Women were programming pioneers. Ada Lovelace is recognised as the world’s first programmer. In the nineteenth century she wrote the instructions which could activate Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Her feat is recognised today through the Ada Lovelace Day which falls on 15th October in 2013.
It was not until the mid-twentieth century that computing really took off. The ENIAC computer developed during WWII is recognised as the first electronic computer. The entire ENIAC programming team were women. Grace Hopper wrote the first automatic compiler and led the development of the COBOL programming language which went on to become one of the world’s most popular business programming languages.
Yet the proportion of women programming has declined over the last couple of decades. Today women are only a small proportion of software developers. There has been much wringing of hands about this, but wringing of hands does not achieve anything other than warm up our hands.
One development community is taking action to increase the numbers of women in website development. I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in one of their events earlier this month.
Ruby on Rails is a popular development framework that is used to create websites. The Rails community has supported a training program for women called Rails for Girls. It started in Finland and is now well established in many countries including Australia.
I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in one of their introductory workshops in Canberra recently.
Rails Girls Canberra was an intense but fun workshop. Through talks and well-designed online tutorials we learned and practised. Rails has three components:
- Model: accesses the database which provides much of the content for the website.
- View: presents the website to the world through Ruby enabled html (erb)
- Controller: this ‘orchestrates’ the show. It is the communicator between the model and view.
The Rails framework is written in the programming language, Ruby. One of the coaches, Matthew Savage, remarked that Rails is “a framework designed to simplify development while retaining power and flexibility”.
Gregory McIntyre introduced us to the world of UX (user experience design). UX is all about communication. A UX designer is responsible for meeting the needs of both the organisation that owns the website and the user who interacts with it. It is all about effectively communicating the organisation’s message through a website that is designed in such a way that encourages users to explore it. UX is an essential tool for a company’s public relations or marketing team.
The communication theme continued when Dionne Saunders gave us an introduction to Github which you can read here. Github is not just a repository where programmers can share code. As this LSE Impact of Social Sciences post explains it is a powerful communication platform which can be used more broadly as music theorists are demonstrating.
Rails Girls is about learning practical things which are useful in web development. Tim McEwan introduced us to the Chrome developer tools – wow! These can be accessed through right clicking on a web page and choosing ‘inspect element’ (Windows) or pressing command/option/I (Mac). This is so much better than using ‘view source’ and wading through screeds of code looking for a particular element on the page. The Chrome network panel also shows the page’s CSS. It even allows you to make changes to the page (only temporarily on the client-side) and see the effect of the change on the page. Nice!
Rails Girls is about active learning. We worked through the exercises on tryruby.org. I found this worked better for me once I had a command window open which allowed me to experiment with what I learned. “I wonder what will happen if I do…”
In the afternoon we created our own small Rails website. This is where we could put into practice everything we had learned in the morning with the coaches close at hand. One of the features of Rails Girls Canberra was the large number of helpful coaches. As soon as I turned around with a question a coach would be there to answer it. The names of the coaches are at the bottom of the home page of the Rails Girls Canberra website. They came from Sydney and Canberra and spent their Friday night and Saturday helping us out.
Rails Girls Canberra was great. I appreciated the opportunity to learn from other people and being part of a group of women keen to learn how to construct websites. We were well looked after throughout the workshop thanks to the coaches, sponsors and Hugh Evans who co-ordinated it all.
Rails Girls is popular. Keep an eye on the Rails Girls ‘Upcoming Events’ page for future workshops.