Coding, Not Just for the Boys

Instead of scheduling brunch plans or enjoying a lazy afternoon this weekend, close to 40 women took over the Sunlight conference room this past Saturday for an all-female software training program conducted by GeekChic. Here at Sunlight, we were happy to host the training and help cultivate more developers in the DC community with the hopes of increasing awareness of open data and turning these future developers onto our APIs and databases.

So many ladies learning programming!! #sunlightgram

While many of our developer colleagues were participating in the National Day of Civic Hacking, a number of us were here writing our first lines of code. In the seven-hour training intensive, we covered the basics of the command line, learned to write and execute code in Python, got our style on with some basic CSS and HTML training as well as created our first web app in Django. (Whew, that was exhausting just recounting what we did.) Six Sunlighters, with a range of tech know-how, participated in the training and here’s what we learned (and real life testimonials on why you shouldn’t be afraid to learn to code!). If you are interested in partnering with Sunlight to host technology workshops, please contact

Caitlin Weber, Creative Director

I attended the workshop on Saturday uncertain of whether I would find myself uninterested in a Python intensive day or bored by an overview of technologies that I work with on a daily basis. I was pleasantly surprised.

The course, introduced by Geekchic founder Josie Keller and lead by Ben Bengfort was a fast paced overview of a suite of technologies that could be used together to create any number of things. For someone with no experience in web technologies it was meant to initiate without hazing. As a web designer working closely with a dozen or so developers at my side, none of what we covered was new, but it was a well programmed day that gave context and meaning to processes that I’ve learned by rote and use daily without fully understanding them.

Ryan Sibley, Data and Applications Editor

I  try to take every opportunity to learn new technical skills. It’s good for me and good for my work. I also feel very smart when I clean up messy HTML on my own or join tables using a SQL query to do a complex analysis of data. So when GeekChic hosted an introduction to Python and Django class over the weekend, which Sunlight donated it’s conference room for and was offered space in the class in return, I jumped at the opportunity.

While the class I took over the weekend didn’t leave me an expert coder, it did show me and others what could be done with Python development skills if we kept at it, and that could be a very powerful thing. For instance, I could make my own news apps, taking the products I create as a writer and researcher to a greater level.

Currently my passion is uncovering stories to tell and helping others tell the stories they’ve uncovered. And while coding seems to be in a different universe than those things, I’ve learned that that is just not true. Coding and web development likely compliment any line of work. It certainly compliments mine.  My many developer friends here at Sunlight have taught me that, and now GeekChic is working to spread that idea, too.

Lindsay Ferris, Development Assistant

I have always considered my technical skills to be pretty limited, to say the least. However, during my time as a Sunlighter, I’ve met many developers and civic hackers that are unlocking government data and using it to develop some pretty exciting and useful tools. So, when the opportunity arose to attend the GeekChic programming workshop, I figured that there wasn’t a better way to spend a Saturday than in the office, getting an introduction to the skills I would need to develop these tools myself.

I was initially concerned that I might get lost during a lesson and end up staring at ‘error’ messages for the rest of the workshop. Fortunately, one of the best parts of the day was discovering the community of women willing to help other aspiring developers. When I got stuck, three other women sitting at my table immediately jumped to help, making sure I caught up with the instructor. It was refreshing to see this cultivating community of women and to have the opportunity to bond with other aspiring developers.

Amy Ngai, Partnership and Training Manager

As a non-developer who talks about Sunlight data and tools on a daily basis, I have a very descriptive understanding of our resources without the substantive knowledge of how its all created. The workshop introduced me to the backend technologies  and demystified how applications are developed and made accessible to the public. More importantly, I feel further equipped with the terminology to communicate with our developers and other civic hackers in the opengov community. Now I know what it means to commit a pull request, although I don’t imagine I’ll be doing it all that soon!

Amy Cesal, Graphic Designer

A few weeks ago, I attended a tech “intro” workshop and felt way over my head. Surrounded by 40 dudes whose experience seemed way above my novice level of the particular subject, I ultimately walked out. I knew GeekChic would be a more supportive environment.

Personally, I feel like I’m standing on the edge of the tech world. I know more about coding than most people I socialize with and they peg me as the tech-y one of the group. But, when I come to work, I’m surrounded by developers whose skills far surpass mine. Working at Sunlight has forced me to step out of my comfort zone and start to “speak developer.” GeekChic helped me solidify knowledge I’ve picked up in the last year, and inspired me to take the initiative and continue my quest for knowledge.

Kaitlin Devine, Web Developer

Since I work with the tools in the GeekChic curriculum every day, I came to help out as a TA at the workshop. I was pleasantly surprised at the diversity of the crowd that the workshop attracted. There were women from different professional backgrounds, age groups and skill levels.

The workshop was oriented in table clusters or “pods” that facilitated the students helping each other when one of the TAs wasn’t available. The attendees were also generally very supportive of each other and no one pretended to assert their “superior knowledge” over the others, which can often happen in these kind of teaching environments. While I was surprised at the amount of material covered in one short day, attendees seemed pleased to see the whole process soup to nuts, even if it didn’t make them particularly strong in one area.

Want to get started on your own open data project? Check out tutorials at Sunlight Academy or get started using our APIs.