Tagged: events

Trying to Resist

Table with trays of cookies and a large chocolate cake on it.

Today at Confident Coding (women learning JavaScript) I am having to work really hard to stay true to my SuperBetter Challenge to only eat sugar on Sundays.  Tomorrow seems really far away when I’m faced with trays of chocolate chip cookies and a large chocolate cake.  This is practically torture.

Except that it’s not.  It’s the privilege of being in the San Francisco tech community where weekend events come with free food, wi-fi, and great opportunities to learn and network – and there happen to be free cookies a lot of the time. This is one of the ways I try to stick to my self-prescribed challenge to only consume sugar on Sundays.

Distract. Delay. Drink Water.

The D’s above were in some tips for quitting smoking and let me tell you, they work now too.  I walk away from the tray of cookies.  I tell myself that I get to have whatever I want tomorrow, and I have a drink of water.  I’ll get through this day. It’s not the last day there will ever be cookies on this planet.  Usually avoiding something for 10 minutes is enough to get a good few hours free of temptation.  I’m almost there.

PyCon 2012 and a second wind for PyStar

Pystar flaming 160 150px

Yesterday when PyCon concluded (and I sadly did not win a NAO robot), I drove home with a sense of renewed energy for continuing to work on building the python community I want to be a part of.  I had a tremendously good time at this year’s PyCon. It continues to become a more diverse space and a place where I feel connected with people who inspire and motivate me.

I was happy to (finally) meet Dana face to face, and thrilled to see several women who had attended PyStar events also now attending PyCon. It’s one of the reasons we left last year’s PyCon with the dream  of PyStar in our hearts.  After the talk about the Boston Python Workshop (which was wonderful and thanks to Asheesh for the shout-out) I was thinking about what makes PyStar unique and whether there is a need for PyStar now that many other alternatives exist.  Hard to believe that only a year ago it felt like there was nothing for women in Python and now there’s shirts stating “Python is for Girls” for sale at the expo hall.

So, with all these groups springing up (and the BPW continuing to grow) do we need PyStar? My gut says immediately “yes” because the more groups focusing on bringing women into geek/programming space and having it be safer and comfortable the better.  There’s more to it than that though.  The groups are all doing great with their various organizers and events.  PyLadies, Ladies Learning Code, and Women Who Code are all holding sold-out events, getting lots of attention, and we’re all working hard to get more women connected to a community of programmers where they can learn and develop skills in a ‘safer’ space than historically has been available to women. The Boston Python Workshop is doing a great job of promoting Boston (as well as Python and Workshops) but I realized that for me, the reason I got excited (and am excited again) about PyStar was exactly because it was non-geographically named and because the name itself is for “all”.  I’m very happy to be in the mix with all those groups and yet I recognize that I still want to try to nurture and shape PyStar into its own thing.

I am interested in continuing to explore how to work on this project with a distributed team and to have PyStar events spring up in various communities and be customized to specific needs. Just because SF is heavy into startups and web apps doesn’t mean that San Antonio, Texas will be – maybe they’ll be more into big data and hardware hacking.  I like the idea of PyStar developing and hosting a wide variety of curriculum for python-driven projects in a central repo that can be cherry-picked as needed by anyone in any city who wants to lead a workshop day/weekend/afternoon. I especially want to figure out how to repeat what I did in Paris last summer, where I managed to organize a PyStar for when I was going to be there visiting. That certainly required some existing connection to the town (Mozilla/WoMoz) but the idea of traveling and setting up shop anywhere a hacker group/women’s community/library can host – that’s exciting to me and carries forward the DIY/punkrock way I’ve always known how to get things done.

In the talk at PyCon, one of the BPW’s stated goals is to try to build up within existing user groups. I see their logic, and it’s sound, but I was not a member of the BayPiggies (the Bay Area PUG) when I first was inspired to start running PyStar events in the Bay Area and I still don’t see the need to be. There are several places where I can announce upcoming workshops, Baypiggies have a mailing list I’m on, and I can promote PyStar events and make sure other groups are in the loop about what we’re doing.  I think this more than satisfies being eligible to be part of the larger Python community, and yet there’s room for more than one Python-loving group in any community. I’m not always looking to insert myself into an existing group – there is something to be said for creating new things and building them with a certain tone/mission in place at inception. That’s what I get out of PyStar, it doesn’t have a legacy or a way things have always been done – the spirit of PyStar is one of distributed organization, shared responsibility, and communal education.

