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.

What we mean by self-directed and community-driven

We describe RC as being self-directed and community-driven, but what do these terms actually mean?

When we say that RC is self-directed, we mean that people have both the opportunity and the responsibility to direct themselves here. Recursers decide what their goals are, why they have them, how they want to work towards them, and how to assess whether they’re succeeding or failing.

Few if any of these things are true in the places where we spend most of our lives: school and work. In most schools, none of these things are true. Teachers and administrators decide what people should learn (the curriculum), how they will learn it (listening to lectures and doing homework), and how to assess progress (tests and grades).1 Sometimes schools tell people why the school thinks things are important to learn, but that may have little or no bearing on why those things are important (or not) to a student.

Universities say they teach critical thinking or “how to learn” but the general idea remains the same. They tell you the skills you need to learn, how to learn them, and the courses to pass to prove you have. Universities are self-directed in the same way choose your own adventure books are: You’re free to follow any path you like so long as it’s one they’ve laid out for you.2

Many jobs are more self-directed than school, but only in limited ways. For instance, in white collar jobs, employees commonly have the freedom to decide how they do their work, and sometimes even what they work on. But even great jobs can’t be truly self-directed because companies have goals, employees have responsibilities, and managers quite reasonably have expectations for their reports. You can’t be fully self-directed in a typical job because you have a job, and that job probably isn’t one you get to define.

At RC, your “job” is to grow as a programmer — and to define what that means to you, given your own goals and unique circumstances.

This is hard for nearly all Recursers, in part because it’s so different from their past experiences, and in part because it’s a fundamentally uncomfortable thing to grapple with. Recursers have shared that a defining moment for them was on the first day of their batch, after our welcome breakfast and talks concluded, when they sat down and realized that they had to decide for themselves what to do for the rest of the afternoon and the rest of their batch.

When we say that RC is community-driven, we mean that the core educational and business value of RC is the community.3 We as RC faculty do many things, from bringing people together and establishing a healthy environment to providing physical space, advice, and useful resources. But we don’t make RC, Recursers do. In a real way, RC is the sum of all the projects, pairing sessions, code reviews, expertise, questions, answers, presentations, events, and everything else people decide to do here that shapes their and others’ experiences. RC only works because Recursers aren’t all the same — everyone brings a unique perspective and contributes different things to the group. This is one of the two major reasons diversity is essential to the success of RC.4

That’s why the vessel-filling5 model of education taken by nearly every school, university, and bootcamp is in conflict with diversity. That model starts with the assumption that education boils down to a transfer of knowledge from teachers to students. Improving education is thus a matter of figuring out the right set of facts and skills to teach and the most efficient way to get them into students’ heads. The closer students are to clones of each other, the easier this process is.

Harvard and other top universities are community-driven in the sense that the greatest value they provide students is surrounding them with peers. But universities’ explicitly stated educational model (teaching courses by expert faculty) doesn’t allow them to fully embrace or acknowledge this, and their founding assumptions don’t take advantage of it.

In contrast, we try to continuously make RC more community-driven and self-directed, from how we use our internal chat system to our move to overlapping batches to our decision to end our residents program.

Developing your volitional muscles

While RC can provide many things, we can’t provide motivation. Nor can we tell people what they want, how they should work towards it, or why they are here. These questions are present for all of us all of the time, but they are more evident at RC because we refuse to provide the easy but meaningless answers schools are so eager to offer. Everyone at RC must ultimately struggle with these questions for themselves, though they need not struggle alone.

Thankfully, this struggle gets easier with time and practice as you strengthen your volitional muscles, and surrounding yourself with others who are also committed to self-directed growth gives you a support system to draw upon when you need it. Learning to acknowledge and then work through the challenges of directing your own time is one of the most important things many people take from their time at RC.

  1. K-12 schools in the US go much further. They decide not just that students should learn history but that they should learn specific facts about American History, in 60-minute periods on weekdays between September and May when they are 17-years old. They measure how well students “learn” these facts quite precisely — typically using GPAs with three significant figures!

  2. Of course, many people do find a way to chart their own course in college, but the institutional headwinds are against them. I went to college after 18-years of self-directed learning. I was determined to learn on my own terms and not let grades influence my decision-making. I got a lot out of the experience and I don’t regret going to college. Even so, the institutional forces got to me, and after some time I found myself thinking, “Oh, this doesn’t matter, it probably won’t be on the exam.”

