So I’ve discovered that with many things in coding things are either too much or not enough, too hard or too easy. Finding the ‘goldilocks’ in the middle is such a great feeling – and I think tonight I found my tech meetup goldilocks!

I went to my third meetup tonight, which was with BrisRuby.  Before that I’d been to a Women Who Code meetup and a Rails Install Fest.

The Women Who Code night was….well it was jumping in the deep end of the swimming pool. They definitely warned attendees that prior coding experience was necessary. I possibly should have realised this didn’t mean ‘two months of teaching yourself online’ but I thought I’d try it out anyway.  The first part of the night was good,  a talk on test-driven development. But the second part of the evening was an opportunity to try out TDD. First problem: the options were Java, Javascript or C#. I’d done a bit of Javascript but was really only comfortable with Python. Second problem: I had NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING. I peeked at someone else’s laptop and tried to follow along, but ended up leaving early feeling entirely defeated.

I loved the combination of talk and code, but the difficulty level was too much for me and a bit daunting. Fortunately my next experience was tailored specifically for beginners.

The Rails InstallFest was a brilliant night. A three hour  session with instructions on how to create a ’15 minute blog’ (I’m still not sure how a 15 minute blog took the whole three hours plus several hours over the next few days to ‘finish’). There were several wonderful mentors around to help and I actually felt like I was being productive. This was a tutorial written for people with little to no experience in coding, or at least in Ruby. The instructions were mostly along the lines of ‘Type this in’, ‘Now press this’.  This was absolutely necessary, since Rails is a hugely complicated concept, especially for beginners, and these specific instructions allowed us to all get a functioning Rails app by the end of the night. However, despite having a ‘finished’ product by the time I went home I didn’t feel like I’d understood much of what I’d done.

The evening felt quite relaxed though, and I was able to chat to people, both the mentors to get some tips on where to go next and other participants to make me feel a little isolated. This was the first time I’d met other newbie coders in person, which was great.

Tonight however was the best of the lot – the monthly BrisRuby meetup. I showed up just a couple of minutes before the start time and settled into a seat. The first half of the evening was tailored for beginners, showing some RSPEC techniques. It was stuff I didn’t know much about, but I knew enough Ruby to follow along and understand, as well as get some ideas for how I could use what I was learning.  We had a drinks break in the middle, which was initially nerve-wracking, as everyone seemed to already be in conversations except me. However I fought through the nerves and spoke to a few people (including a woman who attended one of the boot camps I’m considering for next year – bonus!).  The second half of the evening was over my head technically, but I focused on trying to understand the bits I could of the code, and absorbed a little bit of what was being discussed – general topics to consider, even if I didn’t understand the ways they were being addressed. The evening ended with a dinner which was  much more comfortable than the ‘stand and mingle’ session – sitting down breaks some of the ice with approaching people to talk.

I can’t wait for the next BrisRuby meetup – the mix of beginner and more advanced topics was perfect, and having dedicated time for talking with other attendees was brilliant.

One day I might consider starting my own meet up specifically for newer coders. I think that the start of the coding journey, where you’re mostly sitting at home by yourself, is the most important time to be able to meet  other people who are in the same boat – either at the same point of learning or a little further along in their journey. My recipe for a great tech meet-up would be along the lines of:

  • A mix of talks and coding
  • Time to chat with other people – having them actually sitting down next to others helps facilitate this
  • A mix of levels of information – something easy and a bit more challenging
  • and of course, free drinks and Pizza!

If you’ve had any great or not-so-great experiences with meet ups, let me know in the comments!