The grassy roots of growing developer skills with Growstuff

In my last post, I wrote about how I’m transitioning into a development role.  A big part of that transition has been working on the Growstuff open source project led by Alex “Skud” Bayley and they are in the last few days of their IndieGoGo campaign to fund API development by Frances Hocutt.

This Summer, I got to meet both Alex and Francis, although I had been following Alex for quite a while on Twitter and I was first introduced to Francis through her beautiful writing for Model View Culture.  Allow me to introduce you to our feminist corner of open source.

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Food Stuffs:
Growstuff is an open source platform that helps connect people who are growing their own food which people do for many reasons.  Aside from the pleasure of gardening, growing your own food means that your food will likely contain more nutrients.  In areas where a good supply of high quality produce choices is lacking, it can allow you to grow produce that you otherwise would not be able to find.  It is also a way to shortcut the cost and expenditure of fuel needed to transport vegetables from farm to store to your home.

If this has peaked your interest about the benefits of food gardening, this Mother Jones article is a great in-depth look at the benefits for you and for the planet of growing your own food.

Open Source, Technology and Learning Stuffs:
Open Source and Good Software Engineering are two things that, I have learned, cannot always be put together in the same sentence.  There are good, non-trivial reasons for this.  Open source projects typically have to be distributed which means fewer opportunities to pair and fewer opportunities to mentor.  It also means a project might have to compromise on good engineering if it wants to move forward.

That said, one of the paths to web development, the path that I am following, is to write code for an open source project (Not everyone has the privilege of time and money required for a “bootcamp”). This creates the conundrum of learning good software habits and finding a project that is willing to work with intermediate web developers who are slower and will need help.

Growstuff has solved this problem by adopting a focus on agile and learning culture.  It is ok to ask questions.  Pull requests are not eviscerations.  Everything is organized between a wiki, Pivotal  Tracker and Discourse.  Pairing and TDD are emphasized wherever possible.  The CI is kept green.

I feel safe here.  That is an accomplishment.

Feminist Stuffs:
Encouraging diversity in tech is about so much more than teaching kids and also grownups to code and love computers.  There are a lot of efforts right now to help women and other diverse groups learn how to code, but there is a dirth of places for an intermediate engineer to go after they’ve done tutorials and small side projects.

With my intermediate skills, I put out feelers for writing code and helping out in a few places and was pretty shocked at some of the places that proved, shall we say, less than welcoming.

Growstuff has been the place that has finally let me work on some code.  I’m slow, I have to work with a pair, and sometimes I really don’t know what I’m doing, but that is ok.  I know that whatever I end up contributing will be something the project needs that will be of value for users.  This means the world to me.

The reason why Growstuff is running their funding campaign is to bring on Frances Hocutt as an api developer.  I had the privilege of meeting Frances along with her mentor, Sumana Harihareswara this Summer at the AdaCamp conference in Portland.  They both helped me immensely with the guts of a talk I did this Summer with Ryan Dy on mentoring.

You can help!

If the news about diversity in tech feels overly depressing or intractable, throwing a few dollars at the Growstuff campaign is a very direct way to encourage support for women who, against the odds, have kept going and will keep going in tech.  I’m including myself in this category and hope you’ll give to this project that has already given so much to me.

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