The Chronicles: Learning Web Development at Bitmaker Labs (Week 3)

Building our first Rails apps and a few thoughts on women in tech


Want some more context? Read about week 2 here.

Monday

We learned about SQL (database language) and SQLite (a sandbox database) on Monday. We also took a look at how to store information that users enter in a database.

Tuesday

On Tuesday, we covered software testing and MiniTest (testing functionality integrated with Ruby). I didn’t know that software testing was such a crucial part of application-building, but it makes sense since building programs to mimic user activity could save you a lot of time in development. Our afternoon assignments had us run small tests to ensure our methods were working properly.

Wednesday

On Wednesday we dove into the magical world of Rails: form helpers (replace HTML forms), models, views, controllers (the building blocks of a rails app), and practicing building out all the features and functionalities of an Imgur-like application.

My first question after the morning lesson was, “Why would anyone NOT use this?”. Rails is a very robust and powerful framework for building web applications that does a lot of work for you, streamlining the development process. It turns out that there are lots of reasons not to use rails once your app becomes more widely used (including speed and expense), but companies like Twitter seem to be managing a large-scale Rails app just fine, so I’m looking forward to building more with Rails.

Since I have previous experience with front-end development, I tried to focus on solidifying the back-end concepts this week (which is why these are in basic HTML).

Thursday

We we took another look at form helpers, how they work, and how to get information from forms on Thursday morning. In the afternoon, we re-built our Rails app to get really comfortable with the framework and new concepts.

Friday

On Friday, we explored SQL and ActiveRecord and generally how we interact with databases in a Rails app. In the afternoon, we did some exercises to practice our SQL and ActiveRecord queries. I arrived home mentally and physically exhausted. Lots to think about over the weekend.

Wanted: Female role models in tech

I don’t need to tell you that women in tech are still difficult to find in 2015.

It’s also not new or innovative to say that I believe that part of the reason for that is because there are very few female role models in tech. This is still largely a male space, and I think most young women and girls automatically write it off as an area they would ever be interested in pursuing because of that. When I was a little girl, building things always seemed like a “boy” thing to do because of the way I was socialized. My friends and I therefore invested our time in creating other things like stories, plays, or movies, and never even considered computers or how they worked as an interesting or viable way to spend our time.

But how did we know we wouldn’t like it if we didn’t give ourselves a chance to try it? A friend of mine and I have started to learn to code recently, and I suspect we would have started much earlier had we not been convinced that coding was a guy thing.

Humans will naturally tend to enter areas where they’ve seen other humans like them become successful. The young women and girls who are trying to figure out what they might want to do with the rest of their lives need female role models in tech to show them that it’s awesome and cool to build things with your computer — and that they’re probably really good at it, too.

Bitmaker Labs does a really great job of trying to encourage this by giving women a scholarship on admission to their programs. Our class is almost a 50/50 male/female split, and we also have two female instructors — who are nothing short of incredible — teaching us how to program. I’m really proud to be a part of an organization that encourages the participation of women in this space, and I hope more tech companies take a page from Bitmaker’s book and create incentives for women to join them. Tech needs it.

Want more? Read about week 4 here.

Tara Mahoney is a freelance web designer & developer in Toronto, Ontario.

Give her a shout if you wanna chat, or check out some of her work here.

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