A bit of background information
For those who have not come across Django Girls before, it is a non-profit organisation and community that empowers women to organise free, one-day programming/coding workshops by providing tools, resources and support.
During each of their events across the world, 30-60 women build their first web application using HTML, CSS, Python and Django. Their goal is to ultimately provide a great first programming experience and get more women into technology.
“I’ve been a mentor at 4 DjangoGirls events, and have also organised one! I love the Python and Django community and DjangoGirls is a great way for me to stay in contact, even though I’ve moved away from Python professionally. I think it’s important to show people that computers aren’t scary or magical, they are creative tools that anyone can use and seeing people go from nervous to ecstatic over something they created in just a day is wonderful!”
@kitation (My wonderful mentor)
My coding experience
My first introduction to code came at the tender age of 16, back when MySpace was the social media platform of choice for angsty millennials.
Being able to express yourself through your profile, both musically and visually, was of paramount importance in these days. In order to make my questionable aesthetic decisions on the platform, I threw myself headfirst into customising my profile using the fanciest HTML tutorials I could lay my hands on.
When it came to my formal education, code didn’t really make an appearance on my curriculum. IT lessons at school were mostly focused on how to use Microsoft Word/Powerpoint, with the occasional lesson where we were “allowed” to play with Excel.
Fast forward 10 years and my code skills haven’t really developed much further than a basic understanding of HTML and CSS, the latter of which I came to understand through running my own blog. The most technical thing I did whilst at University involved using Excel to analyse small data sets.
Whilst my role here at Bytemark is not one which requires extensive code knowledge, I have been keen to expand my coding/programming skills for a while now, mainly from a hobbiest point of view.
I’m very proud to work for a company which is actively trying to support minority groups in tech and when I found out we were sponsoring DjangoGirls Manchester, I decided to anonymously apply for a place, just on the off-chance.
As soon as I heard I had been accepted – the panic set in. How the hell was I, Bethan Vincent the Medieval History graduate, going to be able to build my own web application in one day?!
The evening before the Saturday workshop I hopped across to Manchester in order to attend the installation event.
No, I didn’t know what this meant at the time either! However upon arrival I was happy to learn that the evening had been set aside in order for us to install the software we would need for the next day. This was extremely useful, as our mentors were on hand to help with any issues and guide us through the process.
On Saturday morning I made my way back to MadLab, a community focused makers space in the heart of the Northern Quarter, to continue my journey into seemingly scary world of Python and Django!
After a quick introduction by the organisers and some much needed coffee and pastries, the 35 participants were placed in small groups with their mentors . We dispersed across the building hastily, as we wanted as much time to code as possible!
I was paired with my mentor Chad, who did an awesome job getting me started with running Python in a terminal. This close mentorship style was extremely beneficial, as I was able to ask all the questions I wanted without fear of looking silly in front of a big group.
Following the Django Girls Tutorial
One of the things that immediately struck me was the precise nature of the syntax. As a writer, I’m used to a process whereby you write everything down at once then edit later. Much to my dismay, I found out that whilst coding one fatal character error could lead to immediate disaster.
After a brief introduction to debugging, I then got started on creating the skeleton structure of my blog.
So far so good, I had something which actually showed up as words on a screen! The next stage was a little trickier, as we dived head first into the world of models, objects and admin.
My blog now had structure – I could add posts, delete them and edit them. Our next task was to get everything setup on a Git repository and then push our code to GitHub.
We then needed to pull down our code onto PythonAnywhere, which is where we would be hosting our blog. This seemed quite confusing at the time, as the concepts of push and pull were still quite new to me. However after taking some time out to discuss this with Chad, it all started to make a bit more sense!
By about 3pm my blog was live! As you can see above, I was quite excited by this.
Before we went downstairs to debrief as a group, I took the opportunity to apply some of my old MySpace magic to my brand new baby – Comic Sans felt very appropriate at the time. I have no regrets.
Coming away from the day with a fully functioning, if not aesthetically questionable, blog was a very encouraging experience. I felt like I had at least got to grips with most of the basic concepts covered in the tutorial and was able to complete further tasks back at home following the tutorial extensions.
I also really enjoyed networking with the other attendees and hearing about their experiences. There was a real sense of comradery and support between everyone throughout the day, something which really helped me feel welcome as a newcomer.