Two Saturdays ago, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop called Rails Girls. According to Wikipedia, Rails is a “an open source full-stack web application framework for the Ruby programming language.” Right. In practice, the day was intended as a whirlwind introduction to coding and as a way to gather together women who are all interested in being part of the ever-burgeoning web development world.

Computer programming is not something I think I ever would have been interested in or even aware of were it not for Andy. I took two intro-level computer science classes in college to fulfill my math requirements (ahem ahem). They were interesting enough, but I think I mostly excelled in them because there was a lot of memorization and regurgitation of information that had been taught in classroom lectures. As far as the actual coding, I figured it out, but I had a lot of help.

And yet when I learned that Rails Girls was hosting a session in Atlanta, I found myself interested. So, I signed up and was selected, along with about 30 other women. We were all there for a variety of reasons, though it seemed that I was one of the few (if not the only) there mostly for the heck of it. Several were in school for computer science and wanted to experiment with web technologies. Others are currently developers in another language but wanted to broaden their horizons. Some were hobbyist coders, and still others worked in tech-related fields and thought that a working knowledge of programming would be beneficial to their advancement. All that to say that I felt like I was starting at much closer to “zero” than most of the other attendees, so when my coach simply said, “Go,” instructing us to dive into the tutorials I was a little dismayed. The tutorials made it easy enough to follow along, and I ended up with a mostly working app (bumps in the road aside), but I didn’t feel like I got a good sense of the basics.

I’ve had some good conversations with Andy since then, and thankfully I’m not feeling disheartened. I don’t really know where programming might fit into my day-to-day life. I’m not sure it’s something I want to pursue as a personal hobby (though I’m going to give it a bit more time before I make that call), and I certainly don’t see it becoming my career. But as the wife of someone for whom programming is his bread and butter, his career, his hobby, and his passion, I think it’s important for me to keep trying. Perhaps it will prove to be something we can do together, and if nothing else, being more conversant in the language he speaks (so to speak), will certainly enrich our interactions with each other.

It was easy to feel intimidated at Rails Girls, especially during the showcase portion of the day where attendees got to show what they had worked on. As I said, I got through the very basic tutorial offered by Rails Girls. But some people had finished that before LUNCH and had then gone on to create completely new apps using things like GPS locations, Twitter feeds, and all kinds of things that seemed so, so complicated to me. But the entire purpose of Rails Girls is to level the playing field somewhat, and show women that they can be part of the tech world. Though I don’t envision myself moving that direction, it was encouraging to be around a group of motivated women. One of the presenters was a woman who works at the same company my husband does, and she talked about crying in her car during her lunch break when she first started working full time as a programmer, because she felt so inferior to all the men around her. She had a lightbulb moment at DragonCon, of all places, when she listened to a panel of highly intelligent, highly educated women say that they all felt that same way. And so she decided to choose confidence. She decided to look those men in the eye and tell them when she thought they were doing something wrong in their development. And she stopped crying in her car. That felt like a rallying cry to me. Because whether you want to be a programmer or not, what woman couldn’t do with a dose of confidence?

I’ve always said I wasn’t good at math. No one ever told me I wasn’t good at math. In fact, I mostly made A’s in math because I worked hard. But it was just easier to say I wasn’t good at it and not risk looking foolish if I failed than to own the fact that I was actually pretty competent. Sure, math may not come naturally to me as it does to some people, but I managed to learn it. And I think that’s what Rails Girls wants to express: you can learn to program if you put your mind to it, and you can succeed in a male-dominated field. So for all my uncertainty, the message of Rails Girls is pretty awesome, and I’m glad I got to take part in it!

Have you ever tried something completely new without being sure where it might fit into your life?

If you’re a woman in Atlanta and interested in learning to code, check out the newly-organized Rails Girls meetup or the PyLadies. The developer community is pretty awesome–everyone we’ve met has been super friendly and welcoming! And if you don’t live in Atlanta, check and see if there’s a Rails Girls near you!

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman