Q&A: Oana Sipos on women-only coding workshops


Oana Sipos is the co-founder of the Brussels chapter of Rails Girls, a Finland-born initiative that aims to introduce women to the ABCs of technology by way of a one-day crash course

From zero to something

Next week, three dozen women and girls will learn to build their first web application in just eight hours. This one-day workshop is organised by Rails Girls Brussels, which is helmed by Leuven-based software developer Oana Sipos.

What is Rails Girls?
Rails Girls is a workshop specifically targeted at girls that doesn’t require any previous experience and aims to introduce girls with very different backgrounds to the world of technology. We have mentors who train the girls step by step in the exercises they have to do. The intent is basically to create an environment where they can feel confident and safe. 

How is Rails Girls Brussels different from other local coding initiatives?
There is nothing else that I know of that is targeted at girls in particular. There are general programming courses, but they’re not necessarily web-oriented and there’s not necessarily anything where you can learn to code from zero to hero, or let’s say, from zero to something. I think the format is really unique among meet-ups in Belgium and Brussels.

What do you realistically hope to achieve with this one-day event?
A lot of girls have a lot of ideas, but they just don’t know how to use the tech tools out there to realise them. So what we try to do is teach them a bit of prototyping and sketching, and some technical terms. It’s like an introductory course in very basic programming terms, but one that can already open some doors when they go home. We also give them some resources and inspirational talks to help them and keep them going.

Are you meeting your ambitions with Rails Girls?
I think it’s difficult to measure the impact because it’s more over the long term, but there is this open-mindedness that girls have after attending the workshop. There are girls who went further into tech and are even helping out in the tech community now. There are other women who will not necessarily do something with this now but later on, in the sense that they will encourage the women around them to go on and try this path.

What’s the biggest obstacle you see when it comes to getting women into tech?
In general, I think it’s this stereotype that floats around that technology is for men only and that women should stay aside. This in turn translates into a lack of confidence, so then it’s so much easier to choose other fields like social sciences or languages than to try to tackle technology and, for instance, go for a computer science degree.