For the past 6 weeks, I have been attending the Recurse Center (RC). The Recurse Center is:
an educational retreat for programmers who want to become dramatically better with a community of peers doing the same.
The journey has been fascinating. Hence, I want to share my experience and challenges in RC so far and plan for my remaining 6 weeks in RC.
This post will be structured as follow:
During my time here, my main goal is to write multiple database system from scratch, with a focus on the storage engine. Here’s a rough plan I initially had:
- 1st month: Write a storage engine in Rust, which include on disk B+ tree buffer pool management, concurrency control and recovery mechanism.
- 2nd month: Write a LSM tree key value (KV) store in Rust, which include using a custom binary format with checksum and compaction.
- 3rd month: Write a Raft implementation in Rust, then integrate it into the KV store to make it a distributed KV store.
I started writing the database 1 month before my RC batch started as I know that due to the complexity and the scope, 4 weeks might not be enough.
I was wrong. 6 week in and I haven’t done with making my B+ tree supporting concurrent operations. Anyway, I consider that as a good progress as I underestimated the complexity.
Apart from getting better at programming, another goal is to social and network. Attending RC is not only about becoming better alone, it’s about doing so with the community. One of the guiding principles in RC is to learn generously:
Learning generously takes many forms. It means sharing your curiosities, interests, and struggles with others; being open to collaboration; and listening well and asking good questions when others share their work with you. If you’re very social and enjoy variety, it might mean hosting events or pairing on other people’s projects. If you’re focused on one project and work best alone, it might mean presenting your work and sharing updates as you go.
To me, I want to learn generously by: sharing my work, pairing, and hosting events, which require me to put myself out there and socialize with people. So, let’s talk a bit about the social experience I have so far!
I’m never good at nor comfortable with socializing. I know that this is something I have to work on.
It turns out that RC is an amazing place to do so. It has clear social rules. Everyone is kind and encouraging. It’s supportive environment make people more open to share their vulnerabilities.
But, how do social and network in RC looks like when it’s operating virtually? Zulip, virtual RC and events.
In RC, everyone is free to organize an events. An event is basically a Zoom session where people come together and discuss about a specific topic. Some of the events I have participated so far are:
- Daily checkin
- Formal Method Consumption Group
- Wacky Idea Production Group
What I found fascinating about joining these events is the serendipity. You just discovered amazing ideas and came across knowledge that you’ll never thought of. I always learnt something new and interesting in every single event I participated.
Apart from events, Zulip and virtual RC are used as the day to day
communication channel. One of the main interaction points with the others is
#checkin stream, where people write and share their daily
checkin. It’s always interesting to read about people thought process and their
challenges there. Sometime, people share links. Thanks to that I discovered
quite a lot of awesome resources.
Virtual RC, is like gather.town. You can have your own desk, adopt pets, hanging out at the coaches and have coffee chat with the others. I didn’t participate as much in the virtual RC, but if you would like to know more of what is like, feel free to read: What is Virtual RC like?
Overall, the social experience in RC has been great and more manageable than I thought of.
There’s no rainbow without rain. While my journey in RC has been great so far, it’s not without it’s own challenges. Here’s some of the main challenges I have:
12 hours timezone difference
Since I’m living in a GMT+8 timezone, there’s a 12 hours different with Pacific timezone. This mean that the suggested time commitment of 11 am to 5 pm is equivalent to 11 pm to 5 am, which is when I sleep. Not good.
During the first week, my strategy is to scheduled my time from 11 pm to 2 am for RC and wake up on the next day at 7 am, have some breakfast and take a bath before continuing my RC hour from 9 am to 12 pm. This work well on the first week as there’s a couple of events such as Meet and Greet and Pair Programming workshop around 11 pm to 2 am.
However, from the second week onward, a lots of events that I’m interested in happen around 3 am to 6 am. So I tried a hybrid approach for my sleep cycle. I would go to bed at 2 am on someday or go to bed at 10 pm so I could wake up at 4 am to participate an event. This doesn’t went really well. Did it for the first 2-3 days and I have to catch up with my sleep on the rest of the week. Not recommend anyone to have a mixed up sleep cycle at all.
From my third week onwards, I decided to go to bed at 11 pm and wake up at 4 am. Why 4 am? That’s the weekly presentation event time, and some of the event I’m interested in start after 4 am. This has served me well so far. Here’s how my updated schedule looks like:
|10:00 pm to 04:00 am||Sleep|
|04:00 am to 07:00 am||RC|
|07:00 am to 09:00 am||Breakfast and etc|
|09:00 am to 12:00 pm||RC|
|12:00 pm to 01:00 pm||Lunch|
|01:00 pm to 02:00 pm||Nap|
|02:00 pm to 06:00 pm||RC/Personal|
|06:00 pm to 08:00 pm||Dinner and etc|
|08:00 pm to 10:00 pm||RC/Personal|
You might think:
Wow you are really discipline!
Not quite, for the past 3 weeks, there were numerous time I sleep at 11 pm and wake up at 5-6 am. My actual schedule is not exactly what I plan out to be, but it’s pretty close to that. Heck, there’s one time I miss the presentation because I overslept.
Switching your sleep schedule takes time. The last thing you need is to be harsh on yourself.
