortable enough in the role to keep the conversation rich and on-topic.

Facilitate actively

The facilitator is responsible for setting the agenda and, crucially, making sure everyone arrives at the call knowing what it is and why they’re there. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a rigid or detailed agenda, it just means that everyone should know what’s expected of them in terms of preparation and participation. Set these expectations in advance and check in about them briefly at the beginning of the call.

At the most basic level, the facilitator should keep a queue of who would like to speak. Zoom’s “raise hand” feature makes it difficult to keep stack, so we ask people to type “hand” into the chat instead. The moderator can change the order to prioritize people who have not spoken yet over those who have already gone. If using this turn-taking system, it’s helpful to announce who’s up, as well as who’s on deck to speak next.

Because we have less access to body language and other nonverbal cues online, it’s extra important to be mindful of who’s speaking a lot and try to make space in conversations for others to jump in. If you’re leading an event, be cognizant of the flow of the conversation, and try to make space for people who may be quieter to join in. Allow pauses and silences so everyone has a chance to contribute. Make it a point to ask explicitly: does anyone who hasn’t spoken yet want to share?

Include the physical environment whenever possible

Part of what’s exhausting and alienating about video calls is feeling as though we have to behave like the disembodied heads that others are seeing. Sharing in each other’s physical environments can help us feel more grounded and connected to ourselves and others. It’s the simplest manifestation of “bring your whole self.”

Concretely, this can mean welcoming the real world when it enters the frame. Whether it’s children, pets, family members, or household mishaps, you can choose to think of it as connection fodder, not distraction. It’s an opportunity to get to know your colleagues as real people and acknowledge that we’re all working in our homes for better or worse.

We’ve found it valuable to go one step further and create opportunities for this kind of connection by hosting Show & Tells. Since there are new people at RC all the time, we regularly hold events where we go around and each person shows off things from their home and shares stories about them. We’ve done these with pets, books, artwork, and “three things we can see on your webcam.” This makes it easy to discover shared interests, build deeper connections, and respond organically when our lives show up on camera.

Social events should feel different than meetings

The grid on a video call looks the same whether you’re having a budget meeting or a personal coffee chat. It requires intention and planning to change the context so that social events feel connected and alive, rather than draining. Our team hangouts got a million times better when we started experimenting with activities to do together.

For example, our team of seven each ordered a meal kit from Xi’an Famous Foods and we scheduled a one-hour lunch hangout to cook hand-pulled noodles together. We left our laptops on our counters and either used wireless headphones or ditched them entirely. It didn’t feel like a video call because we weren’t stuck in our chairs or even looking at our screens most of the time.

Since then, we’ve decorated cookies, assembled terrariums, made fancy cocktails, and played Minecraft together. We’ve also done trivia nights (fun for a big group, with opportunities to talk more in depth in small groups) and Recursers host regular events like Knit for a Bit and Art Night, where people hang out on Zoom while working on painting and craft projects. Get creative! Parallel play is great for all age groups.

Establish shared norms about how to use common Zoom features

Zoom has a lot of features that you can configure to support your specific needs, and we won’t go too deeply into that here. However, even the basic features can have a powerful impact if you use them thoughtfully.

Display names: Calls feel more real and connected when people use their name as their display name on Zoom (as opposed to “iPhone” or “J’s MacBook”). They can optionally add other relevant information such as their pronouns, what time zone they’re in, or their role, team, or company in large meetings where not everyone knows each other.

Chat: The chat is best used as a way to complement an on-going conversation, show support and encouragement, and as a way for someone who is hesitant to speak via voice/video to contribute to the conversation. Keep chats on-topic when others are talking to avoid distracting side channels that distance others from the conversation at hand (“Why is everyone laughing at a joke that I didn’t see?”) and create confusion (two different communication channels to pay attention to).

Muting: When we first got online, we followed the common norm of muting everyone by default. We now think this makes things feel worse, so we ask people to be unmuted unless they’re in a noisy place or need to type. It feels much more natural to address a group when there’s even a small amount of mumbled ‘mhm’s and white noise, especially when you’re screen-sharing and can’t see anyone’s face. Speaking to the void feels terrible for obvious reasons! During our weekly technical talks, we ask everyone to unmute and clap at the end of every presentation.

