Things I would change at Hack Reactor

In celebration of the 3-month reunion tomorrow, I’m gonna jot down a list of ideas for the “dream program” forked from the experience at Hack Reactor, even thought HR has officially reached perfection in July 2015 and no more sprint reflections are necessary.

Senseless Image: Argle Bargle™

Admission

  • Are you ready for this? A non-mediated process (meaning no more HiRs doing tech interviews) for the technical portion of the admission.
  • A profile site, similar to Hired or AngelList (or why not just use AngelList) where pre-applicants can introduce themselves.
  • A many-to-many matching pool (i.e. Tinder) where candidates arrange pairing sessions with each other. Each pair would then work through randomized tasks similar to those first-week prompts. Code input is recorded, with time-traveling, the same for audio or even video.
  • The tasks should generate some metrics that can assess basic technical readiness. HiRs can also review fast replays of the pairing sessions.
  • A multi-stepped pre-pre-course (Marcus’ lectures on Udacity being the pre-course) similar to HackerRank where candidates work through a number of challenges, or Codecademy where they work through mini-projects. These tasks also feed metrics into the pipeline.
  • A trained screener (let’s imagine Pamela, but more dispassionate, maybe 2 passes by separate screeners) for personality: “Always pass on ego”.

After Hour Talks

  • More after-hour talks on technical topics and walkthroughs.
  • “Learn while You Chew” can be good, but the quality of delivery so far has been rather dispersed. Maybe presenters need more help?
  • Examples of valuable talks: Dan’s “How’s the Weather”, Josh Wyatt’s Bash scripts and shortcuts, Cody’s talk on deployment.
  • Examples of meh talks: “look at how many stars I got on GitHub”, “A laundry list of holy wars and considered-harmfuls”.

Content Delivery

  • Towards the later sprints, the lectures became quite brief and cursory slide-carousels. This drift into cursoriness seems inevitable — by that point we are supposed to have “learned how to learn”, right? I’m not sure what transformative change happened for those who made this claim, but I probably just googled StackOverflow the way I always did. So, are you ready for this? Why not just have videos instead?
  • In fact, professionally shot and edited videos like Udacity or Lynda.com.
  • For a side note, an open, free or low-cost portion of these videos can even extend into the pre-admission funnel.
  • An editorial team of trend researchers, curating and collecting videos of conference talks and that are pretty much all over YouTube.
  • Sprints with tracks of different levels, combined with assortative pairing similar to the Data Structure sprints.
  • An internal Wiki/Quora system (e.g. Confluence).

Curriculum

  • A full week of advanced Git: the full conceptual picture, job-ready techniques, and how Git works internally.
  • A week writing tests, setting up build automation, and CI.
  • Double down on JavaScript basics, which turned out to be the most useful in job search interviews. There’s already good resources: the Udacity videos narrated by Marcus himself, and those slides. Just add some town hall sessions with well considered Q&A, even student-to-student sessions.
  • “Extreme Architecture” is a good move.

Extra-curriculum

  • Get people to start listening to JavaScript Jabber earlier.
  • Organize industry gossip sessions about tech trends.
  • Replace toy problem lectures with a product like Interview Cake.
  • Spread out “req analysis” and cover letter seminar. Start earlier, but a small chunk of exercise each time.
  • Daily “lead sourcing” exercises — collecting companies to apply for.
  • The general theme here is “regular and steady”.

Facilities

  • Contain HVAC and other noise to non-hazardous levels.
  • Quiet booths where people can watch the above-mentioned videos?
  • A round-shaped seminar theatre, basically like a anatomical theatre, minus the cadaver, plus big projection screens. This way participants of a discussion feel like they are directly addressing each other.
  • In general we should encourage more interaction, such as student-led town halls and discussions, “ask us anything” technical panels, etc.
  • Onsite washer and dryer. EDIT: Steven asked for the rationale.
  • Are you ready for this? Move out of San Francisco — maybe to Oakland?
  • Broker rentals after moving to a more sensible area.

Interview Day

  • Recorded playback reviews with commentator analysis, pause and rewind, and whatnot, like how sports teams study past games with a coach (just imagining, I don’t even follow sports).
  • Try have more than one.
  • Try have one earlier in the course.

Projects

  • Replace Greenfield, Legacy, Thesis projects with set-theme projects, each lasting 4 or 6 days. Marcus mentioned a proposal to make the experience “more predictable” by having set-theme projects. If that’s the path to go down, it would be great to have a catalog of past projects (maybe less than a dozen types) at least for reference — it would be ideal to have some data from each passing cohort on the projects they have done, how bumpy the process was, what stack they used, pros and cons, learning and utility gains, how useful it was for the job search, what they would do differently, etc. — people make better choices with hindsight.
  • The other path is to start the projects like “Startup Weekend”: people volunteer or get drafted to pitch ideas, then teams form around these ideas — this process can simulate the industry, where you “recruit” people to work on a project, people can also apply to work on a project. Simulate the evangelizing and interviewing and whatnot.
  • a simulated interview process - recruit people to work on the project - people can apply to work on a project - interview process

Projects 2.0

  • Get everyone trained up in “issue hunting” to participate in an open source project and make some impact.
  • A sprint or two for a group project working on an open source issue.
  • Two guided sprints (spaced apart) to polish personal MVP.
  • Two mandatory (real) Startup Weekends

Social Networks

  • Have a Slack/HipChat channel or room for each cohort — insert one student or two from each new cohort into the chatroom of an old cohort to serve as a scout or liaison.
  • HRX: topic-themed gatherings based on interests or hobbies: urban planning, futurology, VR, outdoors, knitting…
  • Have Saturdays as a half day.
  • Organize Sunday outings to the Zoo, Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, museums, even wine tours or Muir Woods.