In middle school, I learned that one of the creators and frequent posters in an online technology forum I frequented also lived nearby. I invited him, an adult professional, to give a presentation for my 8th grade careers class and was thrilled to meet him in person after years of reading his posts, to make that connection feel real in a way it hadn't before. He even gave me a book he'd helped write, about computer code and game design and other things. I still keep that book on my shelf to remind me of that time and the effect an in-person experience can have.
For years, beginning soon after I entered college and decided I wanted to make technology my profession, I went to one tech conference or hacker festival after another. I enjoyed all kinds, from small one-day events run by anarchists to weeks-long road shows run by big enterprises. There I felt camaraderie, growth, inspiration, the things that you want when you set time aside for a retreat. But they were always fleeting: in a moment the conference is over and you have no support in continuing the conversations and maintaining the connections of the past days. Maybe you do what you can with the pile of business cards you accumulated. Maybe you join the traveling carnival of speakers, workshop runners, booth attendants—and I did for a couple years—in order to keep the feeling of connection going.
But it never necessarily coalesces into anything. You can chase the sunshine for years but find yourself at the end no closer to bottling it. I long had a feeling that organizers could do more to sustain the groups that came together to make their lovely conferences happen, to carry the feeling forward and create a community that cares for and sustains people through the year. But I'd also think, almost scolding myself bitterly: of course that would be a tremendous commitment of time and money. It's so much to expect from anybody. Putting on this kind of event is already a monumental effort, who am I to ask for even more?
Eventually I found an organization that offers more: the Recurse Center, a retreat for curious programmers in Brooklyn, New York. A lot of what I enjoyed there was familiar: tech talks, workshops, laptops, conference rooms, hallway encounters, coffee chats. But this group of people – especially the organizers – doubled and tripled down, went on a limb to make the investment, and coalesced the goodwill from teaching and learning and joyfully hacking into something that's demonstrated stability and community for over a decade through boom times and bust.
It's been a little over three years since my time at the Recurse Center. I'm still in regular touch with dozens of people I met there, actively participate in group chats, receive thoughtful personalized career advice, learning opportunities through pair-programming, and answers to technical questions. That's no accident: the retreat is designed to carry energy forward from one group to the next and provide indefinite support afterwards. What a delight.