A new way to join the RC community

This winter we held two experimental one-week mini retreats, and we’re pleased to announce that they were a success. Starting April 2nd, we will be hosting a one-week mini retreat every six weeks for the rest of 2018. You can apply for the mini retreats starting in April and May on our apply page.

Our goals

Expanding the RC community

We believe that the community is the most important part of RC, because the primary educational value of RC comes from what Recursers learn from each other. Our main goal in offering mini retreats is to expand the RC community to make it larger and more diverse. Specifically, we think that there are some amazing people who can’t or won’t come to RC for six or 12 weeks, but who nevertheless would benefit from and contribute to the RC community. The January mini retreat allowed us to welcome 16 new Recursers into our community, and we look forward to expanding the community further through future mini retreats.

Helping our alums grow as programmers

Working at RC gave me a much stronger focus on becoming a better programmer. If I was at home, I wouldn’t have felt nearly the same level of inspiration and purpose in my work. - Harry Truong, Mini 1, 2018 & F2, ’15

Another goal of mini retreats is to provide a meaningful opportunity for RC alums to continue to grow as programmers long after their first RC retreat. Some Recursers are able to attend a second or even a third full retreat, but for many it is impossible to commit to another six or 12 weeks at RC. Mini retreats give more alums the opportunity to leverage two of our most important resources: space and community.

What went well

Productivity and focus

The constraint of one week gave me the focus I needed to iterate quickly and make progress quickly without getting sucked down rabbit holes… The environment and the people were wonderful catalysts that kept me going through the week. - Divya Sasidharan, Mini 1, 2018

When planning the first mini retreat, we wondered whether a week was enough time to do significant work. We were blown away by both the quality and quantity of work that mini retreat participants were able to produce. Check out two of the amazing projects that Recursers worked on and blogged about during the Mini 1, 2018 retreat:

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Bonnie Eisenman, Mini 1, 2018, New York – spent the week learning Clojure to generate jigsaw puzzles, which she then laser cut
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Geoffrey Litt, Mini 1, 2018, Boston – wrote a Lisp interpreter in Ruby, including adding support for tail call optimization

On-boarding mini retreat participants

I could get unblocked super quickly because the barrier to asking for help was very low and there were tons of knowledgeable people around me. I ended up learning a bunch of other cool stuff I had no intention of learning at the onset of the week by having good conversations where I felt safe saying ‘I don’t know what that is.’ - Thais Laney, Mini 1, 2018

Another problem we had to solve was how to effectively on-board new Recursers into the retreat and still leave them enough time to get programming work done during the week.

Before the retreat, we gave mini retreat attendees early access to our internal communication tools, including Zulip. We also hosted online Q&A sessions with RC faculty and alums, and had an optional welcome dinner the Sunday before the batch started. This allowed participants to meet each other and socialize before the week began, so they could focus on the retreat during the week.

In our exit survey and interviews, mini retreat participants expressed that they were able to hit the ground running, and found the RC community to be as welcoming and supportive as the participants of longer retreats.

Diversity of experience

The people and community are incredible. Everyone is extremely friendly and excited about knowledge in general. I felt like I could push myself and chat about it and if things failed no one cared and if things went well people were excited. I also got to see what problems others are working on and have a ton of new ideas to try when I get home :) - Nicolas Bertagnolli, Mini 1, 2018

The RC community gets better as it gets bigger and more diverse. Though it was a small sample size, mini retreat attendees on the whole were more likely to have significant work experience, be older, and be parents than attendees of our full and half retreats. This makes sense — it’s more difficult to take months off if you have major life commitments!

What we’ll improve

Many mini retreat participants shared that they would have benefitted from more familiarity with RC’s internal tools, more information on how to pair program, and more time after being admitted to RC to settle travel and other logistics before the retreat started. For future mini retreats we plan to open applications earlier, and we’re looking into creating resources that will help new Recursers prepare for their time here before they arrive. We’ll be evaluating how the next few mini retreats go, and will continue to make improvements to them.

Open questions

One unknown that remains is whether the mini retreat participants will stay engaged in the RC community, and become active alums in the long term. Adding new people to RC only has a sustained positive effect on our community if they continue to collaborate with other RCers, attend events, participate in technical conversations on Zulip, etc. We aren’t ready to commit to hosting mini retreats indefinitely, because we don’t yet know whether mini retreat alums will embrace RC as a lifelong learning community in the same way alums of our regular retreats have. In the fall of 2018, we’ll decide whether to continue hosting mini retreats in 2019.

We still believe that you will get more out of your RC experience if you can spend six or 12 weeks immersing yourself in code at one of our longer retreats. RC is designed to be a place where people can become dramatically better programmers, but that kind of growth can’t happen in just one week. When asked what they would change about the mini retreat experience, many participants said that they wished they could have stayed longer, and are hoping to some day come back to RC to attend a longer retreat.

If you’re interested in RC but can’t make six or 12 weeks in NYC fit into your schedule, attending a one-week mini retreat is a great opportunity to join our vibrant and diverse programming community. Apply today!