Refactoring an Organization

We’re bridge builders. We are dedicated to doing whatever it takes so that the makers of technology are reflective of our society, because diversity fosters innovation. We also believe that programming literacy is a fundamental skill, and that people need to understand the technologies they depend on. To reach this goal, we’re helping organizations train, mentor, network, and encourage people – particularly those who are underrepresented – to fully participate in technology, and have fun doing it.

Open Source Workshops

The the first open source workshop was held in June 2009. What started as an idea in April, quickly become part of an organization dedicated to creating a diverse and supportive community of software makers. It was named RailsBridge, since it emerged from the Ruby on Rails community, but from the start, volunteers were passionate about teaching all kinds of tech to all kinds of people – from teaching kids Ruby and Arduino to Test First lessons in JavaScript, all sorts of initiatives explored the challenge of creating an open and welcoming tech community. Many programs were successful and life-changing. The workshops scaled rapidly and went viral.

Our mantra was “let nothing get in the way of a workshop happening, as long as there are people that want to learn and people who want to teach.” We focused on removing barriers: finding the companies with conference room space, other companies willing to buy food or pay for someone to staff the kids’ play space, and, the biggest barrier to workshops happening: find someone willing to be the point person, the organizer, who takes responsibility for making all of the details happen. And so our organization grew, without a centralized mailing list, a group of dedicated people gradually building a movement, one workshop at a time.

Culture Change

With every workshop 30-60 people are introduced to a coding culture that emphasizes respect, joyful coding, strong communication skills, and a delight in learning — no matter how much you already know. We foster diversity. Beyond gender and race, we value the experience that people bring from prior experience in different careers. We teach a lot of folks who are expert in a different programming languages and want a jump start with new tech in a fun, social setting. The breadth and depth of experience amongst students and volunteers in a RailsBridge workshop along with demographic diversity means that you really have no way of knowing anything about someone by what they look like.

The number of workshops has doubled every year, we started teaching “front-end” with HTML, CSS and Javascript, and the volunteer effort spread across the globe. We felt that we could do more to support our volunteers, and the organization name did not adequately express our technological diversity. Many of the projects inspired by RailsBridge opted to select names that better reflected their communities and activities: PyStar, Scala Crash Course, OpenHatch, Boston Python Workshops, PyLadies, Confident Coding JS, etc.

Refactoring: a coding metaphor

The RailsBridge team decided to refactor our organization – RailsBridge had become synonymous with the Ruby on Rails Workshops. We felt the broader organization would have more room to grow with a non-Rails name. Volunteers collaborated on generating dozens of suggestions. In the end, it was easy to find consensus: Bridge Foundry.

We use the programming metaphor of refactoring to describe the process of renaming and redefining our organization:

Refactoring is a controlled technique for improving the design of an existing code base. Its essence is applying a series of small behavior-preserving transformations, each of which “too small to be worth doing”. However the cumulative effect of each of these transformations is quite significant. By doing them in small steps you reduce the risk of introducing errors. You also avoid having the system broken while you are carrying out the restructuring - which allows you to gradually refactor a system over an extended period of time. – Martin Fowler, Improving the Design of Existing Code

In March 2013, we selected School Factory as our fiscal sponsor and renamed the parent organization, and gradually over the past two years have taken the many small steps to transform our organization into something new, while preserving existing behavior. One behavior that we have been successful in preserving is the viral growth of the open source workshops. In 2014, ClojureBridge started and grew quickly into a thriving project with its own board and community, and MobileBridge began with iOS workshops in San Francisco and Hawaii with Android planned for 2015.

Our most recent step is to refactor how we communicate, our historical blog will be focused on RailsBridge and this new blog will seek to amplify all of the bridges and related projects by highlighting resources and inspirations that will help everyone doing this work, along with telling the stories of the good people who make it all happen.