I am writing this for those interested in attending Recurse Center (like I was). I believe I have read every material there is to know about attending RC.
A little background: I have only been programming for several months now and the only language I have focused on is Python. In my honest opinion I am not even slightly an adequate programmer. When I say even the most basic programs trip me up (a dice simulator/ Rock, Paper, Scissors), I am not exaggerating. So of course when it comes to building a Tic Tac Toe game from scratch for my application, it took me 4 grueling days.
The application process for Recurse Center was insanely fast. I sent in my application a week ago, it has been only ten days since and I just got my acceptance notification a few hours ago. In short the process was like so:
- Day 0: Sent in my application around mid-night.
- Day 2: Asked to schedule my 1st interview.
- Day 3: 1st interview; 2 hours later asked to schedule second.
- Day 8: 2nd interview, asked to send in code.
- Day 8: Sent bugged code I was fed up with.
- Day 10: Re-sent improved quality/working code
- Day 11: Accepted!
Application: First I had to pass the application process. This wasn’t very hard because I had been planning it out for over a week and was completely honest on my answers. I wrote about a paragraph for each question. I’m pretty positive that my application showed much thirst to attend Recurse and was not flippant in the slightest. As far as my noted experience was on the application I had completed Codecademy, LPTHW and was half way through Udacity’s CS101 course. I had about eight small programs on my Github that were all games.
1st Interview: My 1st interview was the day after my application approval. I was so excited I knew I could not wait anymore than a day. My interview was with David. Other than the fact that he began learning to program at a fairly late age and then attended RC, I knew nothing else about him. The first question he asked me was to describe what the Recurse Center is in a few sentences. Next he asked if I had ever pair programmed before. I told him I had for the first time two weeks ago at an App Academy meetup. Then he asked if I intended on applying to App Academy and I told him it was my backup ( this question made me so nervous as I did not want them to think I had other options in mind) After that he looked over my application and realized I had gotten rejected from RC start mentor-ship twice. I believe he was as confused as I was because I felt I was the perfect fit for RC start as a result of being a beginner programmer who needed guidance. We then went over my application and he asked me what I plan to work on while at RC. I told him mostly games and a forum because honestly I still do not know much of what I am capable of building yet. After scrolling through my Github projects he told me that he believed that I needed a little more knowledge in programming and that Recurse Center may not be a good option for me at that moment. Hearing this news could best be described as a feeling of having been kicked in the stomach (or an instantaneous feeling of hopelessness). This sounds dramatic but rejection really hurts. At the same time in that moment I believed that he would accept me into RC start instead so that wasn’t so bad. From the way things sounded it was as if he had hope in a future me that should apply at a future time. However, he did let me know within the same breath that he would go over my application with other staff members to see for sure if he were right. Let me also go back a bit and let you all know why the news that I did not have enough experience confused me a little. I met a guy a month ago who is an RC alum. He told me that he got into RC with after two months of intense programming from novice with inventwithpython. For his application he built a Tic Tac Toe game that got his accepted. I had also heard (through the grapevine) that people have gotten into RC after solely completing Zed Shaw’s, Learn Python the Hardway course. After my interview ended I had made up my mind that – if rejected – I would not apply to anywhere else but study another 3 months and apply again. However, those were wasted thoughts because two hours later I got an email telling me that I could schedule my final interview. The follow-up gave me three options on what to build for my technical interview. The only recognizable project idea I was provided was a Tic Tac Toe game (I still have no idea what a Lisp Interpreter/Parser is).
