[00:00:00] (Music) Welcome to the CodeNewbie podcast, where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I'm your host Saron and today we're talking about coding workshops. (Music) Reading and watching videos to learn a new coding skill is great, but getting to have a real life instructor in front of you teaching, guiding, correcting your mistakes in real time? That's an amazing learning opportunity if it goes well. If it doesn't go well, it can be a huge waste of time and a painful experience for the students and the teacher. So when you're designing your very first workshops, what do you do? How do you make sure your students get the most out of their time with you?
[00:00:46] AA: Hi my name is Angela Andrews, and I'm a systems administrator at a local university in Philadelphia. And I also do workshops in Philadelphia.
[00:00:57] SY: Angela Andrews went from being a student to teaching her technical skills to others. And she did it by hosting coding workshops in her own home. She tells us all about it. After this.
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[00:03:33] SY: So what I love is that I don't know if people know you as Angela Andrews. I think most people listening might know you as the Scooter Phoenix.
[00:03:43] AA: That's right. That's me.
[00:03:44] SY: So for the longest time I thought that was your real name, and then I think it was, I think it was at Codeland, I saw the Twitter handle @ScooterPhoenix and then I saw the name Angela Andrews. And I said there must be some kind of mixup. This isn't the right, (Laughter) the right name for this handle. So what's the story of Scooter Phoenix?
[00:04:05] AA: Well back in 2001, we started a motorcycle club called the Fiery Phoenix, and it's an all-female sportbike club. So we all have a name, and it's something-phoenix. So because I had 500cc sportbike, and everyone else had 600 and above, it was kind of like a knock that because mine was a 500 it was a scooter. So my name is Scooter Phoenix, and I've been that way ever since.
[00:04:33] SY: That is amazing. So is that your online persona? Is that how people on the internet know you?
[00:04:37] AA: That's how everybody on the internet knows me.
[00:04:40] SY: That is amazing.
[00:04:41] AA: I think very few people know that my real name is not Scooter.
[00:04:44] SY: Yeah. (Laughter) It's a great name. I remember seeing you, meeting you for the first time at Codeland, and I saw your face and I said, "Scooter!" (Laughter) It was awesome. So I'm really excited to have you on the show. So today we are talking about coding workshops. And I think it was a tweet that I saw recently where there was a photo of you and a handful of people—I think it was maybe six people. And it looked like they were at your dining room table?
[00:05:14] AA: Yes, they were.
[00:05:15] SY: Maybe? Does that sound right? And you were doing a workshop. Tell us about that.
[00:05:19] AA: Well once a month, a bunch of women come to my house, and we meet up. And we talk code, just discuss coding in general. We're all pretty much new to coding. Some of us may have been maybe a year or two. Some people just a few months into coding. So it's just like-minded people. We get together once a month. So this month, in particular, I had decided, "would you guys like me to show you Amazon Web Services and how to spin up instance running WordPress?" And everybody said yes. So I grabbed my projector, and we...
[00:05:56] SY: Wait, you have a projector? Like in your home?
[00:05:58] AA: I do.
[00:05:58] SY: That's amazing.
[00:05:59] AA: Yes I do.
[00:06:00] SY: That's awesome.
[00:06:00] AA: And I told everybody to sign up for a free account, and we started from there. So we spun up the instance, we took a quick tour around the AWS interface. This was their first time SSHing into a Linux server, installing, you know, using app.get, all of these commands, using Vim—VIM. I don't believe I said Vim, but it was a big first for everyone at the table. And I was just so happy to share something that I love. I'm a systems administrator. I deal in Linux everyday. To be able to share that with people who may someday need to take a tour around a command line was, it was refreshing. It was really nice.
[00:06:43] SY: So what was the structure of the workshop? Did you have a, like a curriculum? Or were you following a tutorial? Or how did you, how did you plan it?
[00:06:54] AA: I was reading a book about AWS in a month of lunches. That's how it came to me. It was, I think it was one of the days in there where you would spin up an instance, and, you know, you would go through the motions. Now, best-laid plans, you know? Reading it, it's like oh this seems really, really simple. But when you have a bunch of people at your house and this is their first time running on the command line, it was challenging but manageable because it was an opportunity for me to refine and retool how I explain things, how we made it around the interface, how we made things work. So it was also—as I'm trying to guide them, I'm also, you know, testing myself to make sure that am I saying this clearly? How would I do this if I were doing it, you know, sitting at a desk by myself? So both of us—both the participants and myself—we both learned a lot from this experience. I know I did, and afterwards everyone was kind of excited because again, this was their first time on a Linux server SSHing spinning up servers in AWS. So it was a bunch of firsts for all of us.
