Hacker School: New York’s Coding Answer to Bauhaus


Article by Jane Stringham | 697 words

While the phrases “artists’ retreat” or “writers’ workshop” may conjure up images of unkempt, eccentric types tucked away in some remote locale, the reality of “Hacker School,” whose founders directly compare the program to such gatherings, paints a slightly different picture. Located in New York City, the school admits a small group of programmers and coders from across the country to participate in immersive, full-time school sessions for three months. In a nod to coding terminology, the sessions are referred to as “batches.”

Hacker School

Credit: HackerSchool.com

An Artistic Take on Hacking

Here, students trade acrylics and fountain pens for coding languages like Java and Django. While the creative tools may differ, the pedagogy and structure of Hacker School remains reminiscent of those traditional artists’ retreats. For one thing, upon admittance, the program is completely free to participants. Hacker team member Sonali Sridhar wants the service to echo Bauhaus, a famous German art school, for her fellow “schoolers,” as they call their students. One need only refer to the school’s Hacker “manual” to get a feel for its founders’ liberal and progressive vision.

The first principle of hacker school is that it is self-directed and project-based. Those with a need for rules, structure and boundaries, those who thrive on grades, degrees or traditional class formats, are sure to learn much about self-discipline in the largely freeform world that is Hacker School. The program is not a black hole, however, and consistently includes optional activities for participants. Many of them are driven by schoolers themselves, such as the “Iron Blogger” workshop designed by a student intent on adhering to a strict blogging schedule.

The curriculum also includes regular visits from the likes of Leigh Honeywell, a well-known hacker and geek feminist, and Marc Hedlund, a former SVP of Development and Engineering at Etsy. Schoolers also have access to “facilitators,” who function as alternatives to traditional teachers, and “residents,” who are particularly successful coders. Residents visit the batches for one- to two-week periods, during which they give talks, run small workshops and collaborate with students. As such, no standardized Hacker School experience exists. Each batch will be unique based on the interests and personalities of the schoolers themselves.

Meet the Hackers

Thus far, the school has admitted diverse groups of around four hundred programmers total, ranging from ages seventeen to fifty. The participants’ prior coding experience has ranged from eight weeks to thirty years. The Hacker team understands that worldviews and core values may begin to clash in this immersive and diverse environment. For this reason, the school lauds a small group of social rules that help participants to “avoid being a jerk,” as stated on its website.

Hacker School

Credit: HackerSchool.com

Although both classically trained ballerinas and disgruntled IBM employees have taken up residence under the same Hacker roof, the site does observe some trends in its participants. Schoolers often include professionals in search of a career change, natural scientists, college students and parents who had left programming to raise families. These trends are not gender exclusive, however. In fact, Dropbox, Etsy, Jane Street, Tapad and Tumblr have each supported grants in the amount of $7,000 dollars for female programmers to attend Hacker School.

Executing the Program

For interested programmers, Hacker School is currently accepting applications on a rolling basis. Batch applications open about five months prior to their start dates. And, unlike a traditional graduate school application, programmers and coders need not have a specific project in mind before submitting their applications. The process involves an initial written component, followed by two sets of interviews. And no, the application fees are not astronomical.

Then how, you may ask, does Hacker School fund its operations? From its inception, programming and coding companies have taken note of the school, and they pay the Hacker team to recruit. These companies range from small startups to well-known and well-established entities like Tumblr, Twitter and Venmo. That said, the admissions team does not take into account an applicants’ potential employability when making admissions decisions. Hacker School does offer participants job search support in the form of an extensive alumni network, interview prep and advice on salary negotiations. It hopes to continue to grow as a resource for the coding community.

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