Here are my specific goals for this upcoming year of PyStar:

1. More curriculum on the PyStar site – workshop material that is discoverable by level (beginner, intermediate, pro) and by time commitment (half day workshop? full day? multi-week?). A new person  interested in organizing a PyStar event should be able to see an easy-to-follow list of what to do to set up their own event based on time and level. This can be accomplished through more research on finding existing curriculum and adapting it, more events where we can test and fine tune those curriculum, and also having curriculum hack nights with PyStar organizers and volunteers (multi-city) where we focus on developing material to fill gaps in our topics

2. Have PyStar SingPath tournaments both locally and with other PyStar outposts. While the one I did at PyCon 2012 was a nerve-wracking experience, it was ultimately a confidence-boosting event for me. I encouraged a few women to come try it and it seems to be a pretty fun way to maintain the energy as well as test your new skills between workshops. We can tailor the tournament to be _very_ friendly (prize/badge for all, just for participating). I read/heard something recently about how leaderboard style of competition is not that motivating for women and that beating your own previous results is much more fulfilling.  We can definitely work that into our tournament styles by awarding prizes for most improved and other metrics that a person can get by just doing better than they did in previous tournaments.

3. Incorporate Open Badges into the PyStar curriculum so there is measurable outcome for completing projects and implementing the handing out of badges through the PyStar site. Gregg and I are already talking with Mozilla about their Open Badges project and will continue to keep an ear to the ground on how to implement this into the PyStar site. It would be nice to have a meeting with all interested PyStar organizers to brainstorm on what our badges could be.

4. Find non-profits who need small projects (simple website, automation) done and have no budget – match them with PyStars who would like to learn. Possibly have a connection section on the PyStar site?  Have PyStar leaders be ‘project managers’ and bring a project to fruition through regular PyStar meetups? This is a longer term goal, but one I like to keep floating out there and gauging people’s reactions to. Usually the reaction is “great idea! lots of work!” 🙁  My vision here is something along the lines of a a template for ‘how to build a (info, fundraising, blogging) site for a small non-profit with a newbie webdev team’ curriculum.

5. A stronger focus on intermediate level programmers. Not to the exclusion of beginners, but to be sure there is room to grow within PyStar This comes up a lot in SF/Bay Area and I know it’s different in each city.  In SF/BayArea it seems really important because there needs to be something to hook in the women who have programmed in other languages or who are CS majors who seem to lack the confidence in themselves now that they are out in the workforce – with many of these participants, it doesn’t take much to remind them how far they are from a newbie – I would like to focus on them a bit more because a) no one else seems to do so b) it provides more volunteer potential and alum/badges c) mentoring opportunities for newbies and job networking for the intermediate level programmers among each other

6. Continue to develop strong connections with PSF, BPW, PyLadies, and __insert_group_here__ organizers. – I should have proposed a BOF at PyCon for organizers to get together and share plans — I would really like to work alongside these other groups in a sustainable way, we all have admirable goals and could share some resources and people-power.

7. PyStar gear & promo materials, fundraising. Set up a cafepress store to sell some PyStar goods and also try to get a few donations to set up an account for PyStar that would allow us to a) pay for the domain name I just renewed b) potentially buy other domain names for side projects we come up with when we work with non-profits  c) cover the costs for creation of handouts, cards, other promo materials to give out at events promoting PyStar

Get involved!  The project currently lives in github and organizers/contributors can reach each other through our mailing list.  If you want to host an event, help with curriculum, or otherwise work on making safer spaces for learning Python happen in your own community, get in touch.

