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Recurse Center

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The Recurse Center
Type of site
Intentional community
HeadquartersNew York, New York
Owner5blades, Inc.
Founder(s)David Albert, Nick Bergson-Shilcock, Sonali Sridhar
RegistrationNo charge, competitive admission
LaunchedJuly 18, 2011; 12 years ago (July 18, 2011)

The Recurse Center (formerly known as Hacker School; also called RC) is an independent educational institution, that combines a retreat for computer programmers with a recruiting agency. The retreat is an intentional community, a self-directed academic environment for programmers of all levels to improve their skills in, without charge. There is no curriculum and no particular programming languages or paradigms are institutionally favored; instead, participants work on open-source projects of their own choice, alone or collaboratively, as they see best. The Center has been an active advocate for women in programming. After switching to online programming in 2020,[1] the Recurse Center reopened its physical space in 2023.[2]


The Center was initially founded in the Summer of 2010 as Hackruiter, an engineering recruiting company, using seed money from Y Combinator. The idea quickly arose of trying to transform recruiting for start-ups by running a retreat as part of the process, with the goal of helping clients become better programmers.[3]

It officially opened its doors as “Hacker School” in New York in July, 2011, obliquely anticipating the coding bootcamp movement that arose in the mid-2010s. Hacker School came to wide public attention in mid-2012, when it partnered with the e-commerce company Etsy to offer “Hacker Grants” in support of female developers.[4][5][6] A number of companies soon joined Etsy in funding these grants, and in 2014 the grant program expanded to offer support to other groups not well represented in American technology industries.[7]

In 2015 Hacker School was renamed the Recurse Center.

Business model[edit]

The programming retreat is free of charge for admitted applicants to attend. The organization itself is for-profit and supports itself through recruitment, by placing some participants in programming jobs.[8] It has recruiting partnerships with Airtable, Notion, Hudson River Trading, Jane Street, OpenAI, and more. In 2014 the retreat reached the "tipping point" of self-sufficiency purely from recruiting income.[9]

Internal costs to the company have been reported at "nearly $12,000" for each participant.[8]

The Center does not publish statistics on its admission rate, although there is no published rule against reapplication.

Educational philosophy and name[edit]

There is no curriculum; each participant imposes their own structure for self-directed learning on their stay at the Recurse Center, with guidance as requested. Despite its original name ”Hacker School“, the Recurse Center is not a school — its model of self-directed learning was inspired by the Unschooling philosophy of John Holt (1923–1985).[10] Nor does it have any connection to the popular notion of a hacker as someone who breaks into computer systems — rather, “hacker” here was intended to suggest a programmer who is technically resourceful but also supportive of other programmers.[11]

In 2015 the organization changed its name to the Recurse Center to avoid confusion over these matters.[12]

Since its founding, the faculty have experimented continually with day-to-day experience in the retreat. Experiments have included:

  • “facilitators” for day-to-day shepherding of participants and improvement of the organization itself,[13][14][15][16]
  • a "residents" program for shorter-term specialist guidance,[17][18]
  • a “maintainers” program to promote contribution to open-source software projects[21]
  • half-length batches,[24] and
  • a mentoring program for new coders.[25]

Social environment and influence[edit]

The Center did not initially publish a code of conduct, but eventually formalized its expectations of participant behavior in June 2017.[26] Prior to that, it listed social rules intended to shepherd community behavior and “to remove as many distractions as possible so everyone can focus on programming.”[27]

These social rules are one of the retreat's most influential features and have been adopted by a number of other programming communities.[28][29][30][31][32][33]

There is a large community of alumni that have remained active past the end of their ”batch“, interacting with each other and with new participants in person or via virtual tools.[34]

Specializations of participants[edit]

The level of participants' skill and experience is diverse, in common with retreats in other creative fields and unlike many engineering organizations. Participants range from long-experienced software developers on sabbatical, to people who have been coding for only a few months, to retirees, to college students on vacation.[35] Some participants hold doctoral degrees; others have left school before completing secondary or even primary education. Many participants are engineers, but others have strong non-engineering backgrounds, in the Humanities, journalism, pure mathematics, the performing arts, among many others.