[00:08:08] SY: So when most people think about putting on a workshop, I think there is this assumption that you have to be an expert. You have to have been doing it for ten years, have a degree, have a certification—all of these things. And then, only then, can you possibly teach someone else. And what I love about you and your story is that you are not a, you know, twenty-year, AWS expert of spinning up instances, right?
[00:08:33] AA: I am not.
[00:08:33] SY: In a lot of ways you're, you know, you're a code newbie just like the rest of us. So what was that like to not be an expert but still teach?
[00:08:41] AA: I felt comfortable enough that if I did make a mistake, no one would hold it against me. I was comfortable in my surroundings, but I was also comfortable in the fact that I know a little bit of something. I've done this before. So there was a slight comfort in that I've seen this boxes. I've seen these windows. I've seen some of these messages before. I don't think you have to be a twenty-year veteran to sit down and show someone how to do something. I mean, we do it every day at work.
[00:09:14] SY: That's true, yeah.
[00:09:14] AA: We do it in all of our circles. We're always explaining things to other people. This is just an extension of it. It is taking a topic that we know something about. We may not be masters in it, but at least we can speak the language, and we feel comfortable enough trying to explain it. I didn't have it prepared. I didn't have notes or slides. It was let me show you something. And just the organic nature of it was... it was amazing. It was so good someone contacted me to put this workshop on at a local WordPress meetup in a couple of months.
[00:09:55] SY: Oh nice.
[00:09:56] AA: So I'm actually going to do it in a formal setting in front of a room full of people. I will have done this a few more times, and I will have slides. And it was just a stepping stone to something, you know, again, I'm still not a twenty-year, ten-year, five-year, one-year veteran. I'm still very new, but I can explain at least this part of it because I've done it.
[00:10:18] SY: And I think the fact that you're not a veteran is actually a great thing because you remember the pain points, you know, those wounds are still fresh enough that, you know, you understand them You can connect with your participants, and you also remember why you made certain decisions. You know, one of the things that I realized—so my husband and I have been pairing recently, and he's learning Ruby on Rails. And so sometimes we'll code together. And, you know, I wouldn't consider myself a veteran with Ruby on Rails, but I've done it long enough that I've forgotten why I do certain things. And he'll say, you know, "Oh, I noticed you, you know, you called this method this instead of this. Why did you do that?" And I'm like "'Cause that's how I've done it for the last five years?" (Laughter) And that's not a very helpful answer. So I think you have an advantage actually.
[00:11:07] AA: Being able to explain it so someone can understand it clearly—it was my goal. I didn't want to overspeak because I know Linux probably enough where I could just say "well do this, this, this, this and this." That wouldn't have been helpful in that setting. No one would've learned anything had I taken that route, so it is being methodical, putting yourself in the other person's shoes. I think that's the only way...
[00:11:34] SY: Yeah.
[00:11:34] AA: ...you can get that type of information across to that type of demographic. You can't just talk talk talk. You have to understand and then relay the information. And then look on their faces and see, did they get it? Yes. No. It's literally not a straight line. You have to take those turns. You have to make those adjustments. And we got through the end of it. They were running WordPress on AWS, making changes in the dashboard.
[00:12:04] SY: Nice.
[00:12:05] AA: And to me, it was a successful workshop. It was very successful. Everyone walked away knowing something that they didn't know before they got there.
[00:12:15] SY: Ok so I wanna go back to where this workshop happened because it was in your dining room.
[00:12:22] AA: (Laughter) Yes.
[00:12:23] SY: Which, to me, I mean I don't know how well you know these people, but my first thought was oh my God there's people in my home. (Laughter) You know like that, that would've completely freaked me out. Is that like a normal thing that happens in Philly?
[00:12:35] AA: No, it isn’t.
[00:12:35] SY: I guess that's what you all do?
