A Retrospective for Hacker School

Hacker School is over today.

It’s been an unexpectedly quick three months. Looking back is a blur: quitting my job, moving to New York, riding the subway 18 stops twice a day to talk about programming, listen to talks about programming, and program.

I came into this summer with lofty expectations. I expected to enter the doors of 175 Varick in June as myself and exit in August as Peter Norvig. Before I moved to New York I made a list of 40+ technologies that I was definitely going to learn before the summer was over, spanning front-end programming to back-end programming to server administration to CS-theory.

The humbling (but not disheartening) realization I encountered along the way is that those expectations weren’t just unrealistic, they were sub-optimal. Holistic, deep learning is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.

The facilitators push a strong ethos here: don’t learn the library, learn its internals. Don’t just implement an existing MVC pattern, create your own. Don’t just eat the fish, but learn to bait the hook and cast the rod. That’s the type of learning that facilitates true autonomy and productivity. That’s the type of understanding that will allow you as a technologist to grow and innovate.

Over time I whittled down 40+ technologies to a list of four or five, all centered around JavaScript.

“Was it worth it?”

There are a number of ways to quantify the response to this question, the most typical being financial. And while I think that’s important, I also think focusing on immediate financial return is the wrong paradigm. [1]

Here are a few more appropriate phrasings:

  • Are you more excited about what you do?
  • Are you better equipped with the skills/mentality needed to learn new things?
  • Do you have a non-trivially deeper understanding of the technologies you focused on during your time here?
  • Were you inspired to new standards of software quality by being around an incredibly talented and humble group of engineers?
  • Have you learned lessons about how to facilitate a positive work environment that maximizes collaboration, exploration and learning?
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Yes. It was 100% worth it.

Never graduate.

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[1] Besides, does being a better programmer/thinker translate to better long-term financial returns over the course of a career? Absolutely.

[2] A link to my hackerschool log.