New York and Hacker School
So I quit my job, moved to New York, and began a three-month long, unpaid, absolutely crazy, educational adventure as a Hacker Schooler. Why? Meeting people who share the same enthusiasm for sharing and learning new things is just about the best thing there is in this world.
Initially, quitting a reasonably well-paid job with seemingly unlimited flexibility in terms of work hours struck me as a bad idea. Especially if you put it in the context of someone who’s already unemployed or complaining that it’s hard to find programmer jobs (hint: maybe you can apply for my position?). I got the feeling that society as a whole don’t really encourage people to go quitting their jobs just to travel across the pond to poke around with code all days. Hacker School’s lack of exams, curriculum, lectures, and just about any other aspect of a traditional school, made people become highly suspicious about my “hippie adventure.” Not that I can blame them I suppose. We live in this paradigm that school is school and while at school you study to do well at exams or deliver an awesome project report. At Hacker School we do none of those things.
Maria, a batch-mate of mine, phrased it nicely in her weekly retrospective:
Everyone at Hacker School are here because they care about improving. There’s the intrinsic motivation of becoming a better programmer. Hacker School just provides the physical space, some social rules, and a whole bunch of smart, happy, caring people in the same room. Some have programmed for years while others are just starting out. That is the beauty of it too. People help each other, question each other, and teach each other. And because there are no exams and other stupid stuff that get in the way of learning its incredibly fun and there’s no competition or prestige in getting the highest grade. We work on what we want and that works because it not the exams or equivalent that motivates us. The motivation comes from within.
Hacker School is a three-month, full-time school in New York for becoming a better programmer. We’re free as in beer, and provide space, a little structure, time to focus, and a friendly community of smart builders dedicated to self-improvement.
If people work on what they want, what happens at Hacker School? Turns out a lot. Apart from some arranged evening talks (usually on Mondays), there are a lot of spontaneous workshops going on. There’s a group working on something called nand2tetris which goal is to build a computer system from scratch, down to the 1s and 0s up to something that renders visually on screen. Someone is implementing Kademlia (a DHT) in Common Lisp, another is learning Clojure by implementing Tic Tac Toe, a third is building Linux kernel modules and rootkits, and so much more. In fact, one of the hardest parts I find so far is staying focused and not letting myself getting distracted by all the other fascinating things happening. Although I let myself be distracted at times…
When I’m not focusing on a functional implementation of a graph data structure in Scala that is. That is, in short, what I’m spending my first two-three weeks on. I used Scala for my master thesis project but never fully understood the details of Scala at that time. Therefore, I’m using the first weeks to brush up on a few things:
- Functional data structures
- Scala and its pretty powerful type system
- Graphs and graph algorithms
I’ve been doing a fair amount of graph related things before, both on imperative and distributed implementations, but never functional. In addition, graphs are everywhere and come in handy often. When, and if, this becomes useful for anyone else its hard to tell. Right now I’m basing much work on this paper, and if it turns out well I might submit it to this reference library on functional data structures in Scala. What happens after these first weeks I’m not sure about yet but have some ideas that I’ll share eventually. For those of you with technical interest, do follow my Hacker School blog on http://hs.ljungblad.nu where I will write more regularly during the next three months.
New York you say, yes, come by and say hi! I live in Washington Heights (it’s in Upper Manhattan). It may seem pretty far from where the action is (HS is located in SoHo, for example), but the A-train is express and door-to-door to HS takes about 40-45 minutes including a quick bagel-breakfast stop at the coffee shop next doors. I’m sharing a flat with Moshe, another hacker-schooler, but there’s plenty of room for guests.
New York is, a little more than a week in, totally insane. Sonali, one of the HS founders and has lived in NYC for more than nine years, told me that she is still discovering new places and things to do and see in the city. Three months will fly by and I’m looking forward to all the surprises the city has lined up for me and my batchlings.