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Peter Norvig and eight others are Hacker School residents (hackerschool.com)
138 points by akaptur on April 30, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 81 comments

Very cool. Nice job, Hacker School. I'd love to try it myself someday. Being surrounded by all that positive energy has got to be a great experience.

With that in mind, please remember:

QualityTimeWithResident + HardWorkBuilding = HigherProbabiltyOfSuccess

QualityTimeWithResident + not(HardWorkBuilding) = LowerProbabilityOfSuccess

not(QualityTimeWithResident) + HardWorkBuilding = HigherProbabiltyOfSuccess

not(QualityTimeWithResident) + not(HardWorkBuilding) = LowerProbabiltyOfSuccess

So while very nice, QualityTimeWithResident is neither necessary nor sufficient, but HardWorkBuilding is definitely necessary.

Best wishes to those who get this opportunity. And best wishes to those who don't.

Hi, I'm one of the founders of Hacker School. I'm happy to answer questions that anyone might have.

I'm unclear on what experience level you're looking for in applicants. I'm a fairly good programmer (phd in cs) but I'm shit compared to Norvig. I'm in NYC with time to kill this summer. Should I apply to be in hacker school? Or would I be a "Resident" instead?

We're looking for people of all experience levels. Our goal is to make Hacker School the best place to improve as a programmer no matter what level you're at.

We've had a number of Ph.D.s and postdocs in various subjects including CS go through Hacker School. We would be happy to have any of our residents as Hacker Schoolers if they wanted to.

So in short: you should apply to Hacker School :)

This is awesome. I applied a few weeks ago...really looking forward to hear back from you guys. Any chance when that might be?

We're working through applications as quickly as we can, generally in the order that we got them. You're guaranteed an admissions decision by May 17th, so you should hear back about your application well before then.

Sounds good. Thanks.

Any thoughts on the risk of a change in "demographics"? It seems like one of the coolest things about Hacker School is the diversity of people. If the motivation for applying changes and/or it gets a lot harder to get in, there could be a big change in at least the applicant pool. Not necessarily for the worse, but still a change.

I don't know enough to say if this will change the demographics of Hacker School. We'll presumably get a higher percent of applicants who know who Peter Norvig is than we've gotten before, but I don't think that's going to be the dominant factor.

The best tool we have to affect the demographics of Hacker School is outreach to specific groups, which we do a fair amount of via mailing lists, events, meetups, etc. I have a hunch that any demographic shifts from news like this will be more than offset by any active outreach work that we do.

Any plans to put the talks/seminars the residents will give online?

I would love to vicariously live through the experience.

Not at the moment. Most of the interesting stuff that happens at Hacker School would probably not translate well to video.

Why in NYC and not Seattle/SF?

The short answer is because we were living in New York when we started Hacker School.

As to why we were living in New York, I can only answer for myself, but here you go: I grew up here (city and suburbs), most of my family still lives in the area, my friends live here, and I love the energy of the city. It feels like home.

Presumably because he's based there.

If he wanted help/sponsorship running SF or Seattle, I'm sure he could find it, though.

I actually think Hawaii or Thailand would work -- you could get a few cheap house rentals on the big island, with minimal distractions, and do it there.

Cost of ticket would offset cheap housing probably. Any small midwest town would work and be much easier to reach.

Yeah, but the real cost, IMO, is the cost of the "residents". I think one could convince 1-10 great people to take a working vacation in Hawaii for a while for $x. I'd expect 10x for St. Louis. (NYC, Seattle, or SF would have local people, so it would be a different thing...more part-time, but they could continue going to day job)

SF to Hawaii flights are $300 r/t. If it were in a place like Boulder or Utah, you might be able to get local companies/VCs to sponsor it, though.

An issue with small midwestern towns is that there is not usually temporary housing available, unless it's a college town.

You can also take a free course online (https://www.udacity.com/course/cs212) by Peter Norvig with Udacity (https://www.udacity.com/) in case you can't make it to hacker school.

