Write/Speak/Code Chicago workshop, part 1

** Initially, I was going to write about my experience at the Write/Speak/Code workshop in one big post. However, I decided it was better to split it into two parts. Part 1 provides a brief intro to the workshop and goes into my experience as a volunteer. Part 2 (forthcoming) takes a deeper look at the intentions, exercises, and outcomes of the workshop.

A few weeks ago, before we started our in-person classes for ACLTC, I attended a Write/Speak/Code workshop here in Chicago aimed at empowering women engineers. More specifically, the full-day Own Your Expertise workshop focused on two key ideas:

1) how to find value in your own knowledge and experience
2) how to present yourself and your accomplishments with confidence

The main payoff being that valuing your experience and having self-confidence are critical to contributing to open source and speaking at conferences, two significant means of communicating in the tech field.

Being someone who is new to coding, which almost automatically means confidence is in short supply, I was immediately interested. In the fields of library science and graphic design, where I’ve had years of experience, I’ve seen how different avenues of communication can help you create a profile and reputation. I was interested in seeing how that related to the tech field as well.

The full-day workshop was free and, by the time I heard about it, already at capacity. Fortunately, I was able to attend as a volunteer. Unfortunately, I had to leave a few hours earlier than the scheduled end of the workshop. So while I couldn’t participate fully or stay for the entirety, it was still well worth the time I was able to spend there.

What follows is my experience as a volunteer, which is one of my favorite ways to attend conferences, workshops, etc. Besides the fact that it usually means being able to attend an event for free, I also look forward to meeting other volunteers. You never know who it will be and what you might learn.

The workshop was held at Dev Bootcamp and featured Rebecca Miller-Webster leading us through a series of exercises. When I arrived, I was asked to greet attendees, tell them about the food, restrooms, and childcare available, and generally help everyone get seated. Some people appeared to know each other, while many, like myself, didn’t know anybody. The room was full of friendly and lively energy as everyone ate breakfast and prepared for a full day. I would estimate that there were between 40-60 attendees in the room.

I was paired with another volunteer and in between greeting attendees and finding extra chairs, we struck up a conversation. Turns out this person (let’s call her Lucy) had been coding for over 20 years. I mentioned that I was in ACLTC and learning Ruby. Lucy starts to tell me about the history of the language and it’s forebears. Then I start asking questions about all kinds of things that are brand new to me, like using terminal. She even explained a few acronyms: things like Bash (Bourne again shell) and TIMTOWTDI (There Is More Than One Way To Do It).

Again, this was before our class had started meeting in person so all I had to go on was doing exercises on my own. Having a person with so much experience to ask questions to was great. There wasn’t anything about a specific coding exercise or problem that I was trying to solve. That wasn’t prompting my questions. I simply wanted a more general, almost informal, history of coding through the lens of someone who’s been through it.

When I’m learning a new skill, I tend to also want to learn a bit around that skill and it’s general field. I’m always interested in the social history of how things have developed and arrived to that point where I happen to be learning about them. I was lucky to have met Lucy, who entertained all my questions and encouraged me to ask more. That is not always a given when meeting someone who has been doing something, and, as I would later learn, doing it quite successfully, for a while.

Throughout the day, I continued to pepper Lucy with questions about what languages she works with, how much she likes working with them, what kind of things she’s made…pretty much anything that came to mind. She was always game. She also offered to partner with me so that I could still participate as much in the exercises as possible, while fulfilling my volunteering duties. I’ll go into those exercises in greater detail in part 2, but I’ll leave you with this. That day, through a combination of the workshop and Lucy, was the first day that I ever called myself a developer.