[00:12:35] AA: Not, no. Philly does not get down like that. No, we don't let strangers into our houses. There was one young lady who I'd met at BarCamp Philly and GDI events in 2016. And over the months, we had gotten close. And she's always on CodeNewbie Twitter chats, as well, so you know, she's very familiar. So what happened? I invited her. I said well how about we code together? You know, you can come to my house. I'll make dinner. We can sit and we can talk and we can code." I said, "you can't be afraid of dogs because I have two." (Laughter) And she said, "well I'm a little afraid." I said, "well you have to get over it." She came over, (Laughter) and this went on for months.
[00:13:17] SY: With the tough love.
[00:13:17] AA: Where it was just she and I. And then she said, "well, can I invite this person?" Ok, sure. She invited someone. And then over the months, she's inviting all these people to my house. Now some I knew in the local GDI, Girl Develop It community. Two people I had never met before. So it was, you know, I know them on Twitter. It's like, well if she can vouch for them, it's totally cool that they're in my house. And they like dogs, so it worked itself out.
[00:13:48] SY: Ok, so there was never a moment I guess because it happened so gradually where you like freaked out about all these people.
[00:13:55] AA: I didn't have an opportunity to freak out.
[00:13:57] SY: You didn't (Laughter) get a chance.
[00:13:59] AA: I didn't have an opportunity.
[00:14:00] SY: You got, you got like tricked into it like a little bit.
[00:14:03] AA: Every month there was another face.
[00:14:04] SY: Yeah. (Laughter) So was the setting helpful at all? You know, because in some ways it's, you know, strange to have strangers in your home. But on the other hand, were you more comfortable because it was home?
[00:14:19] AA: I was more comfortable because it was home.
[00:14:21] SY: Yeah.
[00:14:21] AA: The idea of having people around your table... I would cook. I would make snacks. People would bring snacks. It turned into...
[00:14:29] SY: Like a coding party.
[00:14:31] AA: Yes. It was very social, and it felt right. It grew organically into what it did. Now, I will say this. The last meetup we had—because it had gotten just a little bit bigger from my dining room table—we did it at a local library. So I think it, it will...
[00:14:48] SY: You graduated.
[00:14:49] AA: Yes, we graduated to an actual meeting space. So we have two more people coming this month, and someone else is presenting some content. I'm not the only one that's going to be talking. Every month, someone's going to raise their hand and present new content. It could be something that they're just learning. It could be a project that they worked on, but this is giving all of us an opportunity to stand up in front of a room full of people and explain and teach what we know.
[00:15:19] SY: So knowing what you know now, if you had done that first workshop over again, what would you have done differently?
[00:15:27] AA: I would've planned for it. Again, this was off the cuff, There was no planning. I would've written up documentation, done screenprints. I do this for a living. I write documentation. I want my participants, or people that I'm dealing with in a meeting or whatever, to have information in front of them that makes the content a little bit clearer, especially when you're doing something that's technical. You want to know where people's eyes should go, and what they should be doing for a second and third. So I would have prepared for it, you know, written up documentation and, you know, had it available for everyone. And that's the plan. I'm gonna have that for my next workshop, where I'm gonna take this show on the road.
[00:16:11] SY: So what were some of your favorite outcomes from the workshops that you've done? Because you've done that one, but you've done, you know, several others in, you know, in the past... what would you say, months? Weeks?
[00:16:20] AA: Yes, in the past months.
[00:16:22] SY: The past months, yes. So what were some of your favorite moments that you've seen in those workshops?
[00:16:28] AA: One that sticks out particularly well was someone saying, "oh my God. I'm working in Linux." Like it was one of those (Laughter) moments like what? Wait a minute, who does that? So it was that... that “aha” moment. Another one was where we got an error message because a package was missing off of the instance. And everybody started Googling. Like ok let's figure this out. And it was nice to see a bunch of people just dig in and work together and figure out a problem. And we got past it, and we moved on. That was pretty dope because I couldn't answer it. Again, this is new to me. This was new. I didn't understand it. We all took to Google, and we figured it out, and we moved on.
[00:17:12] SY: Yeah. So we talked about the WordPress workshop that you did. What are some other topics that you've covered in workshops that you've either organized yourself or helped TA and run?
