My experience mentoring at Django Girls

Author: Ally Eastman


Well, here I am - talking about my experience as a mentor for Django Girls. Originally, I applied to attend the workshop, however I was convinced to become a mentor. I’ll talk more about that later, but let’s start from the very beginning of this story.

December 2015
I finish studying my Bachelor of Design (Majoring in Web). I am relieved that everything went well - especially my final project. I am optimistic but nervous about finding an industry career.

I then began working at Mandalay Technologies as a Junior Developer. I love my job and it is the exact environment I was hoping to work in (I start questioning what I was nervous about).

At Mandalay, we break up our year into quarters, and within these quarters we create goals - including personal ones. One of my goals was to get more involved in the community and more specifically meet like-minded women who would mentor me.

My boss Robbie directed me to a meetup, called ‘Women Who Code’. Long story short - I go to the next meetup with a friend Nina (we studied the same degree together). We meet a small group of ladies, some who work in the digital and tech space with minimal coding knowledge, all the way up to senior developers who have many years behind them. In this workshop we learn about the basics of database normalization and I find it easy to follow, especially the SQL component.

A photo from the Women Who Code night.

During the night, a lovely lady named Liz Kennedy pitches the idea of Django Girls to us. I’ve never heard of Django prior to this day - but I had heard of Python (which Django is a framework built on). She mentions that they are looking for sponsors for the event. I keep all this information in the back of my mind.

The following day at work, I catch my boss up on the night - telling him about what I learnt, the general experience and that I was thinking of attending the Django Girls event. I also explain that they are looking for sponsors and Mandalay could be a perfect candidate. I give him a link to the website and write a short pitch for why Mandalay should sponsor Django Girls to the big boss, Simon.

A little while later, Robbie and Simon tell me that Mandalay is willing to sponsor the event and I shoot Liz (the event manager) a message asking for more information on the sponsorship packages. She sends me a PDF, outlining each of the packages. Afterwards, Mandalay choose a package from the list. At this point I am over the moon - I feel very lucky to work in a place that sponsors my passions. I am still grateful to this day for their contributions.

Fast forward a few weeks and responses are sent out to the applicants. As part of our applications, we had to mention our level of coding knowledge - in which I answered that I have experience.

My application was accepted. On the response, it suggested that because of the high volume of applicants - if you have coding experience, you should consider being a mentor. I contemplate this and email Django Girls, explaining that I was thinking of being a mentor, but was not confident with my level of knowledge. Will, the lead mentor of the event, emailed me, convincing me as to why I should become a mentor and that I should embrace the role. He also mentioned that the tutorial for the workshop was online, so if I followed this prior to the event, I would be fine. That was enough for me to be persuaded into joining. I am so glad he pitched the role to me.

I decided to have a look through the tutorial. I started it - but to be honest, I didn’t finish it before the event. Why? 1. Because I ran out of time. 2. It was pretty easy to follow and I was confident that during the workshop I could figure out the rest if necessary.

Thursday the 30th
The Thursday night before the workshop, the mentors and organisers agree to meet up at the River City Labs. We congregate, getting to know each other, asking questions about the event, have drinks and pizza and start putting the swag bags together. The swag bags are what were given to the attendees on arrival. This included helpful things for the workshop, as well as marketing collateral from the sponsors. We end the night, not knowing what will happen tomorrow night - but we are hopeful everything will go to plan.

The mentors for Django Girls Brisbane.

Friday the 1st July
Friday barrels around the corner and I finish work that afternoon as per usual. I head off to the River City Labs and find my name tag (eventually). We all meet around the front - listening to an introduction from Liz. We also watch an animation created by the founders of Django Girls. I am the mentor for the group #3. We have cute little balloons with our numbers written on them in our assigned desk areas. I wait around the table, anticipating which girls would be in my group. I see a familiar face - a friend Mary, who I met at the Women Who Code meetup and it turns out she is in my group! I also meet two other ladies in my group - Rosie and Zoe. They are all so lovely and very easy to talk to, so I instantly feel lucky as a mentor.

We begin the installation - which I know can go very smoothly or rather pear shaped. I try to ease the girls through the process, reminding them to read each line so that they do not miss anything. They all install everything with ease and have a few questions about the different things that they are installing. A list of what they were required to install includes:
- Github & Git
- PythonAnywhere
- Python Application
- Django
- A code editor (if one is not already installed) I attempt to give detailed answers, but it is hard to explain what some of these installations are for until we use them further on in the tutorial. The girls head home and I stick around talking to some of the other mentors for a while.

Helping Mary on Friday Night. We actually did not laugh to make the photo look cheesy - we did just happen to laugh when this photo was taken haha!

Saturday the 2nd July
We begin our Saturday bright and early at 9am. We are provided with a small breakfast. I have a croissant and a cup of milk. (I would have had a hot chocolate but the machine conveniently broke not long before my turn haha!).

Just before 9:30, Liz and Will pull me aside and ask if i’d be interested in giving a quick talk about my experiences before the workshop kicks off. I agree to this wholeheartedly. Generally I don’t get too nervous when it comes to public speaking, but I admit I did a little (at least I was given short notice so I didn’t have to overthink it).

I started off my talk a little shaky but I warm up. I talk about my current role, what brought me to web design, my degree, my current mentors and women who have inspired me in the past. Although I didn’t consider the talk to be ‘brilliant’ I got some good feedback. We then jumped straight into the tutorial.

Each of the girls started working on the project and it was great to see their reactions when they ran the project locally in the browser and could see what they had created visually. They all seemed to pick up the understandings of creating blog models and how to work around the admin part of the project.

The next section of the tutorial was deployment. There are many steps in this part and making connections between each platform can seem a little confusing. One of the girls in my group, Rosie, kept getting blocked in a certain part of the deployment. I tried a few different ideas of how to solve it but nothing was working - so I finally consulted another mentor, who suggested that she should go back to the start of creating the project, as we had deleted a file that was in the wrong structure but Python still had the memory of it. Even though this was inconvenient for Rosie, she kept an optimistic attitude and that was refreshing to see.

An overview of us all working away.
Soon enough, lunch time rolled around and we had a guest speaker, Liz Raad. She is a website investor. She spoke about her experience with everything web related. It was great to see that she could go back to supporting her passion for zoology but in the form of the internet. We then had a healthy and delicious lunch supplied to us by our sponsors.

At about the point where the girls went on the the HTML section of the tutorial, I had to slip out of the workshop to go and vote (yippee!). This was bad timing as I know HTML and CSS confidently, so I was looking forward to seeing how they went. Each of the girls I was mentoring already had a good understanding of the two languages though - but wanted to learn more.

Eventually it reached the end of the workshop. I was so surprised by how quick the day went, as well as how much learning everyone could fit into that time. We took a group photo of everyone included in the workshop. My group that I mentored and I took some photos together too.

A photo we toke with the event organiser - Liz!

We were really trying to express some different emotions in these haha!

It was great to see each of the girls in my group were really interested in learning more about Django and even I myself learnt much more about Django. Did everything go smoothly? Not particularly. Is that okay? Of course it was, I was actually kind of glad that each of my girls got stuck on something. It is one of the most frustrating but effective ways to learn how to code. Occasionally, they asked me some questions that I attempted to answer, but I don’t think my answers were particularly helpful, they might have confused them further. But I truly tried my best. Will I mentor again? Of course. Expect to see me at the next Django Girls Brisbane workshop ;)