What is Virtual RC like?
In March of 2020, the Recurse Center made a speedy transition to remote operations due to the coronavirus pandemic. While we look forward to reopening our physical space in Brooklyn as soon as it’s safe to do so, we don't know when that will be. Until then, we’re working to make participating in RC remotely the best experience it can be.
Our goal for the online RC retreat experience is the same as our goal for the in-person retreat: to build the best place for people to become dramatically better programmers. Part of what makes RC special is the possibility of serendipitous encounters leading to new interests, projects, collaborations, and avenues of intellectual inquiry. For the past few years we've been working on replicating that experience online. Other open questions we’re trying to solve include: how to facilitate online communication that has the ephemeral, low stakes-high engagement character of chatting in real life; how to help new Recursers feel connected to the larger community when they’re having a different experience of RC than most alums have had; and how to make an online space feel full and lively.
Fortunately, we have the most important part of a good retreat experience already: an engaged community of over 2,100 (and growing!) curious and kind programmers. With their help, we’ve built software and social practices that we’re continually refining to help make the experience of doing a remote batch at RC as transformative and dynamic as doing one in person.
If you’re interested in what the day to day experience of Virtual RC is like, read on!
This is Virtual RC. It’s the social space that Recursers enter when they start their days while in batch, and we’ve designed it with the goal of facilitating the kind of serendipitous, synchronous, and ephemeral interactions we think are so important to the experience of doing RC.
The entire world is editable: you can explore, build walls, change colors, write notes, add links, and create audio chats. You can share what you’re working on by leaving a note and see at a glance what’s going on by reading what others have posted. Each of the colorful rooms has a persistent Zoom meeting associated with it, which you enter by clicking on it. The map displays who’s in each room in real time, so you can look for a friend and pop into a room to say hello — much like in the real world!
The calendar blocks display information about scheduled events going on in the rooms, so that when you open Virtual RC and look around, you could see that there’s a machine learning study group going on in Hopper, a video game interest group in Sammet, and a few people working on projects together at the pairing stations. There might also be Recursers hanging out in the virtual kitchen or programming together in the quiet space.
Virtual RC supports both text and audio chat. You can send short messages, which appear in our sidebar chat and disappear after 24 hours, to coordinate meetings, pairing sessions, or chat with others in Virtual RC. You can opt in to getting matched with other people for casual conversations via Coffee chat bot. Persistent and ephemeral audio rooms let you easily start or join a call, to say hi or talk through a bug or just work alongside others in deep focus. You can share your screen and listen to music together in audio rooms, and there's a timer option for doing pomodoro sessions as a group.
The world is larger than the ‘working space’, though! Recursers have used it to make art, play games, rickroll each other, share code, and more. We want Virtual RC to feel full of possibility, so that everyone is inspired with a greater sense of possibility for their own work. We have an API that allows Recursers to create bots and apps, which can do anything a person can do in Virtual RC, including creating blocks, chatting, and moderating games!
Here are a few of the projects people have built so far at Virtual RC:
- An excellent series on how garbage collection works in Ruby — by Jemma Issroff
- An emoji matching game — by Jaime Luis Piedra
- An interactive art piece that changes based on how you look at it — by Lizz Thabet
- An infinite minimalist chorale in four parts written in Haskell using the Euterpea library — by James Carlson
- A plant that tweets via a soil sensor, an Arduino, and a Raspberry Pi — by Sara Bobo
- A self-hosted, privacy-conscious web analytics tool — by Miles McCain
- A browser version of the collaborative card game Hanabi — by Wesley Aptekar-Cassels
- A series of short investigations into meaningful archival access via an exploration of the Vasulka Archive — by Ashley Blewer
- A collection of digital circuits written in SystemVerilog that can be flashed to an FPGA (including the circuit for the taillight control system of a 1960s Ford Thunderbird!) — by Anthony Abeo
- A federated alternative to Goodreads that lets you track what you're reading and share it with friends — by Mouse Reeve
Virtual RC offers what RC always has: a community of practice full of dynamic interlocutors that support each other in learning and growing by sharing knowledge, inspiration, and accountability. Here’s what some of them have to say about the experience:
Day 1 of (virtual) Spring 2 batch @recursecenter was lit. Lots of meet & greets, learning about the social rules, everyone being nice and welcoming. Looking forward to the best 12 weeks ever.— 1619 (@anthonyabeo7) March 30, 2020
at the beginning of social isolation, I was wondering what cool things people would come up with to connect online in creative ways— evy 💜 (@EvyKassirer) May 15, 2020
and observing/participating in @recursecenter's never graduate week has been so fucking cool in this way
thank you for all of the work you do to keep RC as a supportive learning and growing environment, and for your transparency into the processes during this tough time. Hearing updates about online RC chugging along and finding new ways to provide community warms my heart— max (@maxbittker) April 13, 2020
I'm half way through the first week of my programming retreat (virtually) at the @recursecenter and it is absolutely amazing. Exhausting, but amazing. I'm so glad of the opportunity to do this online.— Adam (@cthulahoops) May 21, 2020
Running the @recursecenter remotely is defineatly a challenge & I am so impressed at how good it's going so far.— Stefi Rosca (@Stefania_Rosca) April 15, 2020
This is the map of the physical space transformed digitally with @zoom_us rooms showing us who is inside each & the status of that person. Similar to the Sims game pic.twitter.com/T13EefrMH2
We feel grateful to be weathering this weird time in a thoughtful community so committed to staying connected. If you’re a kind, curious, self-directed person who wants to become a better programmer, we hope you'll join us!
