I’m someone who has enjoyed the company of programmers for years. I consider myself relatively tech-savvy, and have played around with building simple webpages and hacking on macros using visual basic. I’ve never managed to make the leap to actually “learning how to code”, despite tipping my toe in the water now and then.
I finally took the plunge today by attending a Rails Girls workshop in Dublin. I knew it would be an encouraging atmosphere where I could get some basic information, and I’d heard that Ruby on Rails was a good starting point for a programming newbie. Armed with this vast array of insights, and my trusty five-year-old laptop, I headed off to learn more.
The event took place in the gorgeous Zendesk offices on the Ranelagh side of the Grand Canal. I was welcomed by Andrei, a Zendesk employee, tasked with “minding the meetup” – he was very involved and helpful during the course of the day. There were eleven women taking part in the workshop, and five mentors – Caitríona, Ursula, Serena, Enrique and the aforementioned Andrei. The other attendees all came from different backgrounds – some were designers, others had done some programming before. I felt like I was going to be OK – despite feeling like I knew nothing.
The early part of the workshop was spent getting everyone’s laptop set up for the rails environment- most people had macs – but there were also people running windows and linux. Once we were all set up with great text editors and the our rails servers, we started to work through the rails girls guides.
We were encouraged to work through ourselves, and stick our hands up if we were getting stuck or had any questions. People definitely had different ways of learning things and working on things. Some worked through the guide and called when they were stuck. Others wanted to know the “why” behind everything. It was all very low-key and relaxed, with the odd shouts of “YAY! I BROKE IT!” and the mentors were very happy to come and check out what we were doing.
We were encouraged to play with things and work on things, and google things, and copy and paste things and see what worked and what didn’t. Most of my breakages were from sticking things in the wrong place, not saving the changes I made and from trying to figure things out. Nothing stayed broken for long though. I kept on learnin’.
By the time things were breaking up at the end of the day, I had changed the basic app we had originally installed and added lots of different functions, some by myself and some with help from the guides and the mentors. I’d broken things, fixed things, asked questions and learned things, and I was feeling pretty darn proud of myself.
I think that the biggest takeaway I got from the day was not to be afraid of programming. Find something, hack on it, see how it works, get in under the hood and don’t worry if it does break, it’s not the end of the world.
In the few hours since I’ve come home, I’ve already opened up my app and server and tweaked things further – I’m enjoying playing with something new, and you never know, I might start making something else! It’s been a brilliant day, and I’m so glad I tried it.
Rails Girls events are always free of charge and adhere to a code of conduct. We were generously provided with breakfast (smoothies and pastries) and lunch (sandwiches, salads, crisps and fruit) along with the tea and coffee courtesy of the Zendesk canteen. Many thanks to Ursula for organising, all of the mentors for being so generous with their time and also to sponsors Zendesk and Engine Yard.
If you think you’d like to give it a go, check them out at @railsgirls_dub. For other women-friendly learn-to-programme events, look at PyLadies (python) and Coding Grace – they each have upcoming events if you want to take the plunge.
(Featured Photo by Serena Fritsch)