2nd Interview: I scheduled the 2nd interview the next day after anxiously reading over Python Tic Tac Toe code by other programmers that looked EXTREMELY HARD. This was really terrifying for me because all of it looked so complex especially while dealing with the anxiety of realizing that I was so close to getting accepted. I spent about a day or two just reading several code examples that all tackled the game from a different aspect. After a while I began to better understand the thought process of the game. I opened up my text editor and organized the game flow. My game started out extremely basic until I began to build on it more into a clean two player game. I set my interview four days after my first. I was extremely nervous, but my interviewer (Another RC alum) made everything feel natural. I was asked to refactor my code a bit and make it more concise. I did make it more concise despite the fact the my computer (Ubuntu Linux) shut off twice whenever I tried to screen-share over a minute. At one point he recommended that we reschedule but that would not fix anything because I would still have the same computer. The interview was 48 minutes long – 18 minutes over- so it ended with him stating that in order to come to a consensus, I had to change my code into a Tic Tac Toe player versus a human. I sent him my code that night but it was flawed, so I sent a more (working) complex version two days later. Three days after my 2nd interview I got my acceptance email!
Acceptance: After one very loud scream of joy I proceed to the link to confirm my batch. In the link I have the option to choose what ever upcoming batches there are. I chose the batch I initially requested and saw that there was only one spot left. They also ask if you would like to do a six week or 3 month batch. I highly recommend you do the 3 month batch (especially if you’re a newb) because many Recursers wish their batches were even longer. After this they ask if you need a grant to attend (they stress the NEED) and what is the minimum you would need. Finally you click the submit button and just wait until your batch. As your batch gets closer they open up more features( from what I’ve been told).
After Acceptance: Wait patiently. Attend.
That is all. I hope you get in.
P.S – I realize that I have been extremely lucky getting in. I do not believe I am more qualified than the next person. Definitely some luck went into play for me. As well as a well thought-out application. If you get rejected, apply again. You can reapply every three months.
Tips and General Info about RC (written 2/18)
*I made this because people always ask me for more info on LinkedIn and I end up Skyping them so here is the general consensus you won’t find anywhere else.
Rejection: If you get rejected, apply again in 3 months. Make sure you’ve shown some improvement, especially if you’re a beginner. Also note that there is a possibility that they misjudged your intentions. Staff, like everyone else, are still human. I know two specific amazing RC people that were rejected, who got in on their 3rd try. I’ve personally recommended two of my girlfriends to RC and they were still rejected, even though they were more experienced than I was (had software jobs). It’s understandable why they don’t plan on reapplying. Rejection hurts, but we all have to experience it. Once you’re in, you’re in forever.
Demographics: Racially the Recurse Center is about 75% white (as represented by the US population), 15% Asian, 4-5% Black and 5% other. Gender wise it’s about 25-45% female (I’ve seen as little as 10% in certain batches), also there is a decent amount of non-binary individuals, i’d guess 20%+ depending on the batch, and the rest are male. I’m not sure about political or religious backgrounds. Politics aren’t spoken much in the general space unless during after hours. People are pretty respectful about differences in opinions or beliefs. I’ve seen Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Buddhists and Agnostics here. In general, i’d say it’s a more liberal than conservative environment (tech in general is). These estimates are based solely on what I’ve seen first hand and the pronouns I’ve read on people’s name tags.
Beginners: In my personal opinion and 20/20 hindsight I believe you will get more out of the Recurse Center if you have worked as a software engineer already or have plenty of project experience. I feel if you’ve been self-taught programming for only a few months with non-complex projects and then do RC, you will be overwhelmed. Especially today, in 2018, when every other person has gone to a bootcamp and worked on projects as a team. If you can afford it, do a bootcamp or a Udacity Nano-degree. I’m also gonna advise that you do your research. I have plenty of friends who feel SCAMMED from their bootcamp experiences. I have personal anecdotes of people who went to FullStack Academy, App Academy, Dev Boot Camp, and Coalition for Queens. If you have the patience, do a Udacity Nano-degree which is cheaper than a bootcamp. Even the ones that tell you you only pay them when you get a job. It sucks paying 12% of your income for 3-4 years (I see you C4Queens) in ANY tech job learning skills you could have online. I’d say before RC, learn Algorithms and Data Structures with a course and build 1-2 “intermediate” level projects. For example, an Ecommerce store, a chess game, a full stack application with Secure authentication. Then you will be ready to truly appreciate your RC experience. I’ve met so many lost beginners at RC. They, like me, freaked out about learning algo and building projects using popular frameworks to be job ready. All of this pressure will make you frozen in inaction a lot of the time. There is no formal mentor-ship at RC. No one will guide you on what you really need to be job ready. Trust me, I got different opinions from everyone I spoke to. They don’t understand how it is now because they already have experience. If you go to RC and finish in 3 months you will have a false sense of job readiness. Yes, they help with jobs, but the people who get the most help are the experienced devs. You’re gonna need a lot of luck or an IVY league school on your resume. You don’t want to end up like me 1+ year post batch floundering and still jobless (And I’m not the only one).
