10 Weeks Of Lambda School: A Review

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress”

— Frederick Douglas

A mere two and a half months ago, I sat down at my desk for my first day of Lambda School. A quick intro later and we were on to learning semantic HTML!

We've come a long way. Let's review, shall we?

If you happen to have lived under a rock over the past couple of months, let me quickly introduce you to Lambda School. Lambda School offers online programs in software development, UX design, data science, iOS and Android mobile development thatare free until you get a job. If you don’t get a job, they don’t get paid.

The curriculum is 9 months long and instead of having to take out a second mortgage just to pay tuition, Lambda School uses Income-Share Agreements (ISAs). With it, students pay a percentage of their monthly income after they’re employed. If you don't get a job, you don't pay anything. Second, you only start paying if you're making more than a certain amount per year. Depending on where you're based, different percentages and pay-off plans exist. Americans pay 17% for 2 years after graduation, while Europeans pay 10% for 4 years.

In the US, If you make less than $50k after graduation, you don't have to pay ‘em anything. Also, you will never, under any circumstance, pay back more than $30k. (Note: you'd have to be making more than $88,000 per year to achieve that) If you happen to make less than that, you simply pay less. After two years, you're off the hook What's more, if you don't find a job and spend all that time making less than $50k, the ISA lapses after a couple of years.

Recently, Lambda has introduced a living stipend program. It'll pay students $2000 per month to cover monthly bills while they focus fully on their studies. In return, Lambda asks for 10% of their income over 5 years. The payoff is capped at $50,000.

Back To (Prepping For) The Future

Now that we've progressed, we're slowly starting to look towards the future. Over the weeks, we've started to debate what industries we'd like to work in after graduation. Some are looking towards fintech while others are more focused on back-end vs. front-end work. Personally, I'm not too sure just yet. Remote works seems really appealing to me but I can also see a couple of downsides. Other than that, I absolutely want to work on a consumer-facing product.

Actually, I wanted to talk about Lambda's outcomes and what differentiates a good student from a great one. What's the difference between those that get hired before graduation and those that struggle to find a job?

The first class, who graduated a little over a year ago, has had a 100% hiring rate. Other classes are steadily getting up there. All told, 86% of all students get hired within six months of graduation. All told, those are pretty impressive numbers.

Official duties as CEO include: spending a ridiculous amount of time on Twitter
Official duties as CEO include: spending a ridiculous amount of time on Twitter

Of course, 86% isn't a perfect success rate. It's something they're still working on. Lambda is constantly working on acquiring hiring partners; companies that are convinced of the skills Lambda School students posses and are frothing at the mouth to hire them. There's some big names in there; the New York Times, Goldman Sachs, and Uber are but a few. Throughout the program, these companies will come and present themselves to us.

There have even been cases of companies hiring over a dozen Lambda students in one go or former Lambda students being in charge of hiring freshly-graduated ones.

So, what separates the students who get $100k+ offers versus those who struggle for 6+ months to get a job?

So far, it seems the students with kick-ass portfolios and side-projects get hired more quickly, sometimes even before graduation. Of course, this might simply be a lagging indicator of interest and affinity. People who are good at coding and feel comfortable building projects from scratch are probably better coders as well. Correlation doesn't mean causation. Sure, these people might be particularly skilled at doing white-boarding sessions or bullshitting their way through interviews, but you need to get your foot in the door first.

It makes sense when you think about it. When coming into an interview, you're invariably getting compared to CS majors and people with previous development experience. They've got something you don't: a fancy piece of paper. Sure, they might've passed all their classes by the skin of their teeth. It's still a reassurance. A certificate from Lambda School simply isn't an accredited degree.

You need to have something to show you're of equal (if not greater) skill. Hence the need for a kick-ass portfolio. You want to show the world that you're worth your salt as a developer. Prove you're actually able to use all those fancy frameworks you list on your resume.

Robby's Interactive Resume
Robby's Interactive Resume

You might've seen this resume pop up once or twice on the web. It's an interactive game/resume built by Robby Leonardi. Robby's a freelance designer and illustrator who felt the need to differentiate himself. And he sure did. A tidal wave of positive reactions ensued. Hell, he won several awards for his resume. How's that for positive signalling? I'm quite certain that Robby will not be lacking in work for the foreseeable future.

A good portfolio is key.

Also, keep in mind that outcomes aren't always equal. There are always outliers. Plus your location and willingness to relocate can impact the ease of your job search. As a small anecdote; a Lambda student recently got a $200k+ offer just after graduation. Talk about incredible results! However, that student used to be a lead designer at Google before coming into Lambda. It's not like the average Joe or Jane can sign up for Lambda and expect to be getting offers in that ballpark.

Just focus on differentiating yourself as much as possible and getting better.

The Little Project That (Almost) Could

Speaking of portfolio pieces, last week was meant to build one!

