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News  14, Oct 2011

Rails Girls Singapore: Not so beginner, after all

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It was terribly exciting and just a little intimidating. After all, the world of programming was a strange and foreign land. A realm I was never brave enough to explore. When Rails Girls dropped into town just last week, however, I ran out of excuses. Meant for beginners of the female community, I could no longer justify my hesitance. And so, I registered – along with my mom.

I know. Awesome, isn’t it?

Having recently tendered her resignation and bade goodbye to the corporate world without a backward glance, my mom sits at home bubbling with ideas to start out on her own. Her enthusiasm was unsubstantiated though, with the lack of the right tools. I thought it interesting to see how she would fare in the course – a good gauge of exactly how basic Rails Girls would be – since her knowledge of computers could probably fit into a peanut.

The two-day Ruby on Rails programming session began with a lively mixer, where all the Rails Girls to-be gathered to introduce each other. We were awfully inspired by the passionate and exuberant individuals we met. Everyone were like sponges, holding so much knowledge to share and absorbing as quickly as they give. It was the perfect atmosphere for great things to happen.

After dividing the girls into groups, setting up the required programs and with more than thirty terminals opened in the cosy lounge of SmartSpace, we dived straight into the meat of the course. Karri Saarinen, the founder of Arctic Startup and a partner at Kisko Labs,  gave a quick and insightful look into the design process for web applications. Clear explanations, coupled with simple examples, made it easy to grasp the concepts. Designer and developer, Andy Croll, offered the first glimpse into ruby and its inner workings. Mom and I especially liked the informality of the presentation. Time to time, other coaches would also interrupt to offer alternative analogies to clarify more complex concepts. The coaches would chip away at each other’s explanations till someone derived at the most simplified version. The collective ‘Ooh..’ from the crowd was usually a good indicator. A fantastic, and rather comical, way of learning, if I may say so.

Each team of four Rails Girls shared a coach. All coaches are on voluntary basis from everywhere, with their love for programming a common denominator. You could probably guess as much from their passionate, albeit sometimes rather incomprehensible, teachings. The blank look worked perfectly on the coaches when they forget themselves and spit out jargons like 130km/h tennis ball machines – at least Mom’s did. Scrambling to find other ways of making the difficult ideas simple, I almost felt sorry for being such a greenhorn.

Let’s be honest here. Learning programming from scratch in a single day is impossible. The main purpose of Rails Girls as explained by Linda Liukas, the co-organizer behind Rails Girls, was to equip the girls with a basic understanding of how it works – and hopefully not get cheated by the developer you hire for your next project. As two absolute beginners, my mom and I were especially overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information. The small groups were still considered fairly large because it was hard for the coaches to split their attention among the four of us. Things took a better turn when we managed to grab an unsuspecting coach, who was without a group, to tutor us. The focused attention helped plenty because there was no need to ‘queue up’ for an answer to our question.

Took a mini survey of the progress of the other participants and everyone seemed to be in great spirits, having lots of fun coding their applications. Many showed us their work and It was then I realized, that the ‘beginner course’ was not exactly made up of ‘beginners’. Many had knowledge of programming – as little as there was. We came unprepared and ready to pick things up along the way. Too naïve. I figured, the best way to wield the full potential of the course was to do some homework before attending. Then perhaps you would not have looked as crazed as we did at the end of the session.

Thanks to Jason Ong, Linda Liukas and Karri Saarinen for bringing Rails Girls to Singapore. Till next time!

This guest post was written by Sarah Ong. Bitten by the travel bug, Sarah hopes to traverse the world. Meanwhile, physically bound to this little concrete jungle; and spiritually, running wild in the Scottish highlands; Sarah reads fanatically, bakes regularly, and dabbles in freelance designing on the side. She is naturally attracted to all pretty things. Call her superficial, she doesn’t care. She is tweeting at @turtlejelly. Sarah also writes for Fever Avenue.

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  • Mohan Belani

    The guy on the right sooo looks like an older version of Justin Bieber!

  • http://andycroll.com/ Andy Croll

    Informal presentation-style. That’s just how I roll. Not quite sure how to do formal!

    Was a great day, lots of eager recruits and programmers trying to explain programming concepts in ‘normal’ human – more of a challenge than you’d think.

  • Pingback: These girls love their rubies - e27

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