OSCON: Start a Workshop, Change the World

Ilen Zazueta-Hall, our new Director of Leadership Development, will be speaking at OSCON next week (7/28). Ilen has worked with us since workshop #2 to make workshops happen and has figured out how to turn a loose collection of engineers into a force for social change. Her talk is called Start a Workshop, Change the World. She’ll be sharing the key recipes that have made the RailsBridge workshops so successful. She’ll share stories of how so many groups of individuals have made workshops happen — with no formal training and an eclectic approach, there are important patterns that make it work.

If you are in Portland for OSCON this week — check it out!

OSCON: Start a Workshop, Change the World

Scala Outreach Workshop

This guest post is contributed by Asheesh Laroia (@asheeshlaroia). Based in the Boston area, Asheesh works on the OpenHatch open source outreach project and outreach events like the Boston Python Workshop for women and their friends. He met Scalathon organizer Yuvi Masory when they worked together with Felice Ford to organize a weekend Open Source Hackathon to inspire college students to get involved in open source. RailsBridge is excited to spread the workshop model to other programming languages and would like to support her outreach efforts in any way we can.

In July, people who want to hack on open source projects written in Scala will descend on Philadelphia to attend Scalathon. Yuvi Masory (one of the organizers) invited me to work with him on gender diversity. So, inspired by RailsBridge and my experience with the Boston Python Workshop, we are running a crash course in Scala for women and their friends who want to attend Scalathon. Our goal is to encourage women and men who are considering attending Scalathon to pick up the necessary skills to join these active, collaborative open source communities.

This crash course is actually a bit different from the RailsBridge open workshops, but we retain the gender diversity goal. Keep reading to find out more about Scala and how the conference shaped the Crash Course.

A word about Scala

Scala is a fairly new programming language, based on the Java Virtual Machine, that sports some new tricks designed to help people write concurrent code. Just like Rails guides the programmer to useful web paradigms like ActiveRecord and URL mappings, Scala and its libraries promote features like functional programming and the actor pattern to build programs that can run in parallel on different data. James Governor at RedMonk writes:

We’re moving into a world of event-based programming, concurrency and messaging….

Now it’s one thing for a guy at a conference to run his mouth off about how Twitter could be better if it was built in Scala. It’s quite another for Twitter to actually rebuild in Scala. Over time other high scale shops have also taken to Scala – notably Foursquare… and UK-based financial services.

Twitter still uses Ruby on Rails to deliver most user-facing web pages, but a few years ago they started replacing some of the back-end Ruby services with applications running on the JVM and written in Scala.

A cornerstone of a Scala programmer’s toolkit is the idea of functional programming, a style of programming that emphasizes “pure” functions that do not modify existing data. This is common in Lisp and ML, two languages often used in computer science curricula, and lies at a contrast to imperative programming common in Ruby and Python where statements have side effects (like updating a hash). Programs built in this style emphasize recursion rather than looping.

Scalathon, and our Crash Course

Scalathon takes place on Saturday and Sunday, July 16-17; our outreach event is the evening before. The conference is an opportunity for existing open source project contributors to meet and also for new prospective community members to join in. With that in mind, our crash course is specifically for people who already are familiar with the functional programming paradigm. Additionally, to attend, you must also be attending Scalathon that weekend.

I realize that makes it a somewhat exclusive event! Many of our crash course’s attendees are undergraduate computer science students. We have 12 attendees signed up now, and we are looking for more. We created these attendance requirements so that we can best serve the open source communities who will be represented on the weekend. The crash course is, in effect, a search for people enthusiastic about getting involved who have the skills to make meaningful code and documentation contributions during Scalathon.

Another purpose of the crash course is to send a strong message to women considering attending the weekend hackathon: you will not be the only woman there. Not by a long shot. So far, Yuvi estimates Scalathon to be nearly 20% women.

Right now, there are still eight slots available. If you have some experience doing functional programming and want to try your hand contributing to active open source projects based in Scala, and you are a woman or a friend of one, we want you to sign up for the crash course!

Scala Outreach Workshop

Riding Rails in South America

One of the objectives of the RailsBridge Open Workshops is diversity, so I asked Carmen Díaz Echauri to write in Spanish about her experience leading a small workshop when she traveled back to her hometown. Read the original blog in Spanish, or for non-Spanish speakers, read an English translation of Carmen’s post below.

