Students and coaches

The (not so) secret society of Rails Girls

This was my first time at Rails Girls London and it was exciting to be introduced to this huge community of enthusiasts and developers who shared one common goal: to get stuck into Ruby on Rails and meet other like-minded individuals.

I did not pay a single penny for the workshop because it was all free – run by sponsorship, and taught by volunteer coaches. Whether you are beginner, intermediate or advanced, all women were welcome at Rails Girls and coaches were at least 1 per 2 students.

The workshop took place at investment platform for SME’s Funding Circle’s fancy premises in the City, London, and was run by social enterprise Rails Girls. Rails Girls have chapters around the world but the 200-strong cohort was possibly the largest ever.

What is Ruby?

The point of the day-long workshop was to teach aspiring women coders how to use Ruby on Rails to build a simple web application.

For those who don’t know, Ruby on Rails is a lightweight programming language that makes it easier to build websites than other coding languages.

Women learning how to code

Image: Coaches wear red t-shirts and teach Rails Girls to code in Ruby on Rails

Pizza and beer

We had a taster of things to come on the Friday night with the launch party, involving free beer and pizza – what more could you ask for? Everyone was incredibly friendly and chatted openly about their backgrounds and coding experiences.

It was an easy ‘networking’ environment, not so much professional cattle market but chilled-out party vibe where you made friends rather than ‘connections’.

I met some really lovely computer science students, who were originally from Poland and Romania. They were much more life-smart than I was at that age, and truly passionate about helping women to learn to code.

Two girls

Image: Me and fellow Rails Girl Linh

Treated like royalty

On the Saturday was a breakfast with croissants, muffins, toast, tea and coffee. It felt like we were treated like royalty and it was another chance to get to know the other Rails Girls and coaches.

I built a simple blog using Ruby code, and which was something I had never been able to do before. This was largely with the help of Jan, my Ruby coach, who was endlessly patient and answered all my questions.

During the break, we said hi via Skype to the Rails Girls chapter simultaneously learning to code in Paris. We also had lightning talks from inspiring female Ruby developers including Krissy, Charlie and Zoe, and a few words from sponsors Deliveroo about their aspirations for getting more women into tech – particularly software development.

Person giving a talk

Men called John

We heard from Girl Meets Code about man landing on the moon, put there by early female software engineer Margaret Hamilton. Funny, because no one ever talks about her. In many ways, history has largely been written by men, who have had a tendency to ignore the narratives of those who are unlike them.

Prevailing sexist attitudes have disastrous consequences for equality, evidenced by the lack of diversity in the tech industry in general but particularly at a senior board level.

“There are more men called John working as Chief Executives and Chairs of FTSE companies than there are women.”

Numbers of women in tech teams are often abysmally low, but Rails Girls is making gains in lowering the barrier to women in STEM careers. Their workshops are truly inspirational and supportive, providing the ideal environment for over 200 women to learn some new Ruby skills.

If recent political events have taught me anything, it’s that diversity at all levels of society is more important than ever. Businesses and individuals need to work together and provide vital support for each other. Tech in particular is an industry that literally knows no boundaries, and the future is very bright with possibilities.

Well done Rails Girls, Funding Circle, Deliveroo, ThoughtWorks and Shutl!

Don’t worry if you missed out! Check out my comprehensive list of free coding workshops and courses in the UK. 

About the author

Catherine Heath

I’m a B2B freelance tech blogger and content writer. I have a thing for psychology, diversity, tech and startups. Learning to code.

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