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Emma Zarate
Emma Zarate

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The Hardest (Best) Part of Lambda School: Lambda Labs

Alright peeps. It's been a while since I've tweeted, 'Gramd, or done anything social. After completing the full-stack portion of Lambda School, you kind of come up for air, take a large breath, and think "what the heck just happened?"

It's hard to have a sense how much time has passed because you really haven't had time to think about anything but code. Going through the full-stack core curriculum is like watching a train zoom by like: 🚄git-UI-CSS-pre-processors-React-Context-Redux-Hooks-Node-Express-RDBMs-SQL-Authentication💨

So yeah, there's a decompression period that occurs over the next couple of weeks which unfortunately gives you more time than you're used to, to think👾. The hardest part of Lambda school is equally the technical challenge as it is the mental one, and starting Labs triggers a major episode of the latter. You don't have sprints to pass anymore, or ways of earning daily validation. No diploma telling that you have accomplished something huge! And it is. It is such a feat to get this far. You've done so much but you're just half way there. Time stands still and suddenly you are in the valley of despair (see chart below, source: ). The pressure to find a job is on.

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Ideally by the end of the core full-stack curriculum you've completed 4 polished portfolio apps. It's really more like 4 solid starts. I mean you get a heck of a lot done in the the work week you get to build each, which is impressive and you feel so accomplished with what you produce. However, sometimes (in my case 75% of the time) they require a lot of debugging and cleanup to be portfolio worthy. This is no one's fault. One of the hardest working teams I was part of turned out the least presentable product. That had much more to do with the complexity of the app and size of the team.

So there's the mounting pressure to go back and update your resume, portfolio and projects to be more reflective of your new skills. Then there's the sudden realization that in order to be a stronger candidate you have to complete Labs to get through to the Computer Science curriculum. What you've been looking so forward to and makes Lambda School so special suddenly seems like a bridge troll preventing you from accessing that sweet data structures and algorithms knowledge.

The key to getting you the coveted software engineering title is still 14 weeks away. (Labs: 8 weeks + CS: 6 weeks) Jeepers! 😰

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If you ever get to this point, or are there now and can relate, remember: YOU DID THIS!

Just kidding.

Do remember this: You planned for this. You have chosen to commit this time and more. In fact, it's something like 9 months you've budgeted for, to over a year for part timers. If you are in Labs, take a breath. Everything is going to plan. Don't mind your new and super talented friends getting hired left and right. They have already put in the time and work, but more important, their story is not yours. Everyone's got a number. Put your head down and work until yours comes. (This is obviously more of a self-help article versus advice for you. I needed to hear this.)

Now let me really tell you what's so awesome about Labs and why it's so important to keep your eye on the ball and be here now.

Labs offers you the chance to push your technical and soft skills. The projects you work on offer opportunities to learn new skills outside of the curriculum. These were the projects I was shooting for when it came time to bid for them. I was lucky to get my first choice project: Future Hope. Future Hope helps retirees in the west assist classrooms in Ghana and Nepal to fill a shortage of quality educators. It has been so exciting meeting with our stakeholder in getting some key features off the ground.

The tech stack: React/Redux front-end and Firebase hosted backend. Firebase is totally new to me and picking it up quickly has really shown what I've gained at Lambda School: learning how to learn. I know code concepts enough to pick up a new technology with ease and confidence.

These past two first weeks in Labs I've gotten to present the project and product research to my peers, professional software engineers, product designers, and engineering managers. This experience is invaluable to a career changer like me. Writing code is one thing but ask any hiring manager what they're looking for in a developer and it's those soft skills: communicating complex ideas clearly and succinctly, talking through problems, being a personable team member, being a solid individual contributor but also leading when necessary. I am empowered everyday to lead team meetings and apply project management tools as I see fit. Anyone can fill any role they like during Labs. As long as you are meeting product cycle objectives on time, the possibilities for you to grow as a professional are endless.

So yeah, it's going to be scary sometimes during your time at Lambda School. After all, it's such a huge leap you've taken, trusting that you have the grit it takes to complete the program and trusting that Lambda School will provide the tools you need to be a professional software engineer at the end. I can say halfway through the full-stack full-time web program, yes. You do have what it takes and Lambda School is the best structured code school out there. Sure, there will be at least one: blood, sweat, and or tears, but those are usually the signs of major change, of growth. There's a reason not everyone is a software engineer and it's not based on smarts. It's dedication and hard work. Laser. Focus.

I've had two weeks of rolling around like a marble in that dreaded valley of despair, a cycle of self-doubt, impatience, frustration, nearing depression. Some tips to get you through this:

Make Labs your b!%$#. Your time is no longer determined by lecture hours and required daily graded projects. If you find you have lots more time, it's up to you to make your days and nights as tireless as they were when that full-stack core train was zooming by before getting to labs. Find that drive again. Dig up that first acceptance email you received from Lambda and tape it to the wall if you have to. Remember your 'Why.'

Find balance. One way to reduce the pressure and focus on just improving and refining your programming skills is to get actionable items done. Get to a good point with your resume. Meet with careers early and as needed to get a sense of where it's at. Once it's solid, fight the urge to redo your portfolio website yet again. Stick to one design. I've seen all kinds of portfolios get people jobs. It's just one part of a whole so don't sweat it too much. It's there to host your projects. Focus on those and make them shine. This is where you can really leverage Labs. Labs is the first Lambda project you can potentially work on the full stack. Really highlight everything you are capable of here.

Play games. Or knit, or do whatever brings you joy. It's so easy to forget who you are in your code cave and it's so important to remember and take care of yourself. It's you that's getting hired and if you don't know yourself how will any hiring managers know what makes you a unique asset.

That's it. That's all I've got. Thanks for letting me get that out.

Tomorrow is our first day writing code. Future Hope's Trello is set up. My development environment is ready to go. Got a good Firebase foundation down. I'm ready to push some code, baby!

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