CreativeDev

Mar. 5, 2013 10:30 am

Rails Girls event called ‘largest gathering of female coders’ in Baltimore city’s history

Rails Girls at Betamore on March 5. Photo courtesy of Rachel Beser. Rails Girls, the popular event in more than 40 cities worldwide that serves as an introductory crash course in the programming language Ruby on Rails, hit Baltimore for the first time Saturday, when a crowd of 70—mostly women—gathered at Betamore in Federal Hill […]

Full disclosure: Technically Baltimore works from Betamore on occasion, and Betamore cofounder Mike Brenner is a partner with Technically Baltimore.

Rails Girls at Betamore on March 5. Photo courtesy of Rachel Beser.

Rails Girls, the popular event in more than 40 cities worldwide that serves as an introductory crash course in the programming language Ruby on Rails, hit Baltimore for the first time Saturday, when a crowd of 70—mostly women—gathered at Betamore in Federal Hill for a day of coding. (It’s being hailed, unofficially, as the largest gathering of female coders in Baltimore city’s history.)

While most of the participants were from Baltimore, about a dozen traveled up from Washington, D.C., and a couple attendees were from New York City. Despite only starting to plan the event in January, the response organizers received was overwhelming, said Jess Gartner, a co-organizer and the director of education at Betamore.

“It sold out, with 95 percent women registration, in days and we had to add more tickets twice,” she said. “Finally we were just at capacity.” That didn’t stop 65 women, however, from signing up on a waiting list.

As fellow organizer Kate Bladow observed, “The popularity of this event speaks to the fact that there are women out there who want more technical training.”

Rails Girls 3

Rails Girls at Betamore. Photo credit: Andy Atkinson.

Nick Gauthier

Nick Gauthier served as the main Ruby on Rails coach for the day. Photo credit: Andy Atkinson.

For Gartner, though, helping to organize Rails Girls, a tech event marketed predominantly for women, raised a question of deeper significance: why even hold women-specific tech events?

“Whether anybody wants to believe it or not, there are these kind of inherent obstacles in the tech world that [make] people feel hesitant about attending [events],” Gartner said.

backpack-of-male-privilegeThe practicality of women-only tech events was the subject of a drawn-out debate on the Baltimore Tech Facebook group in January, primarily after an article Gartner had written—titled “Unpacking Male Tech Privilege”—was posted to the group’s wall. Gartner and supporters tried to make the argument that the tech world, and the events in particular, can be something of an Old Boys’ Club, where women feel excluded and uncomfortable. The late Aaron Swartz, in an interview in 2007, even identified misogyny in technology as a serious, “institutional problem.”

Bladow said that part of the reason for holding a women-specific event was to “think about what keeps women from going to those other events.” Some women, she said, might be unable to find someone to babysit their children for a few hours on a weeknight, just one reason why women might self-select out of tech events.

Not everyone, however, is convinced of the need for women-only tech events, as the Facebook debate showed. Michael Rosner, the familiar photographer of many tech events in Baltimore city, made the case that women-only events were unnecessary—that all women had to do was attend the events already being held.

To a degree, Rosner’s argument holds water: for better representation of women at tech events, women need to attend tech events. But it’s too simplistic to assume the reason why women aren’t attending tech events is because they’re uninterested or willingly refraining from going, a dubious conclusion at best.

Moreover, that’s part of the reason to hold such an event as Rails Girls, for which 75 women registered before five dropped out the day of the event.

“When you market something that’s directly for a normally marginalized group, they feel comfortable about attending,” Gartner said.

As she mentioned following the event’s end Saturday evening, the women there were beginning programmers, but also data scientists, web developers and cybersecurity experts.

“But, for some reason,” she added, “they’re not in the communication channel that is used in online marketing for the Baltimore tech events.”

If nothing else, Gartner’s insight highlights a persistent problem members of Baltimore’s tech community routinely cite, irrespective of any real or perceived gender imbalance: the uncanny ability Baltimoreans have to wall themselves off in isolated, cliquish groups.

-30-
Andrew Zaleski

Andrew Zaleski is a freelance journalist in Philadelphia and the former lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. Before moving to Philadelphia in June 2014, he was a contributing writer to Baltimore City Paper and a Tech Check commentator for WYPR 88.1 FM, Baltimore city’s National Public Radio affiliate. He has written for The Atlantic, Outside, Richmond magazine, Washington City Paper, Baltimore magazine, Baltimore Style magazine, Next City, Grist.org, The Atlantic Cities, and elsewhere.

Profile   /   @ajzaleski   /   Send an email
Advertisement
  • Michael Rosner

    I like Andrew Zaleski a lot, but feel that this was very poor reporting on his part:

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/baltimoretech/permalink/565543150131816/

    • Michael Rosner

      Members of the community and myself held a 3 hour conversation about this article, the role of Mike Brenner and http://Betamore.com, and the parts of this article that were left out like that http://TechnicallyBaltimore.com purchased http://StartupBaltimore.com from Mike Brenner and that Andrew Zaleski, the Author of this article, works out of the Betamore physical coworking space.  

      As you can see by clicking the link above, the post was deleted by one of the Facebook.com Baltimore Tech group’s admins.  I am not saying that Mike Brenner deleted the post, but he is one of those admins, and made no open attempt to find out who deleted the post.  Instead I received this message in my inbox:

      Mike Brenner – “Hey,
      I didn’t get a chance to read your thread because you removed it but
      I’ve gotten a couple messages/emails saying that you were “ripping us
      up” on the Facebook group. What’s that about?”

      • Michael Rosner

        Up until the other day when I posted the 3 hour conversation from above, the http://StartupBaltimore.com website forwarded to this site, http://TechnicallyBaltimore.com

        After I told the truth about the conflict of interest between Technically Baltimore, StartupBaltimore, Mike Brenner, Betamore, etc, the website forwarding has been broken, and the site shows a dead link.  Is Technically Baltimore an unbiased reporting website? Or is there a conflict of interest between Technically Baltimore and some members of the community?

  • Michael Rosner

    Andrew Zaleski also should have included this article where I tried to get to the solutions for Baltimore.  Toward the end of the post comments, I set up a Facebook group called “Baltimore Tech Equality” to try to resolve these issues.  I added many of the people in the post that said that they had issues they would like to solve, but they stopped their “comments” once the conversation was moved to a secondary group with a smaller soap box.

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/baltimoretech/permalink/538600512826080/

  • http://twitter.com/ryanmerl Ryan Merl

    I realize it’s a bit pedantic, but in posts like this it’s important to get the distinction correct: Ruby on Rails is not a “programming language” as stated in the article. It is a framework that runs on the programming language Ruby.

    • Alicia

      you so missed he point

  • anonymous lady sw engineer

    I chose this event over a hackathon the weekend before specifically because 40 hours a week of being the minority grows old.  I’d never introspected on my own white privilege before joining the technical world and becoming a part-time minority. 

  • http://twitter.com/wallywhat Wally Pinkard

    Am I missing something here? I fail to see what the big deal is. Technically Baltimore reports news in the tech community in this city. I have never read anything from Technically Baltimore that speaks negatively about anyone.

    As for the whole women only event thing it makes a ton a sense. I work for World Trade Center Institute we have a woman only event coming up. The event is successful specifically because of the lack of men in attendance, it creates a different vibe for an event. At our other events women are clearly under represented,  so clearly something needs to be done.  I agree that it would be great if women came to tech events as much as men do but the fact is they do not. Maybe if there are some more events like Rails Girls women will feel more involved in the community and isn’t that what we all want?