The First Tenderloin Workshop

Tenderloin Rails workshop introduction Ever since I (Michelle Glauser) graduated from Hackbright Academy three years ago, I’ve wanted to help other women join tech. I’ve enjoyed attending and organizing RailsBridge, DjangoGirls, and JavaScript workshops in Shanghai, London, and San Francisco, but I often wondered how I could help women and genderqueer individuals struggling economically to learn to code, especially if they don’t have their own laptops. A little over a year ago, I learned about the Tenderloin Technology Lab, a computer lab that’s part of the St. Anthony’s Foundation in the Tenderloin of San Francisco, an inner-city neighborhood known for poverty and diversity.

The lab offers free computer use, classes on how to use computers generally as well as how to use software like MS Word, and tutoring by volunteers from nearby companies. After discussing doing a workshop for many months, we finally were able to schedule one, and thus the first RailsBridge workshop on lab computers took place last weekend at the Tenderloin Tech Lab.

There were a lot of new things we had to consider for this workshop; for example, how could we make the curriculum work on computers that didn’t allow installation and saving of code files? Sarah Allen and I and a few other lovely volunteers worked through the curriculum on c9.io, a platform that allows for online web development, and made a temporary curriculum that included options for browser-only development (hopefully this will be merged into the regular curriculum at some point).

I also needed a way to advertise to women and genderqueer individuals in the Tenderloin, so the usual BridgeTroll or Meetup methods wouldn’t work. I came up with a flyer and together with Julie Berlin of the Tenderloin Tech Lab, we advertised the workshop at several Tenderloin organizations. I also attended some local events to make individual invitations and even approached a woman working at a computer at the main San Francisco library.

Free Tenderloin Coding Workshop Flyer

Finding volunteers willing to help with this special workshop? No biggie–the amazing RailsBridge community in San Francisco filled all 15 slots in no time. :)

Students were encouraged to sign up for the workshop by calling or visiting the Tenderloin Tech Lab, and we ended up with 16 registered students. We weren’t sure how many were really going to come or if anyone would show up without signing up first. In the end, we had 12 students with 12 volunteers.

Student and teacher coding together

Student and teacher coding together

Once all the students had been matched up with a volunteer, the five employees and volunteers of the Tenderloin Tech Lab decided they’d like to learn as well, so I showed them how to get started.

Tenderloin Tech Lab employees trying out coding using the curriculum

Lunch was provided by the St. Anthony’s Dining Room across the street, where we enjoyed spaghetti and rosemary potatoes among locals.

The afternoon work session went by very quickly. A few people were able to get to the extra credit part of the curriculum and others preferred to play with the appearance of their Rails apps.

Student and teacher coding together

Student and teacher coding together

It was so cool to walk around and see the progress students were making with individual help and to hear their questions and the volunteers’ great answers. I’m sure coding was a bit overwhelming for many students at first, but the surveys I had them fill out at the end showed that they were interested in what they’d learned, very happy with the volunteers, and enthusiastic about attending another workshop.

First Rails workshop at a lab in the Tenderloin group picture

Overall, the workshop was a great success. Thank you to the volunteers, to the Tenderloin Tech Lab, and to St. Anthony’s Dining Room. I’m organizing more of these workshops so we can teach coding to people who may not have their own laptops. If you know of a woman or genderqueer adult in San Francisco who doesn’t have a computer, is interested in learning to code, and who is comfortable using computers to send emails, please have them fill out this form. If you’re interested in helping with these free coding workshops at computer labs, please fill out this form.

By Michelle Glauser, organizer