As an enthusiast of new technologies and someone that not only teaches others, but above all, likes self-improvement which is in line with lifelong learning, I interviewed Marzena Zasińska-Igła, organizer of the Rails Girls Szczecin (in Poland), counsellor of companies in Technopark Pomerania and coordinator of the ICT Cluster in West Pomerania. Marzena organizes cyclical workshops Rails Girls Szczecin during which women learn bases of programming in Ruby On Rails. What distinguishes her offer from other meetings in Szczecin aiming at nonformal education of adults is that it is addressed mainly to women and it contributes to inclusion of women to labour market in IT sector. Thanks to her efforts, a video clip promoting participation of women and girls in programming courses was created as well as a photo session and an art show having the same purpose took place. The video clip is available on YouTube (link is external) and photos here (link is external). You can follow activities of Rails Girls Szczecin on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RailsGirlsSzczecin/ (link is external)
Marta Kostecka: Describe in a few words the idea of meetings that you organize.
Marzena Zasińska-Igła: Rails Girls Szczecin are free two-day programming workshops, during which participants, with the help of mentors, learn step-by-step how to create internet applications using Ruby On Rails technology. This international initiative was born in 2010 in Finland and so far over 300 workshops took place all around the word. The best programmers and IT companies were involved in their organization. In Poland 20 workshops in 7 cities were organized (Białystok, Cracow, Poznań, Łódź, Warsaw, Wrocław i Szczecin) and in 2 regions (Silesia, Tricity). In Szczecin already 2 editions of workshops for adults and one for teenagers took place with more than 70 persons participating in them.
MK: Who are the workshops addressed to? Who participates in them?
MZI: Workshops are addressed to adults who want to try one’s hand at programming or in ICT sector. We provide girls with a safe space for experimenting under the supervision of a trainer who talks about the job, helps to create working environment, shows bases of programming and methods of learning them, including future self-training (men also can participate, under the condition that they will bring with them a girl/woman who wants to learn programming as well). A few girls decided to continue their training at post-graduate studies in Computer Programming in the Computer Science Department of the West Pomeranian University in Szczecin – as a result, in 2 University groups there are as many as 13 girls. This is great!
MK: Where did the idea to organize the meetings come from?
MZI: From the heart’s need, of course! I myself exercise the forth profession, and all that before turning 40. I perfectly understand the need of checking if one of the most in-demand and popular professions could be for me. After all, we continuously hear about a lacking million of ICT programmers in the European Union and also about fantastic earnings, so why not to try, especially as the workshops are a friendly and comfortable way of learning during weekends.
MK: How do the workshops fit into the idea of lifelong learning?
MZI: First and foremost, we do not set any age limit (apart from requirement of being of at least 18 years old, because of formal reasons). In addition, we want to ensure equal opportunities for women on the labour market, because, according to reports of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, women are more often at risk of long-term unemployment and more often have problems with returning to work - maternity leave being one of the reasons. Besides, there are dramatically small number of women in IT sector - problems with recruitment of programmers are partly due to gender inequality. However, the beginnings of programming is women’s history! Only the 80s and intensive marketing of PC’s and games as toys for boys convinced the whole generation that it is a job for men. It’s time to turn it around – the latest research (link is external) shows that women are better programmers.
MK: What do you thing is a role of learning beyond the schools and non-vocational learning in current reality?
MZI: We live in incredibly intensive times and often we practice a profession that did not exist when we were at school. Often this form of learning is the only way to obtain or improve qualifications in a certain area, especially as schools (especially public ones) are institutions that do not adapt very fast to situation on the labour market. However, I am glad that more and more people want to share knowledge and practical experiences with others, e.g. during meetings like Rails Girls, conferences, workshops or so called barcamps.
MK: Is this type of learning more effective than traditional? Can it will be a replacement of traditional learning or maybe it complements it?
MZI: Definitely yes! We know that we learn better if we study something that we like, related to a topic that is close to us. Motivation is a key factor in learning – it is even more important than predisposition. Traditional education, however, provides us with a base of general knowledge. It would be difficult to build our specific competences without it. Besides, as I already mentioned, we live in such times that it is hard to tell what knowledge will be useful in the future. In my present job I use knowledge and all my professional and non-professional experiences, which I acquired to date – skills that I gained at school, in scouting, during philology and marketing studies, during services designing as well as during my many years of experience as a teacher, as a headhunter, an implementation specialist or a project coordinator. It is all useful now and thanks to those experiences I can help IT companies to develop and cooperate easier as well as to show other persons what kind of interesting things can be created in this area.
MK: Thank you for the interview.
Marta Kostecka is a librarian, promotion specialist in the Municipal Library in Szczecin (Poland) and a member of LABiB network. Passionate about new media, and new technologies in the service of books, readers, librarians and libraries. She has experience in conducting workshops concerning those topics. She is interested in media and information education as well as in continuous education.