[00:18:59] SY: Yeah. So now that you have helped lead other workshops, I feel like you're in an interesting position where maybe you're a bit more critical of other people's workshops. I know that's true at least for me as a podcast where, you know, I listen to other podcasts and I'm like, mhm I heard that mistake. You know, or hm you should get a better mic, you know? (Laughter) And so for you, when you look at other workshops or you attend other workshops, what are some things that you've seen help make a workshop really strong and really impactful? And what are some things that you wish workshop leaders would stop doing?
[00:19:36] AA: What I think is always helpful is making sure that introductions are done. Most workshops do it, but I think introducing yourself and being familiar with the other people in the room really takes the barriers down. It makes you more comfortable. It puts you in a position where you're not now, you know, "oh I don't know these people." You know, you still don't know them, but when you can hear, "I'm so and so. I'm new. This is my first time." You can at least relate, and you have one more thing in common with another person in the room. So the introductions—I do like when workshop leaders do that. What I don't like is when they don't have information that they can hand out where people can reference. I went to a Git and Github workshop—this was about a year and a half ago—and there wasn't a cheat sheet for all of the Git commands. And I'm like... wait what? How... how... Are you just gonna talk and tell us? (Laughter) I like look on my paper...
[00:20:42] SY: Step one: memorize.
[00:20:43] AA: Yes. Memorize everything. I suggested it in the survey at the end that they do that. I think that's very helpful because again, like I said, I want you to have something in front of you not so much as a distraction, but a cheat sheet. When you're doing something that is a little bit more complex, there's a little bit more steps to it, it's really helpful just to have that little piece of information. One more thing I think that workshop leaders should really do is don't assume because there's not a question being asked that people don't have questions. And I know no one is a mind-reader, but if you take the pulse of the room, you can look in people's faces and get an idea if they've got it, if they're stuck, if they've kind of given up. You have to be really in-tuned. I know these are strangers, but I am a fitness instructor as well, so I have to manage a room full of people. So if I see someone grimacing or smiling or looking indifferent, I have to then—because I am controlling this space right at this moment—I have to address it. I don't want someone to get hurt. You know what I mean? So I think if workshop leaders just take a pulse every now and again. Not everyone's going to raise their hand with a question or a concern in a room full of thirty people, but if you look in eyes and, you know, nod or... people tend to communicate in smaller ways.
[00:22:15] SY: Yeah, that's such good advice because I remember, you know, even because I used to teach dance when I was younger, and that was a big part of it. Like no one's gonna raise their hand and say, "hey I don't know that step" because you don't wanna admit that to the room, right? But you look around if people are stumbling and not keeping up and, you know, look frustrated and angry, those are signs that maybe we should repeat that, you know, that choreography a little bit (Music) so same with workshops. Yeah, there's always little signs.
[00:22:39] AA: Exactly.
[00:22:40] SY: Coming up next, we talk to Angela about her own coding journey. How she got started learning to code and what tools and resources she uses to level up. After this.
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[00:24:44] So do you remember the first tech workshop you attended?
[00:24:48] AA: Oh boy. (Laughter) Maybe five years ago I attended my first VMworld. VMworld is a conference that deals with the VMware software. It runs clouds. It's a hypervisor. And I know I'm talking big words, (Laughter) but it's AWS but not. It is just a different form of cloud computing. And they're the—one of the biggest in the world. So I went to my first conference, and there's a bunch of workshops and talks. And it was over 20,000 people.
[00:25:23] SY: Wow.
[00:25:23] AA: And I was so overwhelmed. It was just huge. It was a lot of information. I was scared I wasn't gonna get it. I wasn't gonna be able to come back to work and report about it. But the most rememberable thing was the fact that there was very few people who looked like me. I played punch buggy with myself with how many women, how many black people, how many...
[00:25:51] SY: I do that, too.
[00:25:51] AA: And it was just insane that...
[00:25:52] SY: every room.
[00:25:53] AA: That I walked into a space and no one looked like me. And to this day, it still surprises me. And I don't like it. I don't want to be the only person in a space that looks like me, but I know tech is making strides into making things more inclusive and more diverse. But this was a couple of years ago, and I've been to conferences before that. And this a slow-moving train.
[00:26:20] SY: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:26:20] AA: It really is.
[00:26:21] SY: Yeah. So if someone listening wants to put on their own workshop and they're thinking about, you know, gathering a couple people—maybe strangers, maybe friends—and teach them a couple things, what advice do you have for them?