Sharing sound: Large group meetings can start out a little awkwardly. After a certain point, group size gets too large to make small talk, but you don’t want to start the meeting preemptively before a critical mass arrives, and so you’re left waiting. The solution? Play some music. We’ve found that having the host (or a helper) share their audio and play something while folks arrive can make the event feel much nicer. Once the meeting’s ready to go, just fade out the music.

Filters and backgrounds: Don’t use them. They’re distracting and they flatten the experience of talking to people. If there are good reasons to do so, like the privacy of others in your household, Zoom now has one that just blurs out your background. We think that works well to retain the depth and dimensionality of your space while hiding your unfolded laundry.

Think in terms of rooms instead of meetings

We rarely use ad hoc or personal meeting links for calls. Instead, we set up persistent Zoom meetings that mirror the rooms in our physical space and configured them to behave like physical rooms as much as possible. For instance, we disable Zoom’s waiting room feature and allow participants to join before the hosts so dropping in and out is as easy as possible.

We’ve built our own tool, RC Together, which lets us lay these rooms out on a map, so you can find them spatially, and see what’s scheduled there and who’s inside before joining. Different rooms have different norms; for example, anyone is always welcome to drop in to the couches area, but if there are two people in Shannon, you can assume they’re having a private conversation.

Virtual RC

What the space looks like on a typical day at RC

Knowing who’s on a call before you join, what they’re up to, and whether they’d welcome additional people, reduces the anxiety many people feel about video calls and lowers the friction to joining (and leaving!) conversations.

We’re still learning and refining our practices, and some of our best improvements came from sharing our struggles with the RC community and getting direct feedback. Being transparent about these processes and inviting everyone to participate in making your working culture more collaborative isn’t just helpful, it builds that culture in action. If you want to try out RC Together, reach out to us or email us to let us know how these suggestions worked for you. We’d love to hear from you!

  1. We know Zoom has plenty of problems, both technical and otherwise. It’s also by far the best tool we’ve found for talking to people remotely. We’ve tried many others, and Zoom works better than all of them when it comes to video and audio quality and cross-platform compatibility. Importantly, it works better than anything else on less powerful computers and not-great internet connections, and it keeps working even when there are hundreds of people on a call. For a good review of how improving your office setup can improve your video call experience dramatically, we like this blog post by Ben Kuhn.“

We’re offering $1,000 grants for our Spring 2 and Summer 1 batches

Rachel Petacat

Update: We’re now able to offer larger grants to a wider group of people, thanks to the support of our alumni! Read more here.

We’re granting a total of $20,000 need-based grants to programmers who are women (cis or trans), trans, and/or non-binary to attend our upcoming Spring 2 and Summer 1 virtual batches. You may request a grant of up to $1,000 for a 12-week batch, or $500 for a 6-week batch. Apply here!

We are not currently offering grants for batches other than Spring 2 and Summer 1, though we hope to be able to do so again soon!

Last March, when we closed our space and moved RC online, we prepared for a significant loss of income. RC makes money from recruiting fees, and in order to keep RC in operation and our team employed – our main priorities – we budgeted for the year assuming that our income would go to zero. To do that, we needed to cut our expenses significantly. One of the things we did was stop offering travel and living expense grants for our batches.

While we aren’t out of the woods yet, thanks to a year that was better than expected and the generous ongoing support of our alums, we are happily in a position to support people with smaller grants for a limited time. We know these grants won’t cover someone’s living expenses for six or 12 weeks, but we hope they help offset some of the costs associated with attending RC online.

We’ve been delighted by the number of people from around the world who have been able to to join RC by attending an online batch. But we still have work to do to make RC more gender-balanced and accessible. Offering grants to support women, trans, and non-binary people is one of the best ways we’ve found to do that.

If you’d like to learn more about what participating in RC remotely is like, check out our Virtual RC page! And if you have any questions about applying to RC, email us at admissions@recurse.com.

What does it mean to do RC remotely?

Mai Schwartz

This is a question we — faculty, new Recursers, and alums returning for a remote batch — have been asking ourselves since March. Though Recursers are now programming, pairing, learning, and chatting from home, making the day-to-day experience of the retreat quite different than it was in our space in Brooklyn, in many ways what it means to do a batch hasn’t changed.

One powerful advantage of operating remotely is that the retreat is now dramatically more accessible than it’s ever been. Many Recursers who have joined the community since we went remote would not have been able to do so before, because some of the biggest barriers to attending have been eliminated. You no longer need to travel, find housing in New York City, or or leave friends and family for many weeks to attend a batch of RC.

