Learning to code? Passion projects meetup

I’m going to start this blog post with a confession.

About 2 years ago, I met with 2 wonderful teachers from the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh. They got in touch after hearing about the autism app that we were publishing, and we talked about technology and its role in education. 

At some point, our conversation drifted to a challenge they had – young kids were often apprehensive about going to hospital for the first time (I know I still do!) and they wanted someway of helping to ease these fears. We hit on the idea that we would make a storybook, about a child’s journey through the hospital, they would be introduced to the various people inside the hospital and that would help prepare the kids. The book would be illustrated and voiced by the kids from the hospital, and it would be a book for kids, by kids. 

They had no budget for the project, but the thought of endless rounds of funding applications was too daunting, especially for the simplicity of what we were after. So, I said that I would take it on as a personal project. It seemed perfect, since I wanted to brush up my programming skills. Two birds, one stone. 

Over the next year, we wrote the story, the pictures were illustrated, and I coded up most of it. We had a second round of meetings, got the voiceovers recorded and most of this was slotted in. 

Then the rest of life sort of set in. I had to finish the corrections on my PhD (to be fair, I had delayed it for quite some time). Then I gained quite a lot of weight over 2013, and started to train for a half marathon … 

2 years later, I’m still ashamed to say that I never got round to finishing the storybook. I know it’s there, and the guilt is killing me, but the guilt never quite outweighs the motivation required to do a weekend of coding when there’s lots of other stuff demanding my attention. 

Finding the time to code

At the same time, over the past few years, I’ve found that more of my friends (the majority being female) around my age (mid-20s-30s) have started learning coding skills. Some do it because they want to run tech startups and need to know how to assess technical talent; others want to learn so that they can communicate with the technical staff more effectively; and some want to learn simply because they see it as a new and interesting challenge to undertake. They come from all walks of life – from Digital Agencies, the Public Sector, to startups. A whole bunch of places. 

One line seems to be familiar over and over again: “Oh yeah, I signed up for code academy, did a few lessons, but I’ve not had the time to go back”.

Support / Motivational Meetup

Purely selfishly, I’d like to create a safe place for people like us to meet, make new friends, share their experiences and be part of stronger community. It’s a place for people who are learning to code in their spare time (i.e. not as a profession) to find others in the same position, get a bit of a hand, and find the social motivation to continue that project. No show-offs. And a place where both women and men would be equally as welcomed.

So what I’m going to propose is a 6 month check-in/meetup event. 

No invited/volunteered speakers. Everyone has to introduce themselves, talk about why they’re learning to code, what challenges they’ve ran into, where they are now and what they’re aiming for. 1-2 minutes max. No waffle. No monologues. People can talk about their progress so far, and whether they have a side project that they want to work on. Or it’s ok not to have a side project in mind either. I want to find out what other people are learning, what they are excited about and what their stumbling blocks are. 

If people want to, they can bring their laptops and work together on something after the introductions.

Remember! Newbies totally welcome. In fact, this is the place for you!

I don’t care if we only get 5 people, and they say which lesson on code academy they’re on. That’s totally awesome. The idea is to provide a place where we can all get a bit of help from each other, and give us the motivation to push forward to that next lesson before the next 6 monthly meetup. 

Sign me up!

I don’t have a venue for it yet, but I’m thinking we should run it on Thurs, 5th June, at 7pm. That’s plenty of notice for anyone that needs to make the right arrangements to be there.

I’m hoping this is the final push I need to finish my side project – who would like to join me?

Expectation setting …

I want to set a clear expectation that the objective of the group is to be supportive. If you’re going to come along and not play by that rule, I will politely ask you to leave. And that’s a promise. 


Why is it only every 6 months?  I don’t really want to run a regular meetup. That sort of defeats the point of finding time to finish the project. (I will add that if someone else does want to run a regular meetup, then please do. I’m not precious about this. Merely wanting to set the expectation that I can organise it twice a year only.)

Why don’t you just do this at a techmeetup? There are a ton of code/tech related meet ups in Edinburgh and Glasgow. But let’s admit it, I have a degree in Computer Science and even I feel like an imposter sometimes because I don’t code in my day job. I can’t imagine what it would be like not to have that background and attempt to talk about your side project in front of a bunch of people who do software development as a profession. I hasten to add that its not the fault of any of the organisers, because almost all of the tech/code meetup organisers are really nice and accommodating.

I code for a living, can I come and help? First of all, thanks! But I’m going to suggest that this is something that’s just for people doing this as a hobby. It’s a bit like turning up to your local 5-a-side football match with your mates and some professional footballers from Manchester United or Liverpool show up. No matter how nice they are to you, you still feel inadequate. 

Why so long before the meetup? Because I want to give plenty of notice so that people can book that time in their diaries. People are busy, I want to give people plenty of notice.  

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