The Rails Girls organization does an amazing job supporting event organizers and providing lots of materials but, as newbies, we were presented with a few challenges.
Here’s how we addressed them.
1. Do we include men or keep it strictly women?
The event is focused on women and aims to provide a safe and comfortable environment for them to learn or improve their coding skills. On the other hand we wanted it to be as inclusive as possible and we actually had a few men who were interested in attending. To make it fair for everyone, we let them participate with the condition of bringing with them an interested woman and it worked! The atmosphere was amazing and everyone worked perfectly with each other.
Above: ThoughtWorks Chairman Roy Singham addresses the group.
2. Do we split participants into skill levels or let people self-select?
We expected to have people from different backgrounds, from Computer Science students to professionals who have never coded. We initially thought about splitting them into teams based on their skill set and assigning coaches accordingly. As the participants were arriving to the event, however, they set themselves up on different tables and we felt that moving them was going to disturb them and make them lose time on the actual workshop so we left them as they were. It turned out quite good as every table had a mix of skills and they did an amazing job helping each other out.
That said, in future events we would try harder to split them into levels as we think there is a lot of benefit from doing as the women at each table could progress and learn at the same pace.
3. How long do we make the event?
The schedule for the event was an evening "installation party" on Friday where we made sure everyone's laptop was set up correctly and a full-day workshop on Saturday. Both days were packed with talks and exercises and it was extremely tiring for both students and coaches. The feedback that we have from the students is that they need more (which is awesome!). It is also true that there was not enough time to fully explain basic concepts of web development. As a result of that we are now planning to have a couple of meetups and start building a Rails Girls community in NY.
Overall, it was an amazing experience. We had more than 50 students and 15 coaches for the two-day workshop. The response from both coaches and students that we had was so positive and encouraging that we are looking forward to do it again in New York soon.
What advice do you have for first-time organizers of events? Share in the comments section.