Another thing to keep in mind is to keep yourself off caffeine at least 8 hours before you sleep. There’s one day I had a tea on 5 pm and I kind of regretted it as I can’t feel asleep until 2 am.
Waking up at 4 am has it own challenge as well when you’re living at a small place with the others. You might end up affecting other people sleep as well. So to resolve that, I basically sleep alone in my living room instead of sleeping with my partner in our bedroom. But it get tricky when I have a bad stomach in the morning, and the only bathroom in the household is in the bedroom…
Hopefully for the next 6 weeks I can live up to my schedule!
- Most events I’m interested in happened around 3 to 6 am. So I decided to start my day at 4 am.
- Having a consistent sleep cycle is important.
- Take nap when you’re tired or not having a good sleep quality.
- Avoid caffeine hours before sleep.
- Don’t be too harsh on yourself. Switching sleep cycle take time.
As mentioned, socializing is something out of my comfort zone. Most of the time, I can be socially awkward.
First of all, socializing is a challenge for me partly due to the timezone differences, and the fact that most of the people are from United States and Canada. Undeniably, there will be some gaps, especially when people are discussing about local stuff, sometimes I can’t relate as much. But that’s not really an issue for me, as most of the time I’m just listening.
Luckily, RC do have a huge network of alumni and some of them is from Malaysia. One of the alumni even reach out to have a coffee chat. It is a great conversation I had in RC.
On top of that, the facilitators in RC are very helpful. Having conversation with them is reaffirming. Sometimes, they do reach out to help you. Those actions do give me an extra push to take my own initiative in socializing.
Apart from that, the batch mates are proactive in interacting with me especially in my written check in. So having other people to take the first step does make things easier for me.
Anyway, some of the actions I take to make things better in this regard are:
- Participate in the events I’m interested in.
- Share my thoughts more often. This mean, if there’s something in the check in I found interesting or presentation that’s cool, voice it out.
- Have presentation. This is how others can know more about what you’re working on.
- Look for opportunities to help the others. For example, pair with someone on things you’re familiar with.
Here are some other actions I haven’t tried out yet:
- Organize events. I’m thinking of organize a database related event but not sure if I can commit to it.
- Participate social events. Social events are events that’s not programming or education related.
- Have more coffee chat with the others.
- Work on something non database related.
When you are working at the edge of your abilities, sometimes your mental energy get drained real quick. Sometimes, you dwell on a problem for too long it become an inefficient way to spend your time.
When those things happen, I tend to procrastinate. Maybe it’s because I’m tired. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to feel dumb. Regardless of the reasons, there will be time I stop being productive and become idle.
In order to overcome those, I tried out a couple of things. These are some solutions that work quite well for me:
Limit the time of intense focus. I try not to spend more than 3 hours on a problem without a break in between. This prevent me from dwelling on a problem, which only have diminishing returns.
Have one small win each day. As we are working at the edge of abilities, there will be time, where we might not have any outcome or progress on a particular day.
Some of the small wins I aimed for every day is reading a small part of a paper or write a fragment. Instead of having myself to perform the best of everything I set out to, I allow myself to do the smallest possible part, and consider that a win.
As a result, while I still get stuck on programming, I’m not being affected for the rest of my day. I wrote and published a couple of fragments in 2 weeks time. In fact the first fragment I wrote is about this particular topic: Solutions I’m trying to have a productive day.
So if you faced similar challenges as me, do give it a try.
Lastly, please know that it’s totally okay to be idle sometime. Taking a break might be all you need to be productive again.
My first 6 weeks in RC has passed in a blink of an eye. While I didn’t progress well according to my plan in writing multiple database system, it’s not important anymore (writing database system is important, the fact that I progress slower is not). What’s more important is what’s next.
I will continue to implement and learn about database system, but I’ll spend less time on it. Perhaps, limit it to 3 hours per day.
Being inspired by Let’s Build a Simple Database and Crafting Intepreters, I’m writing a book about implementing database system in Rust. My goal in the next 6 week is to finish up chapters on B+ Tree operations and buffer pool management.
I finished writing a couple of chapters, and aimed to finish at least what “Let’s Build a Simple Database” included (until insert and split internal node) before I share it publicly.
Anyway, enough about database system.
One of the reason I’m reducing my time on database system is to explore other areas such as networking and distributed system. Here’s some of the outcome I’m aiming to achieve:
- Implement Raft consensus protocol in Rust.
- Build some stuff related to networking. I’m thinking of writing a minimal
As I mentioned, RC is about the community and learning generously. So apart from learning on my own, I plan to involve more socially. I’ll start with having another one or two presentations in RC and organizing some events. When I’m more comfortable about it, maybe I’ll try out the coffee chat in virtual RC.
Finally, RC ending in another 6 weeks mean that, I need to start applying for jobs. I’ll spend one day per week to write some cover letter and tweak my resume. Then, spend another day to accept rejection and be okay with it.
I’m glad that I was accepted into RC. Being in RC has truly broaden my experience and help me to become a better programmer. Let’s hope all the best for myself in the next 6 weeks in RC.
Last but not least:
My thoughts and reflection on my last 6 weeks in RC has been published. You can check it out here.