At iRonin we are becoming more and more involved with Ruby on Rails events, and especially Rails Girls! This year we had great pleasure in being the Sponsor, the Mentor, and the Organizer of Rails Girls 2017 Rzeszów and Poznań editions. Additionally, one of our employees from the Operations Department signed up as a participant to try her hand at coding and get to know more about the daily job of programmers, to see what her teammates at iRonin do on a day to day basis.

It was a great honor and a lot of fun to be present at not one, but two, Rails Girls events in Poland this autumn, and to be able to participate in so many different roles. These women in STEM events are an important part of encouraging programming. Here, we gladly share memories from those two awesome September weekends. But first, let us explain what Rails Girls is all about.

Let’s recall some history!

The first Rails Girls event took place in November 2010 in Helsinki and was founded by Linda Liukas and Karri Saarinen. Linda, apart from coding, is the author of the children’s book series “Hello Ruby”, in which a little red-headed girl is getting into all sorts of programming and software adventures. Linda started to be interested in computers and coding as early as the age of 13 and she co-founded Rails Girls when she was just 23.

The first edition of Rails Girls was a great success, with 25 girls participating in the free weekend programming workshops for beginners. With huge global interest in the concept, the idea quickly spread all over the world. Today, it is a community thriving in more than 180 cities. Rails Girls events are organized as non-profit operations, sponsored by companies or organizations.

Girl power in coding

What was the idea behind Rails Girls? “The aim of Rails Girls is to give tools and a community for women to understand technology and to build their ideas.” It is all about encouraging women to get involved with coding. Linda felt that modern Internet usage is more about consuming content rather than about creating things. She felt that something fundamental was missing, as software entrepreneurship shouldn’t be just about making money, but about creating new things.

Linda wants to teach women how to create beautiful and useful things via coding and that this is an approachable, easy and fun process. Rails Girls wants to empower all the girls out there to pursue a programming career, have fun doing this job and get the strength to believe that they can change the world around them - even if just a bit - with their IT skills.

That is why it organizes whole-weekend workshops that are free and open to all girls and women who are curious about programming. Both women & men are welcome to join the event as mentors or co-organizers. The aim of Rails Girls is not to exclude, but to bring everyone together and show them that programming is fun and useful!

During the workshops women learn a bit about programming in three blocks:

  1. An exercise called “Try Ruby”,
  2. An exercise on Rails,
  3. Exercises on UX design and a bit on tech jargon.

On every step of the way, they are supported by experienced and knowledgeable mentors.

How can I join Rails Girls?

There are only two requirements to join the event - having a willingness to learn the awesome Ruby on Rails and your own computer. To take part in these free-of-charge workshops, candidates have to apply and justify why they should have a place at the event. Organizers receive many applications, much more than expected and more than there are available places. For instance, for the Rzeszów edition, more than 340 women applied for only 30 available seats. In Poznań, the situation was very similar - there were 200 candidates for 30 seats. For some women, workshops could be a chance to change their life, professional direction, to overcome the stereotype that programming is only for men or simply to just try something new.

Rails Girls Rzeszów & Poznań

Rails Girls Rzeszów took place on the 16th-17th of September, whereas Rails Girls Poznań was held two weeks later (29th-30th Sept). 30 women took part in the Rails Girls Poznań and Rzeszów editions each. They were divided into small groups of 2-3 with one mentor assigned per group. Each group had to come up with an idea for their own app.

This year iRonin.IT and its employees had the opportunity (and honor!) to undertake multiple roles at Rails Girls, such as:

  • sponsor of Rails Girls Rzeszów and Poznań
  • co-organizer of Rails Girls Rzeszów (Mateusz)
  • mentor during Rails Girls Rzeszów (Artur)

Additionally, one of our employees from the Operations Department (Monika) decided to take part in Rails Girls Poznań as a participant to try her hand at coding and gain a better knowledge of what our developers and programmers are working on every day.

Let’s look now at how iRonin and its employees perceived our experiences with Rails Girls.

iRonin as the Sponsor

As iRonin, we support a lot of IT events. We are well-known for it! We have been sponsoring the biggest and the best events revolving around Ruby and its community. Rails Girls is a great, well-organized and - most importantly - effective initiative, which is why we wanted to be its Sponsor for the third time.

IT needs women and women need IT! It is an attractive and rapidly growing industry where you can fully utilize your organizational and communication skills, independently from your position. Here at iRonin, we highly admire people who devote and donate their time to such events, especially in cases when our employees are engaged as organizers, mentors and participants. They make us feel proud, because proactivity, willingness for self-development and passion for IT are values which we appreciate more than any others in everyday job at iRonin.

Our girls at Rails Girls! Our girls at Rails Girls!

iRonin as the Mentor

Being a Mentor is a lot of fun but also comes with a few serious responsibilities, as recalls Artur, one of our Ruby on Rails programmers who was a mentor at Rails Girls Rzeszów. The Mentor’s main job is not only to teach those enthusiastic women something special, while simultaneously maintaining their curiosity, but also to make that knowledge stick and even grow after the workshops. You want them to go back home, sit down at their desk and try out everything they have learned in their own time. This is difficult given the time frame you have in the workshops. In just two days, your group is supposed to create a simple application - but you would be surprised just how much knowledge creating such an app requires.

