What does it mean to do RC remotely?

Mai Schwartz

This is a question we — faculty, new Recursers, and alums returning for a remote batch — have been asking ourselves since March. Though Recursers are now programming, pairing, learning, and chatting from home, making the day-to-day experience of the retreat quite different than it was in our space in Brooklyn, in many ways what it means to do a batch hasn’t changed.

One powerful advantage of operating remotely is that the retreat is now dramatically more accessible than it’s ever been. Many Recursers who have joined the community since we went remote would not have been able to do so before, because some of the biggest barriers to attending have been eliminated. You no longer need to travel, find housing in New York City, or or leave friends and family for many weeks to attend a batch of RC.

On the flip side, part of what makes RC special is that people take time out of their lives in a deliberate and thoughtful way to do it. Many people travel from out of state and out of the country, putting aside the normal obligations of their lives in order to focus on their growth and learning in a totally different environment. They also frequently make considerable sacrifices to do it: of time, money, and other opportunities. This means that everyone in batch is fully committed, and that dedication permeates the space, creating a focused and inspiring atmosphere for everyone.

While we’re remote, the cost to Recursers of coming to RC is lower than ever: all you have to do is get in. But the cost to the community of admitting people who aren’t really committed to doing RC right now is considerable. Beyond the time commitment, part of the responsibility of being in batch is contributing to the atmosphere of learning and gentle social pressure to be productive, whatever that means for each person. Having disengaged participants undermines that effect for everyone. The faculty spends time and energy following up with Recursers who are checked out, and other people in batch don’t know which of their batchmates are really there.

Because coming to New York or leaving your job to physically be at RC full-time necessarily demanded some sacrifice, there was a natural filter in our admissions process for people who have really thought about whether — and when — RC is right for them. Now that we’re remote, this doesn’t happen as organically, so we’ve added a new question to the application about your other life commitments right now.

This step is meant to help us — and you — evaluate whether your goals are in line with what RC has to offer. This does not mean we’re looking for people who have no other commitments in life! All of us have those: rent, bills, organizations and communities we’re a part of, children and loved ones to care for. But we’ve found that RC doesn’t work well for people who aren’t ready to make a significant commitment to it. We say 6 hours a day, but that’s a proxy for the commitment we expect you to make rather than a strict requirement in itself.

In particular, we’ve found that people who are in school or working full-time struggle with remote RC, even if theoretically there are enough hours in the day to do both. Practically speaking, this might mean being on video calls for longer than you can tolerate, or dealing with conflicting incentive structures and demands on your time.

If you’re thinking about applying to RC, a good question to ask yourself is: what are my goals and intentions right now, and is RC a good container in which to work toward them? You might be a perfect fit for RC and right now just might not be the right time! We want you to attend when it’s right for you, and we want everyone in batch to be committed to their own growth and to supporting the growth of their peers.

Even though RC is now distributed throughout participants’ homes, it’s still a space to do ambitious work, become a dramatically better programmer, and meet kind, curious people who are doing the same. Having people in a remote batch who aren’t really there and aren’t contributing to the community damages the experience for everyone.

“What if I start my batch and realize I can’t continue?” We understand that unexpected things happen and your life circumstances can change. If you join a batch and find that you aren’t able to participate fully, just let us know you need to withdraw. We value clear, proactive communication, which saves us time and energy trying to chase you down and hopefully also saves you some guilt and anxiety. This is not a regular school or job, where you face discipline for “failing.” We view honest self-reflection and discernment positively, and you’ll be welcome to re-apply in the future.

At the end of the day, the RC community is as thoughtful, curious, intentional, and intellectually engaged as the people in it. We want people to come when they’re ready to benefit from what RC has to offer and ready to contribute to the environment. If that’s you, please apply!