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the day to day like now that everything is online?
Very much the same as it was before we went online. RC is self-directed, which means it’s up to you to determine the structures and practices that will help you do your best work. For many Recursers, this includes: attending and organizing events, sharing what they're working on in video checkins or on Zulip (our open source chat tool), pair programming, solo work, hosting and participating in study groups, and presenting at our weekly technical talks.
Are there certain hours where everyone is expected to be online?
We're keeping the same hours we did in our physical space. Batches meet Monday through Friday, 11am to 5pm ET. Besides the mandatory first day events running from 10 am - 12 pm ET and last day events running from 4:45 - 6:30 pm ET, our schedule is a bit more flexible while RC is remote because people are participating in time zones all over the world, but the basic expectation is the same: that RC is your primary commitment while you're in batch, and that you join us online during our core hours.
All current Recursers and alums have 24/7 access to Virtual RC, and online attendees meet regularly to socialize, pair program, learn from each other, and share ideas.
I’m in [Europe/Asia/Africa/Australia/the West Coast]. How are people outside of ET managing the time commitment?
One upside of going remote is that people all over the U.S. and the world can now participate in RC and join the community without traveling to New York. But it’s also introduced new challenges to the way we run batches.
We currently have people in time zones from GMT -7 to GMT +8, so it's quite a spread! Because most people (including the faculty) are in ET, being online during the core hours is the best way to meet the most people. You may want to experiment with shifting your day slightly earlier or later during your batch to see if you find new people to work with. We're also thinking about ways to make this easier on everyone by repeating certain events, making sure notes are shared, inviting alums around the world to participate actively, and more.
How does pairing work in Virtual RC?
Pair programming is one of the core RC activities that has translated pretty seamlessly into working remotely. Zoom offers screen sharing with a remote control option that works well, most text editors have extensions or plug-ins to support pairing (Visual Studio Live Share is a popular one), and some people use online collaboration tools like Glitch. Recursers use Zulip to find people to pair with and we run a pairing workshop at the beginning of every batch to introduce the practice to people who haven’t paired before.
How are workshops and talks organized at RC?
The overwhelming majority of events at RC are organized and hosted by Recursers themselves. Here are some examples of programming talks and workshops Recursers have run so far in Virtual RC:
- Reinforcement Learning Study Group
- Introduction to Interactive Theorem Provers
- Haskell interest group
- Video game interest group
- Technical Speaking and Writing practice
- Gentle Intro to 3D Graphics
- Papers we love
Recursers also host non-technical events, such as lightning talks about interests outside of programming, crafting hour, karaoke, poetry night, and more.
The RC faculty organizes a small number of regular events as well, including weekly technical presentations that everyone is encouraged to attend.
How do career services work? Is it hard to get a job right now?
The short answer is that the economy has been profoundly affected by COVID-19. We are seeing a slowdown in hiring, and we don’t know how long that will last. At the same time, many companies are still hiring and some are doing better than ever. As has always been the case, your job search will look different depending on your specific needs, skills, and experience. You can read more about the career services we offer here.
If I come to a batch of Virtual RC, can I attend an in-person batch in the future?
Absolutely! Alums frequently come back for a second, third, or fourth batch. We can’t wait to welcome batches in our beautiful space in Brooklyn again when it’s safe, and we hope to eventually meet everyone who’s attended RC virtually in person.
If you attend a batch of Virtual RC, you will be welcome to attend any in-person full or half batch that starts within 6 months of when we reopen our space without reapplying.
How many people are in a batch of Virtual RC?
There’s no limit to how many people can join a batch of Virtual RC. So far, there have been about 50-70 people in batch at a time. Many alums have been dropping in on Zoom and Zulip as well to chat, pair, and host events.
I'm in an uncertain place with my job/housing/life right now. If I'm admitted, can I confirm for a later batch?
Yes. If you’re admitted to RC, you can confirm for any batch with space available within six months of being admitted. If you need more time than that, you can ask for an extension and we’ll evaluate on a case-by-case basis.
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have further questions about attending Virtual RC!