11/08/11 | Uncategorized

The Impact of Twitter on RailsBridge (Learning Ruby on Rails)

By Jennifer Lindner (Organizer, RailsBridge & Freelance Open Source Developer)
Twitter not only helps facilitate organizing across the world, they invest in their local community by hosting RailsBridge workshops in their San Francisco office.

We’re doing it. We’re teaching each other technology.

Not how to use it: how to build it.

We’re teaching and learning software development. How to use our command lines and be comfortable in the guts of our machines. How to contribute to the open source projects of others and deploy our own apps. We’re doing it more and more often, and we’re doing it in more cities, and we’re talking about it in public more, too. We are growing our marketability. Our ingenuity. A network where we thrive.

Only two and a half years ago, Sarah Allen and Sarah Mei met at a San Francisco Ruby Meetup and couldn’t help but notice each other, being the only two women in the room. Talking about that led to doing something about it, and the workshop idea was born: a weekend training event to provide a solid foundation in Ruby on Rails development to women. For free, for any woman who wanted to learn. (Men could come too if they helped with outreach and found a woman who wanted to attend.)

But they didn’t anticipate what happened next. Less than 24 hours of announcing it the workshop was full — with a waiting list to spare. Like a Google search in reverse, everything they were looking for found them. People volunteered to help teach, created a wiki to manage the curriculum, donated hosting for the student projects, and committed to providing space and food.

All this after only one meetup announcement, two tweets and one mailing list post.

The result? Over 60 women were trained by 15 volunteers in 36 hours.

To this day, Railsbridge workshops fill up fast and we have a waiting list every time we produce one. Talking about them in public, predominantly with Twitter, seems to be the real juggernaut at work.

What’s clearly been important for Twitter all along is that it’s public and interest-based. Web developers have always been exceptionally vocal and active twitterers.

As @gilesgoatboy (Giles Bowkett) put it in 2008, “Of course we tweet all day long, everyone we know sits in front of a computer all day talking to each other (mostly) about technology.”

In the summer of 2009, @ultrasaurus (Sarah Allen) tweeted that she was planning a trip to the East coast. Two women Ruby developers she’d never met but who were following her replied by asking if she wanted to produce a workshop during her visit. Sarah replied absolutely, if they put it together, she’d make time to teach.

So @lleahy (Liana Leahy) arranged for hosting, and @marytolbert (who tweets privately) found a second teacher, and once again a plethora of volunteers from the area answered the call. Once again, students and TAs blogged and tweeted about how comfortable it was and how much they learned.

And this time women in New York took notice. Six months later, @sarahmei (Sarah Mei) flew across the country to help teach at another workshop, and afterwards the participants formed the NYC Women’s Ruby Group.

Today, more than 1,000 people have been trained at workshops — in San Francisco, Boston, Oahu, New York, Boulder, Chicago, Petaluma, Madison and Seattle. Last October, a woman from Finland attended a workshop and created her own offshoot in Helsinki.

We’ve produced 15 workshops so far this year! Also, this is the year we inspired women Python and Scala developers to start their own workshops.

With each one, the entire network grows: people stay in touch. We work on open source projects together, ask questions and give answers, ask for and get introduced to helpful people in other cities for other tech initiatives. We help each other thrive. Much like starting a business one small, viable step at a time, you don’t have to boil the ocean to produce a workshop. They can come together with very few real-life meetings. Developers hate them for one thing, and they’re just not needed.

RailsBridge curriculum is on the web and continually edited by volunteers to include new tools and tips learned from their own workshop experiences. Seattle RailsBridge recently revamped the curriculum and inspired our San Franciscans to redo our installation docs also: check out the new and improved, easy-to-follow guides here.

People contribute whatever resources they have and want to give, and the event comes together BarCamp style, from the ground up. Each one has its own personality, but they all accomplish the same goal.

Our next workshop is scheduled for November 18th and 19th, 2011.

Contact us if you’d like to attend one — or produce, host or sponsor a workshop in your own community!

Photo credit (top picture): Wolfram Arnold photographed the first RailsBridge workshop in June 2009.
Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Jennifer Lindner is an open source developer and technical editor with more than ten years of experience in web and web application development. A lead organizer of the Gotham Ruby Conference from 2007 to 2010, she produced New York City’s first RailsBridge workshop in 2010 and is an active RailsBridge organizer. Follow her on Twitter at @jenlindner.



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