My batch of Hacker School, "Winter 2013", is three-fourths of the way over, with nine out of the twelve weeks past. Where do things stand with me?
I've gained a great deal of concrete knowledge about programming. But programming is a field of infinite domain. It is constantly growing, and so concrete knowledge, while it is a central goal in my coming here, doesn't represent a change of state within my mind. Growth of outlook is rather the key question. And what has evolved the most in my outlook is my relationship to this field, especially my shifting notion of how I fit into it, unbounded though its domain may be. As a result of entering Hacker School I have become more fully "socialized" as a programmer; as of about the sixth week of the batch I have started to feel as though I really am one.
My knowledge of tools and practices has matured since I got here, as has my ability to discuss programming lucidly and use terms that other programmers recognize as sound ones. I'm much more tolerant of jargon and conscious of the names of things — software, sites, coders, approaches — that exist and are known to other people. All these things are fixtures of the coding world and tokens of identity. My ability to find efficiencies that can be imposed on an existing piece of code has improved. I don't feel able to contribute to open-source projects yet --- though I have the sensation that that will come fairly soon, another important step forward.
So much for changes to the scope of my outlook. What about the scope of time in the learning process? I am not at a plateau yet. Plateaux are important in the process of learning --- I would go so far as to hazard that when we talk about "graduating", in relation to a course of study, we are really saying "attaining a new 'grade' or plateau." I am not ready to graduate yet in that sense. As it happens, one of the mottoes of Hacker School is "never graduate". I take the point that this has to do with the community's vision of itself as an unconventional place of learning. But I think the same outlook is common among people who remain in academia for long periods or for their working lives --- at least, among people who pursue some branch of learning in which one has to face the need for a division between study for its own sake and the application of that study.
In a different sense, I feel that Hacker School will never end for me. I don't know if I'll be admitted to a second batch or not --- I hope so, but the decision is out of my hands and doesn't bear thinking about too much. But I find I have been ushered into a frame of mind in which I see my identity as a programmer to be legitimate and my pursuit of programming skills and knowledge as basic to my well-being. The two prime gifts that Hacker School confers are to have other programmers nudge me constantly about my work, and to be in the presence of people who are as hungry as I am to learn to program well. No matter what the field, I am lucky to be around people like this at any time, and having these particular surroundings is not fungible --- taking part in person is essential and I can't imagine that a substitute could easily be brought into being. But I foresee that even after I leave the Hacker School environment, my frame of mind will continue to evolve in a way that has been set in motion by what has happened to me here.