Lambda School - Week 1: A Baptism By Fire

“the standard pace is for chumps” 
Kimo Williams (
Source)

As mentioned last week, I started Lambda School’s Full-Stack Web Development program on last Monday, January 7th. If you don’t know what Lambda School is, I’d recommend you check out my previous post first! In short, Lambda School is an online learning company offering 30-week programs in programming that are free until you get a job. If you don’t get a job, they don’t get paid.

Each week, I want to write a small piece of what topics were covered, what the Lambda experience is like, and my thoughts over the course of the seven(-ish) month course.


A Baptism By Fire

On January 7, I woke up at 05:00, went to the gym, showered, answered nature’s call, and sat down in front of my laptop at nine AM sharp. (Lambda’s EU track starts at 8 AM GMT, I live on ECT - hence the difference.)

Day 1, started off with a band and we immediately got right into it. We got sorted into Student Teams, met our Project Manager and got started on our first topic; vanilla CSS Positioning. I felt supremely confident, yet quickly started learning bit and pieces that I never knew, despite having played around with HTML and CSS for five years.

Our instructor, Gabriel, was great. He explained things thoroughly, made plenty of room for questions and in general tried to break through the awkwardness that is inherent to the first day of anything. From what I could tell, the instructors, Team Leaders and founders share the same passion for both the subject and getting students job-ready.

Lambda is definitely for real.


A Day in the life

I’ve gotten more questions about the schedule of Lambda School than about any other aspect. Now, I should mention that the first week has its fair share of introductory meetings and set-up, but it was mostly illustrative of what is to come.

At its core, a day of Lambda School consists of the following:

  • 08:00 – A coding challenge on JavaScript or Python, focused on abstract and logical thinking. It’s a great way to start the day. You’re in problem-solving mode and start the day off with a small win. If you complete the rather difficult challenge, that is;

  • 09:00Live instruction on that day’s subject. Interspersed throughout the instruction are much-needed 5-minute breaks, moments for questions, hands-on demos, and micro-challenges.

  • 11:00Lunch break. You’re highly encouraged to step away from the keyboard and exercise, relax, take a nap, whatever. Just to give your mind a moment to rest.

  • 12:00 – Start on the day’s project. These (often fully-fledged) projects illustrate and test all the concepts you learned that morning. You can opt to do these either by yourself or to break off into pairs. Accompanying each are a number of stretch goals to further challenge you, should you finish early or want to work after-hours.

  • 15:45Wrap-up, daily reflection, identifying breakthroughs or challenges you had that day, and planning for tomorrow.

  • 16:15 – Finish up the day with a meeting with your team and Project Manager, answering any lingering questions, providing feedback on the completed project, and giving pointers on where to focus next.

From what I can tell, people tend to work around the rather arduous schedule in a number of ways. I personally wake up early (05:00-ish), go to the gym, shower, eat, meditate and review the class notes for that day’s lecture. (Students have access to a private wiki with recordings of previous lectures, relevant links, and the class notes themselves.)

During lunch, I either take a nap or go for a run. Whatever the case, I have to step away from the computer for a bit. The project usually flies by in the blink of an eye, which only leaves wrap-up and the daily stand-up before classes are over for the day by 17:00 (which’d be 18:00 for me).

In the evenings, I’ll occasionally do an extra project for fun or review some extra material. I mostly spend it on maintaining some semblance of a social life, though. Some people flip this schedule around, with more studying at night, or break up the pace altogether. Whatever the approach, the pace is gruelling. There’s a reason every week in Lambda is called a Sprint! Remember, the average pace is for chumps!

An approximation of what the pace at Lambda School is like.

An approximation of what the pace at Lambda School is like.


Tools Of the trade

The pace on every four-day Sprint is intense. Every day, a new topic gets thrown at you, followed up by a project to further cement the knowledge. Fridays are reserved for a Sprint Challenge (an assignment testing your newly-learned knowledge and skills). For three hours, you're building a project as big and bad-ass as you can manage, based on guidelines given by Lambda. Depending on how you did, you’ll be receiving extra instruction and help and moving onto the next week.

As part of the base program, we covered the following:

  • Git & GitHub;

  • Command Line Interfaces and their uses;

  • The CSS Box model;

  • Vanilla CSS Positioning;

  • CSS FlexBox;

  • Pixel-Perfect Design Principles;

  • User Interface and User Experience;

  • Semantic HTML tags;

  • Basics of Search Engine Optimization.

In addition, every single day has a number of stretch goals and skills the instructors encourage you to check out. In my own time, I also covered:

  • Yarn (I’m used to NPM);

  • CSS Grid;

  • CSS Pre-Processors (which we’ll cover more deeply next week);

  • Responsive design using CSS Media Queries;

  • CSS Keyframe Animation;

  • Git workflow and project management.

All the info coming at me like…

All the info coming at me like…


healthy skepticism

Before (and after) signing up for Lambda School, I was bombarded by numerous questions by people who were skeptical or on the fence.

  • Doesn’t an Income-Share Agreement imply indentured servitude?

  • How can they make lessons compelling without having students be physically present? Is there enough sense of community between the students?

  • Is the curriculum up-to-par?

  • It won’t teach you any liberal arts or contribute to making you a better member of society.

Now, I can answer almost all of these from experience.

  • An Income-Share Agreement would imply indentured servitude if they were subject to the same bankruptcy-exemptions and predatory interest rates of student loans. Which they’re not. An Income-Share Agreement makes sure the incentives align perfectly for both school and student. The student wants to get a higher income and learn new skills, therefore putting in maximum effort. Meanwhile, the school doesn’t get paid unless the student gets a job, therefore putting maximum effort into their teaching. Given a large enough jump in income, withholding a part of their new income won’t even be noticeable. And after a few years, the ISA elapses and the ex-student suddenly ‘gets a huge raise’.

  • The instruction, primarily done via Zoom, is definitely compelling enough for students to pay attention. The talented and engaging instructors definitely make it work. That’s not to say it’s flawless, though. There are some issues with microphones, student-teacher communication isn’t always as swift, and there are occasionally some hardware or software issues. As for community, the school-wide Slack channel is filled with people chatting back and forth, sharing gifs and tomfoolery, and people helping each other out with assignments or job hunts wherever they can. The founders also regularly reply to anyone with serious feedback or issues.

  • To touch on the previous point, the drawbacks are more than worth it for most people. The fact is that Lambda has hired some incredibly-talented teachers, some of whom literally wrote the book on the topics they’re discussing. Coming from a small town in the Netherlands, having access to such incredible talent and not having to fork over $200k+ for an Ivy League is more than worth the few technical difficulties.

  • Finally, Lambda doesn’t cover the liberal arts or mold you into a well-rounded citizen. Guess what? Neither do most universities! I spent three years at Utrecht University of Applied Sciences and never had the option of taking a single class that wasn’t related to my International Business Major! (By the way, never go there for any length of time. There’s enough bureaucracy there to make Congress look understaffed.) As a matter of fact, I don’t know of a single university in Western Europe that covers liberal arts as part of every curriculum. There might be a couple out there, but it’s mostly an American thing. Fact is, Lambda is a vocational school. You attend to learn skills to either get a job or start your own business. We don’t force mechanics-to-be to read Hamlet, do we?


state of the lambda union

So has everything been to my liking thus far? Pretty much, yes! So far, the school has delivered on what it promised, warts and all. Bear in mind that they’re still a young startup that’s rapidly improving and growing. Not everything will work perfectly during its first run. Things break. However, Lambda’s response when things do break is what has convinced me.

Lambda School is the real deal.

Until next week!