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This week — still flying high from my experience at PyCon 2012 — I’ll begin planning Philadelphia’s fourth introduction to Python workshop for women and their friends.

For nearly a year, I’ve been working with a fantastic group of Pythonistas, women and men, to get more women involved in our local Python community. Our strategy has been to create events that are beginner-friendly, welcoming, fun, and content-rich, and to invite as many women as possible to participate.

We’ve been calling our group PyStar Philly, and so far we’ve organized several workshops, project nights, and beginner-level lectures. We’ve reached out to librarians, designers, data analysts, artists, geographers, engineers, graduate students, historians, stay-at-home moms, gamers, and journalists. At our workshops, we’ve welcomed a 12-year-old girl who wants to design her own games, 20- and 30-somethings looking to make career changes, 40-somethings eager to re-enter the workforce after time at home with kids, and women in their 50s and 60s interested in building new tech skills. (We’ve also welcomed several men, usually as guests of our female students.) We’ve garnered tremendous support from a broad segment of the Python community: PhillyPUG, our local Python user group; the Boston Python Workshop and the Boston Python user group; PyLadies; PyStar San Francisco and PyStar Minneapolis; and the Python Software Foundation.


Maneesha Sane helps a student at the second Philly Python workshop.

In this year of community building, I’ve learned a couple of crucial lessons:
1. Everyone wants to be invited, especially newbies. Personal invitations are the best.
2. It’s impossible to do this work alone.
These things are as true for workshop organizers as they are for students learning to code.

I got started organizing our Python workshops because several amazing folks invited and challenged me to do it. In April 2011, I stumbled across the PyStar website and dashed off a message to the PyStar Google group, asking about a possible workshop in Philly. Within minutes, Lukas Blakk, who founded PyStar in the Bay Area, responded with information and resources for organizing a workshop on my own. Within two weeks, I was sitting in a coffee shop with Amanda Nyren, a PyStar Minneapolis organizer (she was in Philly visiting friends), getting an earful of encouragement. Her invitation: You can do this! I want you to do this. Go for it! Later that month, I had separate lunches with Mike Taylor (Bear), a developer at Mozilla who also had been thinking about organizing a Philly-based Python workshop for women, and Asheesh Laroia, an experienced tech community organizer and the co-founder of the Boston Python Workshop. Both of them offered clear steps for how to move forward.

Over the next several months, I reached out to the Philly tech community for help and pulled together a terrific group of instructors and volunteers: Maneesha Sane, Bear, Jake Richter, Andrew Jennings, Erika Owens, Pam Selle, Justin Walgran, Mjumbe Poe, Corey Laitslaw, Gabe Farrell, Sarah Gray, Far McKon, and Erik Osheim. With the help of Christine Spang and Jessica McKellar, veteran instructors from Boston Python, we offered workshops on June 18, 2011 and September 24, 2011. Jessica and Christine provided us with a curriculum and traveled to Philly to lead the lectures and show us how to teach the material to new coders.

After our second workshop, our friends from Boston presented us with a bigger challenge: make the workshop part of our Python user group and create a pipeline to get more women involved with our local Python community.

Lucky for us, Tom Panzarella, the PhillyPUG organizer and a huge supporter of our work, loved the idea. In early 2012, PyStar Philly joined PhillyPUG, and on February 3-4, 2012 we offered our first workshop under the PhillyPUG umbrella. Students must now join the user group before they can register for a workshop, and once they’ve joined they’re automatically invited to PhillyPUG’s project nights, meetups, and other great events. Probably the best outcome of this collaboration is that it creates opportunities for workshop graduates to continue their learning and network with professional programmers.

Maneesha Sane, who co-organizes our Python workshops, and I are excited about what’s next. Boston Python continues to support our efforts, and through that group we’ve received grant money from the Python Software Foundation to cover some of the costs of our workshops and project nights. We’re also grateful to have the support of several local companies and organizations: Azavea, Chariot Solutions, Cloudmine, Devnuts, the Drexel University Computer Science Department, the Hacktory, Mozilla, NextFab Studio, Girl Geek Dinners, Girl Develop It, and Web Start Women. Like us, these folks are committed to getting more women involved in the Philly tech community.

We still have a lot of work to do. We want to create a program as comprehensive and well-documented as the Boston Python Workshop. We also share Lukas Blakk’s goals to expand opportunities and create bigger challenges for workshop graduates. We hope to build a professional network of Pythonistas that is as vibrant and joyous and women-centered as the network created by the PyLadies. Our biggest goal is to welcome many more women into the Philly Python community, one workshop and project night at a time.

The truth is that we’re just getting started. And we’d like to invite you to help.

In addition to being a Python workshop organizer, Dana Bauer (@geography76) is an independent mapmaker and spatial data analyst. For more information about getting involved with PyStar Philly and the Philadelphia Python Workshop, please contact Dana, dana.bauer {at} gmail dot com, or Maneesha Sane, ahseenam {at} gmail dot com. 



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