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Today's blog post was written by Ilén Zazueta-Hall of Bridge Foundry.
We have supported Bridge Foundry for years, because we both believe that UI design should have a lower barrier to entry and be more inclusive.
You can find out more about Bridge Foundry at bridgefoundry.org.
I participated in the first RailsBridge workshop in June 2009 as a student, along with my 8 year old daughter who was interested in two things: dragons and learning to code. I was so inspired by the workshop -- it felt different from any other tech event I had ever attended -- that I tracked down one of the organizers and asked her how I could help. I was deputized as volunteer coordinator for the next workshop.
We soon developed a pattern for workshops. In that first year, all the workshops were led by Sarah Allen and Sarah Mei, and I organized the volunteer teachers,TAs and behind-the-scenes volunteers. The initial goal was to increase gender diversity at our local San Francisco Ruby meetup and we carefully tracked attendance. In less than 6 months, the percentage of women grew from 2% to 18%.
The work was fueled by incredible community support from volunteers and from the tech companies which offered their office space and paid for childcare, food & drink. Balsamiq supported students and volunteers by offering a free license to their wireframing tool. Like the workshops, it was different, it was accessible in a way that helped my development teams engage with rather than just consume my designs. Shortly after organizing the first North Bay workshop, I collaborated on my first mobile app using Balsamiq -- I still use it today for quick, lo-fi sketching, especially when I want to elicit feedback on the ideas behind the UI.
We were there at the birth of the Learn to Code Movement raising awareness that coding was fun and accessible to people of all different backgrounds, and providing an easy way to learn new tech for experienced coders who wanted to switch jobs or come back to the industry after kids were in school. Later, we expanded to increase diversity of all kinds and, as Bridge Foundry, created many more “bridges” with volunteers all over the world contributing to open source curriculum and teaching many different programming languages.
In many ways Balsamiq and Bridge Foundry grew up together. We felt that everyone at the Balsamiq lived their values of genuinely caring and contagious passion. So, last year when we decided to form an independent 501c3, we turned to our old friend Balsamiq, and they agreed to a generous donation that helped us take care of official paperwork and a streamlined operational setup that supports our volunteers with very little overhead cost. Our golden puzzle is made of people who show up: the engineer who comes in to the office early on a Saturday morning to help set up for a workshop, the introvert who volunteers to teach in order to share their excitement about a programming language, and all of the people and companies who work invisibly behind the scenes to make it so people can teach and learn all over the world.
Reflecting on the past 9 years, we’ve realized that the most important thing we’re doing that is having a significant effect on students and volunteers alike is to create an environment where people respect each other, take risks and everyone learns together. It’s the kind of environment I want for my daughter. She’s currently coding at our kitchen table as I write this… and she still loves dragons.
Thank you Balsamiq for helping to make the tech industry a better place to work. Here’s to another 9 years!
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