My experience at Recurse Center

These are my unabridged reflections on my first batch that ended a few weeks ago.

What it is

Recurse Center is quite an interesting place without routine and with little to no structure — it truly is experimental. It’s a space that attracts quite kind and well meaning  people from all over the world who generally love programing for the sake of programming, and because they love to program they want to dramatically become better at it.

Who is a “Recurser”..

In addition to becoming dramatically better programmers some recursers may have planned career changes, some maybe looking to begin their first job outside of college, some are still in college and attend when school isn’t in session, some have never attended college, some have been programming for decades, and some are not planning to work in tech after their batch  — all these individuals from different backgrounds seek a dedicated space and time (6-12 weeks) to program and learn things that are interesting to them with a community of like minded people.

Why “Recurser”..

I take it that the concept of being a Recurser, just as in the concept of Recursion in Computer Science, is related to repeating while refining a process in each step progressing towards a solution or a goal. The repetition in this case is dynamic and focused learning. The goal of focused learning is to be a dramatically better programmer. This is implied in Recurse’s motto “Never Graduate“. To never stop learning, but always be learning, “recursing”.

How “Recursing” happens..

This process of learning happens continuously 24/7 online and offline. It’s from the people you pair code with around 1am in person at RC, and virtually, it is through the kitchen counter conversations you may have at 3am talking about philosophy, humanity and governance on fourth of July, it is through going out at night to dance to African Music & Jamaican Dance Hall, Salsa outings, celebrating a birthday and learning Samba, Belly Dancing, Spanish dance after a Soccer game at Prospect Park. It is through endless laughter and camaraderie at late hours of night, weekly group checkins in the afternoon to talk about our emotions, fears, anxieties and joys. It can also be unexpectedly finding oneself inspired and immersed in creative coding and generative art. It’s endless and the alumni Recursers also continue participating online and offline even after the batch demonstrating the never ending process of sharing and learning from each other.

The Effect: Dramatic Growth

In my 12 weeks at Recurse I grew dramatically. A major goal of mine was to learn C and I chose projects that would allow me to explore different aspects of the language. I completed a simple Recommendation System, I wrote a few simple Computer Vision apps including submitting a patch to OpenCV. In my attempt at building a Bitocoin-like cryptocurrency I got as far as implementing an Hierarchically Deterministic Wallet, and I built the basic foundations of Linux Debugger. Yes  all in C — A language I hadn’t built anything meaningful with before Recurse Center!  In between I found time to turn my recommendation system into a Web Assembly app, I experimented a bit with parallel programming by learning GL Shader Language (GLSL).

There are other things I had hoped to work on but didn’t: Digital Signal Processing (DSP) and Networking apps. Nevertheless learning C was much more important and this will make learning DSP and Networking, usually written in C, much easier.

There’s so much to learn and explore which can be a hindrance and a distraction, but also it can be a way to grow through exposure to ideas one never thought of. Overall I grew significantly primarily as combination of my dedicated efforts, pushing myself to constantly work at the extent of my limits, and being surrounded by a community of incredibly smart people.

Personally..

Personally this was an exciting, ambitious, and very strenuous period of my life. I was exhausted by the expectations I placed on myself, precarious financial situation (NY living costs), being away from family and friends, and an uncertainty of the future. There were many times were it was difficult for me. I had a few emotional breakdowns, struggles. The experience at Recurse definitely has its challenges — growth is painful, change is taxing. Nevertheless through this experience I met so many wonderful people who became like my support group, my brothers and sisters.

I am truly the product of many others I cannot name and have the deepest gratitude to my Recurse mates from Spain, Colombia, India, Brazil, Germany, Canada, New Zealand, Seattle whom I had such a great time with.

The following are just some of the phenomenal people I got to know and admire:

la familia

My early support group and life long friends

mi hermana!

mi hermanita!

My brother

Would I do it again?..

Well I’m writing this Blog post at RC. I’m doing it again. When the opportunity presented itself to continue learning I extended my batch again — an option to Recursers who can use another 6-12 weeks for whatever reason. One has to re-apply. In the remaining weeks I plan on exploring more mind expanding projects and activities. After this marathon I look forward to continue my learning and growth outside of this space in New York, working at the extent of my limits, and venturing into the places and regions where my experience and network can make a meaningful difference.

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