Good job. But Hacker School shouldn't be the model for future disruptions in education. If anything this can be an exclusive coders retreat (well, unless we get to cloning Peter Norvig and other great computer scientists), and is sort of a goal to achieve.

Each Hacker School attendee needs to be the best they can be and motivated to learn more and teach others. The fact that there are no teachers and each attendee is a teacher is a wonderful model, and as such they have to be exclusive. Not everyone who could code up a FizzBuzz deserves an admit.

This is not where you go to learn common stuff, this is where you go when you're already good at coding & looking to expand further and can contribute positively to the class.

Disclaimer: I applied for the second or the third batch and got rejected promptly. Only then did I realize that I never deserved an admit.

I've been describing it as a "writer's workshop for coders".

i am a novice programmer (learn python the hard way, codecademy, coursera, etc), but i'd do anything for a chance like this.

does anyone have any advice on what specific skills/areas to work on to maybe have chance at admittance into this program next time around? i don't think i have anything worth submitting for the may 2 deadline.

Hacker School founder here. Some thoughts on how to get started:

Choose a single language, and focus just on that. Python (which it looks like you've already started with), is a good choice. Spend some time with books, online classes, etc, but spend ~80% of your time actually programming and not just reading. Start with small projects that take you an afternoon and gradually increase in size as you successfully complete them (some ideas: a game of hangman, a game of tic-tac-toe, a game of tic-tac-toe with artificial intelligence). Find someone you know who's a better programmer than you are, and ask him or her to review your code -- going over the code together is best. Do this repeatedly, if possible. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what all of your code is doing. Learn to debug systematically (i.e., when something doesn't work, don't just change your code randomly -- read the error message or look at the output, think about what might be wrong, form a hypothesis, and then change your code accordingly).

Most importantly: Don't give up, and have fun!

I hope this helps and I hope to see you apply sometime down the line!

EDIT: To more directly answer your question, we look for smart, friendly, intellectually curious people who enjoy programming and want to get dramatically better. We care much more about people demonstrating that they can get a good understanding of one language than a shallow understanding of lots of languages.

One thing to add to this: It very well might be worth applying to this batch. Even if you don't get in, We'll get to see how much you grew as a programmer on your own between batches. If we have this information during admissions, we put a lot of weight on it.

Former Hacker Schooler and also a novice programmer at the time of applying.

Nicholas' edit is true in my experience: HS cares more about your desire to become a better programmer, which is not a function of how good you are now.

wow, didn't expect to get a response from the founder! thanks a lot for your suggestions.

sounds like i should definitely stay focused on python for now and develop some projects with that language, as opposed to reading lots of books on lots of different languages.

i've saved your post and i plan on following your advice and applying. thanks again! experienced guidance is rare and valuable as self-teacher.

Happy to help, and good luck! :)

Norvig is a great scientist and teacher, but you don't need this. In Residence concept is a throwback to the bad old days of exclusionary education. We have the Internet and great books (Norvig wrote one) and MOOCs the future is egalitarian.

Couldn't disagree more. The experience of receiving personal attention and guidance from a brilliant and skilled mentor is simply not replicated through a book or MOOC.

Not to say books and MOOCs can't be excellent learning tools, but you're creating an either-or fallacy.

In Residence concept is a throwback to the bad old days of exclusionary education.

considering Hacker School is free, I find this claim pretty indefensible.

It may be free, but it isn't open to all. They have an admissions gate, aka "picking winners".

Watching a veteran debug their way through a problem in person is equal parts fascinating and humbling. When you're one person, you're limited by the scope of what you can learn/accomplish on your own time, but when you're one of many, you can pool that time and expertise to really accomplish some amazing things. It's true that the internet is a force for equality but more often than not, apprenticeship and hacking together is faster and more fun :)

Strong disagree here.

nothing beats learning hands on from a pro.