In October 2010, I attended three different software conferences in South America. One of them, CLEI (Conferencia Latinoamericana de Informática), which was held in my home town, Asunción.

Because I was going to spend two weeks in Paraguay, it seemed like a great opportunity to hold a mini-workshop and share my Ruby on Rails experience. So, a few days before my trip, I sent an email to the dean of the Universidad Católica de Asunción, where I had graduated, and suggested we hold a workshop at the university.

The University offered me the use of a computer lab and the technical staff set up their computers, which were running Ubuntu, with Ruby 1.8.7 and Rails 3.0.0, so I didn’t have to worry about installation.

First year engineering students, some professors and assistant professors attended the workshop. Because I had relatively little time to teach, I couldn’t use the complete RailsBridge workshop curriculum, so I had to adapt the curriculum that I had previously translated, which basically consisted of giving an explanation of the Rails framework, talking a bit about the “test first” culture and best practices in test-driven development.

This was what I covered in about 2 hours:

* What is the Ruby language? a bit of history
* What is Ruby on Rails and why is it called a framework?
* The structure of the framework
* Model View Controller in action

Exploration of the development process consisting of writing failing tests first and then making them pass with correct code. The explanation basically consisted of:
* TDD (test-driven development)
* BDD (behavior-driven development)

At the end of the presentation, we built a demo application in 6 basic steps. I called it “Riding Rails in 6 steps”

1) $ rails new jugando
2) $ vim Gemfile
source ‘http://rubygems.org’
gem ‘rails’, ‘3.0.0’
gem ‘sqlite3-ruby’, ‘1.2.5’, :require => ‘sqlite3’

At this point, I took some valuable time to explain the Gemfile manifest and emphasize all of the different libraries defined within it.

3) $ bundle install
Here, I explained how dependent libraries are managed.

4) $ rails generate scaffold juego titulo:string descripcion:text url:string
Here, I explained what “Scaffold” does.

5) $ rake db:create # If the db is not sqlite.
$ rake db:migrate

At this point, I briefly explained “Rake”.

6) $ rails server

As we were concluding the workshop and building the application, I also took some time to answer questions from the students. It was a challenging, yet enriching experience, since their questions about bundle, scaffold and Gemfile were difficult to answer in Spanish because we don’t have a frame of reference for these concepts. At the end of the tutorial, we added 4 more steps to create a controller and model with corresponding tests in RSpec.

I want to thank the University for this wonderful honor and even though I was leading the workshop, I feel as if I am the one who learned the most from these talented students and faculty.

Riding Rails in South America

Inspiring Women Leaders

The Opensource Women’s Leadership event on January 28th was a real treat. Many thanks to our hosts She’s Geeky and the Bohemian Loft. Our sponsors, Pivotal Labs, Engine Yard, TrueCar, Enphase Energy, Balsamiq, Harvest, and Captain Recruiter provided dinner and drinks for our honorees and guests.  Additional ticket sales raised over $500 for the Open Workshop Project.

Many of the women honored at the event came up to me and said that they didn’t do much.  I replied that it is amazing how so many people doing “not much” can add up to something that effects such a big change in our community.  Every workshop has been a “one-off” — one group of individuals who get together for one weekend to make a difference for one group of people.  It’s a powerful thing.  Until now, that has served as its own reward.  However, we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge something bigger that is happening.  Two years ago I knew of zero women Ruby engineers, after my first Ruby meetup, I knew one female Rubyist, Sarah Mei.  Now, I know over 30 women Rubyists in San Francisco alone.  That may still be a small number, but these women have made a large impact on the whole community and on me personally.  I no longer feel compelled to count the women in the room when I walk in.  I no longer feel that I am speaking for my gender when I voice my opinion. The difference is profound.

We closed the evening with a panel discussion of workshop organizers: Liana Leahy, Desi Mcadam, Sarah Mei and myself. Aihui Ong, fellow Rails engineer and a leader in our partner organization Women 2.0, moderated the panel. It was interesting to hear perspectives of fellow organizers and hear questions from the audience, which ranged from people who have been deeply involved in the workshops to others who had just heard about them.

