I learned an interesting fact about myself this weekend – I code like a girl.
A few months ago, I stumbled across a post on Reddit (despite what you may have heard, Reddit has a ton of wonderful people and useful communities). The post mentioned that applications were open for a workshop meant to teach women with no prior programming experience how to code using Python and Django. The workshop was being offered through Django Girls, a global movement to introduce more women to the programming field. Thanks to Kevin, I had a vague idea of what programming entails and what Python and Django are. I’d never really messed around with programming myself. I have a good grasp on HTML/CSS and how those work, and had looked over some of the things Kevin had coded while he worked through some of his Python books.
I applied for the PDX workshop, hoping that it would provide me with new skills to better market myself in my job search. As a public relations professional, I thought it would be neat if I could say “not only can I craft the content for your website, I can code it for you too.” Excitingly, a month later, I received an email telling me I’d been accepted to the workshop.
As the date approached, I became a little nervous that I was going to be in over my head. After all, I went the liberal arts route because my brain isn’t mathematically oriented, and some of the lines of code Kevin has shown me looked like literal Latin to me. I was worried I wasn’t going to keep up with the rest of the group.
Now, go to nataliejhansen.pythonanywhere.com.
See that blog with the nonsensical posts on it? I put that there. Not only did I code the web page, I coded the blog app within it and created the server it’s still running on.
And I understood (mostly) what I did to achieve that.
The workshop started Friday night, where we met with our teams of three women and one coach. My coach, Andrew, is a teacher at Treehouse in Portland, which provided us with the venue. Each table had a prominent woman in programming featured along with their Twitter handle; my table was named for Audrey Roy Greenfield. We got to know each other over Chipotle, and heard a series of fun lightning talks. The topics covered ranged from understanding “imposter syndrome,” where those in IT and women in general feel like they’re not qualified for the jobs they’re doing; to how to use your coding skills to build fun Twitter bots. We then went through the installation chapter of the Django Girls tutorial to install Python, learn to set up a virtual environment, install Django, install a code editor, and create accounts with GitHub and Python Anywhere.
We met back up the next morning, and started off on the right foot with some swag bags. The bags featured Treehouse’s logo, and came with a Django Girls mug, tons of stickers (including the rare Django mascot, the Django pony), an awesome pocket mirror that reads “this is what a programmer looks like” on the outside, a Moleskine notebook, pens, and buttons.
My favorite gift was our t-shirts, which proudly proclaim, “I code like a girl” on the front. All of the coaches, including the men, were wearing a blue version of the shirts.
After a quick breakfast and intro, we got right into the tutorial. The open source tutorial is set up to be worked through at your own pace, and the coaches were there to help with any questions or snags that came up. In keeping with Treehouse’s tradition, we also had noisemakers at each table. Whenever one of the attendees completed a major step or worked through a bug, we were encouraged to make noise. The rest of the room always joined in with claps and cheers, and it made for a very fun, welcoming environment all day.
The morning also introduced us to our “debugging ducks.” These little guys are meant to help you work through issues. If you can’t figure something out, read your code line-by-line to the duck – they’ll help you find the problem. I chose one that was wearing a whip cream hat.
The tutorial is very simple to understand, though it’s not possible for it cover everything single lesson in great detail. The tutorial mentions that this workshop alone won’t turn you into a programmer – this is to show you that you are capable of doing it and spark the interest to continue. I worked diligently through to lunch, and managed to get the first iteration of my website deployed on Python Anywhere. After a break for some delicious Mediterranean food from Nicholas Restaurant, we were back at it.
By 5 PM, I had more or less completed the tutorial. I took breaks about 10 different times to stretch and do jumping jacks, but I still felt like my brain was sliding out of my ears by then. I also had one small issue with my blog; but by then it was time to hear from some of the women present about why they were there. I heard very touching stories from women who had a new found sense of pride at the end of the day, and had amazing goals for their new skills. I shared my hope of using these skills in my public relations career, and felt a ton of support from the whole room.
As we wrapped up for the day, I was so excited about programming in general despite feeling a mental exhaustion I haven’t seen since I finished my thesis. I slept for 10 hours when I went to bed that night, and had no desire to see a computer in front of my face.
Or so I thought. The next morning, one of the first things I did was open everything back up and see if I could solve the blog issue I’d left off with. After about 15 minutes of work, I successfully fixed the code and redeployed it to Python Anywhere.
My goal now is to fully code a new website to house my online portfolio, and then move on to coding and hosting a site for Intrusions of Beauty. Kevin has several Python books I’m going to take a look at, and I’m beginning to work on the Django Girls Extensions Tutorial. I certainly don’t understand a good bit of some of the code I’ve used to create my test blog – but the spark has been ignited to push me to keep going. My coach mentioned that programmers spend years doing certain things and not understanding how they work – but eventually you will have the “aha!” moment.
Django Girls was an amazing experience, and am I hoping to find some meetups to stay in touch with other beginning lady programmers in Portland. I’d also like to learn enough that I could be a coach for the next Django Girls PDX workshop, or at the very least volunteer for setup and take down.
If there is a Django Girls happening near you, apply to go! More women are needed in programming. Too many (including myself, previously) think they’re not smart enough to code, and that’s so far from the truth. Anyone can and should learn this. Everyone, men and women, can code like a girl! You’ll better understand the technologies we use everyday, and have a new outlet for your creativity.
In just under two weeks, I’ll be at DEFCON 23 in Las Vegas with Kevin. While I’ll still be checking out the Social Engineering and Internet of Things talks and villages, I’m going to find a Python related talk to sit in on and see how much I understand.
My debugging duck and I have tons of learning and work ahead of us.