    The major advantage universities (and bootcamps, MOOCs, and others) have over K-12 schooling is that they’re not compulsory, and so participants choose to attend them, at least in theory. In practice, many people go because of societal or familial expectations, or because getting a four-year degree or learning Rails in 12-weeks is a default or well-trodden path. Here again RC has an unfair advantage: We are both non-compulsory and still odd enough that we’re not yet anyone’s default option.

  3. Our sole source of revenue is recruiting: companies pay us to help them hire our alums. As such, it’s not hard to see why RC becomes more valuable as our community grows in size, strength, and diversity.

  4. The other reason is that we cannot achieve our mission of building the best place to grow as a programmer without making RC a genuinely diverse and inclusive place. We will not and cannot be the best place to grow as a programmer if only people from some demographic groups thrive at our retreats and in our community.

  5. This name is inspired by quotations that likely date back to Plutarch.

Why we stopped our residents program

We started our residents program in the fall of 2012. We paused it in late 2016, and officially ended it in early 2017.

The idea for our residents program came from a conversation with a Recurser in our summer 2012 batch. He was one of the more seasoned programmers at RC at that time, and while he loved RC, he said he wished there were far more experienced programmers in his batch to learn from and work with. Specifically, he wished Guido van Rossum, the creator of Python, were at RC to review his Python code.

Based on this feedback we invited some highly accomplished programmers to come spend one or two weeks at RC during our following batch. The goal was to ensure that there were always people at RC who had deeper expertise in certain areas of programming than anyone attending the retreat.

Over the next few years, we had dozens of wonderful people come to RC as residents, usually via one or two week stints. Many of these people have subsequently stayed involved with the RC community for years, continuing to contribute substantially to it. Many of them have also told us that they’ve grown and benefited tremendously from joining the community.

Despite the positive aspects of the program, we decided to permanently stop inviting new residents in late 2016 and had our final new residents in early 2017.1

So why did we end our residents program?

First, our process for finding and vetting residents was inconsistent and opaque. When we started the program, residents were consistently more experienced and accomplished programmers than the majority of people who attended our retreat. Over time, this stopped being true. Eventually, a good portion of the people applying to the retreat were more advanced programmers than many of our residents. Additionally, since we brought on new residents via referrals and invitation, our process for evaluating residents was necessarily somewhat ad hoc and wasn’t transparent to the world or even our community.

The second reason we ended the program is both more subtle and more important: We realized that having a subset of our community ordained and elevated as “residents” was out of line with our core values. And because residents were positioned as experts at RC to support Recursers’ learning (and not also as fellow learners looking to grow themselves), the program subtly reinforced a vessel-filling rather than self-directed view of education. One of the things that makes RC unique is that everyone has the rare opportunity to take responsibility for and direct their own learning — from deciding what is important to them to what their goals are and how to achieve them. At the same time, RC is at its best when everyone is mindful and supportive of each other’s learning goals. Bifurcating our community into “Recursers” and “residents” does not help this.

For all these reasons, we chose to stop inviting new residents to RC.

There was one notable downside to ending our residents program: there was no longer a way to join the community for people who couldn’t or wouldn’t take six or 12 weeks off to attend a batch. In early 2018, we introduced one-week mini retreats to fix this, and anyone can now apply to attend RC for a week and become a full member of the community. After running a few mini retreats, and seeing who chooses to apply to them, we’re even more confident that this decision has led to a better RC.

RC is now simpler and more true to our vision for it. Everyone who joins the community does so by the same process and on the same terms. Everyone at RC, regardless of background or previous experience, is an equal member. And most importantly, everyone who comes to RC does so both to share what they know and to continue to get better themselves. This reflects our beliefs that everyone at RC is an expert in some things and a beginner in others, and that growth is a life-long process.

  1. We had previously slowed down and then paused inviting new residents earlier in 2016 for financial reasons (we paid residents stipends, and RC was particularly cash-strapped at the time). The final residents we hosted in early 2017 were people we had already invited and been talking to before we decided to end the program.

Localhost #12: Bonnie Eisenman on cheating CAP with scaled cache TTLs

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 July 24th from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, RC alumna Bonnie Eisenman will be giving a talk about caching data and cheating the CAP Theorem with dynamically scaled TTLs. The talk will be hosted at AppNexus, our Localhost partner through the rest of 2018.

