Rails Girls DC — September 2012

On September 15, I got to attend Rails Girls DC. It was a fantastic event, one I’d recommend to anyone curious about coding.

Building your first web app

Many students tweeted their excitement over building their “first web app.” It’s a simple app indeed—a sort of idea logger that can include a single photo per idea—but the act of creating it is powerful.

We wrote a single line of code using Rails’ scaffold technique, and magically created a three-page UI: one page that displays all your ideas, a second to enter (or edit) an idea, and third to view your successfully submitted idea. This was, to put it plainly, Super Cool.

I was excited and impressed, and my fellow students on Team DHH were, too. Ruby on Rails provided us with such power so quickly! After we finished the initial Rails Girls guide, several from my table went on to work on the other guides. Clearly, the excitement of development was catching on, at our table and throughout the room.

A peek into the work and life of a developer

Besides the hands-on work, we were treated to a series of lightning talks. Five focused on technical information—SASS, debugging, REST, Open Source, and
Test Driven Development—and three focused on the life of a developer. The technical talks were great; they made the class aware of important concepts that we might later investigate and master further.

I especially enjoyed the “life” presentations. Karen Gillison talked about the characteristics that have helped her succeed as a business owner, and Pamela Overman talked about her personal experience going from college to sad Java job to exciting Ruby job.

My favorite of the presentations was Maria Gutierrez‘s “Why?” She inspired us by listing the many wonderful things that software lets us do—from watching our favorite TV shows despite our busy schedules to seeing our families despite their distance from us—and why she loves being a part of a team that creates software.

Maria emphasized that careers as developers allow women the income and the flexibility to have the family life they want. Maria shared photos of her adorable son, sincerely showing how very happy she is to have the life and career she does. I bet at least one woman in the room will later attribute her career change to Maria’s presentation.

The people

Besides being my favorite speaker, Maria was also my team mentor. She was always encouraging and patient, and clear in her instruction to us. She asked us great questions about why we we there, and if we we learning what we wanted to learn, and how we thought the day was going. I am so glad to have been in her group, and I bet many other students will say the same of their mentors.

Rails Girls DC was made possible by amazing volunteers, including the mentors and speakers, and Liz Steininger, the primary organizer for the event. I am so glad she took the initiative and time to make the weekend happen.

At the happy hour after the day’s learning, I got to meet more of the attendees. I was surprised to learn there were several teachers (grade school and middle school), and one was a publisher. (Hi, ladies!) I can only imagine what other current careers were represented by the crowd. The atmosphere of the happy hour was welcoming and still a-buzz from the excitement of the day.

The coolest part

Ok, so I’m going to admit this here—I was worried I was getting myself into a day of girly-girl-ness and man-bashing. Yes, I was worried that I’d end up having to discount Rails Girls for merely emphasizing the lack of women in software development, rather than encouraging them to join it.

But, that is not at all what happened!

It did take me a few minutes to get over the initial shock of being in a room filled to the brim with voices on the higher end of the vocal scale. The last time where I’ve been in a group that large and predominantly female was probably at Thinking Day in Girl Scouts oh so long ago.

After my ears got used to the change in pitch, I soon forgot that the event was called “Rails Girls” and not “Rails People.”

That’s what Rails Girls is: a bunch of people excited about learning and teaching Rails. There was no bashing of men; there were no chants of “girl power!” Here was simply a group of friendly, encouraging people talking about and working with the awesome that is Ruby on Rails.

Though the inspirational speakers did speak from the position of being successful women in tech, they didn’t do it in a self-conscious or preachy way. When were working in our teams, I felt more like I happened to be in a group that happened to be made entirely of women, rather than like I was at an event that was exclusively for women.

By the way, Rails Girls is not exclusively for women. Male students are welcome to apply and attend, and many of the mentors and volunteers were men. So, hey guys, join us next time!

My sketchnotes

I took sketch notes of all of the presentations; you can check them out in my Rails Girls DC set on Flickr.

If this is your first time encountering sketchnotes, you might be interested in checking out my recent chat about sketchnotes with Jeff Parks on Radio Johnny or the slides from my “Why and How to Start Sketchnoting” talk from IA Summit 2012.

What’s next?

Rails Girls DC is back! There will be another event on November 2-3, 2012, and you should apply. I’m so glad that Tony encouraged me to attend in September, and now I hope to be the person to convince you to go in November.

Designers, if you’ve been wondering about the “Should designers code?” question, you should definitely check out Rails Girls—it may happily make your answer be, “It doesn’t matter if I ‘should;’ I want to code!” (Which happens to be my answer as well.)

Or, if you went to the September event as a student, and you think it’s as cool as I do, perhaps you’d like to volunteer. There are plenty of things for beginner Rubyists to do, I’m sure. You can email RailsGirlsDC@gmail.com for more info.

And at the very least, if you were at the event, be sure to get out Terminal again sometime very soon, and play around with what you learned. It doesn’t have to stop with your first Rails app—it’s time to make your second!

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About Veronica Erb

Designs, researches, illustrates, and writes code. Plays ukulele. Dances Balboa. Grew up in a geodesic dome, and hasn't gotten over it.
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