Recurse Center

Summer 2012 Applications Open

This will be a long post, so we’ll cut to the chase for those who just want the vital information:

Applications are open for the Summer 2012 batch of Hacker School. The deadline to apply is May 7, though we’ll accept late applications. It will run from June 4 to August 25. The batch will be hosted at Etsy, which is also sponsoring $50,000 worth of scholarships for female programmers (Hacker School remains free for all students; the scholarship money is for living expenses). We’re trying to make this batch at least 50% women.

The summer batch

We’re hoping to make our summer batch our biggest yet with 40 students. That number would have seemed absurd to us last year when we started with six students, but now it seems quite doable.

We’re going to run the batch in two cohorts of 20 students each. We think this will give people the best of all worlds. Day to day it will feel a lot like this batch, which has 20 students, but we’ll have social and other events where the two groups come together, and they’ll be able to draw on the collective intelligence of a much larger group.


Marc Hedlund, Etsy’s VP of Engineering, reached out earlier this year to say he had an idea for a partnership between Hacker School and Etsy. Marc’s idea was awesome: Etsy would host and sponsor the next batch of Hacker School and provide scholarships to get as many qualified women into the batch as possible.

So here’s the deal: In addition to space, Etsy is offering ten $5,000 scholarships for women to do Hacker School. The scholarships will be given based on financial need. “Need” will be determined based on an honor code—if you say doing Hacker School would be a real financial hardship, you’ll get the money. You can spend the money on whatever expenses necessary to free you up for Hacker School, no questions asked.

We hope this will help in achieving one of our and Etsy’s primary goals for this batch: To get the percentage of female students to be at least 50%.

Women programmers

I’ve spent the last several years in heavily male-dominated environments. Dave and I studied computer science and electrical engineering, which were over 90% male. I graduated and joined a 100%-male engineering team. Dave and I were in the Summer 2010 batch of Y Combinator with 80-some other founders but only a handful of women.

On the flip side, I’ve spent time in heavily female-dominated settings. In college, I was one of two men on the 17-person executive board of the Women’s Center, and helped organize Take Back the Night marches for five years. Those were eye-opening experiences—as a straight, white male, I don’t spend a lot of time being in the minority.

I bring these experiences up because I think about them whenever I’m in a room of programmers and there’s only one woman. No matter how welcoming and friendly the environment, you burn at least a few cycles being cognizant of the fact you’re “different” from most of the people around you. At least I know that’s the way my brain works.

We’re not going to lower the bar for female applicants. It frustrates us a little that we feel the need to say that, and we think it underlines the sexism (intentional and not) that so pervades the programming world.

But we want to say that now, so people don’t have to waste time asking or debating the point. Women will be judged on the exact same scale as men. We think to do otherwise would be insulting and counterproductive. We care a lot about getting more women into Hacker School, but we won’t do it at the expense of the quality of the batch.

A home for lonely programmers

One thing we’ve heard again and again from students is that they were lonely before Hacker School, because few or none of their friends before Hacker School were programmers. When they learned a new bash trick, or experimented with a new programming language, they had no one who’d care to share it with. We’re proud that Hacker School has become an intellectual home for such programmers.

But if it’s sometimes lonely to be a male programmer, it must be doubly so for female hackers. We believe there are way more than 20 women out there who love coding like we do, and who dream of spending three months with a group of smart, intellectually curious people who love programming. Especially if they know they won’t be the only woman in the room.

We believe there are female programmers out there who love and want to learn more about C and Unix and Haskell and coroutines, and who are tired of showing up to “women in tech” events only to find all the other women there are in design and marketing.

Our environment

We strive to make Hacker School the best place in the world to level up as a programmer.

There are very few rules at Hacker School. That’s by design, because we don’t like rules ourselves, and we don’t believe coercion is conducive to learning.

The few rules we do have are social and aim to fix some of the bugs we’ve found in other communities. Social conventions govern most of the world, but they’re usually unspoken. We make some social rules explicit at Hacker School because we’ve found it makes for a better environment. Two of these rules are “No well-actuallys” and “no feigning surprise.”

No “well, actuallys” means you shouldn’t correct minor inaccuracies in things others say when it has nothing to do with the conversation at hand. If you code something that’s almost but not entirely correct, it won’t compile. 1 If you say something in conversation that’s almost but not entirely correct, it probably doesn’t matter. Programmers have a bad habit of saying, “well, actually…” when people do the latter. That can be obnoxious, particularly when the inaccuracy is irrelevant to what’s being discussed.

No feigning surprise means you shouldn’t act surprised when you find out someone doesn’t know something, even if you think it’s “obvious.” If someone asks, “Who’s RMS?” don’t say, “You don’t know who Richard Stallman is?!” It adds no value, and only serves to make one person feel better by making the other person feel worse.

We don’t have these rules to make Hacker School “female-friendly.” We have these rules because we think they make Hacker School human-friendly. We have them because they help remove the ego and fear of embarrassment that so frequently get in the way of education. They help make Hacker School a place where we ourselves want to learn.

An experiment

Like every batch, this one is an experiment, both for us and for Etsy. We don’t know if we’ll be able to get 20 qualified female students, but we do know that the only way to find out is to try.

If three months of intense coding sounds euphoric to you, you should apply to Hacker School. You can read our about page, to learn more.

  1. If you read that and thought, “that’s not true, you could also get a runtime or logical error,” you’ve responded like a typical programmer. It’s also a perfect example of a well-actually. Hat tip to Miguel de Icaza for coining the term.