You can RSVP, read the abstract, and find more 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 #11: Aditya Mukerjee on cloning Git in Go

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 June 26th from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, RC alum Aditya Mukerjee will be giving a talk about the Gitgo project and how it can make Git a practical choice for content distribution, distributed build systems, establishing consensus, and more. The talk will be hosted at AppNexus, our Localhost partner through the rest of 2018.

You can RSVP, read the abstract, and find more 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.

RC is moving

Rachel vincent circle Rachel Vincent

We’ve signed a 10-year lease on a new space at 397 Bridge Street in Downtown Brooklyn. We’ll be moving there in late summer.

Our new space

RC is an unusual business, and that’s reflected in what we need in a space. We weren’t just looking for an office for RC employees: our space is primarily a community hub, both for people currently attending our retreat and our alums. Before we started our search, we came up with hard requirements for any new space.

First, it had to be highly accessible to our alums and future Recursers. It’s important to us to be in a location where alums can drop in on their way to or from work to program after hours or attend an event. Any space we rented had to be accessible to current Recursers 24/7, and close to public transportation. 397 Bridge will have a similar entry system to our current space, is within a few blocks of 11 subway lines (including several ADA accessible subway stations), and is ADA compliant.

It’s also essential our space is comfortable for all Recursers to use and work in. That meant having good natural light for folks working at their computers all day, heating and air conditioning operable 24/7, having gender neutral restrooms, space for a lactation room, and more dedicated rooms to take phone calls.

We also wanted a lease of five or more years. The lease on our current space was also for five years, and it went by quickly — we didn’t want to move RC into a new space just to have to move again a few years later.

Finally, we wanted to move into a larger space that was still affordable. This meant we had to move out of SoHo! Committing to a 10-year lease means that we needed to find a space we could imagine growing into. Our current space is 5,500 square feet, and at times it feels tight. The space at 397 Bridge includes two adjacent floors, and is 10,000 square feet.

Quiet work and spontaneous discussions are both integral parts of RC. Having two floors will allow us to simultaneously support folks who are working quietly and folks who are collaborating.

People working at RC

Though we know this will probably change over the course of the next decade, our current plan is to use one floor as a social space: it will have a kitchen, dining area, presentations area, our computing cluster, a living computer history museum, several meeting rooms, and some desks for pairing. Conversations and pair programming will be encouraged. We’ll also use this space for first day welcome talks, job fairs, end of batch celebrations, and game nights.

The other floor will be a quieter working space: it will have two phone booths, a library, and a few meeting rooms, but will mainly be open with lots of desks, like the main area of our current space in SoHo.

More space will mean that alums will feel more comfortable knowing there’s a desk for them when they stop by during alumni hours to work. Having two floors also means we’ll be able to host social events without disrupting folks who’d like to program, and at hours that makes them more accessible to parents and folks with family obligations in the evenings. We’ll have more opportunities to open RC for technical talks and daytime events.

Finding a space that fit the bill wasn’t straightforward: we saw over twenty places in Brooklyn and Manhattan before we found 397 Bridge Street. We’re excited that it ticks all the boxes on our requirements and our nice to haves, like being near inexpensive food options, hardware/electronic stores, banks, and parks, and being closer to neighborhoods that are more affordable for Recursers to live in.

Saying goodbye to SoHo

We often describe RC as an ecosystem, because so many important aspects of it have evolved over time as the result of our community’s ideas and efforts.

Our current space, 455 Broadway, was RC’s first long-term space. Over the past five years, the hundreds of Recursers who spent time here made it a home: they decorated the space with art, created a programmable room, and brought in more hardware than we could accommodate. You don’t need to spend very long in our current space to see the many ways Recursers have helped shape its use, and how its contours in turn help create important parts of the RC experience.

Library at RC

Our library, with mural by Monica Toth

Moving presents a subtle but significant challenge for RC because it means wiping away all that history and starting fresh. We’ll be documenting our usage of 455 Broadway over the next few months, and will bring as much of what makes this space great along with us.

Ultimately, RC is constantly being defined and redefined by Recursers themselves. When looking ahead to the next 10 years of potential challenges in defining our new space, we like to remember the words of Jane Jacobs:

Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.

We think this is true of RC, too. It will take work and time to make a home of 397 Bridge: part of the reason we wanted to make a 10-year commitment to a new space is that we understand that it takes time to grow into one. We’re confident that with the help of our alums and future Recursers over the next decade, 397 Bridge will become an even more wonderful version of RC.

