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Recurse Center: The return statement

Before I go into this, I’ll warn you. If you, most likely, are someone who found this through researching everything about Recurse Center before you apply (yes, I did that too), what follows is a post about some of my particular core experiences from my time at RC. I also have all my weekly updates tagged with “recurse center”.

My experiences are my own, and while they likely overlap with others (I subscribe to “your experiences[or problems] aren’t special”), they are still mine, from my batch, from this point in time.

I meant to write this sooner, and I’ll probably feel this post is lacking, but it’s time to publish it. And while the motto of the Recurse Center is “never graduate,” this is my return statement from at least this first batch of mine, on what I valued, on what I did.

My big projects

While at Recurse Center, I fulfilled a two-year dream in the course of 3 weeks, writing MacVimSpeak. I got to use Swift, I got to do functional programming, I got to work with all the Swift developers I knew of in the space to help me move it forward, and I paired with non-Swift developers as well to work on the conceptual challenges. If you’re interested in hearing me talk about the project and my motivations, I discussed it when I went on the Giant Robots podcast.

My research for my streams talk leaves me with a body of work that I’m super excited to share at conferences and a deeper understanding of many topics that I’m interested (notably ES6 and reactive programming … hopefully together).

And Shh! It’s a Party! led me down a path into learning more about networking, and when I got lost in the weeds, bringing a new friend onto the project (Nat) led us to finish it out in just one week. I learned so much about networking and WebRTC and only just got started with it. When we needed design help, we did it together, bringing on Cole to add her talents to the project, making it my group project completed at Recurse Center.

My favorite place

Photo by Robert Malko
Photo by Robert Malko

When I needed to restore, when I was overwhelmed, I retreated to the tiny library oasis, which might be my second favorite place at RC (my first being Church, where I lurked on many days).

The library is where I wandered into the Land of Lisp, where we had meditation sessions, where I sometimes took an afternoon nap. Where I had serendipitous, quiet conversations with people, sometimes more personal than what we might have in the kitchen.

The Dying Seminars

Something I told myself to be okay with at the beginning is that there would be lots of “dying seminars”. With the best of intentions, I met with groups on the topics of:

  • Algorithms
  • Code katas (with me as the enthusiastic yet reluctant leader)
  • Design patterns
  • Cryptography
  • Writing a Scheme in Haskell (oh this one died painfully. that book is HARD)

I got something out of every single one of these groups (quite a lot out of cryptography and security) and am so grateful for their emergence.

Seminars (or “workshops” that sometimes spanned many sessions) provided a space to not only learn new things with a group of likeminded people, for me they also represented a space to learn outside of my own projects, or when I was between them, or when I got stuck. When I had flow on a project, I’d inevitably abandon a seminar, and that was okay. When I was stuck, I might join one.

These seminars are probably my best example of “no really, at RC, we teach ourselves,” and were the closest we got to formal education patterns. Yet, none of the above seminars were organized (or even attended iirc) by the official facilitators of RC. They were all self-organized, led, and taught by participants.

Recurse Center is the people

I’m a social beast. I enjoy meeting other people, I enjoy sharing experiences with them, I love learning from and teaching them. For me, and my personal preferences, I loved being with the people during my batch.

Love to the Church Lurkers

The rooms at RC are named after famous computer scientists, and one such room is “Church.” After attempting to build my standing desk in the common space and having to move it a lot for the first few weeks, I adopted a desk in Church as my work home, with full intentions to eventually move around. That didn’t happen.

Church had a few regular “lurkers” – for the second half, Sarah, Gonçalo, Anthony and myself, and during first half (or half of half), Nathan and Sarah and me made it essentially the JavaScript clubhouse. The rules of the “quiet room” will be one of my favorite memories, and if RC were just filled with multiple rooms exactly like that (carpet, dimmer switch, lamp, fan, and beanbag), I think it would be a very good thing.

“Tea breaks”

I drank an unholy amount of tea at RC, especially because I was generally constantly suffering from allergies. This was also my favorite way to find out what people were working on. When everyone’s working on different things, theoretically checkins are supposed to share that information, but I didn’t get as much out of them as I got out of the serendipitous conversations in the kitchen while I was making tea.


It’s likely I could’ve paired more, but I’m happy with what I did. I touched Go, Swift, Scala, Python, and JavaScript in pairing and probably am forgetting some other random languages. I loved pairing with some of my “regulars” (Aditya, Damien, Cory, Malko), and when I got to pair with others on a less frequent basis as well. What a fantastic way to learn things and get to know what other people are interested in.

Recurse Center is within you


I mentioned this as an aside in Week 3, about feeling like I understood RC.

I went to RC intending for it to stand as my “instead of grad school” experience (at least for now), thinking I would study formal theory. I thought I needed these things to have the knowledge I wanted, but I realized that formal theory will always be there for me, and wandering into project-based learning and working with others on their projects led me to finding the theory I needed, and not learning it for the sake of an ephemeral checkbox.

In the end, I got so much more out of the experience than I had planned. It’s because I let myself wander. It’s because of the people I was surrounded by. I completed really ambitious and super fun projects. I tried out new things that I didn’t expect (*cough* Haskell *cough*). I met some truly amazing people I’m now lucky to call my friends.

Could this have happened without RC? Yes, I believe, and I hope that it could. The true value of RC is the intentional, safe space with likeminded* (and in my personal opinion, absolutely brilliant) people. If you can do that outside of RC, great (it would be my dream place to work). I’m so glad I went, and feel like I got a lot more than I bargained for.





Thanks again to my good friend Gonçalo for the title of this post 🙂

* by likeminded, I mean everyone wanted to learn and get better at computing, that there was a common purpose yet varied backgrounds. The diversity of experiences from which people came to RC was one of my favorite things as well.

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