As I've mentioned previously, us EU students are normally expected to do a solo-project during our Build Weeks. US-based students are normally divided up into teams with front-end and back-end developers, a scrum master, and a UI designer. Since the EU cohort is still tiny, we previously weren't able to do so. This time around though, we were given the opportunity to join the US teams. Timezones be damned!

The week started off with a bang. We'd decided to build a tipping app to help waiters get better wages. We got together and made a plan. Responsibilities were assigned, Git Repos were initialized, user-flows were drawn up, and we were off to the races.

Boy was it a tough slog. People didn't reply to their DMs or questions asked via voice-chat, our back-end developer went incommunicado, and people kept pushing for a different stack halfway through the project. Turns out some people really like Redux.

It quickly went to hell in a hand-basket for me. Monday night, I got a call saying that my grandfather had been taken to the hospital. Turns out he had gotten some rare lung-infection. As a former smoker, he wasn't doing so well. Frankly, they were worried he might not make it to the weekend. It weighed took up a lot of mental bandwidth, what with going back and forth to the hospital, but I could deal with it.

Then, Tuesday morning rolled around. Believe it or not, my mom was having heart palpitations and had - you guessed it - been taken to the hospital. The exact same hospital I'd spend half the previous evening. Yeah, you can't make this shit up.

By the time I'd gotten home, the project had moved on. They were definitely struggling though. Communication still hadn't been sorted out and features were a far cry from being implemented. Things were going to be tough. Luckily, Alex, my UK-based teammate, helped me out and got me up to speed. The next two days were filled with sleepless nights and lots of trips going to and from the hospital. I tried to contribute wherever I could.

In the end, we managed to get it done. Despite communication blackouts and frequent hospital trips, everyone rallied at the last moment and managed to present a polished, well-functioning app at the end of the week. Alex was an absolute legend and brought me up to speed whenever I would have to go to the hospital.

It goes without saying that I owe Alex a beer or two.

To top off the week, my mother was let go from the hospital and my grandfather was out of mortal peril. Thank God for small miracles.

Look How Far We've Come!

As some of you might know, I usually end every week by listing the topics and technologies we've covered. So, since this week marks the end of the front-end portion of the curriculum I'll provide an overview.

What we've covered in the last 10 weeks:

  • (Semantic) HTML
  • CSS
  • Positioning
  • Responsive Design
  • Animation
  • Git workflow
  • JavaScript
  • ES6 (incl. asynchronous behavior & promises)
  • Classes, prototypical inheritance
  • Events & DOM manipulation;
  • Underlying theory
  • React
  • Stateful vs. functional components vs. hooks
  • Lifecycles, ReactDOM
  • File architecture and Single-Page Applications
  • Styling / Styled Components
  • Prop-Types
  • Redux
  • Middlewares
  • Node
  • Express APIs
  • Middlewares
  • Testing, using debugger, authentication, using APIs, etc.

Now, bear in mind that this is incredibly condensed. Every single bullet-point pretty much accounts for one or two weeks worth of lessons. For more detailed info, I'd recommend you check out every week's individual recap. Start with part 1.

By itself, this could very well be sufficient to get an entry-level job as a junior front-end developer. It is undoubtable that we're getting pretty damn good at building projects from scratch; be it Connect Four, a Pokédex or a language learning app.

Since Week 1, I've made it a point to do extra research. Over the past 10 weeks, I've  read a couple of books, taken an online course or two, and played around with a couple of different languages and frameworks. Here's a list:

Books I've read:

Online Courses completed:

Played around with

  • Using React hooks instead of using Class-based Components. Want to do a full project with ‘em sometime soon;
  • Built a couple of small demo projects with Electron.js.
  • Tried using ReactStrap instead of Styled-Components for React. I'm not a fan;

I think 90% of the above material was merely revisiting topics I'd already covered in the past. Frankly, I may have overdone it a bit and gone back to basics a bit too much.

By the end of Lambda, I'll probably make a full write-up of the entire curriculum. Perhaps as a roadmap of sorts. Back when I was learning web development, I often got paralyzed by indecision when trying to learn programming by myself. I didn't know what technologies I ought to be learning and which ones I should ignore. I didn't get how one technology builds upon another.

To us, it's a given that React is built in JavaScript and that it can interface with through Node - also based on JavaScript. Sure, we can add Express and make it into a fully-fledged API. A beginner wouldn't have a clue though. The greatest asset Lambda has is a structured and all-encompassing curriculum. It demystifies. Just trust the process and you'll eventually get it.

It's surreal to me than I started with Lambda a mere 10 (by now 11) weeks ago. I can frankly say that this has been the most intense period of learning I've been through in my life. Even despite having a leg up compared to most of the students. There have definitely been days where I was nearly burnt out from all the info coming at me.

In retrospect, those are the best days of them all. Every day, you feel your skills are improving bit by bit, becoming a better developer with every passing week.

The next five weeks will be interesting. We'll finally be covering the back-end and databases. This is what I've been waiting for.

Until next week.

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