I don't get why you're so down on it. Yes, MOOCs have more chance to change the lives of a larger number of people because they scale better, but MOOCs, books, "just do it and see what breaks", formal education, and bootcamps like this all make sense.

You could arrange something like hacker school in your home town too, if you wanted to recreate this.

Nothing against Jessica because her personal page says it differently, but this bio snippet on HS seems odd:

> "...runs the Boston Python Meetup,"

From http://meetup.bostonpython.com/

> "Organizers: Ned Batchelder, Deb Nicholson, Giles Hall, Jason Michalski, Jessica McKellar"

I don't know enough about the other organizers, but I know Ned does a tremendous amount of work for the meetup group.

That's my fault; I wrote Jessica's bio and will make it clear she's one of the organizers and not the organizer.

Thanks for the correction!

EDIT: Just updated the site.

I think you only need to hear her talk to know you want her around when learning:


[Disclaimer: HS alumn, from a batch before she joined.]

I wasn't saying anything against her. I don't know anything about her.

Man, I'd give an arm and leg just to be there! But I have no time, nor money for it...

Martha tried really hard and I think got in: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/becoming-a-better-programm...

This is amazing! So happy to be a part of the upcoming hacker school batch :)

Haha! Me too. See you in June :D

Woah Carl, you're doing Hacker School?? Awesome!! I was in the batch last summer!

I applied and I got a rejection email after the first interview. I was really disappointed to hear. This just feels like rubbing salt on my wound :(.

Is there anything I can do to make it to Hacker School this summer?

Unfortunately admissions decisions are final for this batch. I'm sorry this felt like rubbing salt in the wound :(. On the bright side, as long as you continue to improve as a programmer, you can apply for the next batch, hopefully with different results.

We have plans to better communicate what we're looking for in admissions and our thoughts on becoming a better programmer, which will hopefully be helpful when you apply again.

Thanks Dave! This is a wonderful program and thanks for Hacker School! I will definitely be applying to the next batch.

Yeah, I had the same thing happen to me. It was really disappointing not to get in. The email said not to take it personally and that they try to find the best fit but it's hard not to take it personally and wonder why they didn't find you fit enough for Hacker School. I'm sure they have good reasons though.

I'm sorry, that must be an incredibly frustrating experience. We get back to people when we can with specific feedback, but we definitely don't get back to everyone who requests it. As Dave mentioned elsewhere in the thread, we're trying to do better at laying out what we look for, though I imagine that's little consolation.

Admissions are undoubtedly one the hardest, least enjoyable, and most psychologically exhausting parts of running Hacker School. We do our best to get it right, but we have to make decisions on a relatively small amount of information (a written application and/or one or two ~15 minute interviews), and we know we sometimes get it wrong. To make matters worse, the stakes are high (it's virtually impossible to fix a bad decision), and we have to do the process hundreds of times, so even if we're right 90% of the time, we're still wrong a lot.

This might inspire you (got it from HS's twitter) - http://netrabaha.tumblr.com/post/46341372342/try-try-again-a...

Thanks! I definitely plan on applying for the next batch. I wish I would get some feedback from Hacker School on what my interview lacked.

I guess the situation is a lot similar to YC's rejections (see http://ycombinator.com/whynot.html).

I recently got into programming and wanted to apply for HS but living for 3 months in NYC isn't affordable for me. I'll be applying for next year's summer batch. Till then I'll arrange money and build up my knowledge.

HS facilitator here - If you email me (allison at hackerschool), we can give you feedback.

Another facilitator here - I'm two weeks behind in responding to emails asking for feedback after being rejected, but I'm getting to them soon, and appreciate that folks are asking.

I hope Peter Norvig will be around for more than one batch. I can't make the summer batch, but I'd rearrange a lot of stuff to be in the next batch he's there for.

Is there a program or summer institute like Hacker School but more graphics programming and interaction design oriented?

So jealous!!

