I applied to the Recurse Center in early January. It had always been my plan to try to start working or interning in the Spring of 2017, and Recurse Center seemed like it might be a perfect bridge between the self-teaching I have been doing and stepping back into the professional world in my first technical role.
I thought my RC application was really a moon shot; I’ve been lucky enough to meet and hear a few of their alums and residents (Julia Evans, Allison Parrish, Darius Bacon) speak at !!Con. They all seem intensely impressive to me both as people and as programmers. I admire their generousness of spirit and deep knowledge. All that to say, I didn’t exactly believe it would be easy for me to get into RC! But I decided I had little to lose, and that if it didn’t work out, maybe I could try applying again later in my career. So I tortured myself for a week or so about my application, sent it in, and had some interviews that were stressful beforehand but pleasant during. My technical interview was with a Python programmer, and I brought a custom Lua program to do some hacking on - I thought for sure I was out of the running after that! But I heard back a week or so later that I had been accepted. That was a great moment, a great feeling. It made me feel intensely validated to get accepted after my year of nontraditional study.
Unfortunately, the next available batch (Spring 1 2017) conflicted with some long-held travel plans, so I had to wait and be patient for Spring 2 2017 to start at the end of March. That was plenty of time to let my impostor syndrome come roaring back with a sidecar full of social anxiety. I started having some struggles with impostor syndrome about my acceptance into RC, which have since grown into a whole constellation of worries as the start date has crept up on me.
Though I have completed some projects that I am very proud of recently, I feel that my accomplishments look shabby compared to the CVs of my new batchmates. I have a lot of anxiety about being the weakest of the bunch and not having an area of study to provide advice or expertise on to anyone at RC. Also just the general first-day-at-school nervousness when meeting 60ish people at once - will I have someone to sit with at lunch? What if no one likes me? What if I get picked last for pair programming?
I also worry about my productivity and work style. By my own standards, I have been a fairly slow worker over the last year, with a low rate of finishing projects. Coming up with project ideas for my time at RC is also stressing me out - I want to do impressive things that I am proud of, but I’m wary of overscoping. I’ve gotten used to working completely alone in a very quiet and private space, with limited social contact about my code. I am concerned about adjusting to the open office environment at RC, and worry that my already-slow pace will be even slower as I learn to work with more background noise and distraction.
It feels a little harrowing right now, but I think that some of my anxieties will dissipate as I actually meet everyone and start working. Many RC alums describe concern over productivity peaks and lows during their batch, so I imagine that my concerns there are valid. As a strategy for keeping an even keel and managing my stress during the batch, I am committing to:
- Try not to compare myself harshly with others, and not to beat myself up too much if I don’t produce a new open source tool or library every few days.
- When I am not making steady progress on a project, continue to study with online courses and books, and supplement those learning sources with pair programming on other people’s projects, attending study groups, etc.
- Try to be consistent about participating in social things. Be brave and resist hermit tendencies as much as possible.
- Persistently build some robust coping skills on working in an open office.
- Remain focused on my goal of getting a job after RC, and work towards that with interview prep and continuing education about industry-standard tools.
I know I can rely on my upbeat, always-curious, ambivert personality to pull me through some of the stress of meeting new people and finding interested folks to talk about projects with. My excitement about joining the RC community is immense. It’s hard to put into words. I feel a little silly writing so much about my pre-batch worries, but if anything it goes to show that my worries are finite enough to be written down. I hope I come back to this post in the middle or end of my batch and reminisce about this bubbly champagne feeling of excitement and nerves I have before the batch starts.
In an effort to allay some of my fretting, I’ve laid some groundwork in the shape of projects to keep me occupied. Having some fall-back projects that are not entirely new to me but still offer some challenge will hopefully help me stay productive even if distracted or uninspired. I’ve got a bare skeleton of an Elm-Django app to keep fleshing out, and I have a juicy refactoring project to get to in MoonSugar.
Maybe, in the end, it’s just “new team anxiety”:
That new team anxiety: what if they hate me? What if they use Vi? And TABS??— Ruhsuhl (@russelldb) February 20, 2017