Rails Girls London 2019: A fun weekend of coding

Posted by on November 13, 2019

Coach wearing a FreeAgent t-shirt and student working on a laptop together

Fast becoming my favourite event of the year is Rails Girls London. Every event is different as you get to spend it with a whole new group of interesting people from a huge variety of industries and backgrounds.

This year we headed to the offices of Simply Business in the City of London for the one-and-a-half day workshop, and happily with FreeAgent sponsoring for the first time. Between the pool table, ping-pong and tables piled high with freebies, around two hundred students and over a hundred coaches worked together on building the students’ very first Ruby on Rails app.

A room of about 300 students and coaches at Rails Girls London
Presenting to a packed room at Rails Girls London

Installing Ruby on Rails en masse

Friday evening started with installing Ruby on Rails onto the students’ laptops and getting them ready for the main event on Saturday. I spent a while shuttling between students with overloaded wifi access points, “interesting” gem errors on Windows and the piles of pizza, but we eventually all had a working installation with which to try the main tutorial!

Olly presenting to a room full of people at Rails Girls London
Olly talking about life as a software engineer at FreeAgent

Bright and early on Saturday morning, we headed back to London for breakfast, sponsor talks and kicking off the main workshop. It turns out to be hard to teach somebody all of Rails in one day, so the aim of the day is to show how Rails scaffolds can be used to build basic functionality, learn a few Ruby, HTML and CSS basics and get a feel for how to make and test changes to an app.

You’re the expert now

The really interesting part of the event is finding out about the students and their reasons for wanting to spend their weekend coding. This year I worked with students who had careers in business administration, fashion and teaching (which comes up often). At midday we heard some amazing lightning talks from coaches, who made the point repeatedly that everybody in the room has domain and real life experience of business problems.

Coach wearing a FreeAgent t-shirt and student working on a laptop together
A student working with Karen on their Rails app at Rails Girls London

Emma from Consonance explained how she’d proven this by starting a successful software company out of her expertise in the publishing industry, and it was a great reminder that this extends to businesses like ours too – a small business owner who’s done their own accounts likely knows far more about the problems our users face than a developer coming from a Ruby on Rails-only background!

I spent Saturday working with Yv through the tutorial and building out her Rails app together. By mid-afternoon we’d experimented with changes to views and then started to add in extra functionality like image uploads by adding gems to the project. It’s especially nice when students rediscover past experience in tools like HTML and CSS then are able to reapply and build on their knowledge when working in Rails!

What next?

For many at Rails Girls, this will be the start of an exciting journey and career in software engineering. Some of this year’s coaches were students at this very same event less than a year ago, then had gone on to join a bootcamp course and make their successful move into the industry.

Coach talking with two students either side of him working on their laptops
Iain talking with students about Ruby

We wish all of the students at Rails Girls the very best of luck with their future coding endeavours and hope you may be able to join our team in Edinburgh in the not-too-distant future!

If you have a little bit of Rails experience and would like to coach too, then look out for Rails Girls events in your part of the country or world – they’re happening all over and volunteers are always needed.

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