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RC Start: Free one-on-one mentorship for new programmers

Today we’re launching a new experiment called RC Start: You can now apply to get free, one-on-one programming advice and help from members of the Recurse Center community.

Learning to program is hard. Not in the sense that you need to be exceptional to do it, but in that most of us struggle with it, especially when we’re just getting started.

For nearly five years we’ve been running a full-time programming retreat designed to help people become better programmers. Our retreat is great for professional programmers, long-time hobbyists, recent computer science grads, and people who have been programming intensely for several months. RC has helped hundreds of people become dramatically better programmers, and many Recursers have said that their time here was the most educational period of their lives.

But our retreat is not meant for brand new programmers. Folks who attend a batch of RC need to be able to at a minimum write short programs from scratch for our retreat to be useful. Up until now, we haven’t had a good way to support people who can’t do that yet.

We hope to change that. With RC Start, if you’re a new programmer, you can now get advice, pair program, have your code reviewed, and receive other support in becoming a better programmer – all without having to quit your job or pay thousands of dollars.

The deal

If you’re selected for RC Start you’ll get:

  • Three 45-minute one-on-one sessions with an RC alum. These will be either in-person or over video chat, depending on you and your mentor’s locations and preferences.

  • The opportunity to use these sessions however you and your mentor see fit. We expect most folks will do some combination of asking questions, pair programming, code review, discussing project ideas and learning resources, and goal setting.

  • Access to a private forum and mailing list so you can get help from (and help!) other RC Start participants and RC alumni.

Your mentor will be an RC alum. RC Start mentors are all friendly, thoughtful, and generous people who are excited to help new programmers grow. They are also a diverse group, and include engineers at major tech companies like Dropbox, Etsy, Google, and Mozilla; long-time hobbyists; open source contributors; and people who were very new to programming not long ago.

RC Start mentors are diverse in other ways, too: more than 40% are women, and they are distributed across more than a dozen cities, including New York, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Chicago, and Portland in the US, and globally in the UK, Canada, Brazil, Malaysia, Switzerland, Peru, and the Netherlands. While we expect many RC Start sessions will take place over video chat, we hope there will also be lots of in-person meetings.

Who RC Start is for

RC Start is intended for people who are in the early stages of teaching themselves to program. Perhaps you’re working through online tutorials or an introductory programming book and you’d like advice on what to tackle next.

Or perhaps you’ve been learning alone and are overwhelmed by the limitless number of things you could focus on, and want to talk with a more experienced programmer who can help you cut through the buzzwords and figure out a path for yourself.

We expect that most of the folks who participate will already be taking advantage of the many great resources available for free online. The Internet has brought us countless high-quality educational resources, from books like Marijn Haverbeke’s Eloquent JavaScript to Zed Shaw’s Learn Python the Hard Way, to thousands of tutorials, online courses, and open source projects to study and learn from.

For people fortunate enough to have access to a computer and a reliable Internet connection, a lack of tools or learning materials is unlikely to be the bottleneck for their growth as programmers. Rather, we think it’s more likely a lack of access to individualized advice and a supportive community of learners will hinder someone’s development as a new programmer.

In fact, many Recursers have said a friend answering their questions or giving them personalized advice early on was instrumental to their becoming programmers. We hope RC Start can provide this kind of support to people who don’t currently have it.

We are especially excited to receive applications from people with limited financial resources and from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in programming.

While everyone is welcome to apply, RC Start is not intended for people who have recently paid to attend (or who are currently attending) programming “bootcamps.”

Why we’re doing this

We’re doing this for two reasons, besides the fact that we think it’s a good thing to do. First, it’s something we are particularly well-positioned to coordinate given our alumni network of nearly 700 programmers.

Second, we hope some of the people who participate in RC Start will eventually come to our retreat. We also hope that people who don’t participate in RC Start are inspired to apply to RC Retreat. In both cases, we hope RC Start helps us continue to grow our community of thoughtful and curious people dedicated to becoming better programmers.

An experiment

This is a time-limited experiment: We’ll decide in a couple of months if RC Start is worth continuing based on how much demand there is and the feedback we get from mentors and participants.

This experiment would not be possible without our amazing alumni, so many of whom enthusiastically volunteered to be mentors the moment we floated this idea. We are forever grateful for our community, who both make the Recurse Center what it is and inspire us to keep working on building the best place to become a better programmer.

Curious? Learn more about applying to RC Start or RC Retreat.

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