Dare 2B Digital 2012 – Wrap up post

Fox with firefox logo

Better late than never, I will recount Mozilla’s participation in the 2012 Dare 2B Digital conference back in February down in San Jose.  This year we were hosted at the eBay campus and instead of being out in a hallway demoing and playing with open video and universal subtitles (2011) this year Mozilla was all about making, in a large space shared with Microsoft, encouraging the girls to work with a variety of hardware, circuitry, robotics, and creating 3D printer designs for a MakerBot.

Before I go into the details of the kits and the day of the event, there are some very important people to thank:

Tremendous amounts of props must be first given to Emily Lovell whose soft circuits teaching guide I discovered at the 2011 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.  Her exercises, diagrams, and lists of resources were at the core the kit I designed to teach the girls about parallel circuits through assembling a felt fox and attaching LEDs to the eyes that are powered by conductive thread and a watch battery.  Thank you to Mozilla for sponsoring the Dare 2B Digital conference again this year, it is such an important space for us to be in as it gives us a chance to promote open source to a young audience that is still undecided about college majors and it’s our chance to encourage them to at least consider a technical career path. I hope that having an early, positive, creative experience with Mozilla and open source technologies provides the girls with an awareness of alternative ways of engaging with technology. Mozilla Reps provided the budget for these kits to be made – not only for the workshop attendees, but also enough kits to put one in every take-home bag for all conference participants.  It is certainly my hope that many girls who couldn’t make it to the workshop due to lack of space will still attempt to make their foxes at home with a parent or sibling.  Finally, I cannot thank enough the various Mozilla employees and other friends who helped me assemble 350 kits for the actual event – my vision for this event could NOT have been done without their generous donations of time and their assistance on the day of the event helping the girls complete their kits. Thank you especially to day-of volunteers: Kate, Vicky, Alex, Christina, the Super Awesome Sylvia and her parents James and Christina,  and the add-hoc assembling factory workers: Mariko, Heather, William, and the entire UX team at Mozilla.  My girlfriend Jenny also helped me assemble some of the first kits at home while I cut all the felt sheets into smaller sizes for the foxes. My most sincere gratitude to you all, it went off without a hitch…except for the handful of batteries that exploded…but that was my fault 🙂

Now for some detail about what was involved in this project in case you want to replicate or improve on it.

A lot of felt foxes

The idea was pretty simple. The kit would be a takeout food box that contained everything needed to make a parallel circuit on a felt fox.  I ended up designing the felt fox myself after attempting to make something work with Lisa Higuchi who does amazing work but as I found myself running out of time I just created a simple pattern that could be held together with felt glue and then sewn/wired up in about an hour – which was the length of the workshop.  The soft circuit guide had the information needed for ordering supplies so in the end the kit’s component list looked like this:

  • 100 9×12 sheets of copper brown felt (400 fox faces)
  • 100 9×12 sheets of white felt (400 fox eye areas)
  • 30 9×12 sheets of black felt (450 nose/eye/inner ears)
  • 10 spools of conductive thread from Adafruit
  • 400 3v batteries
  • 400 battery holders
  • 800 yellow LEDs
  • 400 red takeout boxes
  • 5 bottles of felt glue
  • 400 small ziploc bags
  • 400 needles
  • 1200 pins (intended for holding the felt pieces together for sewing, they ended up being superfluous because of the glue)
  • 400 manual/pattern sheets

 

Shot of the pattern and instructionsThe felt firefox kit contents

I literally threw together a manual and a pattern at the 11th hour, as the UX team was coming to help me assemble the kits one night after work.  The manual leaves out a lot of the detail as to HOW to make the felt fox. Fortunately it includes a picture of a completed fox, so hopefully a resourceful teen at home can determine how to make her fox kit work. I have definitely learned from this experience to make creating the instructional materials a much higher priority next time.  The pattern was done in haste with a sharpie, me tracing around the parts of my prototype fox, I’m actually pretty OK with how that part turned out. When we assembled the kits we put all the small components into a ziploc bag and put said bag, one square each of white/brown/black felt, and a folded up instruction sheet into each takeout box.  The takeout box was a really robust container for kits and yet kept things light. I had no trouble carrying the 350 kits, in various bags and boxes, to my car to take down to SJ on the day of the conference.

