Some thoughts on starting your Recurse Center batch

This morning, our Fall 1 batch joined us, and us Summer 2s were invited to share a piece of advice. I have been thinking about this for about six weeks, and there are a number of things that have felt important to my own path here. I shall now attempt to enumerate some of them.

There is an incomprehensible amount of freedom here. Maybe this is familiar to you, in which case enjoy!

But maybe you’re like me, and this is new and weird. That’s okay. You will spend a lot of time here doing programming-related things, and it’s okay if some of the rest of your time is spent exploring what it means to choose your own path. Does it feel scary and overwhelming? Also okay. This is one of the best places you will ever find to struggle. You will get stuck a lot as a programmer, and that’s not a reason to stop working at it; it’s just part of the process. You’re not alone, and there’s help all around you, if you want it.

Seek out what excites you, and chase it. It does not matter whether it would excite someone else.

Ignore what bores you. You will rarely have the opportunity to do this in life, and it supports the above.

Take time to take care of yourself. Some of the things this has meant for me:

  • Take a walk.
  • Do something tiny you can succeed at (I still go back to Codingbat sometimes for little quick wins).
  • Remember to drink water.
  • Remember to eat food.
  • Take a nap in the library nook, or in Church (the room, not the institution).
  • If you have a terrible awful night of sleep and Cannot Even, it is okay to go back to bed, even if you usually hate to do so. Being here on no sleep won’t be very productive anyway.
  • Ask for help when you’re stuck. This includes, but is not limited to, code and feelings. (Don’t mind sad stories? Ask me about the time I sauntered up to Tom and Mary and said, “soooo, who wants to talk about grief and creativity?” It was the exact right thing to do.)

Write a little every day about what you’re doing. You will be amazed at what you got done while you didn’t think you were “doing anything.” Write it in a little notebook (you can get a cool one for cheap right downstairs at Muji!), write it on a blog, write it in a text file on your computer, write it in emails to a friend or parent or yourself…a little goes a long way.

Jeff suggested writing down what you did, what you learned, and what questions you have each day, and I’m thinking I’ll adopt the same scheme for my own notes from here on out.

Plus, it’s really handy when someone (including you!) says, “so, uh, what have you been working on?” A coworker caught up on a month+ worth of my news without me having to say anything extra, and it felt terrific.

To the best of your ability, do not compare yourself to other people here (I struggle with this one constantly). There are people who are more experienced and people who know more than you, even if you are used to being one of The Smart Kids. But guess what? You are one of these people, too, and you have things to offer and share. It’s okay if it takes a while to figure out what these things are. Be open to the possibility that you are awesome.

You have twelve weeks. Do you want to do something big and impossible-seeming? Maybe you really want to work through a particular book or project. If you do a little every day (or even most days), you can get through all kinds of massive things. A couple of the summer 1s, April & Caroline, read the whole Learning Python book while here, one morning hour at a time. That thing is a beast! I’m so impressed (and inspired!) by their tenacity and commitment.


And of course, this: all advice is autobiographical. If someone gives you advice that doesn’t seem relevant to you, throw it out for yourself.

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