A week ago, I was one of the coaches for Django Girls Amsterdam. There were several reasons for this. The primary one being that I was going to Amsterdam for Django Under The Hood. The secondary reason was that my wife quite forcefully told me that I should. It wasn’t a big stretch though, I’ve been teaching Python for a while, and I’m strongly in favour of any effort that attempts to restore some diversity to the tech industry.
So what is Django Girls? I guess the easiest way (and I do like easy) is probably to take the first paragraph of their website:
Django Girls is a non-profit organization that empowers and helps women to organize free, one-day programming workshops by providing tools, resources and support. It was born in Berlin and started by two Polish girls: Ola Sitarska and Ola Sendecka.
The rest of the website is a good read, and includes probably the best tutorial on Django that’s available on the Web. The workshop has been run 12 times so far. I’m coaching at the 13th in Edinburgh next weekend. At around 35 students each, that’s around 450 new Django developers!
I’ll admit to being a little nervous on the day. I don’t usually teach beginners. I felt the contents of the workshop were very ambitious. Also, due to last minute things, out of my 3-person team, one had to be swapped at the last minute due to illness, and the other two ran late on the day of the workshop. Because of this, the day started off very slowly. I got the impression Daniela, my late swap who had to turn up at 8am on a Sunday to get everything installed, felt the same.
Once my team all arrived, things felt instantly better. The team started to help each other out (which is by far the best way to learn), and I had to work hard to override my instinct to interrupt and assist. The team made up of Daniela, Laura and Olga did amazingly well to get through so much in one day. The workshop teaches everything from building a first Django app through to deploying it on Heroku.
One of the Olas (both of the originators of Django Girls are called Ola) said in the introduction in the morning: “We can’t teach you to program in a day.” This is true, but it appears you can get motivated learners to build all the critical pieces of a webapp and understand to some degree what each piece is doing. This gives a great top-down view of what’s involved with building a web app, and hopefully gives them a solid foundation on which to build more detailed programming knowledge.
As an experienced developer, it’s easy to give the impression that you know everything that’s important about development. It is a humbling experience to explain to someone that you only know a tiny amount about the area you specialise in, and that you learned that, just like them, one trick at a time. The most important thing about learning to program computers is to start. I am proud to think that I had a small part in someone else’s start.
All in all, the day was hugely positive. I met some wonderful new people, both coaches and students. I’m looking to repeating the event this weekend in Edinburgh, and I’d encourage anyone with an intermediate knowledge of Django to get involved as a coach and help make our industry better than it is today.