Rails Girls Brisbane – wrap up

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I’d seen posts about Rails Girls events in other countries and cities and I was excited to see that they were going to hold one here, in Brisbane. When Katie Miller (@codemiller) posted on our Girl Geek Dinners wall about the event I checked it out and saw they were looking for volunteers so I asked what I could help with and the answer came back “Do you want to help with mentoring?”. I’ve done many years of dev and bits of training and presenting, but haven’t actually done any Ruby/Rails. I often find the best way to learn is to teach/help others so why not!


The evening of Friday 24th came along fairly quickly. Tonight was installation night – where our goal is to get as many of the ladies setup and running on their machines to they can get to the more exciting stuff the next day. They’d not only filled to capacity of 50 but they also had about half as many again on the wait list!


We knew from the registrations we had a massive range of ages and experience. One of the questions on the form was “What OS are you running?” and at least one of the answers was “Laptop”. This was really going to challenge some of us I think. How to step back from our tech jargon and try and explain the bits we do every day to normal people.


After a bit of food and drinks to loosen up our nervous tongues we embarked on our mission to get people up and running.


My first victim (ahh..I mean participant) was Minh McCloy. She was a lovely lady, not affraid to ask questions and a keen citizen journalist. I’ll be interested to see what she writes up about the event as she was running around interviewing people everywhere. The RailsInstaller site has nice download packages for lots of different environments. I’d put everything I used to setup my lappy and surface with me on a USB, but was quickly reminded I’m not normal…I have new gear that has been running 64 bit for a long time. So my first task was to download the 32 bit installers for everything. Other than that we got Mihn going quick smart.


Next I helped a mother/daughter combination that had a mac and a windows pc. Interestingly the Mac download is 10 times bigger! Setting up everyone with a GitHub account proved a bit of a problem when they stopped us signing up as we’d hit our IP address limit of requests (oops).


Now that most people had settled in, Adrian from Enova opened the night and set the scene for what we’d be doing tonight and Saturday. One of the main goals was to have fun!


To get a bit of a group dynamic going we started with the “Marshmellow Challenge”. Take a pack of spaghetti and a bag of marshmallows and see how high you can build a structure.


So with about 1/3 of the “recommended ingredients” our group started off our tower. As we got some height we needed a bit more bracing on our lower levels.


We opted for the double spire at the top to cheat our way into that last bit of height. Note for future – the marshmallows get a bit squishy and move the more you touch them and causes some twisting in your structure.


There was a definite triangle theme going on around the room.


I think these ladies had the neatest tower – and might have copied our spire idea 😉


To finish off the opening we did a Friday Hug photo. Unfortunately I didn’t have my wide angle with me so had to do a stitch. It’s gotta be one of the most out of focus photos I’ve taken for a long time as I didn’t really prepare very well for it. But since the resolution here is so small you don’t notice it so much. Now how often do you get a photo with this many women in it when it’s something to do with tech? Not often…


The rest of the night we spent setting up more computers and making sure everyone was good to go for Saturday. You don’t realise how quick your computer and especially your SSD drive are until you go and work on some of these older laptops that have “normal drives”.


Luckily there was plenty of drinks and people to talk to while it was all getting done.


Bright and early Saturday morning we wall started arriving. Not too long after we had a full room of people! You always worry about losing a bunch of people on day 2, but I think we gained a few. This is a great sign when people come back the second day. We spent the morning verifying everyone was set up to go and working on some of the more problematic machines i.e. ones without admin access, ones that had corrupted downloads etc. Some people were so keen for this event we had one lady (Tracy Mu Sun @tracymusung) who’d flown all the way up from Sydney to attend.


The morning was spent with a crash course on the internet, html and IRB. Here we covered a crash course in data types – strings, int, float, methods etc. For me it was time to sit up the back and quietly ask the other mentors who know rails lots of little questions on the finer details like …so what does 10 == 10.0 return true.


The next big section was letting the ladies have a go at their own pace with TryRuby. I’d had a go at this site and it’s really nicely laid out to let you have a go at commands on one side and read instructions and background information on the other. Talking to a bunch of participants, they really seemed to enjoy going through this one. It let them go through at their own pace and then ask questions if they needed something explained to them in a bit more detail. The front row you can see in the picture was lucky enough to have Matt Connolly (@matt_connolly) set up to be their personal help desk for the day.


It was about 11:30 and we asked if the ladies wanted to break for lunch a bit early and it was a resounding NO! We want to learn more! After some more learning and some much need brain re-fueling at lunch it was onto the really exciting part – making a photo website.


This is where being “mentor rich” really came into it’s own. It meant that there was at least someone to help per row and help was never very far away.


It allowed the ladies to work along at their own pace, get help or ask more in depth questions as they went along. Just remember, we had people from all walks of life – teachers, nurses, book-keepers, lawyers etc.


I think my favourite site was seeing them helping each other!

Overall I think the day was a great success. I heard some great feedback on the day, but also seeing some great stuff on twitter and facebook:

Jeya Karthika : @ItsJkTweeting: My first rails app is up & pushed to github as well. Wow. Thanks to all mentors, sponsors and @RiverCityLabs for this awesome #RailsGirlsBNE

Dayle Parker – Thanks to the mentors and everyone who organized this awesome event! It was a blast! 🙂

Kerry Kerry K – I very much appreciated the non judgemental enthusiasm, I lost my way for most of the day- I would like/ need to do it again , sit up the front where the white board is visible. Wow did the organisers expect this much interest " It was a geek girl stampede. " <hello ‘my’ world>


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I was really impressed at the patience and enthusiasm the mentors put into the event. They truly seemed like a bunch of really nice people…even if they did pay me out for being a .Net developer.  Thanks guys for letting me infiltrate the group for the day. These people gave up their time on their Friday night and Saturday to share their love of Ruby with these ladies and did a fantastic job. Here’s a big thumbs up to Nigel, Dan, Adrian, Katie, Robert, Jason, Matt, Nick, Odin, Rob Dawson, Damien and everyone else I didn’t mange to get a photo of!

There’s a Facebook group you can join to stay in touch and hear about the event (due to popular demand) already in planning for later in the year here: http://www.facebook.com/groups/462831463794656/

Hopefully they’ll see many of this weekend’s participants return to learn the next level of Ruby Dev!

Edit: If you don’t believe me it was a successful day, here’s a couple of blogs from some of the participants:

Tracy Mu Sung @tracymusung: http://www.tracecode.com.au/blog/ruby/rails-girls-brisbane/ . “Unlike the Geek Girls events I have been to in Sydney, everyone was really, really friendly. I wonder if Brisbane is friendlier than Sydney?”

Jeya Karthika @ItsJkTweeting: http://freshsqueaks.com/railsgirls/#.UaKbqk5-9DF . I love her description: “Vibrant Atmosphere. Friendly Mentors. Excited Women. Friday Hugs. Witty Questions. Fervent Coding. – This is how I would describe the event.”