This Saturday I infiltrated an event for girls. Girls awesome enough to dip their toes into the world of web development and programming in general.
It was a bit like geek heaven.
There you are, surrounded by 75 human females, every one of them hand picked to be interested in what you do. Girls who came there to learn, with a mind completely open, everything is new. You can say almost anything and they will believe you. No questioning, no male ego. Just acceptance that you know what the hell you are doing.
Not daunting. Not daunting at all.
I volunteered to mentor at Rails Girls Ljubljana in a moment of weakness, one evening when I was very tired. Immediately regretting the decision I saw it through anyway … the experience was amazing, I was not disappointed.
My impostor syndrome meter was through the roof. You see, before the event I had a grand total of two hours of Ruby on Rails experience. Tried to go through the Rails Girls guide the previous evening, failed miserably on my machine because all the generators and scripts did the wrong thing for some reason. Probably a version thing.
Perhaps sensing my hopelessness the girls in my group (three per mentor) did not ask too much about Ruby or Rails. They focused more on the interesting stuff one can actually teach in a day – how to make things pretty.
I could help with that!
Talked their ear off about html and css … the other mentors relay a similar experience. But that’s what beginners are like, they want something to change on the screen, something cool to happen. Perfectly happy changing templates around, they rarely care about the deep logic behind things. There’s easier fruit to pick.
Although I’m sorry there wasn’t enough time to explain one of the girls how to make a twitter bootstrap button with a custom colour. Would simply take too long.
The best thing about teaching girls, the absolute best thing is they don’t have annoying ego problems.
Teaching guys, I would mostly sit around and observe what they’re doing. They would poke around, ruin everything and only after getting hopelessly lost they would ask about some irrelevant issue. They wouldn’t ask for understanding, they’d ask “Hey, why is it complaining about this comma?” … are you kidding me, you clearly have no idea what’s going on and you ask me about a syntax error?
Girls … they ask. If something isn’t clear, if something doesn’t work, if they’re simply unsure of something. They ARE going to ask you. And you will be confused, you will have to pull on all your past experience with other frameworks … and when you fuck it all up, you can always ask another mentor about that tangential syntax error.
I probably learned more about Ruby on Rails than the girls did, but I couldn’t have done it without them. They taught me plenty simply by asking good questions and making sure I didn’t have a single minute of down time in the three or four hours we spent coding together.
Hopefully we taught all the ladies that computers aren’t some arcane mystery and that they will at least consider programming as a solution to the problems they encounter in whatever they’re doing.
The fact it took 10 minutes to teach everyone where [ and ] are will forever stay a warm memory of just how utterly I underestimated the importance of initiatives like Rails Girls.
PS: Thanks to Rails Girls franchise for the awesome guides. I would be completelyeven more lost without those
@swizec P.S.: Pic permission granted, just mention Katarina Jazbec as our super awesome photographer ;)— RailsGirls Ljubljana (@RailsGirls_LJ) December 17, 2012
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