And just like that it was over. If you had told me a year ago that I would quit my job, move to New York and attend a completely self-directed three month “writers retreat” for programmers, I would have laughed nervously and not made eye contact. Yet here I am, makin’ eye contact like a pro. It’s been an unbelievable three months. I’ve made an amazing group of friends, and learned so much it makes my head hurt to think about it. I went into Recurse thinking GUI was a way to describe brownies and came out of it being able to comfortably construct full-stack applications like a boss.

Reflecting back on my experience, I realized that there were a lot of things I wish I had known, or maybe had a heads up for what to expect. So, for future Recursers: here are my thoughts. Hopefully they’ll help someone.


1. It’s ok to spend time just learning.

When I got to Recurse I was asked over and over again “So what are you working on?”. It wasn’t until the second half of my batch that I realized this is Recurse equivalent of “how are you doing?”. It wasn’t meant to be intimidating. It wasn’t meant to suggest that I had to have a project idea right then and there. It was genuinely because people were interested. That being said, it was still horribly intimidating. I barely knew enough JavaScript to put together a tictactoe game. How was I going to come up with a full scale project?!

I’m going to tell you a little secret: what you’re working on doesn’t have to be a project.

I spent the first few weeks going through Node.js, Mongodb and Express tutorials, making sure that I really understood how they worked, and only then did I start working on projects. Recurse isn’t a startup factory, you don’t need to constantly be churning out some shiny new thing. It’s good to set goals, and it’s goood to have things you want to accomplish, but a good project could be going through all of Eloquent JavaScript.

However, make sure you don’t spend the entire time with your nose tucked into a tutorial. Find someone else who wants to learn the same thing. Find someone who already knows about this stuff and ask them questions if you’re confused. There are people at Recurse. Use them.


2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

When I first got to Recurse, I was terrified of asking questions. Being rather new to programming, I assumed my questions were stupid, I was wasting people’s time, and they were silently wondering what the hell I was doing at Recurse if I didn’t already know these things.

After finally getting up the courage to start asking, I was amazing at how excited people were to help. Recurse is filled with people that are interested in learning, and excited about others learning as well, and they want to help! Rather than banging my head against my keyboard hoping Google would come up with some magic tutorial, I could ask someone to explain, and then continue to explain if I didn’t get it the first time.

Now, I’ve learned to love the phrase “I don’t know what that means”. You always learn something new, and if that person isn’t quite sure either, you get to learn together! It’s the best.


3. Work with other people

Pairing with people is scary. The first time I did I found myself replaying it in my head going “Oh god was I annoying? Did I slow them down? Was this actually something they wanted to work on?”. What I can tell you now is not to worry about it. Talk about what you’re interested in working on ahead of time and make sure that you both have the same goals. If you want to dive deep and really understand things, and they just want to finish the project, you’re not going to have a great time pairing. If you didn’t enjoy pairing with someone, don’t worry about it. If they don’t ask you to pair again, don’t worry about it. It’s all a learning experience, and there are no wrong decisions, except the decision not to work with anyone while you’re there. Mostly because you need to know how. If you want to program as a career, you need to know how to pair, and Recurse is a safe place to practice.


4. Shits and giggles programming is just the best

There were several times that I was working on a “real” project, hating my life, and finally ditching it to build something fun and stupid. These fun and stupid projects ended up being some of my favorite. It’s okay to have fun. It’s okay to build something useless just because you feel like it.


5. Learn to walk away

If you’re staring angrily at your computer screen, slamming your keys desperately trying to fix a bug that you know would be easily fixed if you could just figure out what the stupid thing is doing wrong. Walk. Away. Get up from your seat, pace the room, grab a cup of tea, ask people if they’re interested in a coffee run, anything. Just walk away. Your brain has this amazing ability to figure things out, but only if you give it a chance to recuperate. You’ll be amazed what comes to you after you’ve walked away.


6. Talk to people!

I’m the worst at networking. I think it’s silly and I find small talk painful at best. However, for the first few weeks of Recurse I made it a point to talk to as many different people as possible. It was scary, but everyone was incredibly open, and I learned a lot about my fellow Recursers. One of things that makes Recurse unique is that everyone is “the new person”, so they’re all looking for someone to talk to. It’s like a beautiful hand crafted artisanal friend group made specifically for you.

If you feel like you haven’t really made connections with anyone immediately, give it time. Some of my best friends from Recurse I didn’t talk to until the second half.


7. Do things that scare the hell out of you.

All of the following points lead into this: Practice being brave.

Recurse is one of the most supporting, loving, non-judgmental environments I’ve ever been in. No one’s doing a “thing”. No one’s looking at you funny. Everyone’s going to be excited when you join in and try new things. Before Recurse I had never sung a song at karaoke by myself. Ever. Not once. But the first karaoke night I decided I was going to do it because everyone else was having fun and no one cared that we weren’t going to be auditioning for American Idol any time soon, and everyone cheered so loud after every song that you felt like you were the biggest rock star in the world. My voice cracked, I was scared out of my mind, but I survived. Not only did I survive, I got thoroughly addicted.

While this point acts as a plug for karaoke night (please keep this tradition going!), it’s mostly to highlight the importance of doing the things that scare you. Avoiding things because “you’re not good at them” is silly. It’s a fixed mindset that’s going to keep you from rocking out like Christina Aguilera wishes she could. Be brave! Do things!


Conclusion

Recurse is amazing. You’re amazing. You’d make a great pair. If you’re thinking about going, you totally should. If you’re still unsure, or have more questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me anything. I have so much advice and many stories to share. My next blog will be on the scary bits of Recurse (don’t worry, they’re not that scary). Until then,

Cheers!