April 16, 2012

Things I have learned at Ladies Learning Code

3 minute read, in Culture

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to lead my second Photoshop workshop as part of Ladies Learning Code.

I was first introduced to LLC through my friend Ayla who was attending a group of women entrepreneurs in Toronto where she first met the founder Heather Payne. Heather had been organizing workshops to introduce women to programing since last summer with a very good turnout and was interested in offering a design related course as a next step, she needed designers to volunteer as lead instructors and mentors.

I first met with Heather for drinks at the Drake Hotel. We had a nice chat, she told us a bit about herself and how after attending a workshop on Python with a group called PyLadies in LA she felt inspired to start something similar in Toronto. After tweeting about it and organizing a massive brainstorming session Ladies Learning Code was born with the objective to empower women to develop technical skills that are usually associated with men.

I loved to hear about Heather’s project and I became excited to take on the challenge and become a lead instructor. We started working on the curriculum and ended up dividing the course into 4 lessons each one developed and led by a different designer: Ayla Newhouse, Ryan Bannon, Charlotte Tang and myself for the first edition and Erin Morris and Chris Appleton in the second one.

One of the main objectives of LLC’s workshops is to give attendees the chance to produce something useful during the day. The Photoshop workshop focuses on personal brand through practical exercises for students to create a twitter background, a logo, a timeline cover for Facebook and an optimized profile picture. All these elements contribute to building a more consistent online identity and are later grouped in a personalized moodboard. It is a lot of ground to cover in one day for a beginner’s course in Photoshop but it’s great to see how it actually happens!

Here are the main things I learned in my first two experiences in teaching:

  1. Preparing a class takes time. Structuring content, dissecting the process step by step, designing slides with instructions and diagrams and making a script took time and patience. Fortunately I had feedback from my co instructors and after a dry run in front of all the mentors and people involved in the workshop I felt ready.
  2. Teaching is a learning experience. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know about Photoshop and about the different ways other designers use the program. After 10 years using Photoshop I had never fully understood cropping masks until now.
  3. Teaching is exhausting. I had never had to talk so much in front of so many people (each classroom had 40 people). At the beginning of the day I felt very self-conscious (worrying about everything from my English pronunciation to explaining my ideas clearly) but as the hours passed I started feeling more comfortable. I definitely have newfound respect for everyone who is a teacher and does this every day.
  4. Teaching is fulfilling. Watching the students go from oblivious to empowered and seeing them upload their projects to Facebook and Twitter at the end of the day gave me a great sense of achievement.
  5. Teaching connects you with a lot of cool people. Sometimes being a designer can be isolating, I feel like I spend too much time in front of the computer with headphones on, living in my own world. I’ve been very happy to  get out of my bubble and connect with such great people: everyone from mentors, sponsors, organizers, instructors and attendees all giving the best of themselves to share and learn.

My next step will be taking the WordPress workshop. If you are interested in participating with Ladies Learning Code I recommend you check out their coming events here. (BTW men are welcome too!)

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