Recurse Center

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.