Seems like it's in the category of things like going to Paris to learn advanced culinary skills...the kind of thing that you typically only have the resources to do if you're either extremely wealthy or have the Leo Batuta/young-Steve-Jobs detachment to eschew comforts in search of a higher goal. Perhaps that's who they're looking for?

Erm, it's not really that exclusionary. It's just small because it has like eight people on staff and is still in its early stages.

I mean, I'm in Hacker School this batch (which is sadly ending this week) and I live in a hostel in Bed-Stuy for $650/mo. You don't have to be rich. Certainly way cheaper than college tuition for me.

Hacker School is free.

...but room and board in NYC isn't...

I'm in the summer batch. I put in my notice yesterday at work and saved for many months to have enough money to live in NYC and not starve.

Attending hackerschool is not solely a matter of circumstance but intention. If you want something enough you'll do what you need to do in order to get it.

Seconding this. It's because I've been saving up for the past few years that I have the money to attend the summer batch. I didn't know that I was saving up for hacker school, but I'm glad I was saving :)

I'm finishing up the current winter batch, having started in a position similar to yours. I think you'll find that it's time and money well spent. I've been invited back for this summer's batch and will likely be back. If I am, see you in a month or so :-)

Awesome! I hear from Nick that there's a mailing list starting soon so that we can coordinate housing and stuff before we arrive.

So? The Universe does not provide us free food and housing simply by virtue of existing. It's going to cost money to live anywhere. I don't see how this is Hacker School's problem though. Part of the experience is having a physical space to work in together. Right now, that space happens to be in NYC.

The service Hacker School provides is free.

This fact is not lost upon them. It's why they offer financial aid and scholarships.

They do provide financial aid but it is only for females. :(

That's Etsy. They are by no means prohibiting financial aid for men.

Right, it is artificial social barriers set up to exclude the many for the benefit of the few, like the "Ivy League" imprimatur or being in a "good family".

Oh come on. It's obviously a scaling problem, not something "set up" to be evil.

It's not an arbitrary social barrier, it's an inevitable economic one.

At least in the Ivy's you can in principle get a scholarship, part time work to sustain you, or gasp take out a lifetime loan, this requires a bit more thought...maybe there's kickstarter funding...hey maybe Peter N. can subsidize a deserving Hacker?

Hacker School is 4 days a week (at least this batch and last batch). You can definitely work part time during HS. I worked during the last batch of hacker school, and as a commenter above says, it's possible to live (he's doing it!) in NYC paying $650/mo in rent.

That doesn't look like an arbitrary social barrier designed to exclude the many to me. MOOCs are still there, and still awesome.

It does seem like there are probably lots of formal and informal ways of getting someone there if they've got the potential and desire. That's really good to know!

HackerSchool does give out scholarships already to some.

Also someone did run a kickstarter to get funding for their expenses in NY, and it met the funding goal almost overnight.

Hacker School is a one of a kind experience. If you attend you will be among a group of people that will have 100% participation, no one there is unsure about what they want. You also will work with some of the smartest people in the industry through the Resident program.

The Ivies give out financial aid packages far more generous than most other schools. There are all sorts of ways in which they are exclusive, but affordability (for American students, at least) is not one of them.

EDIT: I forgot, I'm not allowed to express an opinion on HN.

It is not at all the case that 5k doesn't do much. If you live somewhere relatively inexpensive in Brooklyn (or even Queens) & live reasonably you can cover most of your expenses for 3 months with 5k. If you are good at being frugal you could easily cover all your living expenses with 5k.

I've never lived in NYC so it's very possible I'm overestimating the COL based on being in Manhattan now and then.

For what it's worth, I (Hacker School founder) live off of about that much, though admittedly I live quite frugally.

($5k isn't enough to support a family, but it has been enough to make a difference for past alumni with families.)

The point (Etsy's point) was to balance the male-female that was lacking in the early hacker school batches (which, AFAIK, was lacking).

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