Monday, September 9, 2013

Rails Girls: A Programming Space for Women

On Saturday, I was one of a number of coaches for Rails Girls at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.  This wonderful event is designed to help teach women the basics of Ruby and Ruby on Rails, and to ultimately help them build an application.  It was an excellent experience:  I was so impressed with how quickly all the attendees picked up the basics of the command line, programming, and web development.  

For those of you who would like to see exactly what we covered, we first went through much of Ruby in 100 Minutes and then jumped right in with building a Ruby on Rails address book application that lets users input their name, twitter info, picture, bio, and address, and then plots the address on a map.  Students who wanted a further challenge then followed instructions to put their app online using Heroku.  For example, Elizabeth Hopwood, one of the attendees I worked with, put her excellent app online and populated it with "Downtown Abbey" characters. 

I'm so grateful to Jeri Wieringa and Celeste Sharpe for organizing this event.  I'm thrilled to have been part of something that helps teach women how to code and that can actually help change the programming culture:  on numerous occasions at conferences, I've had people insist that I couldn't have created my two digital projects and that, as a woman, I must be taking credit for the programming work of a man.  Programs like Rails Girls can help change those horrible perceptions, by helping women feel welcomed into coding and into a supportive programming community and by publicly claiming programming spaces for women.  

I look forward to hearing of future Rails Girls events, and I hope to volunteer as a coach for other similar nearby programs in the future.


  1. I approve in general, but I can't help but wonder: why Rails "Girls"? Why not, you know, Rails Women? Since you're all adults and all that.

    /end weird and random picayune language criticism

    1. Hi Claire! I definitely agree that it seems strange (at Wellesley, we were very insistent that we went to a woman's college rather than a girl's school, for example). I'm assuming they called it "Rails Girls" instead of "Rails Women" because they wanted to emphasize the similarities in the words "rails" and "girls" (rails has an "a" instead of a "g"), perhaps to implicitly suggest that rails is a good and welcoming tool for women?

    2. It is a great question! The short answer is the women who started Rails Girls in Helsinki were invoking the Spice Girls and "girl power" and the term has stuck.

  2. Joanna,
    So great discover you through @nowviskie. I feel we need to talk. I'm founder of Tech-Girls in Cville and slowly, but surely connecting to women in tech here as well.


    1. Kim,
      It's great to hear from you, and I'd love to talk with you! Tech-Girls sounds like a wonderful organization, and I'd love to learn more.