Railsbridge Success Story: Kinsey Ann Durham

by Kinsey Ann Durham

Tweet reading "Already having so much fun at RailsBridge in Denver! All set and ready to go on Heroku!"

I can honestly tell you that a RailsBridge workshop changed my life. I reluctantly attended my first RailsBridge workshop in November of 2012 with my two girlfriends. I decided to attend the workshop because I wanted to get better at my job of managing developers. I thought it would be great to get a taste of what developers actually did. I never thought that I could become a developer, however. It was really intimidating! My step brother is an awesome developer and when he would talk, everything was over my head and it seemed like he was speaking an alien language! I remember telling my Dad on the phone that I wanted to be around developers, something attracted me to writing code, but there was no way I could do it.

Attending my first RailsBridge workshop was awesome! I met a great network of people and even my future mentor. That’s when I started to build my network in the Ruby community, simply by attending this event. I remember telling my friend at the event that I was going to write code from now on!

It wasn’t that simple. I didn’t become a developer right away. Over one year, three RailsBridge workshops, an apprenticeship at thoughtbot, three conference talks later, I finally feel that I can call myself a developer! I am going to be working as the Teaching Assistant and developer for Galvanize’s gSchool. I get to mentor, teach, write code and most importantly, help others find their passion in writing code. I could not be more excited, and I have RailsBridge to thank for my newfound career! Thank you to all of the volunteers, organizers, sponsors. You truly are making a difference in many people’s lives!

Railsbridge Success Story: Kinsey Ann Durham

RailsBridge as Passion Project

GitHub has a fabulous documentary series interviewing women in tech about their “passion projects.”  Rachel Myers has been an inspiring leader in the San Francisco RailsBridge community.  We’re delighted that she chose to speak about RailsBridge as her passion project:

She also writes about RailsBridge as a “starfish” organization — a big part of her contribution to RailsBridge has been in thinking about how to scale the organization in a way to make it resilient, while still preserving the ability for volunteers to step forth at any point, from any where, and make amazing things happen.

RailsBridge as Passion Project

Bridge Foundry: what’s in a name?

From its inception, RailsBridge was specifically technology agnostic. The TeachingKids project, for example, was taught using Ruby, Javascript and Arduino. Our outreach workshops offer full-day curricula each for HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Ruby, and Rails.

Yet the organization name did not adequately express that technological diversity. Many of the projects inspired by RailsBridge opted to select names that better reflected their communities and activities. PyStar, Scala Crash Course, OpenHatch, Boston Python Workshops, PyLadies, Confident Coding JS, etc.

In pursuing 501(c)(3) status to allow for tax deductible donations, the RailsBridge team decided to create a new parent organization that would be focused on the broad charter that RailsBridge has always worked toward.  With our general fund, we can help people who want to start a new activity with their tech or in their region. RailsBridge will continue to focus on the outreach workshops that have so successful.

This new entity needed a new name. Volunteers collaborated on generating dozens of suggestions. In the end, it was easy to find consensus.

Why Bridge is a good part of the name?

It is a concise way to convey what we’re about. The many initiatives of RailsBridge are about “bridging the gap.” The second RailsBridge guideline reads: “Bridge the gap from aspiring developer to contributing community member, through mentoring, teaching, and writing.” We also bridge gaps across communities, between people who have access to tech & skills and people who do not, between people who feel excluded and people who live & breath this stuff with joy. It’s about forging connections. It was not seen as a requirement that RailsBridge and the umbrella org share common parts of the name — that is a “nice to have.”

Why Foundry is a good part of the name?

We selected SchoolFactory as our fiscal sponsor, and created this new umbrella organization because we want to support the self-replicating nature of what we do.  Applying an open source model to the curricula and the workshop organizing materials and patterns has worked really well to spread workshops across the globe.

“Foundry” speaks to creation.  Miriam-Webster’s definition is “the act, process, or art of casting metals.”  We feel like this work we do is a bit of an art. It is certainly a process.  Every interaction is unique.  We value the difference between people and celebrate each workshop as a unique gathering of volunteer teachers and students. The people we teach (or recruit as teachers, TAs and mentors) go forth as individuals who have leveled up their skills, increase diversity in the tech industry, and contribute their own individual talents to the world. Also the workshops which are created in other locations and targeting other communities are each different — we encourage volunteers to take the materials and ideas and make something that works for their situation within pretty broad guidelines.

Foundry also makes us think of “founder” — every workshop organizer is a founder, and many of us are involved in tech startups where we are very much seeking to change thinking about what kinds of people are tech founders. Diversity fosters innovation.

We also like the word “found” in the name. Each of our projects is composed of “found” objects: a small section of time, bits of contributed skill, tons of open source software and documentation. It reminds us of the “stone soup” nature of our first Boston workshop.

Continuity with our History, Bridge to Our Future

The Bridge Foundry name maintains connection to our first three years. We’ve held over 100 outreach workshops around the world, and they’ve become most closely identified with the RailsBridge name. It’s important to us to maintain a link to that name. So the workshops devoted to Ruby on Rails will continue to be known as
“RailsBridge”, honoring its unique history as the first bridge that this foundry of ours created.

The name Bridge Foundry provides flexibility for naming the existing frontend and Ruby curricula, as well as emergence of more. The Bridge Foundry organization can flexibly embrace its roles as both foundry and foundation for Bridge building projects with potential names such as as RubyBridge, JSBridge, iBridge, PyBridge, ArduinoBridge, or any others we might imagine. Of course, we welcome projects under any name.  RailsMentors (which is for more than just Rails) and the TeachingKids project will continue under the Bridge Foundry umbrella.

Thank you to all for your support and passion over the years. We hope you like the Bridge Foundry name as much as we do.

Bridge Foundry: what’s in a name?

RailsBridge co-founder Sarah Mei’s “Incomplete & Mostly Wrong Guide to Working with Men”

On August 9, 2013, co-founder Sarah Mei was one of the many speakers at SheCodes Conference held at the Computer History Museum.

Her presentation touched on a few notes about why diversity in a team leads to more creative problem solving as well as how to make a team/company/community impact.  Check out her presentation on Speaker Deck.

Official photos for this event can be found on Flickr.

RailsBridge co-founder Sarah Mei’s “Incomplete & Mostly Wrong Guide to Working with Men”

Railsbridge co-founder Sarah Allen on NPR’s “All Tech Considered”

Our very own Sarah Allen is featured as part of NPR’s series – Changing the Lives of Women.

In the article, Sarah shares a bit of her journey as a programmer from teaching herself simple programs on the Apple II to becoming a working mother to starting RailsBridge with Sarah Mei (known in the article as “a friend”).

Listen to the interview here:  http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2013/04/29/178810467/blazing-the-trail-for-female-programmers

The picture hanging in Sarah Allen’s office — Ester Gerston and Gloria Ruth Gordon, early programmers working on the ENIAC computer in 1946.
Railsbridge co-founder Sarah Allen on NPR’s “All Tech Considered”

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 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!!!


  • 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