This week, we chat to Steven Farlie – the person bringing OpenTechSchool in Australia after he was across the initiative in Berlin. The workshops supporting education and sharing across diverse backgrounds in technology are kicking off in Melbourne next month. Stay tuned for more event announcements in upcoming Fetches and we’ll see you there!
What is OpenTechSchool and how does it differ from user groups, dev bootcamps and the like?
We are a group of volunteers who offer free programming workshops. It began in Berlin back in April 2012, so we are still fairly new. Some of us became quite fond of OpenTechSchool in Berlin and decided to start up local chapters once we left.
Our workshops are fairly small and we like to bring a lot of coaches who are themselves professional programmers. There is only so much you can teach in a couple of hours so we like to keep it practical, keep it fun and encourage people to experiment.
It’s all open technology, and free of charge, so why not just have some fun and poke around?
In addition to the workshops we have a regular beginner meetup. These are usually evenings where we have a couple of talks such as introductions to algorithms or programmers talking about how they started programming. Beginners also share their experiences over the past few months with a particular language or personal project.
You started out with clear positioning saying OTS was for women? What prompted you to change the language?
We started after the first RailsGirls Berlin workshop, so OpenTechSchool is from the women in tech movement but isn’t specifically women in tech, if that makes any sense. We like to think of ourselves as complementary to organisations like Rails Girls and Girl Geek Dinners. There is a strong cross-pollination of coaches and organisers and we hope to keep that going over time. The fact of the matter is that the women in tech scene is the most fun, vibrant and exciting community in technology right now and OpenTechSchool wants to bring that to everyone.
Why do you think it’s important the wider popular and diverse groups learn to code?
The issue of empowerment is often overlooked and yet so much of our lives are controlled by technology. When someone learns how to program then they start to experience technology in a much more informed way. Possibilities open up and people are able to solve problems that programmers haven’t even considered. From farmers managing their crops with Android apps to journalists crunching data with Python you can actually get a lot done without having to be a professional programmer.
One the other side, bringing in a diverse group of beginners actually strengthens the community. Many of the things we do as professional programmers are actually dictated by history or convention, often with detrimental results. Beginners ask the right questions and call us out on doing stupid things that we’ve always put up with before. The end result is that our original assumptions get challenged and a lot of really good ideas come out.
You started out of Berlin – have you noticed many differences between Melbourne and it? Where else is OTS headed?
After Berlin I will never complain about the weather in Melbourne ever again!
Of all the places I’ve been in Europe I found Berlin to be the most Melbourne-like. Both are multicultural, dynamic cities with a lot of new things happening all the time. It’s interesting that there are so many analogues between the two, even in the tech scene. Berlin coworking spaces usually have a spiritual equivalent in Melbourne, though the Berlin ones can be quite large. We both have interesting startups and well established larger tech companies. I say to people if you love Melbourne you’ll also love Berlin.
We’ve been a bit lucky, starting in Berlin. There are so many expats and temporary visitors that movements like OpenTechSchool can spread very quickly. We have plenty of Germans, French, Americans, Australians and Italians on the team, and when people do leave they have a tendency to take OpenTechSchool with them. Stockholm is quite well established now, having hosted several workshops and beginner meetups. Soon we hope to also be in Munich and Paris. We even made a blueprint guide on our website for people wanting to start an OpenTechSchool chapter in their city.
What can attendees expect on the day? What tech knowledge do they need to know beforehand?
All we ask is for people to bring a laptop and a smile. Our beginner workshop does not require any programming knowledge at all. Our coaches are there to help people with any problems that they have. We design our workshops to be at your own pace, so there is no such thing as “being behind”. We try to get a basic level of coursework that most people will finish before the end and then add extra topics for people to explore. All our coursework is free and available online after the course, and all software we use is free so you can continue the journey after the workshop has finished.
What upcoming events should we keep a look out for?
After the beginner Python workshop, well, maybe I shouldn’t say, but… things might get a little political! The past few years have seen a rise in data-driven journalism and some people have expressed interest in seeing what actually goes on behind the scenes. In case you haven’t heard, data journalism is the new punk. If enough interest is there we might do a workshop looking at things like transforming economic and political data into infographics and maps.
Check out the first event with an Intro to Python here!
About our Curator // Kate Kendall is the founder and CEO of The Fetch, a community where professionals can discover and share what’s happening in their city. Before this, Kate led product, content and digital at magazine companies, handled outreach for new startups and organised too many communities and events to mention. Follow her on Twitter at @katekendall.