Notable alumni[edit]


  1. ^ "We're continuing to run batches online in 2021 - Blog". Recurse Center. Retrieved 2021-12-12.
  2. ^ "A new kind of retreat". Recurse Center. 8 May 2023. Retrieved 29 February 2024.
  3. ^ Nick Bergson-Shilcock (January 6, 2012). "The Path to Hacker School". Blog. Archived from the original on November 27, 2016. Retrieved November 26, 2016.
  4. ^ Daniel Nye Griffiths (April 6, 2012). "Etsy To Fund "Hacker School" Grants For Women". Tech. Forbes. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  5. ^ Rebecca J. Rosen (February 7, 2013). "Etsy CTO: Prioritizing Diversity in Our Hiring Fielded Better Women … and Men". Technology. The Atlantic. Retrieved May 1, 2013.
  6. ^ Leslie Bradshaw (March 4, 2013). "Martha Kelly Girdler on How to Cultivate More Female Engineers and on Being Part of Etsy's 500% Success Story". Leadership. Forbes. Retrieved May 1, 2013.
  7. ^ Nick Bergson-Shilcock (September 25, 2014). "Building a better and more diverse community". Blog. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 1, 2014.
  8. ^ a b "Jobs, recruiting, and how we make money". Manual. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 26, 2016.
  9. ^ a b Nick Bergson-Shilcock (May 11, 2015). "Michael Nielsen joins the Recurse Center to help build a research lab". Blog. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 26, 2016.
  10. ^ Madeline McSherry (March 29, 2013). "Why Everyone Should Learn to Code: An Event Recap". Future Tense. Slate. Retrieved May 1, 2013.
  11. ^ Nick Bergson-Shilcock (December 17, 2012). "What we mean when we say 'hacker'". Blog. Recurse Center. Retrieved May 1, 2013.
  12. ^ Nick Bergson-Shilcock (March 25, 2015). "Hacker School is now the Recurse Center". Blog. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 26, 2016.
  13. ^ "Facilitators". Manual. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  14. ^ Nick Bergson-Shilcock (May 4, 2012). "Welcome Tom and Alan!". Blog. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  15. ^ Dave Albert (December 5, 2013). "Treating people like adults". Blog. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  16. ^ Nick Bergson-Shilcock (April 13, 2017). "Join RC and help build a better place to learn". Blog. Recurse Center. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  17. ^ "Residents". Manual. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  18. ^ "Residents". Recurse Center. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  19. ^ Rachel Vincent (December 5, 2014). "Introducing Code Words". Blog. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 28, 2016.
  20. ^ "Code Words". Recurse Center. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  21. ^ Dave Albert (August 21, 2013). "Announcing the Hacker School Maintainers Program". Blog. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  22. ^ Dave Albert (October 23, 2016). "Why research". Blog. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  23. ^ Dave Albert (August 23, 2016). "Pausing RC Research". Blog. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  24. ^ Nick Bergson-Shilcock (February 25, 2016). "You can now attend RC Retreat for six weeks". Blog. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  25. ^ Nick Bergson-Shilcock (January 20, 2016). "RC Start: Free one-on-one mentorship for new programmers". Blog. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  26. ^ "Code of Conduct". Recurse Center. June 9, 2017. Retrieved June 9, 2017.
  27. ^ "Social rules". Manual. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 25, 2016.
  28. ^ "Good Conduct". Haskell Now. Archived from the original on November 27, 2016. Retrieved November 25, 2016.
  29. ^ "Social Rules". The Hacktory. Archived from the original on June 25, 2016. Retrieved November 25, 2016.
  30. ^ "Code of Conduct". Unhackathon. Retrieved November 25, 2016.
  31. ^ "Code of Conduct". !!con. Retrieved November 25, 2016.
  32. ^ "Code of Conduct". Hack && Tell. Retrieved November 25, 2016.
  33. ^ "Scala Code of Conduct". Scala Lang. Retrieved December 11, 2016.
  34. ^ Nick Bergson-Shilcock (September 25, 2015). "Zulip: Supporting OSS at the Recurse Center". Blog. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  35. ^ Nick Bergson-Shilcock (July 30, 2015). "Three reasons to apply (and three reasons not to)". Blog. Recurse Center. Retrieved November 27, 2016.

External links[edit]