New Leadership in San Francisco

Here in the Bay Area, we’ve held a RailsBridge workshop nearly every month for the past four years. But demand hasn’t subsided — in fact, every workshop we do still fills up weeks ahead of time. Behind the scenes, the consistent production of 30-100 person events is a lot of work.

We owe this incredible streak to the efforts of our RailsBridge SF organizers and meta-organizers. But our current leadership structure is burning out our best people, so we’re trying something different. We’ve split the role we previously called “meta-organizer” into three roles.

We’re excited to introduce you to the new RailsBridge San Francisco leadership team! Ruchika Kumar will be our initial Chapter LeadCeleste Layne will be our initial Venue Manager, and Anna Neyzberg will be our initial Organizer Manager. We’re starting with three-month terms that we’ll extend if everyone is still having fun (and we hope they are!). Here’s a bit more about these amazing women who have stepped up to help grow RailsBridge San Francisco:

Ruchika Kumar, Chapter Lead

Ruchika schedules and supports workshops happening in San Francisco. She manages the SF calendar, ensuring that workshops are happening at a good pace — one or two each month. She also recruits workshop organizers and new leaders to our community, by attending workshops and other events, and champions the work of the current volunteer base. As the leader of the SF chapter, Ruchika works to make sure that volunteers aren’t burning out, and is able to step into roles temporarily if needed. A dark-haired woman smiles at the camera, laughing

Ruchika, from rainy Manchester, UK, moved to the USA eight years ago. After a few years in NYC she opted for sunny California and has co-founded multiple products with Ruby On Rails, latest being omni channel SaaS SKU IQ. Her first stop in SF was a Railsbridge workshop.

CelestE Layne, Venue Manager

Celeste is the one to talk to if your company would like to host a RailsBridge event! She maintains our good relationships with the companies that host our events, and works with new venue partners. She writes a lot of email, checks out new venues, communicates RailsBridge’s expectations and requirements, and follows up after events to hear how it went. Then she cycles that input back to the leadership team to consider when planning future events. A woman rides a bike with a full basket and a smile

Celeste is originally from the island of Trinidad and Tobago. She moved to the Bay Area approximately two years ago, after growing up in New York City, to combine her background in architecture and urban planning with tech. She found a welcoming community in RailsBridge. She currently works as an active transportation planner in SoMa.

Anna Neyzberg, Organizer Manager

Anna recruits and supports organizers for individual workshops. Many people don’t think they can organize events, so much of her job is explaining how much fun organizing is when you have a team of co-organizers. A woman in a coat smiles at the cameraShe identifies serial participants who should be recruited as volunteers, and works with the RailsBridge board and SF leadership team to recruit organizer mentors and match them with new workshop organizers. She also follows up with the organizers after their workshops to thank them and identify improvements we can make in the planning process.

Anna is a Bay Area native who opted out of med school to enter the exciting world of web development. She loves being outdoors, traveling, and handcrafted coffee. RailsBridge SF was her first real introduction to web development.


Want to host or sponsor a RailsBridge event in San Francisco? You can email the SF Leadership Team at sf@railsbridge.org. Want to make a general donation to RailsBridge or help in some other way? Get in touch via hello@railsbridge.org.

New Leadership in San Francisco

RailsBridge: The Next Stage

Over the last five years, RailsBridge has done hundreds of workshops in dozens of cities around the world. We were one of the first organizations tackling the problem of technology diversity, and our workshops have reached thousands of people and made a measurable impact on the diversity of the Ruby and Rails communities.

None of that could have happened without leadership. Yet during this time, we called ourselves a “flat” or “leaderless” organization. And the organization has changed. At that first workshop in 2009, we were just Sarah Mei and Sarah Allen. These days RailsBridge makes a larger impact than ever, thanks to hundreds of volunteer teachers, TAs, developers, and organizers.

As we’ve grown, we’ve started to feel rather keenly the downsides of a “leaderless” organization. The term itself was a disservice to the informal leaders we did have, and since we didn’t have named roles or teams, it was difficult for new volunteers to figure out how to get involved.

