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Lambda School: 10 weeks down.

Monday Nov 11...

...begins my 11th week of Lambda School. The terse TL;DR is that, so far, it’s been a hell of an educational ride.

To begin with, I would encourage you to go read the Business Insider "article" about Lambda. I'll come back to it later.

I posted earlier, back at the end of week 2.

I commented on the pace and the content, and was generally just excited to see what was to come. I could tell that a foundation was being laid not only in the material, but in the method. So I’ve been thinking about doing a follow up to that first post for quite a while, but one thing kept leading to another.

So let’s start with . . .

The Low End

Instruction is inconsistent.

Here’s a duh statement: The person that is delivering the knowledge affects the student’s ability to learn and retain the knowledge. This is on full display at Lambda. Without going into the people or whatever their foibles, this random consistency has sometimes hurt my ability to grok the lesson. About, say, 2x in 3 weeks do I come away from morning lecture feeling it was worthless. More on that later.

On the flip side, Lambda is constantly tweaking instruction content and curriculum, and the pace of the education is always under scrutiny. No, I didn’t get this topic in the wrong place. Because while such scrutiny is a good thing for the overall organization to stay at the bleeding edge, it leads to inconsistent knowledge among a populace that is encouraged and sometimes even hired to help each other. This past week I had difficulty with an assignment, yet the Lambda curriculum had changed such that class was giving me knowledge of content that my mentors had never worked with (React Context, if you must know). However, considering those mentors being the kind of people they are, we were able to get over that hump together.

But it’s a double edged sword… consistent instruction means, especially in tech education, your content is falling behind.

Mentoring is inconsistent.

A little explanation is needed.

  • The organization is hierarchical: Student > Team Lead TL (mentors a group of ~8) > Section Lead SL & Instructor (mentors learning cohort. Mine has 150, while iOS or Data Science might have 12).
  • Any student that applies could become a TL. Any TL that applies could become an SL. Instructors are on the mentoring level with SL.
  • “Flexing” is when a student retakes a Unit (a 4 week broad topic).

This organization method can lead to extreme variance in the competence of mentors.

Class and team counts change all the time due to student Flexing (your team could lose 4 and gain 2) new cohort’s etc. Consequently, the 3 team leads I’ve had have run the gamut between “I hate you” and “I love you”. Between a TL who is never around, and a TL that offers to be available at 7am.

This is what happens when a person from a random walk of life looks at the TL job as a paycheck, as opposed to the top-down mentorship, or the resume-item internship, that it’s intended to be. But how would Lambda test for or mitigate that?

Realistically, as far as it goes with the low end of Lambda that I’ve experienced, it’s really not all that low. Instructor aptitude is good. And even when a lecture comes off completely worthless, learning the content is supported by static web lessons (text and video from previous lectures) as well as the cohort leadership, and even other students. And mentorship competence can even be mitigated by the student’s ability to request a switch to another mentor/TL.

The High End

There’s a pretty good list of positives that I’ve observed, but here’s a couple.

  • Flexing: when a student Flexes, they are moved to a newer cohort to restart the content unit. In my case, were I to Flex, I would move from Web24 to Web25 to retake Advanced React. This is not the same as being “held back in 5th grade”. Since Lambda only gets paid for your education when you find a job and you get paid, it is therefore in everyone’s best interest that the student truly knows the material before being moved on. Flexing gives you a path to making sure you know it. Additionally, there's plenty of opportunity and support to continue on your current track if you have both the aptitude and mental bandwidth to be able to take it all in.
  • Pace & Content:
    • Week 1: HTML & CSS.
    • Week 3: JavaScript
    • Week 7: Intro to React
    • Week 10: React Contexts, Redux and Async Redux.
    • The content of the Friday test has grown from coloring and changing the most basic elements of a webpage, up to taking the scaffold of a non-working website and giving it full CRUD operability. In a 3 hour test. The pace is very strong. My current TL described it as "drinking water from a firehose".
  • Proper Focus: I applied for and was accepted as a TL in a part-time cohort. My own class runs 10a - 7p, mentoring for the part-time class was 5:30p - 9p. And yes, the times crossed over, which was it’s downfall for me. The loss of study time took me from “highest marks” on all daily project and Friday tests, to missing assignments and having to retake tests. The day that I decided to step back from TL/mentoring, I received exactly zero grief from anyone. Even the “boss” to whom I had suddenly given a personnel problem, said very plainly “you’re doing this for an education and that should come first”. In other words, everyone in a position to say so is clearly focused on the given education.

Oct 28 was the day I began TL after a week of TL training, and Wed Nov 6 was the day that I stopped. The evening of Nov 5, I was NOT looking forward to the Nov 8 Sprint (Friday Test). So, on Wednesday morning, I met with a teammate and my TL. Wednesday night I “quit” being a TL and went on to spend about an hour going over content with teammates. Thursday morning: time with teammates. Thursday night: time with teammates. Friday morning: time with teammates. This is mostly time that I would not have been able to spend if I were TL. Bottom line: The Friday test result was a return to highest marks. Without that TL and team time, I’d probably still be taking that test.

During my time at Lambda thus far, I’ve experienced some things that were annoying, to be sure. The Nov 8 test described AJAX with GET and POST requests… all terms that had never been used. Yes we had been doing async transactions and actual AJAX stuff, but nobody had ever used the terms. A couple weeks before on a test, there was a requirement to build a search field. Array and object methods were not new to us, but we’d never been tasked to use them in such a way. So instead of warning us about “the hard thing on the test” (which turned out to be like 4 lines) why not teach a little creativity with those methods?

Yet those instances were annoying one off’s, “why would you do that?”. As yet, they don't appear to be part of a trend.

But consider: usually, by the 10 week mark in doing anything, let alone a new job, you don’t even have to be particularly observant to know, intimately, the deep-seated problems. At 10 weeks, if there are problems, you'll them everywhere, getting their tendrils into everything.

In the article that I mentioned at the top, Business Insider talked to 7 people about their poor experience with Lambda. Meantime, Lambda has 33 cohorts, spanning 5 major subjects, with thousands of students. Yet Business Insider couldn't come up with a couple of people or direct contact with staff to arrive at a complete piece.

My experience is this: Aside from the odd annoying content item, Lambda get’s a performance review of “Exceeds Expectations” from me. When I’d decided I wanted to focus on JavaScript in about April of 2015, I never imagined I’d learn that much in so little time. The procedures are clear and flexible. The staff (salaried or hourly) are generally very approachable, professional, and knowledgeable. The education is solid, and the organization is highly motivated to make sure education stays that way. Lambda doesn’t get paid until you get paid well for relevant work.

In closing, "Build Week" is a 4 day project crossing not only cohorts, but education tracks. Web dev, iOS, Android, UX, Data Science... all tracks have people assigned to work on projects together. I skipped a Build Week to attend TL training. Therefore, my next Build Week will be double responsibilities.

So, while I'm not necessarily looking forward to the next Build Week, to be perfectly honest, I can’t wait till next Build Week.

If you call me a shill, I'll call you a moron . . . both of which are baseless labels. I'm a Lambda School student in cohort Web24. If you believe, evidence free, that someone paid me in some way to make this post, I'll choose to believe, evidence free, that you like to kick small dogs and take candy from babies.

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