This session focused on how to build diversity within user groups, told through Jessica McKellar’s experience with the Boston Python User Group. She gives compelling reasons for wanting diversity within these groups, including the development of the group as a community and growing the size and leadership of the community.


Jessica set out with the goal to increase the number of women participating by 15%, to showcase women engineers, and to start a movement. As an aside, I love the “start a movement” goal. While we can focus on incremental change and bettering our local environment, we shouldn’t sell our goals short! Aim for your actions to affect big change.


The structure that Jessica et al created to affect the change she wanted was fairly straightforward – a 1.5 day long workshop for beginners. And when she said beginners, she meant it. There were absolutely no prerequisites: no machine configurations, no programming experience, nothing. Interactive lectures, a communal lunch, and fun projects that could be easily modified by attendees let them start programming and seeing the results of their work quickly. They ended by identifying concrete steps for what they should do next.


Organizationally, Jessica ran exit surveys for both the attendees and the staff to find out what worked and what didn’t. For subsequent workshops, they often found that volunteers came from the ranks of the first class’ students. Good reusable content made each workshop a bit less labor intensive, and attendees integrated well with the overall user group.


The impact on the user group was no less than amazing:

  • grew from 1 organizer to 3
  • expanded from 700 members to 1800 in 1 year
  • became the largest user group in the WORLD
  • made it clear that diversity is a signal to the general population that the group is welcoming of everyone
  • PyCon 2013 saw real, measurable impact upon the number of proposals, funding requests, and more

Attrition (or lack thereof)

One of the questions I had was regarding their attrition rate. I’m very concerned with the amount of drop off from registration to day one to day two. Astoundingly, nearly everyone who signed up attended the first day, and everyone who attended the first day attended the second as well.

Call to Action

The lessons from the Boston Python User Group are not hard to take back to user groups around the world. I’m excited to see what effect extending this model to other groups around the country will have upon the tech community.

You can learn more about running your own workshop at