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One table at Project Night

(This is a guest post by Daniel Choi, a participant on our Events list.) My name is Daniel Choi and I am a Rubyist in Boston. I love programming and am the author of a few websites and open source projects, including Vmail, a Vim client for Gmail. I am also a member of BostonRB, the official community organization for Rubyists in Boston, Massachusetts.

I am writing to tell you about the new effort the Boston Ruby Community is making to reach out to beginners, newcomers, and to women. It started just three weeks ago, with stirrings of malaise in the Boston Ruby mailing list about our lack of diversity and beginner-friendliness. Our female representation at monthly Boston Ruby meetings is embarrassingly low, and too often our events are intimidating for beginners and newcomers. We wanted to do something about this, but had no clear idea how.

Lessons from Boston Python

Then someone pointed to Boston Python as a community that had its act together on outreach and welcoming newcomers. I contacted some people there, and they pointed me to the 2012 PyCon presentation by Jessica McKellar and Asheesh Laroia titled “Diversity in practice: How the Boston Python User Group grew to 1700 people and over 15% women.”

After I watched that video, I urged everyone on the Boston Ruby mailing list to watch it. Then things started happening fast.

Jessica and Asheesh’s presentation changed our whole outlook on what is possible for the Boston Ruby community. In 40 minutes, they opened our eyes to how we were stunting ourselves as a community and excited us by laying out such a clear, practical, and feasible outreach strategy that we could follow to change things dramatically in a short period of time.

We were so pumped that a day after we saw the video, we organized a BostonRB outreach organizational meeting to start moving. We even got Jessica and Asheesh to attend it! (Asheesh, 3 time zones away, was there virtually, thanks to Google Hangouts.) In an hour, everyone agreed that we would follow the playbook Jessica and Asheesh laid out.

First step: a project night (formerly “hack night”)

Our first goal was to hold a beginner-friendly Ruby Project Night, modeled on the Python Project Night that Asheesh and Jessica had pioneered. They gave us invaluable advice on how to pull this off. Ned Batchelder, the head organizer of Boston Python, also welcomed me when I went to attend and observe a Boston Python Project Night in person. Accessible and friendly, Ned graciously answered all my questions about how they made their Project Night event work.

BostonRB already had been organizing a twice-a-month “Hack Night” that wasn’t well-attended, especially not by newcomers and beginners. We gave that a big makeover following Boston Python’s template and turned it into Boston Ruby Project Night.

First, we changed the name from “Hack Night” to “Project Night”. That’s what Boston Python had done, and people agreed that the word “hack” was probably a poor word to use for outreach. It was vague, confusing, and maybe slightly anti-social to non-programmers, newbies, and novices. But everyone understands what a “project” is, and to most people a project is something collaborative, creative, and fun.

A more crucial improvement was changing the whole organization and tone of what was formerly known as Hack Night. We set up a beginners’ corner for the first time, along with experienced volunteer Rubyists available to give help. And we had an excellent emcee who went the whole nine yards to make damn sure that everyone felt welcome and included!

Our first Boston Ruby Project Night, on June 5 at the offices of thoughtbot, was a great success. Attendance tripled. There were many new faces. The energy level was amazing, and it was cool to see so many people learning, teaching, and helping each other — and having a great time. Many of the newcomers who came went out of their way to thank us for organizing it. The volunteers who helped the beginners loved it too. Everyone who took part seemed to become more empowered, engaged, and invested as members of the Boston Ruby community.

Result: a healthy outreach effort, and plans for a diversity-oriented intro workshop

A successful project night under our belt is giving us a lot of confidence in planning our first Boston Ruby Workshop for Women and Their Friends. We are gathering support and volunteers from all sides. Our outreach effort, which was nonexistent just a month ago, is growing strong and confident legs.

I wanted to share that good news with everyone here via the OpenHatch blog. I also hope this message can help inspire new outreach efforts elsewhere!

P.S. A special thanks the BostonRB members who contributed to the outreach effort so far: Valentine Rogers, Dan Pickett, Gavin Murphy, Michael Denomy, Braulio Carreno, Liana Leahy, Aaron Graves, Kevin Bedell, Alex Jarvis, Patrick Robertson, Andrew Kuklewicz, Michael Durrant, and Dylan Cashman. Thanks also to thoughtbot for hosting the first Project Night, and to Public Radio Exchange for our first outreach volunteers’ meeting.

Daniel Choi
Cambridge, MA

Photo credit: Liana Leahy, with permission to share.

2 comments

  1. Great write up Dan!

  2. This is a great idea. I hope to make the July event (but I might not be able to due to holiday commitments).

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