On the flip side, part of what makes RC special is that people take time out of their lives in a deliberate and thoughtful way to do it. Many people travel from out of state and out of the country, putting aside the normal obligations of their lives in order to focus on their growth and learning in a totally different environment. They also frequently make considerable sacrifices to do it: of time, money, and other opportunities. This means that everyone in batch is fully committed, and that dedication permeates the space, creating a focused and inspiring atmosphere for everyone.

While we’re remote, the cost to Recursers of coming to RC is lower than ever: all you have to do is get in. But the cost to the community of admitting people who aren’t really committed to doing RC right now is considerable. Beyond the time commitment, part of the responsibility of being in batch is contributing to the atmosphere of learning and gentle social pressure to be productive, whatever that means for each person. Having disengaged participants undermines that effect for everyone. The faculty spends time and energy following up with Recursers who are checked out, and other people in batch don’t know which of their batchmates are really there.

Because coming to New York or leaving your job to physically be at RC full-time necessarily demanded some sacrifice, there was a natural filter in our admissions process for people who have really thought about whether — and when — RC is right for them. Now that we’re remote, this doesn’t happen as organically, so we’ve added a new question to the application about your other life commitments right now.

This step is meant to help us — and you — evaluate whether your goals are in line with what RC has to offer. This does not mean we’re looking for people who have no other commitments in life! All of us have those: rent, bills, organizations and communities we’re a part of, children and loved ones to care for. But we’ve found that RC doesn’t work well for people who aren’t ready to make a significant commitment to it. We say 6 hours a day, but that’s a proxy for the commitment we expect you to make rather than a strict requirement in itself.

In particular, we’ve found that people who are in school or working full-time struggle with remote RC, even if theoretically there are enough hours in the day to do both. Practically speaking, this might mean being on video calls for longer than you can tolerate, or dealing with conflicting incentive structures and demands on your time.

If you’re thinking about applying to RC, a good question to ask yourself is: what are my goals and intentions right now, and is RC a good container in which to work toward them? You might be a perfect fit for RC and right now just might not be the right time! We want you to attend when it’s right for you, and we want everyone in batch to be committed to their own growth and to supporting the growth of their peers.

Even though RC is now distributed throughout participants’ homes, it’s still a space to do ambitious work, become a dramatically better programmer, and meet kind, curious people who are doing the same. Having people in a remote batch who aren’t really there and aren’t contributing to the community damages the experience for everyone.

“What if I start my batch and realize I can’t continue?” We understand that unexpected things happen and your life circumstances can change. If you join a batch and find that you aren’t able to participate fully, just let us know you need to withdraw. We value clear, proactive communication, which saves us time and energy trying to chase you down and hopefully also saves you some guilt and anxiety. This is not a regular school or job, where you face discipline for “failing.” We view honest self-reflection and discernment positively, and you’ll be welcome to re-apply in the future.

At the end of the day, the RC community is as thoughtful, curious, intentional, and intellectually engaged as the people in it. We want people to come when they’re ready to benefit from what RC has to offer and ready to contribute to the environment. If that’s you, please apply!

We’re continuing to run batches online in 2021

Rachel Petacat

We’ll be operating RC remotely until further notice. All batches that are open to applications will happen in Virtual RC, and you’ll be able to attend from anywhere in the world. We still don’t know when we’ll be able to reopen, but we don’t expect that it will be before mid-2021. We hope to continue running remote batches when we reopen our space, too.

The best community to grow as a programmer

At its core, RC is a community of over 1,700 programmers who are committed to learning and becoming dramatically better. They have attended from more than 50 countries around the world, and they come from all sorts of backgrounds: Recursers are engineers, academics, parents, musicians, students, artists, retirees, and scientists.

The recent turmoil in the world has only increased the importance of community and learning how to direct yourself to build meaning in your life. RC has always worked best for people who are at pivotal points in their lives: When they are open to change, seeking new ideas and friendships, and reevaluating what they want. At the same time, operating online means RC is accessible to a much wider range of people than just those who can come to New York.

Before the pandemic, we were sometimes asked whether we offered remote attendance, and we always said no. We’re a small team, and our focus was always on making the in-person retreat the best experience it could be. Ever since it became unsafe to operate in person, we’ve been working to do the same for the online retreat. We’ve built new software to support easy ways to communicate and interact with other Recursers (learn more on our Virtual RC page), successfully held our batch orientation in our virtual space for the first time, and ran an Open Source Week with over a dozen events that were attended by more than 100 Recursers.

