Ada Lovelace Day: The Sarahs

There’s a bumper sticker you’ll see a lot around northern California: “Be the change that you want to see.” I’m not usually persuaded by the greeting-card pithiness of bumper sticker slogans, but this one, for some reason, sticks with me. I’m alert to opportunities to be the change that I want to see–my impulse has elements of rebellion left over from my punk rock past–and I admire people who have also chosen to do things differently, to be the change.

In April 2009 two programmers attended the Golden Gate Ruby conference. While there, they learned many things about Ruby programming they sought to, and, regrettably, some they didn’t. For this was the conference which included Matt Aimonetti’s infamously tasteless CouchDB + Ruby: Perform Like a Pr0n Star presentation. While attending this and other presentations, the two programmers looked around and started counting all the attendees who were women. This was an easy task–including themselves, only seven women attended this conference.

Were it me, or many of us, I would’ve left the conference disappointed by that ratio–and then done nothing else. But these two programmers were the super Sarahs: Sarah Allen and Sarah Mei, and the matter didn’t rest there. No, not with their experience in both the tech industry and community development. Want to see more female Ruby programmers? Well, then, make some!

And so on June 13, 2009 a mob of us would-be Rubyists were seated in the very nice conference rooms of Orange Labs, fumbling through developing a basic application in RoR, pushing it to Github, and admiring our handiwork on Heroku. Assisting us were the most solicitous, patient, and caring volunteers ever, nearly all of them men.

The one-day introductory course had enrolled its maximum. Even before this day had finished the Sarahs and the volunteers had to plan another. Not only had they identified a common need, but they had met it so graciously that many of us aspired to be one of those cool volunteers ourselves some day.

And so, one year later, the local Ruby Meetups have more women attending every time, some even as presenters.  One year from now I hope we won’t even have to do this kind of census.   But to get there we have to be the change we want to see–and it’s great the Sarahs have shown us how to do that.

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  • Paul Lundahl

    Great Post Melanie! I’m a big fan of Sarah Allen as well. I also attended that first free workshop and it felt very historic some how. If someone ever rights a history of RoR, it should be a part of it! Being the change you want to see should be just a natural part of being human. It’s great to celebrate what happens when people take things on and not accept the status quo.

    • http://twobanjos.com mejarc

      @Paul–thank you for your comment! One really outstanding quality of the workshops is how many people turn up to volunteer. The Sarahs have a real gift for motivating us.