Localhost #10: Mindy Preston on library operating systems

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.

Our speaker is Mindy Preston, an RC alum who will be giving a talk about how library operating systems allow application programmers to approach operating systems programming in a way that’s comprehensible, documentable, testable, and hackable with everyday tools on May 15th from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm at AppNexus.

You can RSVP, read the abstract, and find more details about the venue and schedule on the talk’s RSVP page.

A new partnership with AppNexus

Mindy’s talk will be the first of many hosted at AppNexus, an internet technology company that powers the real-time sale and purchase of digital advertising. We’re grateful to AppNexus for agreeing to host the rest of our 2018 Localhost events in their space!

In addition to being one of our recruiting partners, AppNexus has adopted some of RC’s social norms, including our social rules. Later this spring we’ll be co-writing a blog post with them about building good engineering environments, and our partnership.

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.

Living Room: Making RC programmable

David albert circle David Albert

For the last three months, Jonathan Dahan, an RC alum from our Summer 2, 2014 batch, has been back at RC building Living Room, a system to make RC physically programmable. Living Room is installed in Lovelace (a room at RC) and is made up of a projector, some cameras, and a database. It can recognize physical objects and can project onto the wall in response to what it sees. Living Room is inspired by Realtalk (a computing system being built at Dynamicland, a genuinely different and exciting community center in Oakland), Natural Language Datalog, and Linda.

We’re supporting Jonathan’s work because we think Living Room will make RC a richer experience for Recursers and alumni: a physically programmable RC will make it easier to see what projects other Recursers are working on, and will make it more likely that projects persist from one batch to the next. We want to give Recursers more control and ownership of RC’s physical infrastructure, and supporting Jonathan’s work is a great way to do that.

Katherine Ye (S’13) started a research blog where she, Jonathan, and other Recursers working on the project are keeping their notes. We’re planning on having the system running by Never Graduate Week, our annual alumni week, in May.

How it works

The system consists of a central Datalog-style database that stores facts about the world, and independent processes that can query the database and add facts of their own. There’s a projector that draws pictures in the room, and cameras that can see what’s going on. Everything drawn on the projector is computed each frame from the facts in the database. The database is accessible over the network, so processes can run anywhere.

The project is in the early stages, but it runs. It’s also surprisingly performant. In January, Jonathan and Alex Warth (m1’18) were able to project video from a webcam in real time by having one process put each frame into the database, and another read the frames out and draw them.

How to get involved

If you’re a member of the RC community, stop by any Thursday or Friday before May 18th to pair with Jonathan.

If you’re not yet a part of the RC community, you can still follow the development on GitHub, follow the research blog, and join in the State of the Room video chats weekly at 12:30 pm EDT on Fridays. All the code is open source so you can play, learn, and make your own.

If you’re interested in joining a friendly, welcoming community of people working on becoming better programmers, consider applying to RC. You can join us for a six- or 12-week retreat, or try one of our new one-week mini retreats.

Join RC and help grow a new kind of business and community

James j porter circle James J. Porter

Update: As of June 19th, 2018 we’re no longer hiring for this role.

We’re hiring a Career Facilitator to help run our recruiting business. This involves helping people find fulfilling jobs, establishing and nurturing recruiting relationships with partner companies, and helping strengthen and grow all aspects of our business. The Recurse Center is an educational community and a recruiting agency, and while the primary focus of this role is on the latter, we’re hiring someone to think about and collaborate on improving both.

Read on to learn more about RC, what this role involves, the good and bad parts of working here, and our hiring process.

About the Recurse Center

RC is a radically self-directed educational retreat integrated with a recruiting agency. Experienced and new programmers come to RC from around the world to spend one, six, or twelve weeks in New York focused on getting better at programming. The primary educational value of RC is peer-to peer. We don’t have teachers or a curriculum, and Recursers work on whatever they’re most interested in, teaching and learning from each other. Afterwards, alumni remain highly involved in our community, both offline and online.

Our revenue comes from recruiting fees paid by our partner companies when they hire alumni we refer to them. This allows us to keep RC free for everyone, and to fund need-based living expense grants for people from groups traditionally underrepresented in programming. There is no expectation or requirement that people who attend the retreat want or take a new job.

About this role

We started RC in 2011, and for the first several years, we mistakenly organized our company into two divisions: education and recruiting. There were good reasons why we thought this was the right way to operate, but by late 2016, experience had changed our minds.

