2 minute read

Daily dispatches from my 12 weeks at the Recurse Center in Summer 2023

I’ve been writing here that my immediate path at RC has presented itself, and that path is something like a rogue CS education consisting of C and compilers and assembly language and LISPs. “Follow the fun” is the advice I’ve heard, and, well, this, apparently, is my idea of fun! (It is though.)

Today’s Career Switchers meeting provided a slight but necessary course corrective, I think.

During the meeting I heard from a lot of kindred spirits, including more than one lapsed academic (and not just the STEM kind!), who all shared my enthusiasm about the new paths they were on. But I also heard from some recursers who have already successfully made the switch, and their advice was a tad more, let’s say, sobering. I walked away with the sense (although let’s be honest, I already knew this) that employers probably don’t give a damn about your knowledge of theory and your spelunking expeditions into the bowels of your computer; they just want to know you can solve their problems. Regular, generic projects are a great way to convey the most important and relevant fact of all: you can code the sorts of things that orgs need coded. Even better if you can cultivate a niche: Go deep on that one language or framework. It may mean you’re eligible for fewer positions, but for the ones you are eligible for you’ll be much better positioned.

I’m not really surprised by this kind of feedback. Like I said, I already knew this to be true. However, it did make me stop for the first time this week and wonder about how to reconcile the realities of searching for a first tech position as a career switcher with the special environment cultivated by RC and the unique opportunities afforded here. I guess that’s my main musing du jour: how to find that balance. Because it’s clear to me that, as excited as I am to build a LISP in C, I’m almost certainly not going to get hired to touch anything written in C!

I wonder if RC may be a slightly different beast for new career switchers like me than for those with engineering experience, since those with experience can (perhaps – I’m really not sure) afford to follow their curiosity down job-impractical rabbit holes, resting assured that their prior (read: relevant) experience will be a kind of safety net when it comes time to reemerge. But for those of us who have no prior experience in this domain, going down those same rabbit holes may come at the cost of churning out an I-can-code-and-solve-your-problems portfolio. And without one of those, well… then what? That’s my concern, anyway.

I wouldn’t say I’m getting cold feet or becoming, I don’t know, cynical. Nah, it’s more that today was a reminder to find that balance, at some point. Something tells me that finding that balance will be an ongoing negotiation, and one that the career switchers group will help support. Maybe the first few weeks or half of my batch is my own weird version of the CS education I didn’t have, and maybe during the second half I put more emphasis on portfolio projects.

Great day, all in all. Another meet and greet event in the AM, a few coffee chats with kindred spirits, some data structure practice. Also stoked to be organizing an LA meetup next week involving pinball and arcade games. Tomorrow’s looking like another busy one to cap off the week, so I suppose next week the hunkering down begins.