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Recurse Center: Week 1

I’ve finished my first week at the Recurse Center, and what a week it has been! Week 1 has been inspiring, overwhelming, exhausting, and fun. Overall, I’ve been more productive than I expected to be – though, scatterbrained – and I feel excited to head into Week 2.

Perhaps the biggest surprise so far is how extraverted the environment has been. From the moment I got in on Monday morning, I’ve been talking to or working with someone non-stop. I’ve had to pull away from people and force myself work on the “quiet” 5th floor to get work done. Everyone’s just so damn interesting. For example, I was in the middle of pairing with Pam today and took a restroom break. On the way there, I said hello to a returning alum, and found myself chatting with him for a five minutes – when I nervously realized my break from pairing was over and ran back to keep coding.

Many participants from the previous batch still have 6 weeks to go, so there is already a structure of meetings in place, and our incoming batch is encouraged to set up a meeting for anyone interested in basically anything.

As a result, our communal calendar has been overwhelmed with super interesting meetings about Rust, writing together, music, VIM, philosophy, machine learning, mid-day exercises, pairing on LeetCode problems – you name it. Finally, on Zulip – our Slack-like internal messenger – people are always announcing exciting bubble-tea outings, outside-of-RC meetups, lunch plans, etc. So, I’ve been involved in a million things, and haven’t even had much time to look at my phone while I’m here.  As a result, I’ve been scatterbrained and flighty: trying a million things, but not sticking to anything except the week-long WebAudioAPI project (more on this in a moment.)

All these meetings, and conversations are very, very interesting and the connections genuine – so, they take a lot of energy. Even though I consider myself to be definite extravert, the first 3 days have been some of the most extraverted I’ve ever had. I’ve come home utterly exhausted each day. Our schedule is 10-6, but I’ve caught myself thinking that unlike a typical workday (where I’d try to be out the door shortly after 6), I want to be here. So, some days I’ve stayed till 8, and felt good about it. I’m doing things that are genuinely fun – so, why rush home?

Though I’m spending a lot of time at the space, how much I’m getting done is another matter. The facilitators, returning alums, and older batchmates are all encouraging us not to worry too much about how much code we write, as long as we’re having meaningful and enlightening connections. A common refrain is: “if you’re learning from your batchmates, you’re spending your time productively.”

Over the course of the week, I’ve been chiseling my plan for my time at RC, adjusting it based on what feels interesting to work on, what others are working on, and what I’m genuinely curious about. “What are you working on” is a common conversation starter (right after “so, where are you from?”), and answering it 37 times gives you a chance to try out variations and see how they feel. An answer I feel good about is: (1) low-level programming, likely in Rust, (2) NAND2Tetris, ideally culminating in working with an Arduino or RaspberryPi, (3) understanding how programs go from syntax to machine code, (4) interview prep.

My batch is large, very smart, and very diverse – which is wonderful. I’ve been pair programming a lot, which has been great. It’s validating and confidence-building to both successfully communicate programming ideas and see how different people think about code. On Tuesday, I paired with Nikhil to code Game of Life in Rust (which was intimidating and awesome have his help with), on Wednesday with Marko and Adelle on a tricky LeetCode problem, and throughout the week with Pam and Liz on WebAudio and Python.

While I haven’t made much progress in my my Rust, NAND2Tetris, and algorithms ambitions, I have gotten to work with 3 other awesome Recursers – Liz, Pam, and Jamie – on a WebAudioAPI/MIDI/predictive algorithm project that we even got to present for 5 minutes at the end of the batch. I learned a bit about generating sounds with the Javascript WebAudioAPI (which James has mastered and has been building cool things with).

On Thrusday, we had a feelings check in. It was nice to share how my week has been going, and validating to hear about the general feelings of uncertainty and being overwhelmed others were experiencing. I walked out feeling calmer and more peaceful, and the meeting impacted me more than I expected it to.

Later that day, during Game Night, I successfully introduced my wicked-smaht batchmates to Avalon, and we played two fun rounds. I felt particularly good teaching the game, which I’ve now done enough times to anticipate breakdowns in understanding, and try to involve people in play before they get lost on the minutia of voting mechanics. They kept playing after I left, which is a great sign!

Whew – so much to share. I caught myself returning to the thought that RC doesn’t feel like work – or school – and I think I subconsciously expected it to. In those environments, I’ve been wired to want to go home and do things that are fun – coding my own projects, or composing music. RC feels like I’m hanging out with the smartest people who are also going out of their way to be extra nice. As a result, we can smoothly transition from pairing/teaching/learning to game night and beer. Unlike work, the connections I have here are genuine, so it’s fun to go from learning together to playing together.

At the same time, I haven’t challenged myself too much this week. It occurred to me that I’m still falling into the habit of trying to seem like I know what I’m doing – trying to seem smart, in conversations. The WebAudioAPI project has been fun, but mostly within my comfort zone – I know how to whip up a UI, or read MDN Javascript docs. The hardest thing I touched this week was Rust, and I didn’t touch it again all week. Also, I’ve done a bit of everything, but haven’t gone deep on anything – I’ve been scatterbrained, manic, and flighty.

Next week, my goal is to settle into more of a schedule, and get more discerning about how I spend my time. I want to start (1) learning Rust, (2) working on NAND2Tetris, (3) daily touch typing, (4) VIM ? (5) interview prep.

All in all: I feel good, I feel humble, I feel accepted, I feel capable. Week 1 has been great.

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