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

Rachel vincent circle Rachel Vincent

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

Support to work on what you want to

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why we’re doing this

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

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

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

Details

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

To qualify for a Fellowship, you must:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discover the Joy of Computing

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

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

Why we’re doing this

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

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

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

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

Opening up

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

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

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

Computing and joy

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

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

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

Making RC more family-friendly

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

What’s new?

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

RC's new wellness room

What’s already working?

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

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

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

Why are we doing this?

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

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

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

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

Rachel vincent circle Rachel Vincent

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

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

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

Talk format

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

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

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

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

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

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

Localhost #14: Allison Kaptur on Mypy in practice

Rachel vincent circle Rachel Vincent

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

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

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

Talk format

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why we stopped RC Start

David albert circle David Albert

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

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

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

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

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

What happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. We now have over 1,200 alumni.

Localhost #13: New work from Recursers

Rachel vincent circle Rachel Vincent

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

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

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

Talk format

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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