• • •

Nobel Prize Women in Science
Nobel Prize Women in Science
RailsBridge, with the help of our sponsorsors and the National Academies Press, provided each honoree with a copy of Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries. These are stories of the 50 women who have been awarded nobel prizes in Math and Science. Sarah Mei had the insight to add biographies of the two women who have received the Turing Award:

Fran Allen grew up on a farm in upstate New York and graduated from The New York State College for Teachers (now State University of New York at Albany) with a B.Sc. degree in mathematics in 1954.  She earned an M.Sc. degree in mathematics at the University of Michigan in 1957 and began teaching school in Peru, New York. Deeply in debt, she joined IBM on July 15, 1957 and planned to stay only until her school loans were paid, but ended up staying for her entire 45-year career. Allen’s work has had an enormous impact on compiler research and practice. Both alone and in joint work with John Cocke, she introduced many of the abstractions, algorithms, and implementations that laid the groundwork for automatic program optimization technology. Allen’s 1966 paper, “Program Optimization,” laid the conceptual basis for systematic analysis and transformation of computer programs. This paper introduced the use of graph-theoretic structures to encode program content in order to automatically and efficiently derive relationships and identify opportunities for optimization. She published numerous papers in the 1970s on control flow analysis and optimization. Her compiler work at IBM established the feasibility and structure of modern machine- and language-independent optimizers. She received the Turing Award in 2006.

Barbara Liskov is currently the Ford Professor of Engineering in the MIT School of Engineering’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department and an Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She earned her BA in mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley in 1961. In 1968 she was one of the first women in the United States to be awarded a Ph.D. from a computer science department when she earned her degree from Stanford University. The topic of her thesis was a computer program to play chess end games. Liskov has led many significant projects, including the Venus operating system, the CLU and ARGUS programming languages. ARGUS was the first high-level language to support implementation of distributed programs and to demonstrate the technique of promise pipelining. Her current research focus is Byzantine fault tolerance and distributed computing. Her contributions have also been incorporated into the practice of programming: with Jeannette Wing, she developed a particular definition of subtyping, commonly known as the Liskov substitution principle.  She has influenced many of the most important systems used today for programming, specification, systems design, and distributed architectures. She received the Turing Award in 2008.

Please spread the word about our fabulous sponsors.  If you are looking for a job or know someone who is, Pivotal Labs, Engine Yard, TrueCar, Enphase Energy and Harvest are all hiring! and of course, Captain Recruiter can fill any position you have open.

Pivotal Labs Logo Engine Yard Logo

True Car Logo
Enphase Energy Logo

Balsamiq logo Harvest Logo

Captain Recruiter

Inspiring Women Leaders

Celebrate Women in Open Source on Jan 28th

Less than two years ago, the San Francisco Ruby Meetup routinely drew just one or two women to an event of 50 people or more. Female attendance at regional conferences hovered at 3%, sadly reflecting the number of women participating in open source. Sarah Mei and I decided to do something practical — we decided to teach what we knew to women who wanted to learn.

Twelve workshops and six hundred students later, we’ve seen a transformation in our small community: meetups now routinely draw 15-20% women. And now our workshop recipes are starting to make a difference elsewhere.

In response to overwhelming demand — every workshop has a long wait list — an amazing number of volunteers have stepped up. Both women and men have answered the call to make a difference. Our volunteer base includes experienced developers, CTOs, aspiring developers and even non-developers willing to help with whatever just needs doing. We want to draw women into the industry and help those already in it sharpen their skills. Part of that is celebrating our volunteers who have made this effort possible.

So, men and women, ladies and gentlemen, please join us for dinner in celebrating the THIRTY women who over the past two years have volunteered their time organizing, teaching, TAing, and helping to make this change happen. We’re excited to hold this event in conjunction with She’s Geeky.

