Today, we’re correcting one of our oldest and biggest mistakes: We’re changing our name from Hacker School to the Recurse Center.
While catchy, “Hacker School” has always been an actively bad name for us. Both words are problematic and misleading. “Hacker” is bad because so much of the world thinks of hackers as computer criminals and not clever programmers, which is the meaning we intended. And even for many people familiar with our use of the word, “hacker” can feel exclusionary. (“Hacker” was also not exactly helpful to the roughly 30% of each batch who cross the U.S. border to get here.)
“School” is bad for us because it implies the trappings of traditional schools – teachers, classes, and curricula – instead of simply a place where people learn, which is all we intended by it.
Taken together, “Hacker School” is even worse: It sounds like the name of a coding bootcamp. This was a problem we didn’t anticipate, because bootcamps weren’t a thing in 2011. But today, bootcamps are everywhere, and I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve explained to people that we are not a bootcamp.
Despite our best efforts, the problems with our name have grown worse over time. The media and others have taken to using “hacker school” generically to refer to bootcamps, and despite our many protestations, we’ve failed to stop this. Having our name co-opted and used generically for something so different has been the source of seemingly endless confusion.
There are several downsides to changing our name. To the people familiar with us, “Hacker School” has many positive connotations. It’s memorable, playful, and easily pronounced. We own the .com. We’ve spent years building up our reputation. And even though the name has so many problems, we’re fond of it. Giving up the name “Hacker School” feels a bit like losing an old friend.
A fundamental challenge when running a business is figuring out when you should try to change the world, and when you need to change yourself instead. We believe this is a case of the latter. We concluded this by taking a long-term view. May will mark the five-year anniversary of when we quit our jobs to start building this company, and this summer is the four-year anniversary of Hacker School (or I should say, the Recurse Center). In many ways, nearly half a decade is a long time, but if we hope to build an institution that will last, our history to date will be a blip. Seen this way, it’s obvious we should change our name.
After too much deliberation, we’ve chosen the Recurse Center as our new name, primarily because:
- “Recurse” gives a friendly nod to programming without the baggage of “hacker” (and we like the connection to going deeper).
- “Center” doesn’t have the misleading connotations “school” has.
- We were able to get recurse.com, which is short, pronounceable, and easy to spell.
While our name is changing, who we are and what we do is not. We hope that by calling ourselves the Recurse Center we can focus on doing the work we care about and sharing it with the world, and not explaining why our name doesn’t mean what people think it does.
Founded in 2011, the Recurse Center is a free, self-directed, educational retreat for people who want to get better at programming, whether they’ve been coding for three decades or three months. The retreat is free for everyone, and offers need-based living-expense grants up to $7,000 to women and people from groups traditionally underrepresented in programming.