A visit to Hacker School

In July, I was privileged to visit Hacker School as part of their Open Source week. Hacker School is an amazing place, where hackers from all walks of life work together to level up as programmers. It reminded me of all the good things about grad school. I really loved the atmosphere.

During Open Source Week, students’ goal is to submit their first patch to an existing Open Source project. A wide variety of projects were chosen by the students.

I gave a talk on getting started in Open Source, and then myself and two of my Mozilla colleagues helped some students get started on some Mozilla projects. At the end of the week, the organizers gathered together a list of what the students had contributed on our projects. I’d like to share those contributions with you. They include patches, pull requests, and filed bugs.

That’s a lot of contributions, right there.


Part of the reason the school is so successful, in my view, is the encouraging and non-judgemental atmosphere.  They have two rules about communication:

  1. No “Well-actually”.  This is that thing where we, as geeks, feel the need to correct one another to the nth degree.
  2. No feigned surprise.  That’s saying things like “I can’t believe you’ve never heard of Richard Stallman!”

The skill range of students varies from self-taught in the last six months, to several years’ experience, to PhD students on summer vacation.  But everyone works side by side, productively and enthusiastically.

Calls to action

I learned a lot from my day at Hacker School, and it inspired me to issue these calls to action:

  1. Coders: If you’re thinking about applying to Hacker School, do it.  It’s a truly amazing place.  Applications are open for the fall batch.
  2. Hackers: Nominate people (including yourself!) to be a Hacker School resident, working alongside students for a couple of weeks.
  3. Tech companies: consider sponsoring the next batch of students.
  4. Mozillians: we should sponsor and run and be involved with more hackathons on Mozilla. projects.  We should host Hackdays where we get brand new contributors involved with our projects.  I propose we do this at existing Open Source conferences, get-togethers, and MozCamps, and at informal hackathons wherever the opportunity presents itself.


I’d like to thank Nick Bergson-Shilcock, David Albert, Sonali Sridhar, Thomas Ballinger, and Alan O’Donnell for running Hacker School and hosting us, and Etsy, 37signals, and Yammer for their sponsorship of the school. And of course, I’d like to thank the students for being awesome, and for their contributions!

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