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When Magic Happens at Rails Girls Ljubljana

What happens when you fill 2 classrooms and 1 big conference room at Telekom Slovenije with over 70 girls of all ages, who want to build their own web app, and 30 coaches, experienced web developers? No, it’s not a rhetorical question, it’s a real challenge!
Over a hundred people at the first Rails Girls Ljubljana workshop! Photo by: Katarina Jazbec
Sure, the girls are among the most enthusiastic out of the 586 that signed up for Rails Girls Ljubljana, a free two-day workshop. But most of them have no experience with programming whatsoever. And the coaches sure are all excited to help and hope to see more girls among their ranks, yet most of them have little or no experience with teaching, especially with teaching complete beginners. Even after more than a month of intensive planning, countless emails and meetings, I, as the main organizer, can’t help but feel nervous on Friday, December 14, the first day of the first ever Rails Girls Ljubljana. Is anyone even going to show up?

The doubts and worries dissipate once I see all those smiling faces. Once I see the coaches interacting with the girls. Patiently answering all questions, making sure everything is installed successfully and ready to go for the workshop. You can feel the excitement and positive energy in the air!

The next day, Saturday, December 15, I wake up an hour before the alarm goes off. My mind keeps running through the to-dos, making last minute plans. The nervousness has already been replaced by excitement. Fueled by the positive energy of the day before, I can’t wait to welcome the participants in the morning. A lot of them arrive early, also eager to start and get the first dose of coffee.

After breakfast we start by welcoming everybody, but I try to keep the intro short. I can’t wait to hear our motivational talks by two great girl geeks. Mateja tells them about how programming will probably make them feel like Alice in Wonderland, but also highlights the thrill of programming, the joy of creating something on your own out of code. Dunja then takes over to remind us of the rich history of women in programming.

Hana making sure our motivational talks get recorded! Photo by: Katarina Jazbec
Both talks make a great introduction to the practical part of the day. I first explain how the internet works and what we’ll be doing during the workshop using Octocat, sushi and sushi chefs. The smiles on the girls’ faces are a good sign, although I also see some traces of doubts “Will I really be able to do that?”.

Explaining objects and methods with a lot of waving around :) Photo by: Katarina Jazbec 
We play with TryRuby.org a bit and then learn how to Google everything with the Bento Box exercise. But that’s just about enough theory, the girls want to get their own hands dirty with code! Without further ado, they form small groups of maximum three participants and start creating their idea app with the help of their coach.

Making sense of the technical mambo jumbo during the Bento Box exercise. Photo by: Katarina Jazbec
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when the magic happens! There is no other way to describe it. I walk around and all the girls have their Terminal windows open and are building their first app. The coaches are also in the zone, explaining everything, even drawing some of the most abstract concepts on whiteboards.

One of the rooms, full of girls and coaches. Photo by: Katarina Jazbec
We have a hard time making everyone wrap up for lunch. I hear girls and coaches talking abut their apps while waiting in line. The girls seem especially eager to finish fast and get back to their code!

Food obviously makes us all a bit sleepy, so we guide everyone outside for a good dose of fresh air, a quick stretch and we finally do our #FridayHug group shot. There are so many of us we hardly fit into a single frame!

Building a wep app. Photo by: Katarina Jazbec
After the group shot the girls return straight to their laptops and continue working on their apps. It doesn’t take long for some groups to reach the “What’s Next?” part of the guide. Before the workshop is over, some have already added comments, ratings, deployed their app online with Heroku, some are playing with CSS or working on special assignments their coaches gave them. By 6 PM everyone has their own web app. We are all tired, but happy and excited. The girls, the coaches are all thanking me for a great experience as asking me: “When are we going to do this again?”

“After I get some sleep,” I smile. There is no other choice. Rails Girls will happen again in Ljubljana, probably in other cities in Slovenia as well. Girls want to code, coaches (boys and girls!) are eager to help them out. We still don’t know exactly how and when, but we have to do this again. For all those girls (over 500 of them) who couldn’t be with us this time, for all those girls who haven’t even heard of us yet or maybe who didn’t dare to fill in the signup form. We will be back.

Happy Rails Girls and coaches! Photo by: Katarina Jazbec 
And we’re also hoping to keep in touch with the 1st generation of Rails Girls and coaches. We already have a support group on Facebook running, maybe we’ll even organize regular informal meetups to check everyone’s progress.

Lots of love and positive energy! Photo by: Katarina Jazbec
Finally, I would like to thank everyone who made this event such a magic experience. Aleš, our digital champion and the leading force of TSstartup accelerator (where I currently work as a community manager), for offering me the challenge of organizing the event and supporting us along the way. Živa for all your support and the super awesome GitHub t-shirt, Ajda for all your energy and help, Tadeja for the great texts and tweets, Rok for surprising us with handmade heart-shaped desserts, Anja for hosting two thirds of the Croatian team. Telekom for providing all the little details needed for such an event, all our other sponsors and partners. All of our coaches, especially Nur, who flew in from Finland just for the weekend to be with us, Lucija (the cats say hello!), Ivana and Mislav from Rails Girls Zagreb, Goran for simultaneously lecturing in the other classroom with me, DJ-ing at the after party at TSstartup and providing tons of support, and all the other coaches for being so patient and willing to get a sore throat from answering every single question the girls had. Mateja and Dunja for doing their talk twice in both our classrooms and for motivating the girls. Hana from Viidea who filmed the lectures, Katarina for great event photos (you can see more on our Facebook page). All the participants for your braveness, persistence and curiosity. Linda for sending us a lovely greeting video (unfortunately we couldn’t play it due to audio problems) and for starting Rails Girls in the first place. Even though I wasn’t a participant at the workshop, I learned a lot in the past month or so. I got to know GitHub and met so many great people along the way. Thank you all, and I hope to see you next time!



Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2012/12/when-magic-happens-at-rails-girls.html