How I Meta-Organize in San Francisco

This month marked the first anniversary of my joining Rachel Myers as a RailsBridge meta-organizer. After I organized a workshop in March 2012, she asked me at the afterparty if I wanted to help her make workshops happen each month by finding organizers and venues. Drunk on the power of having successfully helped 60 humans learn Rails (and several delicious beers), I agreed.

Over the last year, we’ve ramped up from having an average of one workshop per month, to three workshops every two months, to two workshops per month. This is mostly due to ever-present demand and the growing number of curricula written by awesome volunteers. We do an Intro to Rails workshop every month, and then other workshops on a rotating basis. We are super lucky to have a lot of companies willing to support RailsBridge by opening their office doors and buying dinner, breakfast, and lunch for our students and volunteers.

What a meta-organizer does

My workflow with Rachel has evolved over the year. At first, there was a lot of copying of eachother on emails to organizers and venues, and keeping lots of things (potential organizers, potential venues) in our inboxes and in our heads. Since we do not have a hive mind, though, I made a spreadsheet where we could list out our prospective organizers / venues, the status of each upcoming workshop, and which of us was responsible for making sure that worskhop took place.

With that spreadsheet in place, the planning part of the meta-organizing role is mostly straightforward:

  • At least once per quarter, get together to brainstorm and send emails.
  • Comb through the past volunteer and organizer lists to see who might be willing to organize again or for the first time.
  • Look through our list of companies who have previously offered to host or that we have contacts at and decide who to ask.
  • Send out a bunch of emails to potential organizers and venues.
  • Follow up with those who have questions or are up for it.
  • Connect volunteers and venues to pick a date for their workshop.

(This process gets way simpler when people volunteer to organize; often these folks are also volunteering their company to host. This is particularly awesome for Rachel and me, because we get to skip straight to supporting the organizers.)

It often takes a month or so of emails back and forth to firm up a date for a workshop that’s a couple months out. But once dates are chosen and venues confirmed, we are mostly around to support organizers and their mentors. We assign most organizers mentors, even if they’ve organized before, since it can be nice to have someone else to bounce ideas off of, and Rachel and I aren’t always available. We often have a kick-off meetup with the organizers at the venue or a cafe to go over the general details and answer any questions they have.


Not surprisingly, the biggest challenges that I’ve had as a meta-organizer have been around communication. Sometimes it’s between the venue and the organizers, or the organizers with eachother, or some other group of people. One of the big projects I worked on last year was overhauling the Organizer Cookbook, in the hopes that it would help our organizers become more independent. It’s worked! But sometimes people don’t read it. It’s pretty long, so I don’t blame anyone for being a little overwhelmed by it. Project for 2013: make a high-level intro to organizing that is factual and fun.

I’m a pretty detail-oriented person, but I try not be anyone’s boss about exactly how to make their workshop happen. I have about a million opinions about organizing and what works best, but workshops tend to be okay (actually, great) without perfectionism. Rachel is a much more relaxed person than me, so it’s good that we work together. We’ve got the good cop / bad cop thing down to a T. (She is both totally positive and totally realistic in a way that regularly blows my mind.)

The other main challenge to being a meta-organizer is the onslaught of exciting information. Since we’re pretty visible in the RailsBridge community, people often direct their questions and ideas to us, which is amazing! And also can be totally overwhelming when you’re also trying to make workshops happen, have a full-time job, and in my case, build Bridge Troll. So it can be hard to always follow up on the cool things people throw our way, and another of my goals this year is to recruit more community manager and geographic outreach people, so new organizers in other cities have a clear path to making a workshop happen.

What’s Next?

Do you know anyone who loves tech and humans and spreadsheets? I’d really love to hear about them. I might have communicated this already, but I’m really busy, and I’d love to have more leaders in this amazing community.

For the less spreadsheet-inclined, we need help in about a million different ways, especially writers to help us communicate what we’re doing and talkers to help mentor and encourage our organizers.

Email me at lillie dot chilen at gmail dot com with any nominations, questions, or silly cat gifs.

(Cross-posted at

How I Meta-Organize in San Francisco