Virtual RC

The new Virtual RC

Now that we have to operate remotely, we’ve learned that there are some wonderful advantages to doing so. The most important one is that it gives us the ability to welcome more people from all over the world because it removes many of the obstacles associated with traveling to New York for many months, such as visas, travel costs, and the challenges of uprooting one’s life. People have attended Virtual RC from Ghana, Singapore, Russia, Israel, England, Argentina, Canada, Japan, and India. We were able to welcome people who were admitted many years ago but couldn’t make it to New York for batches.

We’ve also been able to welcome alums back all day, every day. They’ve been hosting some great study groups and events, like an Intro to Mathematical Thinking group, early checkins for people in different timezones, and a discussion group for former resident Martin Kleppmann’s book Designing Data Intensive Applications. If you attend RC online, once your batch ends you’ll be able to drop in to Virtual RC whenever you like to pair program, prepare for interviews, share your work, attend events, or work in our quiet space.

While you can participate from anywhere, our core hours are still set based on US Eastern Time (11am to 5pm ET, Monday through Friday), and we still expect RC to be your main commitment while you’re in batch. Aside from our mandatory first day events (which happen from 10 am - 12 pm ET), there aren’t other mandatory events, and people in different time zones have started check-in groups and run social events at times that work better for them.

The future of in-person batches

We don’t know when we’ll be able to reopen our physical space in Brooklyn. In order to open our space, we’ll have to be confident that it’s safe for people from all over the world to travel here. We expect that won’t be until there’s a vaccine, which means we probably won’t be able to meet in person again until mid-2021, or later.

We expect to know when we can reopen several months before we actually restart in-person batches. As soon as we are confident on a timeline for resuming in-person batches, we will post an update. Our goal is to allow both in-person and remote participation indefinitely, but do not yet know whether that will be logistically feasible.

If you’d like to join a supportive online community of programmers, apply to RC!

This is a follow-up to our previous post about hosting batches online through the end of 2020.

What we’ve learned from running RC remotely, and an update for future batches

Rachel Petacat

Update: As of August 2020, we are running all batches online until further notice.

We’ve decided to continue running RC batches online until the end of 2020. If we’re able to safely reopen our physical space earlier than that, we will. Anyone confirmed for a 2020 batch happening after we reopen will be able to attend in person or online. If you do a remote batch and would like to come back for an in-person batch in the future, you’ll be welcome to do so as an alum.

The reason we won’t put a date on when we’ll reopen is that we — and, realistically the rest of the world — don’t know when it will be safe to gather in person. The spread of COVID-19 is unfolding differently across the world. More than half of Recursers come from outside New York to do a batch, and more than a third come from outside the U.S. We will only reopen our space when it’s safe for everyone to travel here.

A few months ago, it would have been difficult for us to imagine running a successful remote version of an RC batch. So much of what makes RC a unique and transformative experience relies on attendees making personal connections with each other. We thought this also meant it relies on in-person interaction. We still believe that nothing can fully replace the serendipity found in our space (among other things, we have not found a good replacement for being able to wander up to someone and ask what they’re working on).

But remote RC is working, and it includes most of the best parts of RC because it includes the most important part: kind, thoughtful, curious people who are committed to becoming better programmers together.

What remote RC looks like today

We decided to move RC online on March 11th and we closed our space on March 13th. Over the following two weeks, we focused on building software and processes to help us onboard new Recursers starting on March 30th while we continued to run the retreat that was already in progress.

While everyone in the new batches had opted in to doing RC online, the people who were partway through their batches when we made the switch had not. They were also dealing with unprecedented uncertainty around their personal lives, travel, and jobs. Despite all of that, they showed up for one another and for the new batch: they held brainstorming sessions for features for remote RC, helped us write documentation for how to use our new tools, and went out of their way to welcome the new batches on the first day. Remote RC would not be what it is without their contributions.

We’re using Zoom and Zulip as our main tools of communication. Zulip has been our chat channel of choice since 2013. We started using Zoom last month for meetings, presentations, and one-on-ones, and for on-boarding. We set up Zoom rooms that corresponded to some of the areas of our physical space, and made an interactive map based on one a Recurser made for our space last year. We’ve tried to create an experience that maps to a retreat in the physical space as much as possible: Virtual RC allows Recursers to jump into those rooms, link to them from calendar events, and see who’s in a room before entering. This week we added AOL Instant Messenger-style statuses that people can update to share what they’re working on each day.

