Recurse Center

Patricia in Paris: A day in the life of a Recurser

How do I participate in RC from a non-American timezone? This is a really common question, and the answer is: everyone approaches it a little differently. Patricia Boh lives in Paris and finished her batch at RC in early February 2023. Patricia had been working as a programmer for over a decade when she came to RC as part of a sabbatical to work on a UI component library. She spoke with me about what her typical days were like, how she used the structure of RC to support her goals, and her advice if you’re thinking of applying.

(as told to Sydney by Patricia)

7:30 am: I live in a noisy neighborhood, and the sun hits my face in the morning – and I like the sun! – so I naturally wake up early. RC activities start at the end of the afternoon for me, so mornings are a good time in my day to do solo coding.

Going into my batch, I had one big project in mind with a clear idea of where I wanted to go with it, so I focused heads down on that in the mornings.

8:30 am: I’m at my desk by 8:30 or 9, where I have coffee and check my emails. On Mondays I’ll use the morning as a focused time to read through people’s experiences, blogs, and check-ins on Zulip. Zulip (the open source chat system RC uses) has a lot of interesting content so I like to set aside time for it.

There are a lot of different projects going on at RC. Some people do very short, quick projects, and if I were to do another batch of RC I might do more small projects than I did during this batch. However, I did see other people who were hacking at one big project. Seeing other people doing that long-term work or getting one thing to a polished state was very motivating.

10:30 am: Around 10:30 I get hungry. In France, butter and ham baguette sandwiches are a staple snack, so I’ll have that or cream cheese on toast. And more coffee!

2:00 pm: At 2pm I go to UTC+-friendly check-ins. These were very important for me throughout my whole batch, and I rarely missed them. There were between 2 and 8 people who attended regularly. The Eastern time zone check-in group tends to be much bigger, so they do breakout rooms to talk. This means that you speak to different groups every day, whereas at UTC check-ins we talk in roughly the same group throughout the batch.

Either right before or right after check-ins, I have lunch. I prefer home cooking, but there are a lot of Indian restaurants nearby and so sometimes I’ll go pick up a meal which usually lasts me a couple of days. Some of my favorites are bonda, which are potato and spinach balls, dal soup, and rose lassis.

2:30 pm: I tend to go out after check-ins. RC’s Eastern Time activities start around 5pm for me, so if there’s anything else I need to do during the day I do it before then. I make myself leave the house; otherwise it’s easy for me to remain indoors, since I’m not going to work or school. It’s important that I get out in the fresh air and see people, and then get ready for the buzz of RC’s core hours starting on Zoom and in the Virtual RC space.

4:00 pm: In the afternoon, I did more social activities, like coffee chats, pairing, and attending various group meetings: Rust and Rainbows, WebGL study group, and a women’s group about tracking our cycles. Although in some groups we prepared by reading or doing exercises, these self-directed studies weren’t loaded with the performance implications of typical homework. Focusing on group topics on the days the group met helped me get into the right mindset before attending each meeting.

The flexibility to join or leave groups mid-batch was precious. I did a lot of chatting and groups in the first few weeks and this diminished a little later on as I got deeper into my project, but I tried to do at least two pairing sessions and two coffee chats every week.

I paired a lot with another Recurser named Caleb on a hardware project. I’m a total beginner on this but he’s really experienced. I was programming a small computer on my side, and he was in Australia on the other side of the planet! We made a small LED rainbow together! It’s a basic thing to do, but was exciting to me because I was totally new to it. That was part of the great pleasure: to be totally new to something and to have mentors and people who can help with it. When we’d pair around 4-5 pm my time, it was very late for him – like midnight or 1am! He switched his whole life around to do RC.

5:30 pm - 9:00 pm: The Recursers joining from the US usually eat lunch after the Eastern Time check-ins, so I’d take that opportunity to get my dinner ready. Then I’d chat with people around 7-8pm my time, and eat dinner after that.

My ideal time to pair is before 8 at night because after that I get too tired. It’s better to have enough energy for pairing since you’re with another person. I think there was once I tried to pair when I was really tired, and it wasn’t as good of an experience.

I hadn’t paired that much before I came to RC, so I struggled with my first pairing session. At work, I had developed a habit of defending my work — “defend” is the best word I can think of – and I didn’t have to do that at RC. People at work can be well-meaning, but at RC all the pressure goes away. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and we’re not trying to deliver something for a client, so the context is really different. That switch wasn’t immediate for me, and it took me a little while to adjust. I had to not be the driver at first. I saw how other people were so calm about pairing — there were other Recursers who were such natural pair programmers – and I learned a lot from them. I feel a lot more comfortable with pair programming now than I did at the beginning of the batch.

10:00 pm: One of the most compelling parts of the week is Friday presentations, since almost everyone attends. They’re from 10 - 11pm at night for me, but because it’s Friday, I still have some time to go out with my friends afterwards. The biggest shift for me is that because I was busy with RC in the evenings, my outside social life was pretty non-existent. Saturdays and Sundays were more or less the only days that I would go out.

I usually log off around 10pm every day. I almost always read in bed — I think it’s good when you leave your computer to read things on paper. I tend to read fiction, although since 2020 I’ve been reading more non-fiction related to the Black Lives Matter movement. Lately I’ve been reading How to be an Anti-Racist and The Color of Law.

There were times, especially towards the last weeks of the batch, where I wouldn’t get to sleep until 2 o’clock in the morning because I wanted to get so many things done. I don’t recommend that!

I do recommend taking advantage of all the resources RC has to offer. The retreat is self-directed, but you’re not just left alone. In the third or fourth week of the batch I hadn’t been feeling very well, and I would see what everyone else was posting about what they’d accomplished. I had to remember to be kind to myself — the facilitators reminded me to be kind to myself and not to put undue pressure on myself but instead to keep working to the best of my abilities.

If you’re thinking of applying, do it — it’s worth it! My advice is to be open to and take an interest in what other people are doing. You’re going to be working on your projects, but you’re going to be in the company of interesting people with interesting ideas and you have everything to gain from being open to or at least curious about that.