Iterate all the things

So in the spirit of iteration, we’re trying something new. We’ve convened a board of directors with a mandate to create just enough structure to help RailsBridge thrive. We can grow more quickly and efficiently, reduce volunteer burnout, and make a bigger impact on the world if we have explicit, navigable power structures that are accountable to the larger RailsBridge community.

Goals

We’ve appointed an interim board — Lillie Chilen, Sarah Mei, and Rachel Myers — who, over the next six months, will build a permanent board that better represents the diversity of RailsBridge geography.

Their specific goals are as follows:

  • Define how board members are added, how long they stay, and how they transition off.
  • Recruit new board members from chapters outside of San Francisco.
  • Establish an annual budget and fundraising plan to support RailsBridge’s expansion and growth.

We have have big plans for what comes after that, but we’ll save that for a future post!

Who are these people?

Lillie Chilen

lillie_face_500Lillie Chilen is the chair of the interim board, and has been running various parts of RailsBridge since 2012. She led the effort to take Bridge Troll from the idea of a workshop management app into functional (and awesome) software, rewrote the Organizing Cookbook from a single timeline into a wiki’s worth of advice, worked as SF meta-organizer for about a year, and has led various other RailsBridge projects. She is a software engineer at Omada Health, and credits the RailsBridge community for turning her vague interest in programming into an actual career.

Sarah Mei

sarah500Sarah founded RailsBridge in 2009 with Sarah Allen, and after a few years away from day-to-day involvement in RailsBridge, is excited to be back to support the wonderful work RailsBridge volunteers around the world have been doing. She does software consulting with DevMynd Software, and spends most of her time on the floor at client companies, pairing with developers, helping level up their teams. She’s also a director of Ruby Central and is writing a book!

Rachel Myers

rachelRachel Myers has been running RailsBridge things since 2010, after attending the second RailsBridge workshop and later becoming the very first San Francisco meta-organizer. She’s a frequent conference speaker and RailsBridge evangelist. Rachel is an engineer at GitHub, where she writes Ruby and JavaScript. In her spare time, she loves drinking Scotch, and playing with Legos and taking her cat on walks.

Where’s Sarah Allen?

We’re delighted to report that Sarah Allen, co-founder of RailsBridge with Sarah Mei, is still heavily involved with the organization. Leadership-wise, though, she’s leading the charge over at Bridge Foundry, a non-profit organization we created when we realized that all the things we knew about how to increase diversity were too good to keep just within the Ruby community. Currently, in addition to RailsBridge, Bridge Foundry is working with ClojureBridge and MobileBridge. Check out their awesome work at bridgefoundry.org.

RailsBridge: The Next Stage

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.

Challenges

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 http://lillielillie.tumblr.com.)

How I Meta-Organize in San Francisco

There are no RailsBridge Employees

RailsBridge is 100% volunteer-based. It’s really fun! But sometimes we end up with a big backlog of to-do items. Can you help with any of these things?

(Almost all of these things can be started by joining the RailsBridge Google group and introducing yourself! We’ll get you in touch with the right person from there. Alternately, comment on this blog post!)

Coding things:

* We have a Tracker backlog of lots of things that would make the RailsBridge web presence better: https://www.pivotaltracker.com/projects/710609. Some of them are easy, some are harder, any would be a huge help.

Communication things:

* We could use better materials for a quick intro to organizing. The cookbook is great for all the details, but a less threatening introduction would be great.
* I made a Git/Hub one page pull request guide that I would love help expanding: http://railsbridge.github.com/bridge_troll/. Suggestions? Send ’em my way (lillie.chilen@gmail.com).
* Blogging. We need bloggers. Can you blog about something (or anything even tangentially) related to RailsBridge?
* It would be fantastic to have a topic/skills roadmap for the RoR ecosystem (and the Railsbridge curricula in particular). Ping the mailing list if you’re interested in working on that!

Curriculum things:

* There are JavaScript, Git, and iOS curricula in the works. Want to help with those, or write a new one? Join the workshop Google group and introduce yourself!
* We’re going to attempt to merge the Boston RailsBridge repo with the main RailsBridge repo. If you’d like to help with that, ping the Google group.
* We need to rename our various curricula, because “Intro Rails” and “Intermediate Rails” gets really confusing when you have class levels that include the word Intermediate.