The kits are in the bag stuffing lineEarly in the morning on Saturday February 12th, 2012 I drove the 350 kits down to the eBay campus and kept ~70 kits in our Maker room, leaving the rest with the D2BD volunteers who were stuffing bags with swag for the girls: Make magazines, usb bracelet, stickers, notebooks, a water bottle, and (among other things) a Mozilla felt fox circuits kit.  Then back in our room I had two of the Mozilla volunteers for the day make their own foxes so they’d be ready to help the girls when the first round arrived a few hours in.  Kate and Christina did a wonderful job of creating their first parallel circuits and spent the rest of the day being professional felt fox makers 🙂

Helpers make their foxes

As with last year, I found that out of the three workshops we did that day the first was a bit rough, the second quite smooth and the third was a cakewalk.  We can learn so much in one day about how to improve the process and the set up.  The first thing learned was that we had a bottleneck situation on scissors and glue.  5 bottles seemed like a lot to me but when split between two tables with at least 10 girls at each that was no longer the case.  I had brought in all my scissors from home, which turned out to be a lot (6) for a home, but not enough for the workshop.  We did scare up a few more pairs and optimized for workshop two by keeping the pre-cut paper pattern pieces for the next group of girls to minimize scissor time needed.  Another surprise: some girls did not know how to sew.   This was something I hadn’t thought of ahead of time since I learned to sew at a pretty young age.  This fact leads me thinking that because of time constraints, 1.25 hrs per workshop, using ‘squishy’ circuits might have been a stronger learning experience here.  The sewing is probably more appropriate for a half-day workshop or even full day if possible.

Customization of the fox pattern

Customizations happened.  I loved that girls immediately took to hacking the fox pattern as designed by me; adding bows, crowns, and eyelashes to their foxes.  It made me glad I hadn’t found time to pre-cut the fox parts.  The back of the fox head is easy to draw a circuit path on and see/experience polarity – using sharpies on felt was a great way of going over the concept of a circuit, right on the material about to be used.  I am really happy with the overall teaching experience here.  Several girls showed incredible tenacity in the face of adversity.  One young woman in particular, having a very hard time with the sewing, went out and got her lunch and then brought it back to the table to continue her work – she re-did the sewing and managed to get it working.  The whole time she was silent and focused and I really wish I had pointed out to her that her attitude was the most impressive, hire-able skill I can think of.  I’m sure she’s going to do well in whatever field of study she pursues.  One young woman cracked me up when she became frustrated with threading her needle, exclaiming “This is why women revolted!”.

In conclusion – the event was a tremendous success – both the conference as a whole and the Mozilla workshop flourished this year. The conference does a great job of pulling feedback from participants, as they must hand in a form to get their swag bag at the end of the day.  We see in the feedback that we did a wonderful job of getting the young women excited about and considering career paths in technology. In the summary from the feedback forms “87% thought the robotics workshop (Mozilla/Microsoft) was great or good”. Also 100% of respondents would recommend this conference to a friend or another parent.

I really look forward to dreaming up something next year to top this.  I have no fixed idea yet because part of the fun of doing this conference/workshop is waiting and seeing what exciting new open technology would be a good fit at the time. I’m definitely going to keep the issues from this year in mind when formulating a plan for next year, and pay attention to minimizing participant wait times in order to increase overall satisfaction with the project.  When I initially came up with this idea, I was worried that it didn’t have a strong tie to Mozilla’s mission, but as I continued to develop and finally executing it I felt more and more like the way we work on projects like this is such a product of how we work on keeping things open on the web.  It was thanks to the web that I found the guide which helped me with planning, it was thanks to the spirit of the open web that people I work with (and some with whom I don’t) came out and volunteered to help make this happen. Getting your hands on a building block of technology, modifying it to make it your own, sharing the results – that too is the open web, and it’s what the day provided for all the young women in our workshops. I look forward to seeing what the future holds with these potential hackers in it.

Group shot with completed foxes

Lukas helping with fox making