We’ve spent more effort on events than on keeping lists, so please let me know if I’ve missed anyone. Here are the women who have made this possible. Roughly in order of appearance:

  • Carmen Echauri
  • Jen-Mei Wu
  • Amy Lightholder
  • Ilen Zazueta-Hall
  • Melanie Archer
  • Liah Hansen
  • Rachel Heaton
  • Jennifer Lindner
  • Desi Mcadam
  • Liana Leahy
  • Mary O. Tolbert
  • Jana Boruta
  • Rachel Myers
  • Leah Culver
  • Ali Crockett
  • Sharon Ly
  • Anna Billstrom
  • Michelle Lupei
  • Amy Lee
  • Amy Chen
  • Karen Zeller
  • Barbara  Raitz
  • Joelle Gernez
  • Mary F. Jenn
  • Renee Chu
  • Angeline Tan
  • Megan Goering
  • Andrea Anqguist
  • Tracy Cogsdill
  • Patti Chan

Event Details:

OWL Summit
Bohemian Loft, 1543 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Tickets Available

Celebrate Women in Open Source on Jan 28th

2011 workshop kick-off

RailsBridge Open Workshop Project Announces Workshops for 2011

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — The RailsBridge Open Workshop project, which teaches web application development to both programmers and non-programmers, is announcing eight more of its popular free workshops for women in 2011.

The project, which has trained almost 600 people, nearly 500 of them women, in five cities in the past year and a half, is gaining speed in 2011.  RailsBridge has planned eight workshops so far, mostly in San Francisco, but branching out to the north bay, as well as Chicago and Seattle.

The target audience is anyone who has a laptop computer and is willing to devote a Friday evening and full day on Saturday to learning how to develop a web application using the popular Ruby on Rails framework. Most attendees are programmers who are looking to update their skills — some are unemployed, some are hoping to leave their current jobs and others just want to keep their skills sharp and understand the latest technology.

Although not exclusively for women, the San Francisco-based volunteers have focused their workshops on outreach to women in order to create gender diversity in the local tech community.  Some workshops have been focused on other outreach efforts, including a Boulder, CO workshop in conjunction with the Mountain.rb Conference which raised donations for local charities from participants who were all local web developers.

“Before we started the RailsBridge workshops, we worried about how we would effectively outreach to women,” said Sarah Mei, leader of the Open Workshop project. “However, we soon learned that demand is not a problem.”  The first workshop filled up with a waiting list in less than 24 hours. After a year and a half of training events and almost 500 women trained in developing web applications with Ruby on Rails, demand is just as high as it was in May 2009.

“The workshop project is a key part of the ecosystem that we are working to develop in open source, making it truly open to programmers and non-programmers of any background,” said Sarah Allen, president of RailsBridge, the umbrella organization supporting the workshops. The RailsBridge mission, according to Allen, is to bridge the gap from aspiring developer to contributing open source community member through mentoring, teaching and writing.

Sponsors of the workshops have included Heroku, Engine Yard, Pivotal Labs, Scribd, Orange Labs, Microsoft, IGN, Blazing Cloud, SlideShare, VodPod and Balsamiq. Workshops have been organized and promoted with the help of partner organizations DevChix and Women 2.0.

The project is actively seeking donations and sponsors. Individuals can contribute via PayPal at http://railsbridge.org. Those interested in sponsoring, hosting or organizing an event, can contact workshops@railsbridge.org. Follow @railsbridge on twitter.

Workshops Confirmed for 2011

The following workshops have confirmed venues and leaders.  Several additional workshops are also in the planning stages:

  • February 4-5, Twitter, San Francisco, led by Amy Chen (already full)
  • February 4-5, Hashrocket, Chicago, led by Desi McAdam (signup, volunteer)
  • March 11-12, Enphase Energy, Petaluma, led by Brenda Strech & Ilen Zazueta-Hall (sign up, volunteer)
  • April 7-8, ModCloth, San Francisco, Megan Guering
  • April, Seattle, Elise Worthy
  • May 6-7, Miso, San Francisco, led by Andrea Ängquist and Raphael Lee
  • July 15-16, Miso, San Francisco, Amy Lightholder, Rachel Myers
  • August 5-6, Quid, San Francisco, Andrea Angquist, Walter Yu

[update: workshops with sign ups have waitlists right now, if you want to attend one, please join our low traffic mailing list]


Testimonials from workshop sponsors and participants:

