Lambda School is an innovative study program geared towards beginner web developers. They don't merely teach you how to code. There are also careers lessons to prepare you for a successful transition into a new job as a computer programmer. Below are ten blunt thoughts about my experience thus far. As I'm a big believer in balance, this article contains both praise and constructive criticism.
Let's start with "the glass is half full" outlook. Here are seven positives:
1. You can get a risk-free education (read: there's no "tuition").
Lambda School utilizes an unconventional payment method that you can expect to gain popularity in the near future. Their students sign an Income Share Agreement (ISA). They don't collect payment until you get a job within your chosen field. Even better, you must be earning a minimum of $50,000. Past that point, Lambda collects 17% of your paychecks. Your financial obligation ends after two years or when you've paid a total of $30,000 (whichever comes first).
2. You have constant access to a massive support network.
Upon acceptance, you'll get invited to a Slack channel for your specific cohort. There are help channels where you can get assistance from fellow students and team leaders (TL's -- Lambda's version of a tutor). As you can imagine, debugging is faster and easier when you have access to a hive mind of like-minded peers. There are also "after hours" sessions available for people who get behind or stuck on a specific concept.
3. You don't have to think about what to learn next.
4. You won't have to worry about the material being "out-of-date."
This field changes at a rapid pace. Thankfully, Lambda School matches said pace. They keep their finger on the pulse of the web development industry. And as the best practices change, so does their curriculum. For example: as soon as "React hooks" became a thing, they modified their materials instantly. That's not the case for books. One of my first forays into coding was via the "Smarter Way to Learn" series by Mark Myers. While these books were an excellent resource upon their initial release, they are now ancient history. The same can be said for plenty of resources on the Internet. Choose your sources carefully!
5. You'll build projects that mimic what you'd do in the working world.
Knowledge is useless without application. That's why Lambda School requires their students to build a working app or website every single day. Not an exaggeration. Every day begins with a lecture and guided project led by a qualified instructor. Next, you do your own project (with the right to get help from peers and TL's). Every Friday, you must complete a "Sprint Challenge" that applies a full week of coursework... all by yourself. The idea is to repeat the most important steps or coding concepts often enough for your mind to cement the information. And the difficulty escalates over time. While I can't speak for every student, this approach works well for me.
6. You'll gain an edge in hire-ability versus self-taught developers.
First: don't get mad, because I know there are exceptions to this rule. Some folks know how to market themselves and are capable of thriving on their own. But most people would benefit from assistance with career-related activities such as resumes, portfolios, networking, applications, social media, job interviews, and salary negotiations. That's a small sample of the subjects we've covered so far in Lambda School's weekly careers presentations. And I can honestly say they've influenced my decisions on all fronts. While I haven't taken advantage yet, Lambda also provides daily Q&A sessions with career coaches. They seem intent on getting students hired ASAP.
7. You'll taste test the key coding languages without having to commit.
You know what I didn't expect? The fact that I'd prefer back-end development. The possibility never entered my mind. I thought it'd involve a bunch of boring math equations. But that was a false assumption. In reality, database management is a neat opportunity to explore connections between various pieces of a puzzle. At least that's the way I see it (note: I've worked inside spreadsheets for most of my professional life -- and am dang good at it -- which might be relevant). Without exposure to the back-end, NodeJs to be more specific, I wouldn't have discovered this passion. And without Lambda School, I wouldn't have bothered trying it.
I told you this article would be balanced. While I don't have as many grievances, Lambda School is far from perfect, and here are three ways they could be better.
8. You'll sometimes get frustrated with the Training Kit (TK).
The TK is basically your textbook. It contains a daily lesson that includes text, videos, and follow-along exercises. Most of my frustration was with the latter. Often, the TK author fails to provide enough info for you to implement the code. And that's irritating, because the whole point is to get in more reps, which is impossible when you don't know what details are missing. All of that said, Lambda seems to be owning this issue, and are actively working to improve the TK.
9. You'll wonder if anybody is reading or reviewing your careers homework.
I'm four months into Lambda School and haven't received one bit of feedback about my careers assignments. Are they solid? Lacking? Somewhere-in-between? No idea. While I have a business background and am well-versed in marketing (i.e. like to think I'm smart about such things), it'd be nice if someone would confirm or deny that bias. Perhaps this is what "office hours" with career coaches are meant to provide; but if that's the case, somebody should clarify.
10. You must be privileged to manage the course load (while staying sane).
Is privilege a bad thing? No. Is it responsible to give anybody advice without acknowledging it? Also no. I'm privileged as heck. Over the last year-and-a-half, I saved enough money to put myself through Lambda School without working a job. Given the reality that I devote 40-50 hours to the program every week, I question the wisdom of trying both. There are people who try it, but they seem so stressed (and I must admit I'd be an emotional wreck). Unless you have enough money saved to go approximately a year without income, I'd suggest Lambda's part-time course. Ignore this advice at the risk of your physical and mental health.