My first two weeks at RC - Let's go !
RC what ?
It’s been two weeks since I’ve started my retreat at Recurse Center (often abbreviated to RC). This is my short experience report on these last two weeks, lest I forget it.
Back in October 2014, I'd sent an email to "Hacker School"(before it was renamed to Recurse center) about possibly joining for a batch. I then got busy with worklife and completely forgot about it. Until it showed up on my mastodon feed a few days after I'd given in my resignation. I had recently decided to slow things down a bit and gift myself some time for a sabbatical.
That's when I thought that I might as well enjoy the sabbatical being surrounded by enthusiatic people, even if it's only online. To be honest, it's even better that it doesn't require me to physically move and uproot my life for a while. That's definitely not the kind of chaos I'm interested in right now.
The first week
I started my RC journey in the Summer 1 batch 2023. I had just completed the handover at my (previous) workplace, where I’d spent a lot of fruitful and exciting years. Hopefully, I’ll be writing up on my experience there as a separate post later this year.
It was a very busy first week as I was juggling the balance of RC introductory week as well as some friendly obligations. I found myself right in the middle of a high adrenaline white-water rafting like experience as I tried to attend all the events for the first week, but it was all very well worth spending the time. I was simultaneously yawning (possibly from the relief/tiredness of handover of my previous work) while also staying up late on zoom calls genuinely interested in talking to my batchmates. Being a bit honest, I was just staying up late talking to “random strangers on the internet”, at least that is what it felt like on the first week.
What I loved about all the interaction was that we all seemed to be excited by the common idea of pursuing some sort of curiousity, and taking this time to jump into it regardless of the outcomes. Overall, I didn’t spend much time starting projects etc. this week, as I was mostly tired and had intentionally planned only to meet/chat with people and perhaps get a feel for what I wanted to spend time on.
Towards the end of first week, I felt fully spent, was starting to get easily agitated and somehow was starting to doubt my decision of jumping into RC back-to-back from my previous job. Luckily, my friends forced me to join in on a camping trip over the longer weekend. This was a superb idea, I can see in retrospect how this helped me reset my brain. We spent a couple of days hiking and camping, lazying away afternoons on hammocks, chatting away our days, campfires and marshmallows etc. It was only a couple of days, but ended up being the perfect amount of detox I needed. I was ready for the second week when I back on Sunday evening. I am absolutely planning to take more of these short breaks over this summer.
The second week
All the doubt of ‘early timing’ my batch at RC was gone after the trip. By the time I had returned, I was a bit surprised to see how impatient I felt about ‘diving right in’. Over the years, I’ve made a really long list of things/projects that I’d like to dive into. So, this was a rather tricky thing to figure out.
Prior to starting my RC batch, I’ve also spent plenty of time on the side on fast.ai forums as well as the discord groups following recent developments on Machine Learning. Our focus in the group has especially been rooted in Deep Learning foundations (MATMUL 💪🏽) as well as the recent wave of Diffusion modules and Language models. Since this was already on top of my mental attention stack, I figured it would make sense to pursue the topic primarily, and then look into various different groups at RC and tag along with some other projects.
I also made intentional plans of trying to have at least one long form coffee chat with one of my batchmates as well as trying to pair program with somebody on their ongoing projects. I spent plenty of time this week on coffee chats and pair programming. In general, I love having chats with people (on topics) I don’t know very well, so this was a really rewarding experience as I get to learn more really quick compared to learning from my own bubble.
The second week was a lot calmer. I didn’t show up on events that I didn’t absolutely have to, that way I could carve out some time for myself to get into my own flow. I started following along the NN zero to hero series of lectures by A. Karpathy, with the goal of building components for ML from scratch. I’d previously watched this in hurry, but I slowed down a bit taking my time to build deeper understanding and made several notebooks along the way, chunking them in a way I would chunk the different progression levels in the lectures. This has been my main priority and it will stay that way until I finish it, after which I’ll have to decide what to continue.
In the meantime, I’ve also commited myself to about 3 bookclubs, some of which involve only reading and sharing while some of it involves writing code alongside. Reading the book by oneself is already a good goal, but my primary intention at RC until the end will be to interact with more people, and in a selfish way feed off that enthusiasm, hopefully also giving back just as much.
This has been an absolute fun week, and I’m looking forward to the coming weeks. The difference between my mindset on the first week and the second week are now complete opposites, and I’m glad it’s that way. A shoutout to all my batchmates for all the fun conversations and flipping my brain state from the “grumpycat no” to the “let’s go”.