Social Life: Recurse Center social life really depends on #1, Your Batch and #2, You. Now, in general RC social life is pretty lit. There are game nights every 6 weeks, every Thursday there is food and presentations, during the day there are events(different each batch) and lunch time is pretty cool. Whenever, you’re hungry there will be a group of people willing to go out to eat with you. People often post their lunch plans on Zulip for anyone to join (as well as dinner if you’re living good 🙂 ). I can’t speak for other batches, but during mines we had break dancing sessions (thanks Richard), Contra dancing with literally the entire batch(twice), meditation sessions with Sophia, Improv Wednesday nights, Netflix and Hack (thanks May), house parties, Art Night, weekend dinners/events, walking sessions, Spanish club, etc. So much! We even went to a Barcade during my batch. Honestly, no matter what batch you end up in there will be a plethora of things to do (especially because many RC’ers are from out of town, and want to explore). Yes, some batches are more fun than others. I’ve seen it, it was obvious, but it happens. That’s why there is Zulip. We have a stream called “social”. There, people post hikes they are taking for the weekend, movies to see, places to eat, walks to take, party at whoever’s house. Everyone at RC is different, if you’re not a party person there are tons of those. Tons of intellectual events and VR spots to go to. Not much else needs to be said. It’s just a fun place in a fun city, you really won’t code much ( yes…beginner coders…see).
Atmosphere: Recurse Center is filled with very nice people who want to help you. I’ve probably only met about 4 people who weren’t friendly or nice, pretty much everyone else wants to help you in whatever you’re doing and 8/10 times they want to be your friend. We have social rules that are pretty much followed, to have a healthy environment. It’s also a very “politically correct” environment. Not the suffocating type. The best things I’ve seen from RC is their openness to consider and implement(with a vote of course) fellow Recurser’s recommendations. It is literally an Open Source community. RC in general is all about experimenting. One new experiment are mini batches. Then there are other’s like checkins, Alumni nights, etc. The suggested hours are from 10-6:30 pm. No one is forced to show up or apprehended for missing several days but it is expected that you show up within those hours to improve the RC community.
Mini Batch: This is a pretty new Recurse Center experiment. Nothing will compare to spending 3 months within the RC community but mini batches are a pretty good start. I believe that it will give an individual a taste of life at RC, but no one would be fully entrenched in the culture I believe. The first week at RC is pretty infamous for being overwhelming for new batches. I can only imagine the amount of “work” that one would be able to accomplish given only one week. RC is about 70% social. You’re probably going to want to meet everyone and make new friends. You’re likely going to want to go out for pizza lunch and dinner, or stay late to continue an interesting conversation. There is game night and presentations that week, not to mention 60+ people (whew). Anyways, I’m sure it will be great. I understand not everyone can leave their job for 6-12 weeks. Any bit of RC is better than nothing. Plus you’ll get to still be a part of the community and get all the social perks on Zulip and utilize the RC recruiters.
3 month + batches: The average Recurse Center batch is 3 months. The 6 week and mini batches are recent additions. Many people who’ve done 6 week batches end up extending it. However, a smaller percentage of 3 month batches end up extending their batch as well. To extend your 3 month batch 6+ more weeks there is an internal application. I’ve personally never seen anyone get turned down but if someone is, it’s most likely because an incoming batch is full. I’ve known people who’ve stayed up to six months. Depends on your time and bank account. It’s great if you’re taking off a semester.
