On Saturday 8th August, an intrepid band of developers headed out to run an Intro to RailsBridge workshop for the Women in Computer Science group at the University of Cape Town. It was lots of fun!
This one was a little different to our usual events: the workshop attendees were Computer Science students, so they already some experience with coding, and with languages other than Ruby. We also had a slightly weightier balance than normal in terms of teachers and students.
Activities, not just sitting and coding
Like previous events, we tried to work in more activities for the students than just sitting in front of a screen coding.
One step in the InstallFest is downloading and compiling Ruby. This can take a little while, so we had activity to keep students Doing Stuff (related to the course) rather than sitting around twiddling their thumbs. In her book, The Ten-Minute Trainer, Sharon Bowman talks about activities like this, that she calls Sponges.
We used the same warm-up exercise (an email before the workshop, asking “What are three things you already know about programming?” and “What do you plan to do with what you learn?”), and added an as-you-walk-in-the-door exercise about these questions: each student had to ask three others about their answers to the warm-up questions.
There were three big themes from the students’ answers to the warm-up questions:
- the emotional side of programming (it can be fun, frustrating, and engaging);
- that it’s a tool for problem solving (and automating things, and that it can change the world);
- and the importance of bugs (small bigs can lead to big problems, debugging can be time-consuming)
For a morning break, Rory reprised his fantastic “Why?” talk, offering some insights (and entertainment! :-) ) to the students about the life of a software developer.
What does an engineer look like?
Just before the workshop, a fantastic Twitter hashtag was doing the rounds: #ILookLikeAnEngineer. We decided to use this in our activity. We asked students to grab sticky notes and pens and write down answers to “What does an engineer look like.” Then we asked them to look up the hashtag, find one awesome person there, and introduce them to the person sitting next to them. Here’s our favourite answer:
You cannot tell if a person is an engineer by looking at them
Pass That Card
For our afternoon break, we asked students to do a three step activity called Pass That Card (again from The Ten-Minute Trainer).
- Write down a question you have.
- Take a card with a question on, and answer it.
- Take a card with an answer on, and write “agree” or “disagree.”
The students had an interesting range of questions about:
- what programming languages are used in the workplace (“Is Rails used as much as Python?”);
- how to choose which programming language to use when (“Ruby seems good for web apps, C++ seems better for systems stuff”);
- git and how it works;
- Ruby and Gems.
At the end of the course, there’s a link to a short Google Forms-powered survey, asking what the best thing and the worst about the workshop was, and what is a thing we could do differently about the workshop.
For best thing, people talked about the volunteers. They described them as enthusiastic, helpful, friendly, and open. Thank you! :)
For worst thing, people talked about the complexity of learning a new framework. Rails can be very powerful, but it has quite a lot of “magic” (things it does behind the scenes for you).
For differently, people talked about having a more real world example, explaining more about the MVC (Model View Controller) pattern that Rails uses, and providing different streams (we just ran the Intro to Rails slice of the course).
Our next “regular” RailsBridge
We hope to run our next public event around the middle of September. As soon as we have the details, we’ll publish it to our meetup group, so make sure you’re signed up there if you’d like to be notified.
We’re thinking about doing something a bit different. We’d like to run multiple tracks: the Intro to Rails course as usual, and (for the first time) the Intermediate Rails course. Very exciting! :D