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Why I’m a Part of PyLadies

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Katie Cunningham talks about PyLadies, why she got involved, and why you should consider joining, too.
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For the past two years, I’ve spent one Sunday a month somewhere in DC.

Sometimes, it was in a coffee shop, strategically positioning my coat, sweater, laptop bag, and purse to save chairs, ready to pounce on any tables that opened up. Other times, it was in a bar, trying to remember how my editor works as I sip on a cocktail (after all, I’ve only been using vim for ten years). Lately, it’s been in a public library, where the lack of cocktails and coffee are made up for by the ability to reserve a room.

No matter where I am, I’m usually cursing the wifi and checking to see if I have enough signal to simply tether to my phone. I’ve battled traffic, coming from forty minutes south, and I’ve usually ingested way too much caffeine.

Fighting for tables and chairs and battling both traffic and unreliable wifi are well worth it. This is when PyLadies DC meets.

Who Are We?

PyLadies is an independent outreach organization (though tax-free donations go through the Python Software Foundation). Our goal is to encourage more women not only to code in Python, but also to be active in the open source community. We aim to create a space that is safe and encouraging for both women and trans women, as well as for our allies. Our groups span the globe, with more opening every year.

PyLadies is made of both experts and novices in programming. Some are full-time developers. Others use Python to enhance their work in their field. In PyLadies DC, we have developers, designers, journalists, scientists, teachers, and even one Presidential Fellow. Some of us have been coding since the days of amber-and-black screens, and others have just begun on their journey.

Why PyLadies?

The people who join PyLadies do so for many reasons. Some want a place where the ratio favors their gender. Others are trying to break into a new field, and find the PyLadies chapters to be less intimidating than the often enormous Python chapters.

Being the only woman the table

Why did I not only join, but also decide to co-run a chapter?

At PyCon 2013, I was helping run the PyLadies table, selling shirts and telling people what we do. A man approached.

“Why are you doing this?”

I launched into our spiel, which he appeared to be half-listening to. He glanced around, eyes landing on the women in the crowd.

“Looks like there’s already plenty of women here.”

I gave him a thin smile. “Yup. You’re welcome.”

At my first tech conference, it was a different story. I’d scan the crowd and realize that, even though I could easily see dozens of people, I couldn’t spot a single other women. Though everyone was polite, there was a feeling that I was the novelty. The other attendees were more careful around me. I got probing questions that implied that they didn’t think I was a developer. Was I a PM? A headhunter? A designer?

I was slightly discomforted, but came away with enough positive interactions that I decided I liked going to conferences. I did wish there were more women there, though.

When Jackie Kazil approached me about co-running a chapter of PyLadies in DC, I realized that this was the way I could make that happen.

What We Do

PyLadies takes a multi-prong approach to our advocacy, with most of the focus being on local support, networking, conferences, and fundraising.

Chapters

At the core of the PyLadies organization are its chapters. Nearly all of our activities spring from them. They’re where we focus our classes and networking, and where we often get new members.

Every chapter is different. Some, like the DC chapter, favor a laid-back approach (in spite of our coffee ingestion). In DC, we meet once a month, often without presentations or even a topic. Members are encouraged to bring their latest project to hack on or their latest bug for the group to dissect. We’ve installed Ubuntu, gotten databases rolling, and shown off useful libraries.

Other chapters are more intense. The Portland, Oregon chapter is constantly running presentations, hack-a-thons, guest speakers, and classes. In August alone, they had seven distinct meetings! The San Francisco chapter sports over a thousand members!

Classes

Almost every chapter runs classes. While most are focused on teaching the absolute beginner how to program in Python, others are more advanced. There have been classes on data scraping, database design, and web development. The classes are almost always free, and those that aren’t usually only charge a nominal fee to cover coffee and water.

Classes often hit capacity quickly, increasing the pressure to hold local classes more often. Chapters often share teaching materials and offer to fly out to locations if the need is great, but the teachers are scarce.

Conferences

PyLadies also pushes to get more women not only to conferences, but also to speak at conferences. We fundraise throughout the year, asking companies and individuals for donations to help women get to the larger Python conferences. We also hold brainstorming sessions to help women write proposals for upcoming conferences, offering help with outlines and research.

These events often happen at the conferences themselves! At DjangoCon 2012, a special event was held where PyLadies holed up in a suite and wrote proposals. By the end of the night, at least a half-dozen women had submitted their first talk to PyCon.

How to Help

The easiest thing you could probably do to help PyLadies is to join! If there’s a chapter near you, join their MeetUp page and check out what events are coming up. Chapters are always looking to diversify their talent pool, so even if you’re not a full-time Python developer (or you’re not a developer at all), check them out. An interest in the language is what we’re looking for, not the ability to write your own interpreter.

If there’s no chapter near you, consider starting your own! The easiest way to get started is to contact us so we help get you set up. We can help promote your new group, get you some materials for running classes, and help field your questions as to how to find space, run meetings, and get new members.

Finally, PyLadies is always raising funds to help get more women to conferences and to help more chapters run free classes. Fully funding a woman to go to a conference can cost around $2500, and running a class, even with the teachers volunteering to teach for free, can cost up to $1000. Sponsoring us for any amount not only helps us bring more women into tech, but also helps us dream up even loftier goals.

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