Virtual RC

Virtual RC in action (with example data!)

It was important that Recursers have different ways to find and connect with each other, feel confident using our communication tools, and be able to do focused solo work as well as pair programming.

In the physical space we have two floors. The fifth floor is our quiet space, where people do solo work, and where we have our wellness room, library, and the faculty desks. The fourth floor is our more social floor, where presentations, workshops, pair programming, lunch, and discussions happen. We set up a Zoom room for people who wanted to work quietly in the company of others, to replicate our fifth floor quiet space, and a kitchen area where people can socialize and chat about anything they like. Other rooms have suggested designations, but they’re meant to be used how Recursers see fit, just like our physical space.

We decided to keep our core hours of 11 am - 5 pm ET so people in current batches know when to be online, and some people have adjusted their hours a bit depending on where they are in the world. We’ve opened participation in remote RC to all alums, so they can drop in and host or attend events as it suits them. There are three check-in meetings throughout the day for people to share what they’re working on, and we have check-ins streams on Zulip for people who prefer to write about their work.

How it’s going so far

There are still a lot of open questions about how to make remote RC work for everyone, and plenty of improvements to make, but so far we’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well things have gone. We currently have 60 people in batch, and like any batch of RC they come from a wide range of backgrounds and experience levels. Unlike most batches, they’re also signing in from a wide range of time zones: we have folks attending from Bangalore, Accra, San Francisco, Barcelona, Denver, Utrecht, and Leeds.

For the first day of the first remote batch, we held our welcome talks on Zoom, and posted transcripts in the chat. We used Zoom’s breakout room feature to have a version of meet and greets, where everyone chats with a randomly selected person in their batch for a few minutes. During their first week, Recursers ran a pair programming workshop and gave tours of the RC software to help the new batch settle in.

In recent weeks, Recursers have hosted a Creative Coding Group meeting where they gave project demos, a debugging group, a game jam, Cracking the Coding Interview study halls, non-technical talks, a Haskell study group, and a discussion of C basics, among many other events.

Challenges ahead

Like many businesses, we are working to ensure we survive the pandemic and the challenging times that are likely to follow. We have operated exclusively off of recruiting revenue for nearly a decade, and like everyone in the recruiting industry, we’ve seen a sudden drop in hiring and an increasing number of layoffs. We don’t know if this slowdown will last just a few months or lead to an extended recession, but we are hoping for the former and preparing for the latter.

Towards that end, we have already cut our monthly spending by more than 20%. We have always been a frugal company, and we are even more so now. We have cut founder (but not employee) salaries, our PR and advertising budget, and cut or negotiated down as many other ongoing expenses as we can.

By far the hardest cut we’ve made is our grants program, which we are suspending indefinitely. For the last eight years, we have offered need-based living grants up to $7,000 to people from groups traditionally underrepresented in tech. While difficult, ending our grants program temporarily supports our top priority, which is to keep RC operating with our entire team employed.

We’re so grateful for our hiring partners, and are continuing to work as hard as we can to support them in hiring great engineers now and in the future.

The last four weeks have been difficult, and there will be more difficult weeks ahead. Right now we feel incredibly lucky to be going through those weeks with the RC community, which has proven itself to be even more kind, resilient, and supportive than we knew it to be.

Though we look forward to returning to our space again, we are also looking forward to meeting new Recursers from all over the world. We believe that RC being more accessible to more people will be a wonderful thing for our community.

We also think some of the benefits RC provides – namely, access to a supportive community of programmers all working to improve themselves together – are now more valuable than ever.

If you’re a programmer who’d like to do a batch of remote RC and join a supportive community this year, we hope you apply!

This is a followup to our previous posts about closing our space and hosting our Spring 2 batch online and hosting our annual alumni reunion online due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

RC is online-only until at least May

We have made the difficult decision to temporarily close our space. Starting Monday, our operations will be fully remote. We’re planning and expecting to keep our space closed until mid-May, and possibly longer.

From everything we’ve read, the time to take action is now. Limiting travel and large gatherings of people is one of the most important things we can do to slow the spread of the COVID-19, protect the health and safety of the RC community, and minimize our contribution to the wider outbreak. Additionally, making this decision now gives us more time to prepare and figure out how to run RC remotely before our next batch starts at the end of this month.

