The Recurse Center vs. Hacker School – A Name Change

When I initially heard about The Recurse Center, I had originally heard about it as Hacker School.  It was this cool intensive Programmer’s Retreat that had grants for women (which included trans women!!) & other minorities (ethnic & gender).  At the time, I had started to get pretty seriously into Python, and it seemed like the perfect next step in my coding progression.

In my younger days, I’d always been inspired by Hacker Culture.  In High School, back when I was trying to teach myself C++, I found the Hacker’s Manifesto (and here’s a pretty Graphic Version of it).  I connected with the Rebelliousness of it, the passive-aggressive disenfranchisement, the auto-didacticness, the intelligent underachiever, the acknowledgement that a lot of our government and education system is deeply flawed.  I connected with the Socially-Conscious & sometimes Activistic nature of Hacker Culture.  I connected with the part that just breaks things & figures them out, and figures out how to transcend them, or use them in all sorts of ways that go beyond their original intention.  And while I’ve matured in my views and attitudes on a lot of that, I still feel very inspired and connected to the word Hacker.

I had very mixed feelings when Hacker School changed its name to Recurse Center.  I sort of got it – Hacker has a Very Different in-crowd & out-crowd meaning.  To the In-Crowd it’s very much the things I described above; it means programmers, and sometimes specifically programmers with a focus on cracking or Security or Cyrptography, etc.  But to the Out-Crowd, it’s really specifically talking about Cracking (a word the mainstream doesn’t really know).  It’s talking about the stereotype of people who deface websites & break into accounts & take down government things or obtain & release very secret information, etc, etc.

I was attached to the name “Hacker School” though, so I very much stuck with it & alternated between the two.  But, every time I tried to explain it to anyone, I’d get jokes about not breaking into someone’s email or referencing the tropes that the media has created around Hackers.  It also turned out that Hacker School created a lot of trouble for International Students getting into the US.

Over time, I became a lot more comfortable with Recurse Center.  I don’t think it’s necessarily the Perfect Name (because it has No connotations to the Out-Crowd, or to people who don’t know/understand Recursion), but I’ve found I like it better.  It’s a lot more Elegant, a lot more Presentable – there’s a bit more of a sense of formal pride & achievement, of Grandeur.  It sounds like somewhere Research takes place.  It’s very much the more socially acceptable version of Hacker School.

I don’t really know if I would have been so drawn to apply to Hacker School if it had been called The Recurse Center when I found out about it.  I had very low self-confidence back then (especially in my coding), and the name just wouldn’t have had the Intrinsic pull that Hacker School had for me.

But then again, I like the new name now, and the younger people who are gonna discover RC in the coming years grew up in a very different world than I did.  They didn’t know the internet when it was a new & slowly developing thing (the same way I didn’t know Phracking & BBS culture when it was first a thing).  They didn’t see the transition from things like Netscape & Geocities & Angelfire & some really clunky looking websites.  They didn’t necessarily see the transition to Web 2.0 & The Cloud.  They didn’t come in to this via 90’s culture with the echoing remnants of Generation X. (I realize that’s a very American-Centric perspective, but still, it’s my experience).  The fact that newer cohorts have started in a more developed (and I think much richer) world is really inspiring.

So, I think the new name is a Good Step forward.  I’ve finally come around to it, and while I hope people don’t get lost in it (like I might have), I’m glad they made the change 🙂

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