“As a sponsor of the RailsBridge Open Workshop project, Engine Yard is excited to see the success this dedicated group of volunteers has achieved this year –  training almost 600 new Rails developers, including 500 women. The Women in Rails program is a great way to get more women involved in the Rails community as well as increase the number of women developers in tech companies.”  – Marcy Campbell, VP Worldwide Sales of Engine Yard

“I can’t speak highly enough of the Ruby workshops that Sarah Allen and Sarah Mei run. I participated in one of their workshops as a sponsor and an assistant mentor. I was really impressed with their passion for teaching, their incredible programming talent and their compassion and understanding for the people that they teach. After my exposure to their workshop, I’ve emphatically and enthusiastically promoted their workshops to any woman I meet who expresses interest in learning to program. While most people are content to just talk about how to get women more involved with technology, Sarah Allen and Sarah Mei are actually actively involving women in technology, teaching them to program and getting them jobs.”  – Joel Franusic, Developer Evangelist at Microsoft

“As a supporter of the Ruby community and language, IGN enjoys hosting the RailsBridge Open Workshops because they not only lay the foundation for creating new Rails developers but also inspire non-coders into a love of software engineering.”  – Melissa Guyre, IGN

“Software development isn’t something anyone can learn in one workshop.  I attended three more after my first one, and only after building the same web app four times did I finally understand the difference between Ruby and Rails. However, the first workshop is where it all began.  I may not have walked out a programmer, but I walked out part of a community and with a clear path ahead – and best of all, a new and exciting goal.  I have since discovered that software development is fun and demanding enough that I made it my career, and the community I met at the workshops have helped carry me into the world of professional Ruby on Rails development.”  – Rachel Myers, Workshop participant

2011 workshop kick-off

a cultural exchange

Melanie Archer writes that “the point of the Rails for Women workshop is to make a cultural exchange”

It’s like going to a country where you don’t speak the language. You prepare by learning basic phrases which will help you ask directions to the train station, order food from a restaurant menu, and be polite in that country’s etiquette. You don’t start with the pluperfect tense, historical study of that language’s divergence into regional dialects, or intensive scrutiny of the country’s avant-garde poets. Your goal is to enjoy your trip to that country, and, if you do, you might return and gain more facility in its language.

The stated goal of the Rails for Women workshop to increase gender diversity in the Ruby community by helping women learn Rails. By the end of the workshop, however, what’s happened is a lot more positive and enduring than fifty or sixty people inspecting http://localhost:3000 on their laptops.

Instead, there’s an exciting, contagious mood of self-confidence in the participants and volunteers.

She also makes the point that the cultural exchange isn’t just one way.  The workshops benefit the volunteers individually and Rails as a whole.  I have found it to be true personally — each time I volunteer at a workshop, I learn some important detail about Rails or Ruby that I didn’t know before.  First time volunteers usually tell me that they learned a lot.  Volunteers are also, slowly, making Rails more accessible to newcomers, inspired to solve frustrations of workshop participants.

Melanie has volunteered at many workshops and led the May SF Workshop. Read the whole original post on her blog.

a cultural exchange

Mighty Ruby Tuesday Event

Mighty Ruby Tuesday Event Raises Funds for Training Women Programmers

Benefit for the RailsBridge Open Workshop Project Aims to Raise $10,000

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – May 24, 2010 – SFRuby Workshops, a volunteer effort dedicated to training women programmers, announces its first crowd fundraiser, Mighty Ruby Tuesday on May 25, 2010 at Mighty in San Francisco.  The event will call attention to the rewards that await women in computer programming careers and raise funds for another year of free training workshops for women in the Ruby language.  It will feature four female DJs in the drive to inspire financial support beyond the corporate sponsorships that have made the first year of the workshops possible.

An effort of the RailsBridge Open Workshop Project, the SFRuby Workshops have trained more than 300 women in Ruby on Rails since 2009.  Initiated in San Francisco, workshops also have been held at Harvard University last October and at Pace University in New York City last week.  The workshops are staffed by volunteer teachers who work with participants in small groups that are organized around participants’ skill levels.  The teams developed a curriculum and basic structure for teaching Ruby that is fully documented and open source.