Reimagining RC online

For nearly nine years we have consciously chosen to run RC in person and not online. We’ve considered what a remote version of RC would look like several times. Each time we decided not to do it: the obstacles to creating something up to our standards and the cost to the rest of our business were too great. As a team of only seven people operating solely off revenue and not VC funding, we are judicious about what we prioritize and focus on.

Now, our priorities have been changed for us, and our new focus is clear: We must build an excellent, online-only version of RC. It must embody the most important parts of the in-person experience, reflect our core beliefs about education, and be something we are proud of.

We face different challenges running RC online than most educational institutions because our beliefs about education are radically different. The basic building blocks of schools and universities are teachers, classes, curricula, grades, and tests. While moving those things online isn’t easy, there are well-established analogs for doing all of these things online, from giving lectures to publishing educational materials.

RC’s beliefs about education and educational model are entirely different. We have neither lectures nor a curriculum to put online. Instead, the core of RC is our community — that is, the people who participate, the connections among them, and the creative and intellectual exhaust they generate.

At a glance, the educational value of RC seems, in many ways, tied to physical space. RC’s value to our community comes from being surrounded by a diverse range of people who are all similarly motivated to become better programmers, regardless of their current abilities. It comes from creating an environment that fosters the chance encounters that lead to productive collaborations, new ideas, and close friendships. RC’s value comes from the friendly social pressure of growing alongside peers who are also working at their limits. It comes from having a psychologically safe environment where people can focus their energy on learning instead of showing off how much they know or worrying about whether or not they belong. And most importantly, it comes from our shared sense of purpose and community, which supports all of our growth and work.

These things are all just as important online as they are offline. In figuring out how to best support Recursers as an online community, we believe we can do a good job of fostering the same kind of environment outside of our physical space as we can within it, by ensuring we preserve the things that are valuable about RC and the things that make the experience special: the serendipity of meeting wonderful people to work and create with, the time and space to focus on your own projects, and a community to support you as you learn.

And so these are the things we will be focused on in the days, weeks, and possibly months ahead, as we work to reimagine RC as an online experience.

Logistics for our current and upcoming batches

We shared the details below yesterday with all current Recursers, as well as people who are interviewing or who have been admitted to our upcoming batches.

If you have applied, are thinking about applying, or are confirmed for an upcoming batch

There are two options for attending attending our next batch:

  1. Participate online. You are welcome to confirm for Spring 2/Mini 3, and attend RC remotely during their official dates. We will work hard to ensure that these remote batches feel as much like RC as possible. Doing a batch will still be a full-time commitment. We’re determining logistics and will have more details to share in about a week.

    We may extend our online-only policy to the the full 12 weeks of the Spring 2 batch if we need to. Otherwise, you’ll have the option to attend RC in-person during the second half of the batch (May 18th - June 26th). We’ll make a decision about when to reopen and will send an update in mid-April.

    We’ll have a first day orientation on March 30th, software to support video chats and remote presentations, opportunities for collaboration, and core hours we’ll expect folks to commit to. If you attend remotely and want to additionally do an in-person batch in the future, you’re welcome to attend any batch that starts within the next year.

    If you’ve been admitted and requested a grant: Because of this change, we’ll be adjusting all grant requests for remote batches. Please email us at ops@recurse.com to let us know if you still require a grant to attend Spring 2 now that it will be held remotely, and how much you need (you should include what you need to set up your space for video, audio, and livestreaming if you need to purchase anything to do that comfortably). If we do not hear from you before March 25th, we’ll assume you no longer need a grant to attend. We are currently unable to offer grants to anyone in batches happening after Spring 2.

  2. Come to a later batch. You’re also welcome to defer to a later batch, if you prefer to do RC in-person. You may delay your attendance by up to one year. You can do this via the link we sent to you when you were admitted to RC. If you want to do this but aren’t sure which batch you want to attend, click “Join a different batch” and select a new batch when you’re ready.

