Though it got a bit of a late start due to some registration woes, the
first day of EuroPython 2015
began with an engaging and well-received keynote. It recounted the history
of a project that got its start just a year ago when the first Django Girls workshop was held at
EuroPython 2014 in Berlin. The two women who started the
project, Ola Sitarska and Ola Sendecka, spoke about how the workshop
to teach women about Python and the Django web framework all came
together—and the amazing progress that has been made by the organization in
its first year.
It all started when Sitarska and Sendecka met while organizing DjangoCon 2013 that was held in their home
country of Poland. They decided to hold the event in a circus tent at a horse racing track
in Warsaw. They were able to make that event work, which provided a strong
bond that obviously continues to this day. Sendecka said that experience
is a great way to get to know someone and that they both recognized they
could pull off "crazy things" together.
It is, they noted, quite a
coincidence that their names are the same length and only differ by a few
letters; both also come from the same region of Poland (Silesia). They now
live in London and both work as Django developers for a company called Potato. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some people
think there is only one "Ola", which results in a fair amount of
misdirected email and other types of confusion.
As a way of introducing Django Girls, they began with a fable of sorts
that was illustrated with some eye-catching drawings made by Sendecka (slides
at Speaker Deck). The story was about "Liz", who is a squirrel who is
fascinated by technology and programming in particular. As she makes her
way into the "forest of technology", though, she finds that there are few
squirrels who are interested in technology. In fact, most of those who
are learning about technology in the forest were all very similar to each
other, but much different from her.
In fact, the others were badgers, she discovered. She wanted to fit in,
but always stood out from the badger pack. They were generally nice, and
she had nothing against badgers, but she could feel the eyes of the badgers
whenever she entered a room and she was often "complimented" with lines
like: "You are not like other squirrels" or "You are pretty good at
technology for a squirrel."
She realized that the badgers knew lots about technology, so she thought
she should perhaps become more badger-like to fit in. But that didn't
change anything, she was still an
outsider. At one point she organized a technology
event and was asked by a badger whether she was just there for social
reasons. She constantly had to prove her knowledge of technology, while
badgers who knew far less than her were able to speak up freely.
Liz started to lose confidence in herself, worried that she was too shy and
reserved to ever fit into the technology crowd, even though she loved the
technical aspects of the field. She was able to make some friends among
the badgers, though when she looked closely, she realized they weren't
really badgers. Instead, they were really various other types of animals
that only just
kind of looked like badgers. The support from these friends helped her
push on with her studies.
After a while, Liz realized that the problem wasn't with her, it was with
the technology forest itself. She had to do so much more than badgers did
to get the same recognition, but when she brought that subject up, it was
not well-received, or even believed, by the badgers. She asked around
about the problem on
the internet and
got the predictable responses about squirrel's inherent inferiority and
inability to ever truly master technology.
Liz despaired of the situation ever changing. She was too tired to fight
every day for her place, but then, through a fortunate series of events,
she met another squirrel who loved technology. This squirrel was also
named "Liz" and they became fast friends. She finally had someone with
could share her frustrations of trying to live in the forest of technology. She
realized that she is not the only squirrel who loved technology, but was as
intimidated and scared by the badger's world as she was.
Liz and Liz started to think about how awesome it would be if there were
more squirrels that could get involved with technology and who could learn
to love programming the way they did. So they came up with a crazy plan to
teach other squirrels how to code. They told all of their friends about the
idea and with their support, and the help of lots of others who joined in, the
idea became a reality.
In the year since then, thousands of squirrels have learned how to
program. It is all because two little squirrels met at the right time and
became excited about this crazy idea. Today, they said, Liz is standing on
the stage at EuroPython telling the story of this journey and of a dream
that became a reality. That dream is Django Girls.
Teaching Python and Django
Sitarska and Sendecka started organizing the first Django Girls workshop
just two months before last year's conference. It was targeted at teaching
women who were complete beginners and had "never written a line of code in
their life". In the year since, they have seen over 1600 women attend
these workshops from "literally all over the world".
After a meeting with one of the EuroPython organizers, Sitarska got the
idea to run a workshop. She immediately sent Sendecka email asking if she
wanted to help. In something of a massive understatement, in the email she
said "I don't think it's gonna be a lot of work ...". Sendecka responded
"she lied" with a laugh. The idea was to get twenty students and six
coaches for the workshop and to use an existing Django tutorial from the internet.
So they started working on putting the workshop together that day. But,
most of the time, "we had absolutely no idea what we were doing". The
amount of work started to snowball. They came up with the idea of
providing financial aid for attendees, which required more sponsors and
figuring out how to transfer money to the students.
They also realized
that they didn't like any of the tutorials that were out there. All of
them assumed that the reader was already a programmer and knew what a web
framework is, what a server is, and so on. They ended up writing their own
tutorial, which turned out
to be roughly 90 pages of text.
