Higher education, both in the United States and elsewhere, is on the brink of disruption. It’s clear that college education has either too high upfront costs or saddles students with a lifetime of crushing debt, doesn’t prepare it’s students for the labor market, and neglects practical skills in favor of theory and research.
As many a middle school student has pointed out, when are you ever going to use most of the stuff you learn in school? When’s the last time you used algebra in your private life? I’ll wait. A similar phenomenon is prevalent in the realms of computer science and IT. Most businesses have their new, freshly-graduated employees spend the first six months actively unlearning most of the purely-theoretical methods they were taught in academia. What’s more, most of them still need to learn how to code real-world projects!
There have been a number of proposed solutions to counter this problem. MOOCs, on platforms like Coursera and EDx, had their moment in the spotlight. The completion rates turned out to be abysmal, though. Sometimes as low as 5%. Imagine a university that has a 5% graduation rate.
What MOOCs lacked was a structured schedule and a consistent feedback mechanism. When having to choose between browsing Reddit and going online to learn biochemistry, most people will opt for r/AskReddit. There are some amazing online courses out there, but they’re constrained by the limitations of the platform more often than not.
What if you could learn to become a full-stack web developer of sufficient skill to be employable by any tech firm? What if you started learning practical skills right from the get-go? To learn from some of the best instructors who literally wrote the book on some of the technologies you’ll be using on a daily basis? Oh, and you don’t have to pay anything upfront?
Let me introduce you to Lambda School.
What Is lambda school?
Lambda School is an online education platform that provides seven-month immersive courses focused (at the time this article was written) on the web and technologies related to the web. Over the course of 30 weeks of full-time classes, you can learn Full-Stack Web Development, Mobile Development for iOS or Android, Data Science or UX Design. Starting January 7th, I’ll participating in the first European cohort for Full-stack Web Development.
Lambda School, or Lambda for short, was founded by Austen Allred and Ben Nelson and has been backed by some of the leading investors in Silicon Valley, including Google Ventures, Y Combinator and Dropbox. So far, they’ve had over two dozen cohorts with up to 1,000 students enrolled at the same time. Nearly every day, recent graduates get hired with up to six-figure salaries.
The best part? It’s free until you get a job. They do this via an income-share agreement. Once you get a job that makes $50k+ per year, you pay 20% of your salary for two years, with a cap at $30k. For European and British students, the rates are somewhat different. As part of the program, you pay 10% of your income for four years, as soon as you’re making over 27.5k Euro, with a cap at 27.5k. Both with US and EU/UK students, if you don’t get a job, you don’t pay anything!
As of January 2019, Lambda’s income-share agreement is only for US, EU, and UK citizens. Students from other nationalities have to pay upfront.
Quick note on the EU/UK ISA: depending on the country, 27,500 Euro per year can, depending on the country one lives in, either an incredible salary or well below the mean. I’m curious to see how Lambda will address this fact in the months to come.
As I said before, I’ll be starting the Full-Stack Web Development Track on January 7th, 2019. While I still don’t have all the information, the curriculum will look something like this:
Weeks 1 - 5: Web Foundations. HTML, CSS, JS, and Git.
Weeks 6 - 10: Web App Development. Learning React.js, Redux, Functional Programming, HTTP/Ajax, etc.
Weeks 11 - 15: Back-end Development. Learning Node.js, learning databases with SQL and SQLite and learning authentication with technologies like OAuth.
Weeks 16 - 20: Data Structures and Algorithms. Python, Django, Graphs, Data Structures, big O notation, etc.
Weeks 21 - 25: Networking and Computer Architecture. C, Operating Systems, Hash Tables, etc.
Weeks 26 - 30: Lambda Labs. An in-house apprenticeship, wherein you build a real-world commissioned project as part of a small team.
In addition to having 3/4 hours of instructions per day, you’ll spent most of your time banging away at your keyboard. Every day starts off with an hour-long code challenge and, having taken a glimpse at a couple, there are difficult as hell. Every afternoon, you’ll spend three to four hours building away at a full-scale project for that week. To top it all off, there’s a Sprint Challenge every Friday morning that seeks to test what you’ve learnt in the past week. Depending on how you do in the challenge, you move onto next week’s curriculum and/or get offered additional tutoring.
That leads me to my next point; feedback, help and instruction. Lambda School’s pace is relentless. However, you’re not alone . From day one, you get sorted into smaller student teams on whom you can rely for help, second opinions and support. You also have 24/7 access to Program Managers and Teaching Assistants who are there to help you when you’re stuck. That’s not to say they’ll be doing all the work for you. They expect you to have spent some time on the issue, trying to resolve it yourself, and approaching the staff with alternative approaches.
I, like many others, have frequently fallen into what I’ve come to call ‘Tutorial Purgatory’ when trying to learn programming or other technical skills online. After a couple of tutorials and some code-along projects, you feel like you’ve got a pretty solid grasp and perhaps feel ready to do a small project of your own. Things work out pretty great, you’re starting to get the hang of things and then you hit a wall. Whatever you try, there’s one issue that simply will not be resolved. You can take to Stack Exchange or Reddit to ask for feedback, but many an introvert will be daunted by this. I have frankly shied away from this as well. The end result - more often than not - is an incomplete project and frustration.
With Lambda, there’s a support network to prevent exactly this from happening. You put in the work and show willingness to learn, they’ll guide you along and be there when you need ‘em.
I’ve talked to several current and former Lambda students and, although the specifics differ, one thing is uniform; Lambda is really fucking hard. The curriculum is described as a firehose of information coming at you day after day. The fact that the instructors and even the founders themselves continually say this really drives the point home. This won’t be the sort of class in which you can sit in the back of the class and cram two days before the final exam.
I’ll give it a shot. (These might be famous last words)