If you’re in one of our current batches

If you’re a member of the RC community, please see yesterday’s internal announcement (RC Zulip login required). To recap:

  • We’ll be locking the doors and turning off Doorbot at 5pm on Saturday. You will not be able to access the space after that so make sure you take all of your belongings with you. Check your cubbies, your workspaces, side rooms, etc. Alums, we chose Saturday to give you extra time to pick up anything you have in the space.
  • If you’re around on Friday afternoon, we’ll collect your keys then. If the faculty isn’t here when you leave, please leave your key on one of our desks.
  • Please stop having mail and packages sent to 397 Bridge. Faculty will take turns coming to the space while it’s closed to check on things, but we will not be able to get your mail to you.
  • The space will be locked and not be cleaned. We’ve paid our cleaning person in advance for his normal hours for the next eight weeks, but we do not expect him to come in during that time. Please remove any and all food from the fridges, pantries, and your cubbies to prevent pest problems while the space is closed. We will throw out anything we find at the end of the day on Friday.
  • RC is still in session online. The Winter 2 batch will continue to meet remotely until March 27th, and Spring 1 will continue to meet remotely until May 8th. We’re working hard to figure out what tools and practices will help us stay connected, ensure a good day-to-day experience for Recursers, and especially keep the things that make the RC experience special. We’ll be using Zoom, with support for dedicated rooms to host workshops and events, as well as one-on-one meetings like coffee chats and office hours. We’ll provide more details on that on Friday.
  • A lot of how-tos remain and we know more will arise as we embark on this experiment together. Thankfully, many in our community have extensive knowledge about remote work and there’s been some great conversation on Zulip already about this. We welcome your ideas for how to make remote RC a success, and we’ll have an open meeting over Zoom next week. See Zulip for details.

We’ll get through this together. We know that many of you are sad or disappointed that you won’t be able to finish your batches in the space — we are, too. We’ll do our best to make the end of your batch as productive and valuable as possible. We’ll also look forward to seeing you all back in the space after it’s safe to reopen, and to having you as lifelong members of our community.

Never graduate,
Nick, Sonali, Dave, Rachel, James, Sydney, and Mai

This is a followup to our initial public response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Never Graduate Week will be held remotely and other precautions for COVID-19

Update: As of March 11th we are temporarily moving all operations online.

This is our response plan to the ongoing situation with COVID-19. We will update this post as the situation develops.

Our priority is to ensure the safety of our employees, current Recursers, and alumni community, while helping to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Precautionary steps we’re taking

Canceling public events. We are canceling previously scheduled public events. This includes our March Localhost talks, company meet & greets, and the biomimicry panel we were scheduled to host later this month. We hope to resume hosting Localhost and company meet & greets later in the spring.

We are evaluating private events we run inside the RC community on a case-by-case basis. We’ll keep Recursers updated via our internal calendar, forums, and chat.

Allowing optional work from home for all employees and Recursers. We are pausing our normal policy that current Recursers should come into the space every weekday. All RC employees and Recursers are welcome to work from home, and anyone exhibiting symptoms (fever, cough, sneezing, shortness of breath) is required to stay at home.

Stopping work travel. We are canceling work travel for employees. This unfortunately means our San Francisco events planned for April are canceled. We will reschedule our SF events later in the year when it’s prudent to do so.

Continuing to run batches, but changing how we start them. Our next batch will begin as scheduled on March 30th, however, we are redesigning the experience of our first day to avoid large groups in tight quarters. If you are in the upcoming batch, you will receive full details later this month as the start of your batch approaches.

Following best practices throughout our community. This includes encouraging all Recursers to wash their hands regularly, sanitizing common surfaces more frequently, and recommending friendly waves in lieu of handshakes.

Our biggest event will be held online

Never Graduate Week, our annual alumni reunion, is scheduled for May 11th-15th. This is our largest and most important event, which last year brought together nearly 400 Recursers from across the US and over a dozen countries around the world.

We will not be hosting our reunion in person this year. Given the situation and how quickly things are changing, we think it would likely be irresponsible to host such a large event in May. We also know that waiting to make a decision until later this spring would be more disruptive to people’s travel plans.

Many Recursers look forward to coming back every year for Never Graduate Week. For RC staff, NGW is a highlight of our year. Catching up with friends from years past is energizing, inspiring, and fun. NGW is special because it’s the only time such a large portion of our community has the chance to come together.

Rather than cancel NGW, we’ll take this as an opportunity to try something new. Instead of hosting it in one centralized place, we will be organizing NGW online and supporting small groups of alums to meet up and join in from around the world. There are significant drawbacks to not being able to come together in person. But with careful thought, hard work, and the support of our community, we believe we can organize an excellent NGW online.

Community and bringing people together is even more important in times of uncertainty. We look forward to this opportunity to learn how to do this in a more accessible way online.

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