From the Recurse Center to Dropbox

09 Jan 2017

Last September I moved on from the Recurse Center, f.k.a. Hacker School. Three and a half wonderful years there shaped me as a programmer, an educator, a contributing community member and above all as a learner.

There’s so much to say about the Recurse Center that I have trouble saying anything at all.

Mary Rose Cook wrote about leaving a few months later. Like Mary, I believe I did the best work of my life at the Recurse Center.

Allison Kaptur wrote about leaving the previous year and gave a keynote about learning strategies for programmers which draws on her experience at the Recurse Center.

Right after I left I hung out in Montana at a lake that anyone I’ve helped write a BitTorrent client will recognize.

Lake at sunset

While I was there I went for runs, played through Chrono Trigger, and started writing some Haskell.

Before fall 2015 I had worked or been in school without more than a couple weeks off at a time for eleven years: summer jobs through college, an internship after graduating, writing software at a neuroimaging lab, attending RC and then 2 days later showing up to help review applications for the next batch. I enjoyed it tremendously and was incredibly fortunate to always have work lined up. Now I’m also incredibly fortunate to have been able to take so much time off.

After my Montana trip I moved to Boston. I hung out at coffee shops and grassy areas and unlocked rooms at MIT. Which brings us up to 2016.


I explored Western Europe for a couple months with my sister Lauren, including a week-long hike along Hadrian’s Wall.

I also made it to the Dominican Republic for PyCarribean, Vancouver for ConFoo, Portland for PyCon, Eugene to watch the Olympic Trials with old family track friends, and San Diego.

In September I moved to New York, and in the last couple months I’ve spent a lot of time in the Bay Area for interviews.


I used mostly front-end languages, a change for me; and implemented toy programming languages, less of a change.

I prototyped several projects, and wrapped one of them up enough to call it done: Dal Segno is an interactive programming enviroment similar to Mary’s Code Lauren but with some different design goals.

As I experimented with creating a programming game, I published a few prototypes: early gameplay, with programming interface, better graphics.

I wrote a series of blog posts leading up to finally writing about rlundo, a sweet hack you should check out. The posts were about CLIs vs TUIs, fancy CLI features, and undo in interactive interpreters. The last one is pretty long and, I think, pretty fun. It includes some Buster Keaton-style expressions from me on video.

I played with Elm for a bit, making an audio editor and a game with some interesting background music. I found working with Elm really helpful for grokking react + redux. I also found it helpful for getting more comfortable with the basics of Haskell.

I got excited about remixing podcasts and created a file format and two UI prototypes but didn’t do much else with the idea.

I continued to help maintain bpython.


I gave a talk about closures at PyCon this year, and it was the first talk I’ve given that I think comes close to living up to the talks Ned Batchelder gives.

At ConFoo and at MongoDB in NYC I gave talks about undo.

At Hack&&Tell I gave some in-progress interactive programming environment talks I really enjoyed.

I presented an introduction to network programming in Python for members of the Boston Python Users Group.


I ate this sandwich in London. It had applesauce on it and was really good.

I became a certified Software Carpentry instructor this year. Interactively teaching many dozens of students continues to be something I’m interested in but find much more difficult that the one on one interactions I have much more practice with.

LIGO found gravitational waves this year! I didn’t do anything to help with this this year, but I did a long time ago.

This fall I started interviewing with companies. It was interesting to finally see firsthand what interviews were like. I spent a lot of time at the Recurse Center helping RCers prepare for interviews if interviewing was something that there were nervous about. Sometimes I debriefed them after interviews to assess the value of this preparation, but actually being interviewed was much better.

Over three trips out west (many thanks to very patient and hospitable friends for housing me!), the most fun interview by far was working with Amjad and Haya of I spent three days with them helping implement a Python debugger for their online REPL/IDE product. At every company at which I interviewed, I was impressed with my interviewers and the teams I was applying to join.

This Year

Today I start work at Dropbox.

Dropbox has been on my radar as a neat place to work since I first attended PyCon in 2011. I considered applying at the end of my Recurse Center batch in 2012, but stayed on to have a life-changing experience working there. My interest increased when, through Dropbox’s acquisition of Zulip in 2014, several people I thought the world of joined Dropbox.

I have a terrific amount to learn in order to become competent and productive at Dropbox, so doing that learning is a priority for me right now.

I’d like to learn some web design this year, styling a webpage is like pulling teeth. Oh, and I’ll have a dental plan, so finally going to make some dentist appointments.

I’m excited to be back on the West Coast.

I have a lot to learn about living in the Bay Area. Apparently stores close at 9 or 10pm. Jaywalking is like having a superpower here, no one else seems to do it.

Here are some more Europe trip pictures.