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Fall Applications and Hacker School Residencies

tl;dr: Applications for our fall batch are open. Etsy is sponsoring the batch and providing $5k grants for female students (we’re open to more sponsors). We’re starting a Hacker School Residency program, where awesome programmers come work closely with our students for one or two week stints. Peter Seibel will be the first resident. You can nominate residents.

What if?

Hacker School exists largely because we like to ask, “What if?” What if we ran a writer’s retreat for programmers? What if there were no grades, teachers, or formal curriculum? What if you could always feel comfortable saying, “I don’t understand?” What if we made social rules explicit?

What if Hacker School were half women?

Last batch, we partnered with Etsy to get equal numbers of men and women in Hacker School. We had no idea if that was feasible, since in our three previous batches we had had exactly one woman.

We were blown away by the response we got: Over 650 women applied, and we ended up with many more qualified women requesting financial assistance than we anticipated. Thankfully, 37signals and Yammer stepped up to provide additional grants for women.

The result? Twenty three of the 51 students in our current batch are female, and Hacker School is much better for it.

One thing we’ve heard repeatedly from women in Hacker School is that they love that here they’re “programmers” and not “female programmers.” A student told me last week that it feels like Hacker School has always been half women. It’s no longer a “what if.”

We’re thrilled to announce today that Etsy will be hosting our fall batch and sponsoring an additional 10 grants. Etsy has been an absolute pleasure to work with, and it’s hard to imagine how they could have been any more thoughtful, tasteful, or respectful. They’ve been an ideal partner.

We want to make this batch bigger and better than our last, and we’re currently in talks with several other companies interested in sponsoring Hacker School and providing grants. If you’re interested in working with us as well, please let us know.

Another “what if”

Some of the best moments at Hacker School have come after talks by guest speakers.1 David Nolen spoke one Saturday about ClojureScript. The Q&A after his talk turned into a mini workshop with a handful of students, which turned into David staying and sharing his expertise and enthusiasm for nearly eight hours. He came back a few weeks later and walked a group of students through the internals of the ClojureScript compiler until almost 11pm. That led to half a dozen Hacker Schoolers signing Clojure contributor agreements and adding support for code reflection to the ClojureScript REPL.

My cofounder Dave recently asked another “what if”: What if the world’s best programmers did two week residencies at Hacker School? As usual, we don’t know the answer (which is why it’s a question worth asking), but we suspect it will be good.

Admittedly, this sounds far-fetched. Why should the best programmers in the world take two weeks off from their jobs to come work with us? But Hacker School itself initially sounded improbable. Who would quit their jobs and dedicate themselves to becoming better programmers for three months, and where would we find space to do it – full-time, for free – in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world?

It no longer seems improbable that people would leave their jobs to do Hacker School. In fact, dozens of people now have, and many have done much more. Well over half of our current batch moved to New York solely for Hacker School, and more than 20% of our current batch moved countries to do it. (And somehow we’ve managed to beg, borrow, or steal space for five batches.) While Hacker School may have sounded improbable when we started, it clearly wasn’t impossible.

So today we’re announcing our Hacker School Residency. The idea is simple: Great programmers come work with us, full-time, on open source projects.

We’re delighted to say that Peter Seibel, author of Coders at Work and Practical Common Lisp (and programmer at Etsy), has generously agreed to be our first resident. Peter spoke at Hacker School earlier this summer and blew us away with his thoughtful advice for becoming a better programmer and genuine engagement with students.

We’re looking for more Hacker School Residents now. We’re looking for people who are at the top of their field, love what they do, and are genuinely nice human beings. If you’d like to nominate someone, including yourself (especially if your name is Peter Norvig), please send us a nomination. If you think it’d be impossible to take an extra week or two off work, ask yourself: “What if?” Maybe we can find a way to make it happen.

Always an experiment

A student asked me recently how I thought Hacker School was going. It was a surprisingly hard question to answer. On the one hand, I’m unabashedly proud of what we’ve accomplished in just over a year. On the other hand, we’re chronically dissatisfied with Hacker School: There are a thousand ways we think we could do better, and we’re far from where we want to be.

To be clear, we’re not a bootcamp or a training program, we’re something different: The place where programming is important, where people come to focus, learn from each other, and do great work. We’re an ongoing experiment, and we think we can keep getting better, so long as we’re always willing to ask, “what if?”

Curious? Read about Hacker School, see what our alumni say, and apply to our fall batch.

  1. This is a separate post of its own, but the short of it is: Hacker School talks are 20 minutes, with no questions during the talk. After the talk we take a two minute break, at which point it’s entirely socially acceptable for anyone who wants to to leave. Then we start Q&A and go until students run out of questions or the speaker can’t take any more, usually the latter.