Joshua Paling

I'm writing down my thoughts after a discussion with @gregmcintyre and others at RailsCamp Sydney regarding how to help newbies get more out of RailsCamp, and other events (eg. DevHub). 'Newbies' mainly refers to people who have had a basic intro through something like InstallFest, Rails Girls, or General Assembly, and are wondering what to do next. They may or may not have prior (non-ruby) programming experience.

The two main events I'm talking about improving are RailsCamp, and DevHub - both opportunities for newbies to get help from more experienced devs and get over the 'newbie hump'. However, the ideas are probably relevant to all kinds of potential events.

What doesn't work now

Events are very free-form and unstructured; people do whatever they want. Experienced devs float around, sometimes wanting to mentor, sometimes preferring to just hang out (and fair enough). Newbies wander about, with varying degrees of purpose, self-assuredness and direction.

Newbies aren't always sure who wants to help them, or who will be best to help with what. Furthermore, newbies often aren't sure what they really want to know, or what they should try to learn next - apart from 'all the things'.

More structure, or at least, the option to take part in something more structured, would help.

Too much structure won't work

Developing a brilliant 10 - 15 hour, 10-step course is useless in this situation. The following restrictions need to be kept in mind:

RailsCamp Restrictions

Dev Hub Restrictions

You'll have much the same issues. People (both mentors and newbies) can't commit to attend a given dev hub ahead of time. And they certainly can't commit to coming to two in a row, ahead of time. If they do attend a dev hub, they can't be relied upon to commit to doing something structured. The current free-form format might suit them for that day.

The Solution Is…

I think the solution is to offer these things which, for lack of a better term, I'm just going to call courses. No… MiniCourses. Wait… no… MicroCourses. They're courses, but they're micro. A MicroCourse should fit most of the following criteria, to whatever extent possible (I've made up a few words here, but whatevs):

I also think a MicroCourse should have:

Sample MicroCourse Titles

MicroCourse might be things like:

How they'd fit in to Rails Camp

At a RailsCamp, there might be 10 or so MicroCourses, just printed on sheets of paper. Someone announces: "Those who want to take, or teach, a MicroCourse, meet here after breakfast." Some may have MicroCourses they're keen to teach; some might have mico-courses they're keen to take. Down the track, some may even have MicroCourses that they've prepared themselves, that they're keen to try out. A facilitator helps connect teachers with learners. They pair up for an hour or two, and finish the course.

At a Rails Camp, there might be MicroCourse meetups twice per day - eg. at 10am and 3pm. So a newbie could potentially take 4 MicroCourses in a weekend.

MicroCourses also provide the opportunity for people to meet, and for an informal, ongoing mentoring relationship to organically form.