“In creating these workshops, we wanted to do something by women, for women, with help from a lot of guys,” said Sarah Allen, President of RailsBridge.  “As an open source community effort, Ruby is a great first programming language, and Rails is practical for entrepreneurs seeking to build their own web apps and for software developers who want to update their skills. Ruby on Rails presents a strong career opportunity to women today.”

“The need for Ruby developers grows every day, and our sponsors have been with us every step of the way in helping us get more women into the workforce,” said Sarah Mei, Secretary of RailsBridge and Open Workshop Projects lead.  “While our sponsors remain crucial to our work, this event invites the community at large to be part of the financial engine that keeps the workshops going.”

Sponsors are of the Ruby on Rails Workshops are Heroku, EngineYard, Scribd, Pivotal Labs, Orange Labs, Honk, slideshare, balsamiq, RubyMine, vodpad, PeepCode, Stormweight, and Manning Publications Co.  The workshops also have supporting partner organizations in DevChix, San Francisco Women on the Web and Women 2.0.

About Mighty Ruby Tuesday

Mighty Ruby Tuesday, a benefit for the RailsBridge Open Workshop Project, will take place at San Francisco’s Mighty, 119 Utah Street, in San Francisco from 8:00 pm until midnight.  Tickets are available in advance for $15 by visiting http://mightyrubytuesday.eventbrite.com; at the door, the price is $20.  Corporate and group sponsorships are available for a donation of $250 or more.

About RailsBridge Open Workshop Project

Based in San Francisco, California, the RailsBridge Open Workshop Project has created replicable recipes for successful events.  The SFRuby Workshops, created by Sarah Mei and Sarah Allen, focus on gender equality and women in technology.  The RailsBridge mission is to bridge the gap between aspiring developer and contributing community member through mentoring, teaching and writing.  For more information, visit http://railsbridge.org. The Ruby On Rails Workshops are free, and men are welcome to attend as the +1 of women attending the workshops.  For more information, visit http://sfrubyworkshops.com and http://wiki.railsbridge.org/projects/railsbridge/wiki/Workshops.

Mighty Ruby Tuesday Event

Workshops continue in 2010

On February 26th and 27th, we held a successful workshop at the Microsoft offices in downtown San Francisco, supported by EngineYard, Blazing Cloud, Pivotal Labs and a host of volunteers.  This may be the last workshop led by “the Sarahs” and Ilen, and that is good news.  As we approach the end of our commitment to spend one year teaching at least 200 women Ruby on Rails with the expectation that we would find 10-20 new Rubyists from that group, we find that we have accomplished more than we set out to achieve.  We have taught about 300 women (and some men) Ruby on Rails.  The local SF Ruby meetups routinely have 5-10 women or more.  Sarah Mei recently tallied 18%, reported at SCALE 8x in her talk about moving the needle.

A critical next step is to make the workshops sustainable and we have a plan, at least for this year.  We’re planning to have 3 more workshops in San Francisco, each led by a different team, supported by experienced volunteers.  We have documented the process as part of the RailsBridge Open Workshop project, putting together a set of workshop recipes.  The recipes are still missing a lot of info — we expect to improve the documentation as new leaders learn what we’ve forgotten to write down.  We’ve also heard from people in other cities who would like to create workshops of their own, and maybe create workshops that expand on the curriculum we currently teach or branch out to Javascript or other tech.

If you would like to get involved, join the google group and let us know how you would like to help and also join the mailing list for announcements.

Workshops continue in 2010

July/August Workshop Wrapup

We had a great turnout at the July/August Ruby on Rails workshop at Pivotal Labs! More than forty women came out to learn Rails, and we had more than twenty volunteers to help them. The low student-to-volunteer ratio really made the classes go smoothly.

We also had several volunteers who focused on the logistics and that was a huge help.  The TAs had a lot of great ideas for the curriculum that we hope to integrate next time.  Also, huge thanks to TAs who took the lead as teachers at the last minute.  We ended up creating a bunch of small groups which were very effective for learning.  If you are interested in volunteering to help with future workshops, please susbscribe to the google group and let us know how you would like to help!  We welcome people who want to help.  If you have a great idea, we want to hear it, but if you have the energy and time to make it happen, that is even better.

More about the event:

Many thanks to our sponsors:

Workshop group photo by JC Dill

Workshop group photo by JC Dill

July/August Workshop Wrapup