And my favorite: Bridge Troll! Our fun open source event management software project is chugging along, and we could use help with coding, documentation, bug testing, and UX!

There are no RailsBridge Employees

Bridge Troll: An Update!

A renewed effort to build out Bridge Troll (open source event management software) started in late November 2012, but mostly inside my head. As a new product manager, I wanted to define ALL THE THINGS before we started to build it. A kind developer-friend reminded me that that is very un-agile, and I should really get something out into the world ASAP. Luckily, there were extra volunteers at the December RailsBridge workshop,  and a few of them were willing to code instead of teach. Our official kick-off  took the form of a hack day in January, and awesome folks came out and made major contributions to the project. So where are we at now?

What We’ve Done

Here are the stories that have been completed & accepted since December 10, 2012:

  • Upgrade rails
  • Events should have Organizers
  • Only an event’s organizer should be able to edit that event
  • User should see only the RSVP’d participant’s names on event page
  • Organizers should see RSVP’d user’s email addresses and teaching preference
  • Event detail page should show organizer volunteers by teaching preference
  • Organizers should be able add details to Event
  • Event organizer should be able to specify co-organizers
  • User should have an Account page instead of “Add Your Skills” page
  • User has both a first and last name.
  • Organizer can format Event Details to have line breaks.
  • Organizer can specify that an event spans multiple sessions which can span multiple days
  • User should see an RSVP questions page
  • Users should have a Profile page
  • event dates should be rendered in the event’s time zone
  • User session should not expire
  • Manage Organizers page should have a link back to the event page
  • A volunteer can edit their RSVP preferences
  • Add teaching preferences checkboxes to volunteer RSVP form
  • Volunteer can specify which sessions they are attending

Doing all of those things required a lot of love and sweat and database decisions and migrations. This community is awesome.

When will Bridge Troll be ready for a trial run? Our MVP is that volunteers can sign up for an event and organizers can assign them their tasks & check them in at the event! It’s not too far off, but we could use your help. Plus, we’ve got a couple of designers working on the visual design & UX of the application, so that’ll take some major implementation work. (Pull requests accepted here; we also have something like a roadmap for adding student registration and class-level sorting. And of course, here’s our backlog.)

Who Is This Thing For? How Many Bridge Trolls Will There Be?

At the January hack day, I ran around answering questions and having conversations about where the project was going. A particularly fruitful one took place between myself and Sarah Allen, who was one of the original Bridge Troll product manager-types (and co-founded RailsBridge). I had been thinking that each RailsBridge community would have its own Bridge Troll instance — one each for SF, Boston, NW Florida, Seattle, and anybody who started holding workshops in their area could spin their own up.

The angle that I hadn’t considered was the huge opportunity we’d have for collaboration between cities if we shared an instance. Sarah pointed out we don’t always know if workshops will happen more than once in a given city, and that having a bunch of individual instances of Bridge Troll would probably not be very helpful. Certainly if a city wanted to have their own, they can go for it. But generally, it wouldn’t be an engineering challenge to allow filtering / sorting by location, and it would have major collaboration & data benefits to have everything living in the same place. I’m *really* glad that conversation happened!

Sarah and I also talked about bigger-picture hopes and dreams for Bridge Troll, which you can read through on the project wiki here: https://github.com/railsbridge/bridge_troll/wiki/Someday-Feature-Wishlist. I’m excited to deposit big ideas there so we can focus on slimming down the Bridge Troll MVP and getting something out the door.

Bridge Troll: An Update!

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 Meetup.com, 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!!!

ACTION ITEMS

  • If you want to organize in the Bay Area — email me (Lillie Chilen) at my first and last name @gmail.com, and my co-meta-organizer, Rachel Myers (rachel [dot] marie [dot] myers @gmail.com).
  • 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):

http://www.railsbridgeboston.org/blog/2012_nov_recap

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

RailsBridge Boston 2: Ruby with a Vengeance