Capitalism: Okay, I know this is strange adding it here, but I really don’t know where else to. If you are a part of the anti-capitalist open source community or live an anti-capitalist life-style, Recurse Center is not that community. RC is first and foremost a business, then it is a community. There will be job fairs. There will be people talking about jobs. There will be people studying for jobs. 90%+ of the work done at RC is in some way directed towards employment. You may have read that people work on “whatever they want”,solely for personal curiosity. That’s not entirely untrue. However, even with those people, most of their time is spent building skills to move into another field or fill a skills gap. I’m only adding this because I’ve seen two of my friends disappointed as they thought RC was something it wasn’t. They were looking for a community of people who hacked solely for the greater good/personal development without job readiness attached. I’m pretty sure i’m not doing their movement justice, I just don’t know how to word it. But I’ve met people like this(especially at H.O.P.E), and if this is you, I think you should know ahead of time. It is VERY jobs focused.
After RC: Alums are welcome to come in on Thurs-Sunday all hours and after hours Mon-Wed. Thanks to Zulip there are still tons of events to go to. I do virtual checkin’s every week with those from my batch as well. Life after RC depends on each individual. Some people are more involved than others. Personally, for me it’s been pretty tough because of the job search. There are job fairs that you can attend every other batch too. Also, there is never graduate week in May. We get to meet other RCers and hear about the economics of RC and significant changes coming forth. It’s pretty dope.
Improvements: There are many improvements to be made in the RC community. Everyone has a different opinion based off of their own experiences. My main two are mentor-ship and diversity. There needs to be an effort to provide mentor-ship within the RC community. Even experienced devs need mentor-ship. We have access to 1,500+ individuals across all areas of tech. Surely, this can be implemented. I thought I was job ready last March when I began my job hunt. I was so naive. I didn’t know what skills I was really lacking (even with r/cscareerquestions). It’s really hard being a self-taught developer. Thankfully I have a mentor now, but that was 9 months after I started my job hunt. It made me bitter, because I felt perpetually stuck in the beginner phase despite programming since December 2015. Mentor-ship, Sponsor-ship and Champion-ship is what everyone needs to succeed. Secondly is diversity. Being a black female, I see diversity different. Some people may see one or two black people in a space and 30% women and think that it’s diverse. I think not. I’m not talking about RC lowering their standards for incoming Recursers (I know black people who were rejected) , i’m talking about RC going out of their way to recruit from a diverse talent pool. I’ve seen them go to women’s events to get more women applicants. I know “RC Start” began because they were hoping for a more diverse applicant pool (it was opposite). I’ve waited, but I haven’t seen any effort until 3 weeks ago when they announced they were attending Afrotechtopia. That’s a start, but there are way more black Orgs. I went to an event with Black Software Engineers of NY meetup yesterday. Who would have thought that 150 + black women would have RSVP’d for a black tech event? Even the founders were shocked that that many black women showed up. We are out here. 9/10 times, i’m the only black girl at a women in tech meetup or any hackathon. Thanks to bootcamps and the internet, that’s changing. It is very lonely being a token. It gets old fast. If companies want diversity, go on meetup.com or eventbrite.com. They’ll find “Latinos in tech”, “Blacks in Tech”, “Native Americans in Tech”, etc. They don’t have to lower their standards. So yea that’s my point, RC does a pretty good job of bringing women into the space but not Blacks and Latinos. 18% of CS grads are women and 6-8% of CS grads are black. RC over-represents women 2x but under-represents Blacks and Latinos, from my own calculations. I was the 35th black person in 5 1/2 years in my batch (yes I counted every black and brown face of 1100+). I definitely believe RC is making an effort to increase diversity with this upcoming event. I hope I didn’t overshare. Just trying to help.
Have a great batch!
If you have any questions, post them below and i’ll answer them.