Arne Brasseur is one of the organisers of ClojureBridge Berlin, which Travis Foundation has supported since their first workshop.
It’s a wintery Friday evening in Berlin. Most office workers have left the building, ready to grab a drink, or heading home to curl up in front of a movie, but this particular office is buzzing with activity.
We’re at ClojureBridge, a free programming workshop for women who want to get a taste of tech with the Clojure programming language. Tonight is the installation party. People coming in from the cold are greeted with a name tag, a notebook, and a warm bowl of soup. There are thirty-six of them, all enthusiastic and eager to learn.
A few of the coaches go around with USB sticks, making sure people’s laptops have the necessary software to dive right in the next day. Once your laptop is set up you get a green dot on your name tag, and you can take the rest of the time to get to know your fellow students and coaches.
There are a few small hurdles, a Windows laptop set to Korean, a Mac with an outdated version of OS X, but we’ve chosen tools that are generally hassle free to install, and by 9pm we’re starting to wrap up. Time to get some sleep, it’ll be a long day tomorrow!
Increasing Diversity One Step At a Time
The roots of ClojureBridge go back to 2009, when the first RailsBridge workshop was held in San Francisco. The local Rails community at the time was overwhelmingly male, something the RailsBridge organizers sought to remedy by reaching out to women directly.
Since then RailsBridge workshops have been held the world over. In 2012 Bridge Foundry was created as an umbrella organization for projects focused on making technology more accessible to people who are underrepresented in tech. A number of spin-off workshops have taken the RailsBridge blueprint and applied it to other technologies. These include MobileBridge, GoBridge, and since 2014: ClojureBridge.
Kicking Into Gear
By morning a fresh layer of snow covers the sidewalks, and we get to enjoy the view from the 6th floor Wunderlist office over a cup of coffee, fresh bagels, and vegan muffins. We start off with a presentation about the what and why of ClojureBridge, and give an overview of what is scheduled for the day. Afterwards people split up in eleven groups. Each group is supported by two coaches, and together they start working their way through the curriculum.
We teach the basics of Clojure: simple values, data structures, functions, and after that move on to creating algorithmic drawings with a system called Quil. Clojure is fairly minimal as far as programming languages go, so a day is enough to work your way through the basics, and still have time left to play around with what you have learned.
Most of the attendees are absolute beginners, but some already have programming experience in another language, or they may have done a bit of Clojure in the past and now want to dig deeper. We try to match up groups by skill level, and then it’s up to the coaches to see where the group wants to go.
Everyone is encouraged to take regular breaks. There’s also a quiet room where people can go to withdraw from the buzz for a bit. Finally after an initial three hours of coding, lunch is served. The food is healthy and delicious. All those hard working brains have given people an appetite, and soon most of it is finished. We all gather around the projector again for the first slot of lightning talks: short presentations to help people get inspired. And after that it’s coding time again.
The Official Bits: Dealing With Finances
Food, notebooks, little things like name tags and pens, these all cost money. Luckily more and more companies are understanding the need for pro-diversity initiatives, and so with a bit of effort we found a good number of sponsors to help us out financially. However, as a small and informal group of volunteers getting that money isn’t always so easy. We don’t have our own bank account or accountant, we can’t write out invoices or receipts.
This is where Travis Foundation comes in. They have been a tremendous help dealing with finances. Companies sponsor us by donating to the foundation, for which they get an official receipt. Because Travis Foundation is a registered non-profit in Germany these receipts can be used for tax declaration and accounting purposes. Finally Travis Foundation refunds our expenses.
A Community Effort
The Clojure community in Berlin is still somewhat small, but it’s tight-knit and growing quickly. Each month there is a Clojure Dojo where people meet and present their Clojure related topics and projects. A year or two back only a handful of people would be there on any given month, but nowadays we regularly have thirty to fourty people showing up. This grassroots base is important, it’s where we find most of our volunteers and coaches, without them these workshops would not be possible.
A small but committed team started the Berlin chapter of ClojureBridge early 2015, and we held our first workshop last summer. Afterwards attendees were invited to continue their learning at a weekly project group. After a few false starts we now have a committed core group of students and coaches showing up every Wednesday evening to do Clojure together. Thanks to this initiative a few attendees from the previous workshop were coaches at the latest workshop, which is extremely validating.
Having a good synergy between these three initiatives, the monthly Clojure Dojo, the workshops, and the project group is thoroughly enriching. We could not do all of this without the contributions of many dozens of people. I highly encourage you to come and meet this friendly and welcoming community.
It’s past five, the sun is setting, but people are still fully absorbed in their coding. We go around and nudge them to start wrapping up. Everyone gathers around again, and a few more coaches present lightning talks, giving people some food for thought to take home.
And then, the big finale: demo time! It’s always amazing what people can achieve in less than a day. At ClojureBridge we don’t focus too much on “job market” skills like web development, but instead pay attention to getting the fundamentals right, and to having fun. People learn real Clojure programming, a skill they can apply to a variety of tasks, but they also get to be creative by coding up quirky graphics and animations. Nothing is more motivating than simply having a good old time.
The workshop is over. People’s faces show both excitement and exhaustion. There is still a lot of of food left, so people are invited to stick around and help us finish it, or if they prefer they can go out and find dinner among themselves. Afterwards organizers, coaches, and students all gather again at a bar nearby for a much deserved drink. Everyone seems to agree it was a success. After months of preparation we can see the results of our efforts, and we can start thinking about the next event.
To stay informed about future events you can subscribe to the ClojureBridge Berlin mailing list, or you can follow them on Twitter (@ClojureBridgeDE) and Instagram (@clojurebridge_berlin). See you at the next event!
ClojureBridge Berlin, second edition