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Daniel Wallen
Daniel Wallen

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10 Blunt Thoughts about Lambda School from a Living, Breathing Student Who's Halfway Through

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.

The Good

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.

Every study unit builds on the previous one. First, you learn HTML (how to build a house). Next, you learn CSS (the ability to paint and renovate it). Then, you dive into Javascript (where you discover how to set up wiring, plumbing, etc.). Finally, you move onto more advanced languages like React, Java, and NodeJs. I've tried teaching myself how to code and found it to be an overwhelming endeavor. Without a concrete and structured study program, my efforts went literally nowhere. Know the feeling? If so, this might be a good option for you.

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 You won't have to worry about the material being "out-of-date."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.

The Bad

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.

Are you a Lambda School student? If so, what would you add to this list (both positive and negative)? If you're *not* a student, do you have any questions?

Top comments (7)

psybermind profile image

In my intro post, I mentioned that I was a student at a school that would remain anonymous. Reading this, I feel better in saying that I am getting ready to start the October Full Stack Cohort at Lambda, and to be honest, if it weren't for the ISA, I would likely not be doing it.

I think that is their biggest selling point is the fact that there is no up front tuition, and you only pay if you make x per year.

That being said, I took what you wrote to heart, and if I experience the same thing, I will try not to let it discourage me.

kevin11jensen profile image
Kevin Jensen • Edited

If we are being blunt, I would also add that some of the TL's knowledge is extremely lacking. I don't think my TL is any more competent with the coding than I am at the moment. The one I am referencing (will remain anonymous because I am not trying to embarrass people or make them feel bad) is constantly confusing me and making things worse. I simply asked them today how to check the console and they were unable to answer my question. Not only that but when they did try to answer they were giving me the wrong answers to this basic question that was easily answered by another student in one sentence. My TL literally had me send them screenshots of my code in order to try to answer the question: 'how do I check the console?' This clearly indicates that they (as in this anonymous person) have no clue what they're doing, even with basic stuff that you learn in the intro to JS. It was extremely frustrating. My last TL to the contrary did know a lot about the code and was able to answer even difficult questions. I can clearly see how some students get more out of this school than others based on the knowledge of their particular TL that runs their group and has direct contact with their students daily. Also I need to add that when going over my previous days assignments to grade them, this anonymous person just sits there with a blank stare and doesn't seem to be capable of adding any value or helping explain anything! I can't believe they hire people like this to be on the front lines with their students!

idongcodes profile image
Idong Essien

I haven't experienced that with any TLs but there is one Instructor in Web I had that was awful imo .

kodebae profile image

I am Lambda Alumni, I just finished the Full-Stack Web Dev program a few weeks ago. I agree with what you said about the TL's but some of them were really awesome and I'm very thankful to have had a few good ones at the beginning of my time there. I did find the workload to be exhausting at times.

My BIGGEST complaint with Lambda --> I wish that the curriculum was set up differently.

What I Would Change --> Instead of pushing to complete a project daily (for full-time students), The projects should be due as weekly assignments with daily check-points where you then get daily feedback on your progress without the feeling of failure. Meaning you have to check in each day to see where you are, and if you're struggling you get help, but the actual project is not due until the end of the week so you could attend a few help sessions to get back on track if need be while the daily check-ins still hold you accountable.

Each daily project builds upon the previous to create a weekly project. The weekly projects then build upon each other to create a monthly project. At the end of the month, you should have one, really awesome "portfolio-ready" project deployed to your portfolio. That way we could have several ready-to-promote deployed projects by the end of Labs.

This Saves TIME --> The projects for our portfolio would already be built. Now we could focus solely on the job search prep and code challenges when we finish Lambda Labs. I think that build week should go away altogether because I never had a good one my entire time at Lambda. Instead, you should be focusing on polishing up your monthly project and getting it ready to demo on the last day of the unit. That way we have more time to practice talking about our code to our peers. Which you hardly get any practice with at Lambda unless you make it a point yourself.

The CS Sucks --> So, during our build week which I'd rename to "project week" we could also spend time attending coding challenge lectures and mob programming sessions to learn CS. Truthfully, the CS unit kinda sucks at the moment and they really don't teach you anything. You have to learn it all on your own. That's my two cents. It's not the instructor's fault, but the fact that they don't teach you the core basic algorithms you need to pass a whiteboard interview sucks. You're literally just watching him code for two hours while he talks and holds a loud open discussion. I still think it's a great school, but you're on your own for CS. I recommend you join "The Bear Den" channel in Lambda Slack if you're a current student. It's an alumni/student lead group that teaches what you actually need to know to pass CS and to interview.

What You Need To Understand --> If you're struggling with something, you need to reach out for help. You will likely spend a lot of time searching for answers on Google now that they no longer have TL's. The accountability is lacking but why waste your time in a school if you're not going to learn anything. Lambda is an opportunity. You have to be serious about your learning. If you really want to learn web development, you'll take ownership of your learning on your own without someone micromanaging you.

My Final Thoughts --> The current program is not what I was promised when I signed up, but it has still changed my life for the better as I have been interviewing and received some warm offers already. The careers team is top of the line and in my opinion worth every penny of the money they get paid and then some. They help you with navigating the job search, be prepared for questions from potential employers, and know what they are talking about. Having them in your corner makes everything seem easier. If we are honest actually finding a job is the hardest part about all this. Some people graduate and never find a job. The careers team and the Alumni are 100% what makes Lambda School worth the money.

brianblackburn profile image

Never saw much sense in careers lessons to prepare you for a successful transition into a new job. As for me all job interviews are unique and all companies are different. Of course responsibilities may be similar but here everything is about your skills and no career lessons will help.

kodebae profile image

The career lessons change once you finish the program and it turns into a completely different program that consists of live lectures, industry professionals, and detailed targeted advice on how to navigate everything. The career lessons in the beginning are different from Lambda X.

idongcodes profile image
Idong Essien

10 is definitely me . There is a ton of pressure on me to make my education at Lambda work for me . From pressure I put on myself to pressure from those around me . I'm lucky bc I have an SO that wants to believe in me so bad so shes been handling finances for both of us so I can do the Lambda thing ft . Who wants to be that type of a burden though ? Also , with things that happening throughout my life I was never able to finish university - and I could never hold a job . All four of my younger siblings did the university thing and have started their careers and are doing well - two of them started families . I'm not getting any younger either . I so badly don't want to end up working odd jobs or at 9 - 5s for the rest of my life - especially not when i see the toll it took on my more than hard working parents . All eyes are on first-son , big brother , so the pressure is on . Right now the Lambda opportunity is sort of my saving grace . It's difficult though as it seems my ability to retain even half of what I've learned between January and today , is no where to be found . I am discouraged and frustrated and trying hard to hold it together