[00:26:37] AA: I have three pieces of advice. Plan ahead. Make sure you're at least comfortable enough explaining—you don't have to be an expert, but you know the steps. You know, you know, the ins, the outs. You can explain it. It doesn't have to be, you know, 100%, but at least prepare enough. Prepare for certain questions because they probably will come up. The second is let people know that something is available. Most of us are on social media. Most of us know people that are learning coding just like we are. And they're in our local cities. I have a lot of friends on Twitter, but not a lot of them live in Philadelphia. So... but the few that I know—if you're doing something, you should reach out. You should market yourself. You should advertise, because you never know how many people are going to be interested. So number two would be to advertise. Number three would be be thoughtful, be very deliberate and be patient. You can't be in front of people trying to explain them something, trying to rush through complex and complicated information. It doesn't work. You're going to have a room full of frustrated people. I think sometimes it's better not to get through all of the content than to frustrate people. You know what I mean? Because we can always take things offline. We could go in Slack. We can finish it on Google Hangouts. So there's always a way to come back, you know. And I use this as an example: last week at the workshop I TA’d, the suggestion was if you have questions come into the Slack channel. Because again, not everybody wants to raise their hand, you know? So the TAs made themselves available. I think that was a great idea. You know, because questions pop up after. Some people work ahead. That is making yourself available and being, you know, clear and concise and helpful. To me, I think those are really good ways—key tips on putting on a workshop and having it be successful. And success is so, you know, ephemeral. As long as someone gets something out of it, you were a success.
[00:29:05] SY: Yeah, and I hope that people are inspired to teach even if maybe they don't feel like they're quite ready because I also think that once you do that very first workshop, you'll walk away with a whole list of things you did differently, ideas you can try next time and it's a powerful way to stretch yourself and to help people. But I feel like you can also improve very quickly, you know? Like I would guess that between your first and even your third or fourth workshop that you've done, you've probably done things, you know, a lot differently and learned from that.
[00:29:40] AA: I've learned so much. I mean, every time you sit in front of a keyboard, you learn something else. Something else is uncovered. The whole thought or act of coding is an adventure. You're going to learn something every time you sit down, every time you do something, every time you explain something, every time someone tries to rephrase what you explained to them, you get an idea—did I say that right? Did that make sense? They're telling me something and it doesn't sound exactly like I delivered it. What can I do to clear that up? Where can I shorten that path? And every time, every question, every interaction, you get a better sense of one: how you're doing for one and two: I've never seen this before, you know. Wait a minute. I just learned something. So I think it's a great opportunity to stretch yourself and to learn more about any topic.
[00:30:38] SY: Yeah. So tell me a little bit more about you and your story. How did you get into tech?
[00:30:44] AA: Wow. Ok, so I got into tech many, many years ago. I was an administrative assistant for the vice president of a big insurance company. And he was a programmer by trade. So he had noticed, you know, I'm very inquisitive. I'm asking questions, and you know, I want to say how long it was because I had a, an IBM 90—I can't remember the letters behind it, but it was this really old computer. We had dial up in the office. He noticed that I was really inquisitive. And he was like, well they're having these classes. Would you like to take, you know, some PC classes? Some Lotus 1-2-3? Some WordPerfect? You know, I'm dating myself. (Laughter) So I started talking all of these classes. I learned how to take computers apart. I learned about networking, you know, it was Token ring, novell networking, and all this back in the day. So over the years, I had kind of outgrown that position. I had gotten my first help desk job. So I was, you know, answering technical questions for a chemical company, an international chemical company. So we were hearing from people all over the world with technical questions. And I grew from there into a help desk/systems administrator. I moved to a smaller company. And they needed someone willing to learn their file servers, which were Windows 2000 and Exchange 55. So these are Microsoft server applications that people use to run their businesses. So I was administering Windows and Linux servers. And also answering help desk questions. And I fast forward a couple of years into how I got into code. I did my first website. It was a GeoCities site.
[00:32:32] SY: Nice.
