henderson reed hummel





RC: in-person and remote

published: 2024-01-02

From the very beginning of August 2023 until the end of that October, I had the pleasure of attending the Recurse Center. As living in New York City is expensive and I wasn’t planning on giving up my digs in Portland, I decided to attend in-person for the first six weeks of my batch, return to Portland for the five after that, and then fly to NYC for the final week.

In the course of this experience, I think I learned a ton of stuff about myself and my relation to remote work, and I think it will be worth it to lay it out here and talk a little bit about those lessons. If you’re considering attending RC, then maybe this account can help you understand if you’ll want to do it in-person or remotely.

The first six weeks: intense, social, all-consuming

I’ve never experienced an environment like RC was for me in those first 6 weeks. It was as though a switch flipped and all of a sudden the world was suffused with sound and light and motion again. Some days I stayed for 12 hours, from 8am until 8pm, talking and programming into the evening. It was wild and unsustainable, and I was often distracted from the actual writing of code, the ostensible purpose of my attendance. But my list of project ideas was growing at a speed I had maybe never attained before. The dam had been broken, and the floodwaters were pouring across.

It was hard work actually - I have to imagine many RCers are, like myself, somewhat introverted. I have a substantial social battery, but each and every day I returned from the Hub drained, and rarely did I have enough alone time to recharge. But the scarcity mindset here is what pushed me to the limit, and also what kept me going. The knowledge that my time in NYC would end meant that I had to make the most of what I had.

The rewards for this social energy drain are substantial too! I found many people who felt like my people and I formed deep relationships with them, far deeper than I had expected to form in six short weeks. I found a community, one that I had been aching for and didn’t know it.

Then, at seemingly the perfect time, it was time for me to head home. I was homesick, ready to see my loved ones again and return to my old haunts. I even cut my trip short a little bit to hurry back. I was ready to get home, put my head down, and write some code.

Five weeks in Portland: difficult

These weeks didn’t go as I intended them to. I’ll break them up into sections.

week one: disarray

Upon my return, I had so much to do. I lost one day to traveling home, and then friends wanted to get in touch, family had missed me and wanted to catch up over dinner, I had commitments each weekend. Additionally, the Fall 2 batch had just begun. So many new faces in chat! For a moment the online spaces felt vibrant and full, but it was hard to keep up and remain engaged.

I didn’t get much code written, that much was for sure.

It was in this week that I attempted to restart RC’s Creative Coding sessions, where folks get together to program for a fixed amount of time, using a randomly generated prompt for inspiration. It seemed like it might work, folks showed up to the first one!

week two: OK, maybe this can work!

I had successfully restarted the Creative Coding sessions! Folks were attending, there seemed to be a bit of a community growing around it, which I found so fulfilling. But I wasn’t able to remain as engaged day-to-day in general RC stuff. The timezone issues I remembered from my east-coast-centric job began to creep in. All of a sudden, quitting the computer at 2pm or 3pm didn’t feel like I was skipping out on anything. “After all, the people I want to talk to are mostly done with RC by this time of day” was the little white lie I told myself.

I was having trouble building momentum after the disarray of last week. I was beginning to feel a little isolated and disconnected from the people I had connected with so deeply in-person.

weeks three through five: doldrums

These weeks were punctuated by some bright spots. The Creative Coding sessions were consistently motivating. My twice-a-week coffee chats had me meeting even more engaging and interesting people, typically other remote RCers who I hadn’t met before, when I was so wrapped up in the day-to-day of the physical retreat.

By and large however, my code output was still low, and the flow of ideas had fallen to a trickle. These were rough weeks, and I don’t think I even really understood what was happening and why I was feeling worse.

One last week in NYC

I don’t think I can sum up this week, having just barely left it behind.

But I do know that some of the conversations I had during this week were some of the most touching, fruitful, and valuable I’ve had. During this week I understood how badly I needed a community like RC.

Too, I think I would have a much harder time emotionally with the end of the batch if I hadn’t had the opportunity to close out my time with all the many delightful conversations and friendly faces.

A bit of reflection

To my mind, the choice between remote and in-person RC feels more like it’s got to do with the your goals. Are you joining RC for the space, freedom, and focus to learn something really deeply and engage with others interested in the same things? Or are you joining RC for the distractions, for the inspiration to explore new things, and the buzzing energy of others doing the same?

I came to RC to be inspired, to be engaged with the community, and to learn more about myself and what makes me excited about programming. The social space was distracting, draining, complicated and messy sometimes. I could never plan for the day, because I knew I would get distracted and end up making expeditions across the city with new friends or down an obscure programming rabbit-hole. It was difficult too to remain engaged with just one niche and grow expert in it, because the work of others was inspiring and distracting. It was difficult (and often undesirable) to opt-out of the distractions (perhaps especially because I was living in that scarcity mindset where the RC experience felt so short-term and ephemeral.) And yet, because of all that, it was exactly what I needed.

If you are coming to RC to dive deep into a particular technology or build a particular skill, I think it’s really possible that in-person RC may not work for you as well as remote RC. So many of the remote RC attendees were able to dive deep into their interests, to build truly impressive projects and work through impressive amounts of material. I didn’t end up doing that.

What I got was exactly what I needed, which was the inspiration, the energy, and the motivation provided by all the friends I made.