PyLadies: Events, Workshops, Hackathons and Startup Kits

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By Esther Nam & Sophia Viklund (Co-Organizers & Board Members, PyLadies) The PyLadies’ mission is to promote and improve the Python community through workshops, outreach and social activities. It was started by a core group of seven female Python developers who decided that calls for diversity required action, rather than... repeated calls for diversity. We immediately set out to improve the gender balance of the Python community, starting with plans to organize a programming workshop for beginners. After three weeks of intense planning, networking and outreach, we held our first class, attended by 25 women and 2 men -- and sparked a movement in the development community that has worldwide impact.

Less than 5 months later, the LA group has begun the process of incorporating as a non-profit organization and filing for 501(c)(3) status to continue fulfilling our mission. Here is a brief account of how we got here, what we’ve learned in this short time, and how we plan to continue to fulfill our mission of improving the Python community by increasing diversity.

What Motivates Us

Contrary to popular belief, women are very interested in programming, and want to learn how to code. Our goal is to welcome such people into the dev community, introducing ourselves as leaders by example -- successful, savvy developers who are active in the community and open to working with developers of all backgrounds and skill levels. There are lots of brilliant women: why not get them into coding, and what better language to hook them on than Python?

Moreover, tech communities in Los Angeles have become plentiful, yet the dearth of women attending tech meetups is readily apparent to anyone who has been to one. Calls for diversity have become increasingly frequent, but it takes more than simple acceptance to get more women to become active members of the Python/Django community -- it takes serious effort and planning, in our experience.

What We’ve Accomplished So Far

Through our regularly scheduled workshops, hackathons, and social nights, we have created a growing community of passionate Python developers who hang out regularly to code, learn about new developments in the Python language, and share their experiences with each other in a non-intimidating, aggressively supportive, and seriously fun environment.

Our events are explicitly beginner-friendly: not only do we often present talks aimed at newcomers, we also encourage new attendees to come up with their own talk at the next event! But we regularly invite friends, coworkers, significant others, and colleagues (as well as *their* friends) -- male and female alike, developers as well as non-developers -- to come and learn our favorite programming language; to come and have fun with code; and to attend social events where we can simply enjoy each other’s scintillating company.

Our efforts have caught the notice of many in the Python community. People all around the world were very excited to learn about the PyLadies, which has been super exciting and has motivated us to work even harder to reach out to our local and international communities. This month, PyLadies President Audrey Roy is giving keynote speeches at PyCon Australia and Kiwi PyCon in New Zealand. A number of PyLadies are also giving talks at DjangoCon in Portland, Oregon in September, and the PyLadies obtained funding to sponsor a number of female developers to attend DjangoCon. For many of these women, this will be their first tech conference -- and we are confident it won’t be their last!

Keys to Our Success

  • Community support -- We were able to offer our first Python class at a very low cost thanks to the generosity of SoCal public radio station KPCC. As more and bigger events followed, we were extremely fortunate to find companies like BorderStylo, Mahalo, and Cars.com, who showed their support for our mission by offering venue space, a brain trust of volunteer mentors, and money for snacks and drinks. The Python Software Foundation gave us a significant grant to buy tables and chairs, which we use at every hackathon. Such support allows us to make our events as affordable and accessible as possible. We also like to partner up with groups like the SoCal Piggies, as our goal is to expand the existing tech community to include people like us.
  • Continuous engagement -- Even though that first beginner’s class was a huge success, we knew it was important to keep the interest and motivation going so that the momentum wouldn’t flag. As soon as we finished, we immediately started planning the next. We regularly post follow-up articles on our blog, upload pictures to our social networking sites, and reach out to individuals who want mentoring. Sometimes, we even offer to mentor people who haven’t asked for it, and they never turn us down. This one-on-one approach is extremely effective, possibly even more than simple, open online community-building, because focused mentorship produces greater accountability (on both sides!) and results in small but concrete results that inspires others to mentor, and to be mentored.
  • Focus on Python -- and Fun! One of our big-picture goals is to promote the Python language itself, from contributing to open-source projects to encouraging our members to give talks at Python Conferences and local meetups. Above all, we believe Python programming is fun! We love what we can do with Python, and we love the community we’ve created around our shared love of this awesome language. People hang out on our IRC channel 24/7, and it’s not always to rant testing practices or debug weird code. We get together in person to do fun things like stalk food trucks or have drinks by the pool -- and yes, we often do get together just to hack on our laptops in cafes, because we think coding is fun! What a crazy idea =)

Overall, we believe our approach has made the tech community much more appealing to women -- well, here is some evidence!

Next Steps

  • Inspire Others -- Cities all around the globe are starting groups like ours, and we want to support as many of their efforts as we can, by providing startup kits and seed funding for workshops and other events.
  • Invest in the Future -- We want to reach out to college communities around Los Angeles, not only to educate young people and encourage them to enter the Computer Science field, but also to reach out to those who are currently struggling in CS programs not for reasons of aptitude but rather because of culture fit -- to create a more supportive environment so that they will want to stay in the field.
  • Grow in Scale -- In addition to continuing our hackathons, workshops, and group trips to tech conferences, we plan over the next year to put on a large-scale conference of our own, as well as a few smaller un-conferences.
  • Give to the Community -- the PyLadies want to apply for grants to continue supporting women who aspire to be Python developers, to fund women who want to attend/speak at tech conferences, and to give scholarships to talented students who might otherwise not be able to go into Computer Science.

There is still so much to be done -- but we can’t do it all by ourselves!

  • Start a Chapter -- Be the one who makes a difference in your local community!
  • Sponsor a Chapter! -- Demonstrate that you and your company value diversity in the developer community, and invest in the future by supporting the influx of new talent into the tech industry.
  • Help Us Do Outreach -- Connect the PyLadies to local Computer Science/Engineering college/university departments!
  • Attend/Participate in PyLadies Events -- Check our website, join our mailing list.
  • Connect With Us -- Feel free to ask us for advice or support on all things Python.

Ways to reach us:

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest bloggers? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest bloggers: Esther Nam and Sophia Viklund are PyLadies Board Members and would love to hear feedback from anyone interested in our work!

Esther Nam works as a film archivist in Hollywood, and likes to build websites using Django in her spare time. She has a B.A. in Psychology and French Literature from UC Berkeley, as well as an M.A. in Moving Image Archive Studies from UCLA. You can reach her at esther@pyladies.com.

Sophia Viklund has founded 4 companies in the past 13 years, all of them in the field of software development and programming. She is a LEED accredited professional who is actively involved in ASID, the Women in Architecture Foundation, and Women's 50/50 Leadership. You can reach her at sviklund@pyladies.com.