Aftermaths and Statistics from Galway, IrelandA Rails Girls workshop took place in Galway, Ireland, again, on June 20-21st 2014. We applied some changes this time and we are happy to share the results with the rest of the community.
The first change regarded the tutorial. Last year we started with the basic app tutorial (the one for creating ideas) and then we let the attendees decide which other tutorial to continue with. However, the majority were either just leaving or only focusing on CSS improvements for the web page appearence. This time then, we decided to give more structure to the tutorial and to present it as an actually useful application for the society. This resulted in a tutorial to describe, comment and rate touristic places in Galway as autism-friendly or not. The application had even been requested by the Galway Autism Partnership! You can find the final code and screenshots on GitHub.
The second change consisted in splitting the Lightning Talks in 2 sessions at lunch time and in the middle of the afternoon. Also, we tried our best to host highly ranked speakers with interesting insights and experiences to share.
The third change was to explicitly asked for feedback to the attendees after the event via questionnaire. We got 22 replies out of 70 attendees and we draw statistics on them in addition to statistics on the applicants’ background and age (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1 - Age groups of the Rails Girls Galway 2014 applicants
Their overall feedback was positive for a large majority (Fig. 2). Finally, another change was introducing explanations on GitHub and having everyone publishing their code on their own GitHub account since the very beginning.
Fig. 2 - Overall enjoyment scale of the Rails Girls Galway 2014 participants
As we can see from Fig. 1, the majority of the applicants were between 20 and 40. In this age group women are probably more interested in learning and in evaluating their career options. Also, they mostly did not have any programming experience, as in Fig. 3.
Fig. 3 - Knowledge background of the Rails Girls Galway 2014 applicants with respect to programming
Even in case of positive feedback, we asked what they would have improved. The replies are shown in Fig. 4 and focused on 3 main points: the tutorial, the coach per participants ratio and the schedule.
Fig. 4 - What the Rails Girls Galway 2014 participants would like to improve
The amount of participants. We hosted 70 effective participants out of 97 applications which came from all over Ireland (some from Dublin and Limerick). All of the 97 applications were accepted because we planned for a ratio of 5 attendees per coach which worked well last year. Also, while in 2013 we tried to create pre-defined groups of participants balancing their knowledge background and preparation, we found very hard to move the attendees to their seat within their group, during the workshop. This time then, we decided to just let them choose their seat randomly. However, by the feedback gathered, the mixture of newbies and programmers was perceived as an issue. Some people needed more explanations and others needed less; some needed more focus without being distracted by the talks (despite enjoying the talks a lot) while others were perfectly happy to interrupt the coding and enjoy the talks and the breaks (maybe because more confident already with the coding itself). This explains. Finally, it is critically important to meet face to face with all the coaches at least once (even via telco if necessary) in order to make absolutely sure that everyone knows what is behind each step of the tutorial.
Tutorial and Schedule. I aggregate these two subjects together because they are tightly related with each other. The first problem with the tutorial was not properly presenting the web application that we were going to develop as a whole. The tutorial content was presented by voice but more explanations would have been necessary, with the aid of diagrams and screenshots. Maybe even a live demo. Some also suggested to graphically explain what each step of the tutorial was aimed at. People often realized what they were learning and doing only after a while or towards the end. The second problem with the tutorial was that the instructions were perceived as not suited for beginners. Some also found the command line as an obstacle for beginners and consequently Ruby on Rails as too complicated. The third and general issue with the tutorial and the schedule itself was fitting too much to do in only 1 day, since Friday, as usual, had been dedicated only to the Installation Party. Many were willing to commit more days if necessary for the learning process (although I do not know how much the volunteers would be available to dedicate more days..especially those who came from abroad like Dublin and Waterford).
As a personal additional remark, the networking experience sometimes does not happen on its own by just splitting participants in groups, but needs some encouragement. Last year, the afterparty which is the main networking occasion, couldn’t happen close to the workshop and as a consequence very few participants attended while the majority were coaches. This time it happened close to the workshop and more participants attended. However, gathering peiple who do not know each other around some pints does not work straight away. Some activities need to be planned in advance and discussed among all the coaches (maybe during the face to face meeting mentioned earlier) to facilitate the interactions. Also, having the afterparty right after the workshop is not a good idea because the participants are too tired at the end.