[00:32:32] AA: From my husbands and our... we have a book club, had a book club back in the nineties. It's called Rio Cities. (Laughter) And I looked at it last night, and I was so ticked by just how horrible it is. You know, that was the first time I tried—and then it was Myspace and then there was, you know, all these other things that came along over the years. And my son's homing school needed a website. And everyone's looking at me because, you know, if you work with computers well you can build websites. And I'm like (Laughter) no.
[00:33:04] SY: Those are the same.
[00:33:06] AA: I was like no. So I took a class at a school. I took a class, and I learned HTML, more HTML and CSS and, you know, and I built their website. And I learned about responsive, and that's how it all started. So I went from an administrative assistant into a systems administrator. Now I am a code newbie. I'm learning, I'm coding and it's pretty awesome.
[00:33:33] SY: Very cool. So of all the different things that you've tried, do you have a favorite thing?
[00:33:38] AA: I would have to say I like PHP and MySQL. And I'm not sure why. I haven't made the connection out of things. I've taken—I took a intro to SQL GDI workshop last year, and I was like this is awesome. You know?
[00:33:59] SY: (Laughter) That's great.
[00:33:59] AA: I don't even know why. It was just.. maybe it was the instructor.
[00:34:04] SY: It clicked. Yeah.
[00:34:04] AA: She was fabulous. The content was amazing. And I came home, and I bought this Head First SQL book, and I was like diving into it. So I like it, but I don't know why. That's probably the best thing that I've learned so far.
[00:34:20] SY: Very nice. So now let's do some fill-in-the-blanks. Are you ready?
[00:34:24] AA: Yes.
[00:34:24] SY: Number one: worst advice I've ever received is...
[00:34:27] AA: Stick with it. It'll get better.
[00:34:30] SY: Oh, interesting.
[00:34:31] AA: If you feel like something is taking up more time than it's given, it's not fulfilling. If it feels like pulling teeth or making you question yourself or your beliefs—run.
[00:34:42] SY: Interesting.
[00:34:43] AA: Run as fast as you can. The problem is time is really short. Time is really precious, and time is valuable. Don't waste another minute sticking with something your gut is telling you to run from. I think that's probably the worst advice I've ever gotten.
[00:34:59] SY: Yeah, it's like people really like to say, you know, don't quit. Keep going. But sometimes quitting is the answer. And that's, you know, that's ok. Not all the time, but sometimes it is.
[00:35:07] AA: I think sometimes it makes way for something better, for something else.
[00:35:13] SY: Yeah.
[00:35:13] AA: We get so distracted with things just because we're sticking with them. And it doesn't feel good. It's not good for us.
[00:35:19] SY: Oh I like that a lot. Number two: my first coding project was about...
[00:35:24] AA: It was my GeoCities website. Me and my husband, like I said, we started a book club back in the nineties called the Eye of Ra Book Club. And it was, you know, just a bunch of folks getting together. So we had a website that had reviews of the books we read and links to the authors' websites and photos and it was hideous. (Laughter) It was repeating backgrounds, a lot of center tags. And this is the worst part because this was before Pinterest. So if I would find a link to something that I really wanted to save, I would put it on my website. (Laughter) So it was just like, it was...
[00:36:01] SY: So it was the very first Pinterest board.
[00:36:03] AA: It was the very first Pinterest—it was so tacky. Like it was, it was horrible. But it was mine.
[00:36:09] SY: And it worked and you, you had a website.
[00:36:11] AA: I had a website.
[00:36:12] SY: Number three: one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is...
[00:37:09] SY: Obviously, I love that answer.
[00:37:11] AA: I knew you would. (Laughter)
[00:37:12] SY: I'm a big fan of community. Yeah. Especially for something like learning to code. It's so, so much harder when you do it on your own so yeah. With you on that one. Well thank you so much, Scooter, for joining us and talking (Music) to us all about coding workshops. You want to say goodbye?
[00:37:26] AA: Bye everybody.
[00:37:27] SY: And that's the end of the episode. Let me know what you think. Tweet me @CodeNewbies or send me an email email@example.com. If you're in D.C. or Philly, check out our local CodeNewbie meetup groups. We've got community coding sessions and awesome events each month. So if you're looking for real-life human coding interaction, look us up on meetup.com. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. And join us for our weekly Twitter chats—we've got our Wednesday chats at 9PM EST and our weekly coding check-in every Sunday at 2 PM EST. Thanks for listening. See you next week.Copyright © Dev Community Inc.