Workshop Organizing: Hard, but Awesome

Putting on a RailsBridge workshop takes a lot of different pieces. You need volunteers to teach and TA, you need students to devote half a weekend to computer-time, you need a place with lots of tables and chairs and power and wifi, and you need someone to pay for the food and the drinks. The RailsBridge community in San Francisco is ridiculously fortunate to have all of those things in spades. Bay Area rubyists are incredibly generous with their time, the companies are more than happy to host and feed us, and the students keep showing up. The only thing we really have to work for is finding workshop organizers.

For almost every other role in a workshop, you just show up. (Obviously, it’s nice when new teachers and TAs read the curriculum ahead of time.) Organizers have to put a bit more time into the workshop, and while there is certainly a kind of glory in directing traffic and telling people to go back to class after lunch (which, I admit, I love doing), organizing a workshop taxes a different part of the brain than coding, teaching, learning, or reading Reddit.

I am a very detail-oriented person and care a lot about making things as efficient as possible (you should see me optimize lunch buffet traffic), but you don’t have to be like me to throw a great workshop. As long as you can get all the people in the same place, and can provide them with sustenance, a workshop will definitely happen. (Also, wifi. Having the internet work is also necessary.)

How We Roll

The minimum viable workshop requires just a few things (space, people, food, internet), but since we’ve been doing this for about three years now, we’ve figured out what makes things run smoother. I hope I don’t scare any would-be workshop organizers, but here’s most of what we recommend you do when organizing a workshop, before the actual event itself (if you’re in SF, we’ve got the first five done for you):

Identify existing communities to collaborate with, Find a space, Find a sponsor, Recruit volunteers to teach, TA, and help you plan, Recruit participants, Join the organizer’s listserve, Confirm dates & details with the hosting venue, Meet your workshop mentor (if first time organizing), Post the event on, Survey the students and volunteers, Arrange catering, Make after-party reservations, Train the teachers, Communicate with everyone, Arrange childcare, Obtain necessary objects (power cords, flash drives, name tags, etc.), Update the pre- and post-workshop presentation slides, and Figure out student class levels.

(This is why you should always be super nice to your organizers.)

Because there’s a lot to do, wizened organizers will tell you:

Don’t organize alone. Always have a buddy.

(Supporting evidence: I recently organized a workshop by myself at my company, because organizers are a precious resource and I want conserve them right? Well, it turned out totally fine and no one died, but it was very stressful at times and I would not recommend doing it.)

Your co-organizer can do some of the stuff you don’t like doing. Hate giving presentations? Perhaps your co-organizer can. Bad answering strangers’ emails? Maybe your co-organizer can cover the pre-workshop communication. If you’re in SF and volunteer to organize, we will provide you with a brilliant co-organizer! And if you’re a new organizer, we’ll hook you up with a mentor — someone who has organized before and can answer your questions and be a proper cheerleader. (If you’re looking to establish a RailsBridge chapter in your town, let us know and we’ll try to help you find like-minded folks in your area.)

Are you super pumped? Do you want to organize a workshop? Are you wondering why Kansas City hasn’t had a workshop, and you want to make one happen? Or do you have a lead for an awesome company that might want to host a workshop? WE WANT ALL THE INFO!!!


  • If you want to organize in the Bay Area — email me (Lillie Chilen) at my first and last name, and my co-meta-organizer, Rachel Myers (rachel [dot] marie [dot] myers
  • If your company wants to host a workshop, or sponsor one, or somehow else get involved, email Rachel and me.
  • If you’re getting started with RailsBridge outside of SF, join the mailing list and introduce yourself. We love to help.
  • For general awesomeness, join the workshop mailing list! We talk about upcoming workshops, the curriculum and installfest, and generally what RailsBridge is about and where it’s going. It’s pretty low-traffic, so come on by.
Workshop Organizing: Hard, but Awesome

RailsBridge Boston 2: Ruby with a Vengeance

Daniel Choi and a brilliant team of RoR devs put on their second Boston RailsBridge workshop in November. It included things like free O’Reilly & Prag Prog e-books and stickers featuring their sweet new logo. Oh, and learning. A lot of learning. (They also made an app to track students’ progress and display it on breaks! How cool is that!? I am super impressed.)

You should read Daniel’s write up of the weekend, including excerpts from the student follow-up surveys (major theme to watch for — the TAs were amazing):

The student suggesting brie for next time might be on to something.

RailsBridge Boston 2: Ruby with a Vengeance