After learning at PyCon 2012 about the success of the Boston Python User Group’s efforts to increase diversity through their women-oriented Boston Python Workshop, the Portland Python User Group (PDX Python) decided to try running a Python workshop for women in Portland. With the help of Jessica McKellar from the Boston Python Workshop, a Python Software Foundation Outreach Committee grant, and generous sponsorship from Idealist, the first Portland Python Workshop was held on June 22nd and 23rd at Idealist’s offices in downtown Portland.
The attendees of the workshop discovered the event primarily through an article about women in technology in The Willamette Week, one of Portland’s indie newspapers. There was such an overwhelming response to the workshop that the wait list from the first event was large enough to fill up a second event, which will run July 28th and 29th.
9 people mentored, and 30 people attended the first workshop. Attendees self-reported at widely varying levels of computer and programming experience. Many mentioned a desire to change careers. Others wanted to better understand technical aspects in their current positions. At least a third of the women who responded to our survey said they felt more confident attending because it was explicitly geared toward women. Almost everyone who responded mentioned that the accessibility — that it was free, short, or both — was key to getting them to attend.
Getting Down to Business
On Friday night attendees guided themselves through laptop setup and a quick Python tutorial using the materials created for and tested by the Boston Python Workshop. Then it was on to practicing Python with CodingBat. Attendees seemed to love CodingBat from the very beginning, working through simple programming problems with the help of neighbors and mentors. A third of the respondents to the follow-up survey said the CodingBat exercises were their favorite part of the workshop.
Friday was over in a flash, but it was back to work Saturday morning with a lecture on Python given by Jessica McKellar. Once the students’ brains were sufficiently stuffed we took a break to eat lunch. Attendees got a chance to get to decompress, hang out together, get to know the mentors, and chat about programming. Before picking back up several mentors demoed projects showing different ways someone might use Python, including web applications, data analysis and graphing, projects aiding in space exploration, an IRC bot and more.
Saturday afternoon was dedicated to working through parts of the Wordplay project from the Boston Python Workshop and continuing practice with CodingBat. Students were organized into groups of four and had a mentor assigned to their group. Each mentor worked closely with their group of students as they applied what they’d learned during lecture.
After several hours of hard work we wrapped up with a big congratulations to our graduates and an invitation to join the PDX Python’s monthly Hack Night. This event was created just a few months ago largely to provide somewhere for beginning Pythonistas in Portland to get assistance and become part of the community as they learn and practice their skills.
Now that the first workshop is behind us, we’re dedicating our energy both to supporting the continued efforts of our first graduates and to putting on more workshops. A full 30% of graduates have signed up to attend the PDX Python’s next Hack Night and we’re working to develop new ways to engage beginners there. We’re also analyzing the feedback from the first workshop to determine how we can improve the experience for the next class.
One of the most important things we learned is that there are more women in Portland than we had imagined who will jump at the chance to be introduced to Python. The response was absolutely incredible and we’ll keep putting on workshops as long as women keep signing up. We also found that despite the organizational aspect of the workshop not being as polished as we’d have liked, attendees were very forgiving of the small snags. The core of the workshop is solid and the rest will only get better over time.
We couldn’t have pulled off the Portland Python Workshop without Jessica and the Boston Python Workshop, the Python Software Foundation, Idealist’s hosting and sponsorship, the volunteer efforts of our amazing mentors, and the courageous women (and their friends!) who came out to the event ready to learn. With appreciation and excitement we look forward to many more Portland Python Workshops.