From Helsinki to Los Angeles + The Global Community of RailsGirls


I am not a coder, but I’ve worked for some pretty great tech companies with some of the world’s best programmers and I’ve always been curious to learn a little myself. Lucky for me, there are currently lots of ways to do this. In fact so many, it can be daunting. Which language should I start with? Do I want to build a mobile app or a website? What makes one format better than the next?

Several people suggested I start with the programming language called Ruby. Ruby is simpler than other languages (like Python or C++) but still powerful enough to build lots of cool things.

Ruby on Rails is a programming framework that uses the Ruby programming language. A framework means there are chunks of commonly used code that are pre-written for you to make it easier. Here’s the best explanation I’ve heard of a framework vs a language: think of a sandwich. Ruby is like all of the layers of the sandwich – meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato – that go in between the bread. You could either bake the bread from scratch yourself (using the programming language) or get pre-sliced bread from the grocery (utilizing the programming framework) to save yourself a LOT of time and effort. Ruby on Rails allows developers to build web apps quickly and has been used to build popular sites such as Hulu, Funny or Die, and Bleacher Report. Like I said, powerful stuff from one of the more “simple” languages.

So I started exploring resources for Ruby and Ruby on Rails and stumbled upon RailsGirls. RailsGirls is a non-profit started in Finland whose goal is to give women (and men) the tools to build (code) things and a community to help them get started. RailsGirls hosts weekend workshops all over the world that are staffed by professionals who volunteer their time.

This past spring, I was lucky enough to attend a RailsGirls workshop with 250 women in Los Angeles. Saturday morning we had an “installation party” where we downloaded all of our tools and Saturday afternoon we listened to series of presentations designed for beginners that went through all of these tools, such as GitHub, a place to store all of your code. Sunday we were split up into groups based on our experience level (I was with the total beginners) and we were assigned a coach who walked us through the actual tutorials that had us set-up a basic web app.

I have a LONG way to go but, overall, it was a great starting point and I got to meet a lot of cool women in the LA area who were also interested in learning more about coding, whether this helped them in their current job or they wanted to make a total career switch.

Have 15 minutes? Check out to see the basics of the Ruby language.

And if there’s a RailsGirls workshop in your area, I’d highly recommend it! Did I mention it’s free? And they generously gave us lunch and t-shirts! You can check their upcoming locations here. And take a look at some additional materials here.

Have you been to a RailsGirls workshop? Are there other resources you’ve liked that teach programming to beginners? Let us know!

PS – if you’re a parent or teacher, check out the programming language Scratch that was developed at MIT to teach coding to kids!


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