We now think of RC as an integrated whole. Rather than some of us working on recruiting and some on education, with the two groups mostly keeping to themselves, we now all regularly collaborate to improve all aspects of RC, and we all take a holistic view of the company when choosing what we work on and how we do it.

The primary things you should expect to do in this role include:

  • Helping Recursers with all aspects of their job searches. This includes meeting with them to learn more about their goals and backgrounds, editing their resumes and professional communications, referring and 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.
  • Developing and maintaining relationships with our partner companies. This involves learning about their hiring needs, finding Recursers for their open roles, organizing in-person hiring events, searching for and on-boarding new companies, and soliciting and processing feedback about how RC could better meet their needs.
  • Improving our processes and strategy for doing all of the above. We don’t expect you to do this on your own or on day one (we expect anyone we hire to take some time to get up to speed). We have an existing team and process that works reasonably well, but we are always trying to improve.
  • Working on projects that improve all aspects of RC. Examples might be helping plan our annual alumni reunion week, guiding improvements to our internal software for recruiting work, or helping Recursers run events they’re excited about.

We expect your role to change over time as we learn more about how we can most effectively meet our goals, and that you’ll play a large role in figuring out what changes to make and implementing them.

Pros and cons

Every job has downsides, and this one is no exception. People usually learn about these things after they join a company, but we think it’s important to highlight them in advance:

  • Some of the work can be emotionally draining.
  • Some of the work is unglamorous (we’re a six-person company, so we all have to do some amount of mopping up, figuratively and occasionally literally).
  • You’ll sometimes need to be able to attend events, take calls or respond to emails in the evenings or during weekends. We try to avoid this, but we prioritize being responsive to our alumni, and so if an alum wants our help deciding between two offers on a Sunday evening, we’ll happily take the call.
  • The pay is probably less than you could get at many tech companies.

Thankfully, we think this job has many more good things going for it:

  • Meaningful work, with a huge effect on people’s lives. To brag briefly: We’ve lost track of the number of people who have told us we changed their lives, or that RC was one of the best things they’ve ever done.
  • A friendly and intellectual atmosphere, and a tight-knit and supportive team of coworkers.
  • A warm and welcoming office (we’re currently in SoHo but we will be moving to a new location in lower Manhattan or Brooklyn this fall).
  • A great health insurance plan, plus dental and vision insurance.
  • 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 seven 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.
  • 3 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.
  • Complete organizational transparency: If we give you an offer, we will share all employee and founder salaries, how much cash we have, projected revenue, and the many risks we face. We will answer any questions you have about our company and prospects honestly and directly.
  • Speaking of transparency, the salary for this role is $100,000.

Finally, working at RC involves a fair amount of uncertainty and change — we’re a small business and we routinely try new things to help us meet our goals. This is either a pro or a con depending on what you value.

Who we’re looking for

  • You’re empathetic and have a high “EQ” (emotional intelligence).
  • You’re intellectually curious.
  • You’re a good writer and communicator over email, on the phone, and in person.
  • You collaborate effectively with others.
  • You’re confident enough to make decisions and get things done on your own and humble enough to accept feedback gracefully when it’s given.
  • You’re driven to make organizations you’re a part of successful.
  • You’re not overly introverted and don’t get drained by interacting with people.
  • 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), prior experience with recruiting or programming, or an existing connection with RC to be a strong candidate. What we’ve described in this post is what we’ll be evaluating all candidates on; we don’t have any hidden requirements.

What to expect from our interview process

  • The first step is to email us with your resume or publicly accessible LinkedIn profile. Please also 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 about programming, education, or recruiting.)
    • 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 respond with a quick acknowledgement that we got your email.
  • If we decide to move forward, we’ll follow up to schedule a call. This call has two purposes: We’d like to learn a bit more about you and what you’ve done, and we also want to answer whatever questions you have about RC and the role. This call can take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, depending in large part on how many questions you have for us.
  • If that goes well we’ll invite you to an on-site, which will be a day-long series of interviews with RC faculty and community members. We will try to make these interviews as much like the actual work of this job as possible.

After each stage we’ll let you know whether or not we’d like to continue as quickly as possible (our goal is within two business days). If you’re advancing to the next stage, we may also give you feedback about what we thought you did well and what you could improve on for the next round.

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.
  • This is a full-time role, and you need to be able to work on-site at our office in NYC.
  • 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 2019, which is unfeasible for us (we can probably transfer existing H-1Bs).
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