I spent the last two and a half months at Hacker School, which has been described as a “writer’s retreat for programmers”. You fly out to New York to their space, where you join a bunch of other programmers, providing social pressure to do some programming every day and a community of people with whom you can talk about programming. For a solitary person such as myself, both of these are extremely helpful and novel.
Hacker School is also completely free to attend and even has cost of living grants for a steadily growing set of demographics. Their business model is like that of a recruiting agency: they help out any Hacker Schooler who is looking for a job and charge companies for hiring these people. For me, this sounded almost too good to be true: having never had a job, I was desperate for help breaking into the technology industry through the wall of college degree and years-of-experience requirements. But there was no way my parents could afford to fly me all the way out to New York and put me up in an apartment for two and a half months.
So I went to Hacker School for two reasons: to experience and environment where programming is a normal part of life, and to get a programming job. What did I actually get from Hacker School?
First and most exciting: I did get a job. The wonderful Hacker School facilitators, especially Sonali Sridhar, guided me through the process of writing a resume that is impressive despite its lack of experience, and of reaching out to Hacker School’s various partner companies. I got more interviews in a couple weeks than in the six months I had spent optimistically looking for a programming job on my own. And while most of these leads eventually turned me down, one company seemed consistently impressed by me and kept inviting me back… and on December 1st I start with Prismatic. When I got accepted to Hacker School I hardly dared hope for an outcome this good, and it definitely wouldn’t have happened if not for Hacker School.
There are also some things I gained that I hadn’t really anticipated.
For example: I have been wanting to start a blog for at least a year, probably longer, but never been able to commit to writing regular posts. There might even be a handful of dead WordPress or Blogspot blogs of mine scattered around the web — I don’t remember any of them, and certainly there are none with more than one post.
But at Hacker School I started to realize that people like hearing what I have to say. I even gave a little 20 minute talk and the handful of people who wanted to hear it seemed to enjoy it. And at the same time, I got together with some other Hacker Schoolers who were also trying to commit to writing one blog post a week. At first I thought this attempt would be like all the others, that I’d make a handful of posts and then forget again. But it’s been three months and I’m still posting… and people are even reading.
And I didn’t produce anything at Hacker School that I’d call finished, but that’s normal: I hadn’t really finished any projects before Hacker School either. What isn’t normal is that after Hacker School, I noticed this deficiency and corrected it. I can’t help but think that Hacker School’s atmosphere of programming every day had something to do with this sudden burst of productivity.
Finally, there’s something I feel like I could have gained from Hacker School that I didn’t. I met a lot of people there that I had fun interacting with, people who I would have been happy to get to know better and who probably would have been happy to know me… but I didn’t come away with any new close relationships, mainly because I have difficulty initiating and sustaining interactions. But even here it’s not too late: the Hacker School community is broad, and there are resources in place for helping alums connect with other alums and with current hacker schoolers. I hope to make a bit more effort along these lines as soon as I can work myself up to it!
Finally, did I mention that Hacker School is always looking for new applicants? If anything I’ve talked about sounds interesting, check out their site — it could cost you nothing at all!