Another personal remark is about troubleshooting of errors. There were unexpected errors experienced by some attendees’ machines which took time off the coaches to be solved and slowed down the overall schedule speed besides descouraging the participants. A solution for this may be to create a virtual machine where we make sure the web app works perfectly fine by following the tutorial step by step. Then, we could ask the attendees to use this virtual machine.
Fig. 5 - What the Rails Girls Galway 2014 participants particularly enjoyed
On a positive note, Fig. 5 shows that everyone enjoyed the lightning talks, the learning experience and the networking. As in Fig. 6, so many people felt empowered by the experience, inspired by the generosity of the volunteers and by seeing women innovators. The majority perceived a change of perspective about programming which becomes more accessible as the IT area feels more welcoming. One comment explicitly mentioned how coding felt scaring before and possible now and how Rails Girls Galway had a direct effect on her decision to subscribe to a Computer Science course in University after having been out of the job market because of her pregrancies.
Fig. 6 - What the Rails Girls Galway 2014 participants brought home from the workshop experience
Fig. 7 shows how the Rails Girls format has the particular merit of making learning a fun and social experience rather than a boring, solitary work. The even is generally received as important to develop one’s self, feeling empowered and inspired to dig more into coding. These comments are the best reward for all the effort put into the event by our volunteers and encouraging for the whole Rails Girls movement.
Fig. 7 - Why should others attend the workshop according to the Rails Girls Galway 2014 participants
The talks were appreciated by absolutely everyone :) They were centered around the topics of women in entrepreneuship by Dorothy Creaven, the IT gender gap by Catherine Cronin (both listed among the 100 women in STEM by Silicon Republic), contributing to open source by Darío Javier Cravero (core contributor of the Padrino Framework), electronic crafting with MaKey MaKey by Bianca Ní Ghrógáin. The attendees particularly enjoyed discovering the fun and easy ways of crafting with electronics using MaKey MaKey. Bianca even performed a live demo using a device and Scratch program that made a cat meowing whenever people were holding their hands in a circle and stopped whenever a pair of them let go of their hands.
General remarks for the next Rails Girls Galway and suggestions for those happening around the world:
- give a lot of details and explanations on what the plan is for the workshop day/s and what the attendees will accomplish at the end
- have a plan B. make sure that even if running out of time, there will be small achievements accomplished by everyone at the end
- whatever is the schedule, make sure to take at least 30minutes or even 1hour before the end of the workshop, to explain and show and award the accomplishments
- if possible, run the workshop over 2 full days rather than 1 (and a half) reducing the installation time to only 1 hour while sending installation instructions by email in advance
- have the afterparty on a different day then the day of the workshop
- plan networking activities as part of the afterparty and/or the breaks
- if possible split completely the attendees between newbies and advanced. in this case, make sure the talks are scheduled in a way that does not distract the attendees focus (maybe scheduling them only on one dedicated day or before starting or after finishing)
- reduce the participant per coach ratio to even 2 attendees per coach
- have all the coaches participate to a meeting (even if via telco) and make sure everyone has a deep knowledge of the tutorial to follow
- try to host talks that show creative and fun sides of programming, possibly performing live demo
This year the sponsors were more keen to help us. We must thank both GitHub and Cisco who sponsored us for the second time, RedHat who printed T-shirt for all the coaches and all the attendees, too! Microsoft who covered awards for the best attendees together with GitHub, Ericsson who spontaneously offered both monetary support and volunteers, ContentKingdom who sponsored us and whose CTO awesomely offered to give a talk and volunteer as a coach. Special thanks to the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at NUIG (National University of Ireland Galway) who gave us the space, electricity and internet coverage to run the event for free as part of the Outreach Program led by Brendan Smith. Brendan is also responsible for the National Technology and Communication museum located in the Insight building and offered the space in the museum to host our lunch and breaks for the delight of everyone (see photo below). He helped us promoting the event via his contacts with journalists, too: thanks a million, Brendan!! Thank you so much to all the volunteers whose effort and ability to create a welcoming and relaxed while helpful atmosphere was amazing!
Thanks to Stefania, Kevin, Keith, Darío, Gerry and Myriam for the slides presentations they also gave. Thanks to Narumol and Deirdre for the photos (check them out on our Flickr account!) and to Hugo who recorded videos and interviews which are going to be published soon (stay tuned! we’ll announce it on our Twitter acocunt)
Thank you to the amazing Rails Girls community, happy coding and a big hug from Ireland!! ;)
Myriam Leggieri (@iammyr)
(on behalf of Rails Girls Galway)