People who have been doing things like this professionally for some time often forget how much work it takes to get started. There is a lot of fundamental knowledge that is taken for granted or treated as obvious. But it quickly turns out that it is not so obvious for newcomers to the IT world. All the basic stuff needs to be explained in a simple way and, what’s worse, you have to be very careful not to explain one new concept using another foreign concept to participants. Explaining complex, abstract IT concepts with simple words is a useful skill to develop and very valuable in a programmer’s daily work. Rails Girls is a really good place to hone that ability.

Another challenge is dealing with with differences among participants when it comes to previous exposure to programming. Some women have never programmed before, some have a more technical background than others or some may have already done other programming. It can be hard to keep an even pace so that all participants remain fully engaged in the given exercises and that no one is too far ahead or too far behind.

Still, Artur says: “I highly recommend trying your strength as a Mentor. As difficult and challenging as it is, it is also very rewarding as it greatly tests your ability to clearly express ideas. The essence of being a senior is to be able to educate your juniors and Rails Girls is best possible place to practice on that.”

Stay focused Stay focused

iRonin as the Co-organizer

Rails Girls Rzeszow was organized by a Rzeszow Ruby User Group RRUG (rrug.pl) - a local group of passionate programmers who love to share their experience and knowledge with others. One of our programmers, Mateusz, is a member of RRUG and he actively took part in organizing the workshop in Rzeszow for the second time.

What are his impressions from the experience? He said it was not hard to organize the Rails Girls event, however it can be a challenge if you don’t have experience in organizing events. There are specific guidelines on the railsgirls.com site, which each event organizer should follow.

The second edition went much smoother than the first one, but of course there were some hiccups (with WiFi issues). The core team consisted of 4 people and a couple of volunteers which helped the RRUG group with things like media and preparing graphics. As the workshops are free, the most important thing is to find sponsors for the event! Before the event, try to make as much buzz as possible in social media, but also don’t forget about traditional media like TV, newspapers and other sites. Contacting media may sometimes lead to unexpected things such as photo session for local newspaper or a TV interview.

In all that marketing fuss, do not neglect event organizational basics like catering (buy tea, coffee, and snacks, order lunch). Be prepared for finding it very tough to choose attendants. Rzeszow had 11 people per seat, so it was really difficult to reject so many eager applications.

Mateusz summed up the experience: “Organizing a workshop is a great opportunity to stack up in a new role and meet great and passionate people. Seeing a smile on other’s faces and sparking someone’s interest in coding gives a lot of positive energy, despite exhaustion after two intense days of workshops, preceded by a couple weeks of organization. As Rails Girls put it - ‘The most important thing is: Show sparks, personality and keep in mind the big picture!’. I couldn’t agree more with this.”

Fame!

From the notebook of our participant

One of our girls, Monika, took part in Rails Girls Poznań as a participant. She works in the Operations Department on a daily basis and has never tried programming. She wanted to get to know Ruby on Rails as it’s our primary framework with clients. Monika was eager to learn how to code to have better understanding of our clients’ needs, to improve communication with developers and for personal developments reason. Rails Girls gave her a chance to try something new and iRonin’s input in the event enabled her participation.

As she joined the event on Friday, she was assigned to a small group. Their mentor Jacek at first helped participants install all the necessary tools on everyone’s computers and made them familiar with basic theory (for instance proper terms, how database works like etc). The next day, before starting to create their app, they had to define the concept and a core idea for the project.

In order to do so, some valid questions needed to be answered like:

  • When are they going to ship the first version of product?
  • What is the problem they want to solve?
  • Why the problem needs to be solved?
  • Who is the consumer?
  • What are the goals of the product?

The theory from Friday was slowly beginning to be more comprehensible, as participants put it into practice and each group could transform their ideas into reality. During workshops they were using professional tools such as Terminal, Atom and searching for solutions on GitHub. Apart from Ruby on Rails they tried a little bit of HTML and CoffeeScript (a little language that compiles into JavaScript).

What are Monika’s overall impressions from the workshops? She said: “Programming is like magic. You typed proper characters and by doing so you are creating lovely things like pictures or practical solutions, such as the possibility of logging-in. The code is coming to life - it is not just some letters, numbers or symbols anymore. Even though at first after getting to know the theory, I had a feeling that this is too much information to remember and I as lost, but then things were becoming more clear by the hour. It was a really inspiring experience and makes me eager to expand knowledge in this area.”

Dream team (photographer Kasia Popek) Dream team (photographer Kasia Popek)

Friday hugs

Rails Girls are also cultivating the famous tradition of #FridayHug. Since workshops were taking place on Fridays, we couldn’t miss hugging the Internet and of course capturing all participants and mentors in a picture!

Let's hug! (photographer Kasia Popek) Let’s hug! (photographer Kasia Popek)

See you next time!

We think that basic programming skills can be useful for everyone and in every single case that learning them will never be a waste of time. As Linda said once “wherever you work in life, it is important to know even the slightest, tiniest bit of software engineering”. Ruby is a language that is easy to start with, so no one will be discouraged about coding from the beginning. At the same time you can build advanced applications using Ruby on Rails, that’s why we love it so much <3

It’s great that Linda came up with this wonderful idea and that it has spread this beautiful framework all over the world! We are proud to help and participate in Rails Girls Polish events on so many levels! See you all there next year!