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Hacker School

2013 June 16
by Richard Harrington

This past February, in a bar after a meeting of the LispNYC group, someone mentioned a place called Hacker School. I’d briefly heard of it about a year before, but all I knew was that it lasted three months and was full-time, during the day. I’d dismissed it out of hand as a training program that might teach me a few things, but would be far too expensive to be worth whatever benefit it might give me over what I would learn just by working as a programmer.

The picture that was painted for me in that bar, though, sounded idyllic. It was not, in fact, expensive. No money changed hands at all. And it also wasn’t a training program. It was just a place to go to work on whatever you wanted to work on, surrounded by about fifty other programmers with a wide range of experience, all selected for their intellectual curiosity, and all working on their own projects. There were no instructors, but instead there were “facilitators,” who provided just enough structure to keep you on track, and occasionally they brought in experts in the field to be residents for a week or two. If you ever had a question about anything, or wanted someone to collaborate on a project with, someone in that diverse group would surely be able to help you.

And to top it all off, at the end, Hacker School helped you find a job. It was like a hippie artist’s commune, which after three months magically transformed itself into a career placement service.

Now, before I started actually working as a software developer, I’d imagined that working in the industry would be a bit like my description of Hacker School above. It sounds absurd, I know. But I had come to really enjoy programming in my spare time in the previous few years, and had the delusional belief that doing it for a living would just be a paid version of that.

Of course, that’s not the way it turned out. Which is not to say anything against my recent place of employment — I was learning a lot there, but the nature of ALL work is that you’re usually asked to do things you know how to do well, not things you don’t know how to do at all but which will allow you to make great leaps in your understanding if you take them on. And the Catch-22 is that to make advances in your career, you’ll need to make those great leaps. Which is probably one of the reasons people in the programming world move around so much.

On the way home from the bar, I was giddy. I did a quick Internet search to confirm that Hacker School was as it had been described to me, and then I decided to go. Before the next batch started in June, I’d have just enough time to save up almost enough to live on for the summer.

I am not normally a person who makes major life decisions lightly. I’d only just the previous year quit a job I’d had for fifteen years, and I’d only had my new job and my new career for about seven months, but Hacker School seemed like exactly what I needed to push myself to the next level as a programmer. Not to mention it sounded incredibly fun.

So later that spring I applied, made it through the (quick and efficient) interview process, quit my job, and here I am in the middle of June, two weeks into Hacker School.

Which I’ll tell you all about in the posts to come…

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