Recurse Center: Week 3

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My 3rd week at the Recurse Center went well, and felt like, hopefully, a bit of a turning point. In general, I haven’t had an externally bad day here yet, although internally, I’ve definitely had had a few conflicted and doubtful days.

Monday was MLK day, and an “optional” day at RC, but I saw no reason to stay home. I had a long dim sum lunch with a bunch of Recursers and alums in Chinatown, and then read up and took notes on lexers and parsers as a part of my compiler research. On Tuesday, I met with a faculty member to talk about getting support applying to jobs, which felt stressful. Having to talk about my experience and “tell my story” made me feel uneasy, and there were no easy answers to my questions ( a la “oh yeah, we’ll definitely get you a job”.) But, I look forward to getting some help from RC hopefully sharpening my profile. That night, I organized an outing Baba’s Pierogies (inspired by Victoria’s trip to Noodle House), which was fun and went well.

Wednesday and Thursday was the Hack RC event, where groups try to build tools for RC & generally improve the space. I and almost sat it out. I was feeling anxious about my compiler research – how little I understand, and how much fundamental CS knowledge I seem to be missing. I thought it might be a better use of my time to focus on really learning rather than collaborating. However, I figured – hell, it’s only day, and I already committed. I think the secret to life is low expectations, because the hackathon turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve done at RC thus far. I was initially going to pair with Tom, and two more people – Adelle and Buyong joined our project last minute, making us a pretty diverse team in both background and experience.

Every hackathon I’ve been in has blown up in scope and collapsed in communication, so I gently but intently pushed us to define our feature set, scope out the project, and agree on goals and functionality before we started coding. I was really worried about coming across as bossy, and was grateful that my teammates not only followed me, but seemed to appreciate the structure this created. We worked for until 11PM on Wednesday, (breaking to get dinner and get sleep for the night) and all of Thursday, and actually shipped a Go/sqlite/JS pairing aggregator, called Matchbox. In addition to gently PMing the project (which felt wonderful), I worked mostly on the UI design and a bit of Javascript/UX, which felt right up my alley. I felt comfortable with this kind of work, and it was great to pair with Adelle. Her JS code was easy to read, clever, and effective. I am getting more and more comfortable collaborating and writing code communally, seeing patterns and thinking as we go.

At some point during the Hackathon, I grabbed tea with Rachel, one of the faculty members and chatted about the inner workings of RC, and met up with Dan – an ex-Codecademy colleague.

That Wednesday night, I finished coding around 11 PM, but hung out at the space until past midnight (by far, the latest I’ve stayed). A bunch of us sat on the couches, played guitar, and sang in the dimly lit space, as some Recursers around us painted a mural on the wall, and others continued to code. It was a truly magical, wonderful moment. I picked up the guitar and played for the first time since my birthday nearly a month ago. I was very rusty and messed up a bunch, but at RC, felt that it was okay to not be perfect. I relaxed and basked in the moment as I strummed the strings and others sang along. I felt like I really belonged.

After non-stop coding and paring on Wednesday, my 3 teammates headed off to an outside event, and I was left to present Matchbox to groups of RCers, which went well. I got compliments on the UI I had built (which felt great, since, I’ve really struggled with UI in the past) and general approval of the product idea that my team had synthesized together. Afterwards, I stayed for game night – more Avalon with now-experienced people! – and dollar pizza.

Friday was a quieter day. I had also been touch typing all week, so I practiced that a bit – I’ve started to notice positive effects even though I hadn’t yet learned the entire keyboard. I wanted to work on compiler research – I had resolved to present whatever I learned at the following week – but couldn’t bring myself to. So, I figured I could leave, or work on something else. So, I gave myself permission to go back to what I feel comfortable with for a bit, and worked on a small front-end text reader for more efficient reader. I also grabbed tea with Emily, and learned about her amazing trek across the Appalachian Trail.

I can’t predict how this will pan out, but this week felt like a turning point, even if on paper in a text editor, I hadn’t learned that much. I came to terms that I won’t become a compiler expert, and that as a result I don’t need to learn C. I timeboxed the project and committed to finishing it by Thursday next week, which pushed me to take a more general view at the topic. I’ll be presenting to a few people who know much more about this topic than I will have learned, and that’s okay – I’ll also hopefully share some new info with Recursers who don’t. Moreover, my goal is to have learned enough to feel comfortable having answered the question – “what makes programming languages different?” After, I decided can focus on learning and building in Rust, which’ll be a lot more practical than C. I can also focus on learning React, Vim, and maybe building in Swift or Electron – skills that’ll help my portfolio.

Also, after Hack Week, Pierogie Night, tea with Rachel (one of RC faculty members), another game night, and singing with other Recursers, I feel more settled in, more comfortable in the space. It’s not that I didn’t feel like I belonged before, but I am feeling more okay taking things at my own pace.

My goal this week was to be able to say – look at this thing; I’ve made real progress on it. Other than the hackathon project, which I did not plan for, I didn’t really accomplish that. Even though I really cut back on my coffee dates, having a Monday holiday and a slow Friday, with a 2-day hackathon in the middle, kept me from focusing on a single thing.

Next week, I look forward to giving a non-technical talk about either movie music or Learning How to Learn, and hopefully my first technical talk about how compilers work. We also have an informal job fair-type thing, so I’ll probably be doing a bit of prep for that. Can’t believe it’s been 3 weeks already! I feel good; excited for what comes next.

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