In addition, they promoted the workshop in all of the places they could
think of and ended up spending a lot of time evaluating the 300 attendee
applications. Eventually the workshop expanded to 45 attendees, which meant
that 15 coaches were needed as Django Girls has a 3:1 ratio for students to
The Django Girls tutorial has now been read by over 94,000 people at this point, which
is 1/4 the population of Bilbao (where EuroPython 2015 was held), they
noted. In total, 1,646 women have learned Python and Django in these
workshops. More than 70 have now been held in 34 countries on 6
continents. Nothing, so far, in Antarctica, but "we are working on that
too", Sendecka said with a chuckle.
The project has grown so much that a legal entity was needed to administer
it, so the Django
Girls Foundation was started in June. Django Girls has been so
successful because of the huge numbers of volunteers who have put in their
own time as organizers (137), contributors to the tutorial (111), and as
part of a
"huge army of coaches" (548). It came to a point where overseeing all of
that became too much, so they asked for help and got four more people
who are now helping to administer the project; they "help keep us sane".
That still is not enough, they realized, so they have made the big decision
to hire the first paid position for the foundation. They are looking for
an "Ambassador of Awesomeness" to help ensure that the organization does
the best work that it can. It was a bit of a terrifying decision,
especially since "we still don't know what we are doing and are making it
up as we go". But they are sure it is the right decision to make to ensure that
Django Girls "is sustainable and can grow beyond us".
They believe that things are just getting started for the project and that
it can have an even bigger impact down the road. They have another big
project in the works that they shared for the first time at the conference.
The tutorial was enjoyable to write and "to our surprise we must have done a pretty good
job". They get many requests for more advanced tutorials or ones
that cover other parts of computer science. The tutorial was necessarily
geared toward how much can be taught in a single day, so it skimmed over
lots of material to make it all fit.
But there is much more about computers and the internet that can be taught, so they are in the process of writing a book. It will
try to capture the style of the workshops but cover more material in a book
that will be "beautifully crafted". The book is called Yay Python and those interested can
follow the progress at that web site. The announcement was met with a loud round of
applause and a stage whisper that there is "no going back on that now".
The book will build on the Django Girls tradition, with "a good dose of
emoji and funny little quirks".
It is still a tutorial on how to build a Django web site, but there will be
lots more material, including
chapters on topics like "how a computer works" and a "connect the dots"
exercise to explain HTTP requests and responses. It will also talk about
the communities behind Python and Django, along with how open source works.
The idea is to
"fall in love with the internet as we did".
The one rule they have adhered to throughout the Django Girls process is to
"always go the extra mile" and the details of the workshops show this, they said.
The room is decorated with flowers and balloons, rather than being a
"boring classroom" and they do fun things like cupcake tasting or yoga
during the day. To ensure that organizers have all of the information they
need to run the event, and that attendees have a similar experience no
matter where the event is held, there is an organizer's guide. There is
also a coaching manual. All of
that material is open source, so that it can be repurposed as needed. It
"took weeks to write down" all of that information, but they want to ensure
that Django Girls is bigger than just the two of them.
Workshops are meant to be fun and friendly. Enthusiasm from the
organizers, coaches, and participants helps with that. "The power of
enthusiasm is huge", they said. When the two of them get excited, that gets passed
on to organizers and from there to participants. That is part of what has
made Django Girls so successful so quickly.
But every labor of love comes "with a huge emotional cost". It is an
enormous job and one that they always feel they are not quite putting
enough of themselves into. The thing that keeps them going when they are
feeling that way, though, is the stories from women who have literally
changed their lives by attending the
For example, there is Dori, who was sitting in the keynote audience somewhere, and
was attending her second EuroPython. At the pilot workshop, she spent half of the
time in the workshop trying to get the Django server to play nicely with
her Hungarian keyboard. At the time, they thought she had "the worst
experience ever" and would probably never want to have anything to do with
Django or programming ever again. But today she is a Django developer in
Budapest, has organized a monthly meeting for Python developers, and
organized two Django Girls workshops there.
Another was Josie, who was only 13 when she attended the first workshop
with her mother.
Immediately after that, she did a lightning talk at EuroPython in front of a
thousand people about her Django Girls experience and her plan to organize
the Pyxie Dust
project to create a similar workshop for girls her age. That event took
place in Zagreb, Croatia in 2014.
Or Linda, who organized a workshop in Nairobi, Kenya just a few months after the
initial workshop in Berlin. She "blazed a trail" for other women who
organized workshops in Africa after that, they said. They talked about
several other women who have "graduated" from attending the workshop to
organizing and coaching at others, as well as getting involved in the
Python and Django communities in other ways. The Django Girls blog has lots of
similar stories as well as event reports and other news.
They concluded their talk with a "huge thank you" to everyone that has
helped out along the way. Their dream is for Django Girls
not to be needed at some point. It may take 5, 10, or 15 years, but if
that can happen, they will have achieved everything they set out to do.
That is the ultimate goal for the project.
One thing they learned over the last year is that "kindness is
contagious". If you put a lot of energy and effort into something to help
others, "the universe will find a way to pay it all back to you". They
encouraged others to follow in their footsteps; to find their dream and
make it happen. All that it took
was "two little squirrels with a big, big dream and a generous, wonderful
community" to create
something like Django Girls. Remember that "you are not alone, you are
among friends", they finished—to thunderous applause.
A YouTube video of the
talk is also available.