Lambda School - Week 11: Front To Back

Ahh yes. So long React and styling! Goodbye, worrying about missing a semicolon and forgetting to use camelcase! Hello, sweet sweet backend. Now, I can finally start to worry about semicolons and using camelcase!

Wait - what?

I thought this shit was going to get easier?!

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. The best part? It has no up-front costs!

The curriculum is 9 months long with full-time enrollment. This used to be 30 weeks, but has recently been extended. Instead of paying tuition and 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.

Enter Through the Back-End

This week was our introduction to back-end engineering. Finally. We'd gotten hints here and there. A quick peek at a database here, some exposure to building APIs through Express there. All in all, it was enough to get the majority of us excited to get started.

We started off strong. We dove right into using Express. For those not in the know, it's a Node.js framework used to build API endpoints. Just for fun, our instructor decided to throw debugging and testing into the mix as well! That was a lot to take in.

Unfortunately, my code editor's native debugger seemed to be broken. No one could figure out why so I made do with unit tests. We still haven't managed to get it sorted out. We've tried damn-near everything short of doing a factory reset of my entire MacBook. Let's hope it works eventually.

As a whole, the curriculum is moving towards having us integrate more and more technologies on a daily basis. In the past, we've been handed projects where half the files are already in place. Now, we start with a Readme file stating what the final deliverables have to be. That's it. No code-alongs, no freebies.

It's liberating. It makes students feel confident in their ability to build projects by themselves. We've built so many servers from scratch and implement CRUD operations so often that we could do it with our eyes closed. As I've said in the past, it's all about reps. Whether it's getting to a 300-pound benchpress or learning a new framework; it's all about the hours you put in. (Still working on that 300lbs bench though)

When it finally clicks…
When it finally clicks…

It does get exhausting sometimes. Lambda accounts for 60+ hours a week. Easily. And we're not talking about those hours of ‘work’ you spend mindlessly replying to email and browsing 9GAG (by the way, is that still a thing?). We're talking about being fully engaged, trying your hardest to make sense of it all. That type of work.

Between Lambda and working some 20 hours a week, I occasionally struggle to maintain a semblance of a social life. Let's just say the lady-friend doesn't enjoy my time at Lambda School quite as much. It's often a matter of choosing between going to the gym or spending some hours going deeper on a specific concept. That, and the fact that I have to hit the gym at ungodly hours just to avoid the mass of people. Try going to the gym at 5 PM and you'll spend a good hour waiting for a machine to free up. It's a shitshow.

Like I've said before, attending Lambda is a sprint. For nine months, you decide to focus primarily on learning and nothing else. I can safely say that it's been the hardest thing I've done in my life.

Every day, you get clobbered. And every day you weather the storm. And maybe even start to enjoy it. I think I might have.

Tools Of The Trade

This week was an intro to the back-end. As such, we spent the majority of our time covering theory. Some of the more concrete technologies and topics we discussed are:

  • Understanding Node.js;
  • Using Express to build RESTful APIs;
  • Building and using (Express) Middlewares;
  • Server-side Routing and its pros and cons;
  • Web sockets;
  • How to create APIs from scratch and maintain them;
  • Mock HTTP requests with Postman;
  • Intro to AWS;
  • Deployment using Heroku and configuring deployment scripts.

For the first time in quite a while, I didn't actually spend all that much time doing extracurricular work. I reviewed some of this week's materials and watched a couple of lectures for next week, but that's about it.

Time For Questions

Does Lambda’s curriculum get updated regularly?

Lambda Schools curriculum is ever-changing. So much so that they've stopped coming up with version numbers (i.e. v. 1.33.7). Lambda School tries to embody the ‘Ship early, Ship often’ mentality of Silicon Valley. Every so often, we'll open up our online learning environment and notice that new sections have been added or that lessons have been renamed or redesigned.

It seems that Lambda has been relatively on top of this from the very beginning. When Lambda School was just starting out, the focus was more on Computer Science and deeply technical skills. On week two, they'd already covered Redux and React. The pace was intense. Perhaps a bit too much.

One thing I will say is that Lambda School could definitely get better at communicating changes to the students. While it's exciting to see the school innovating and growing at a rapid pace, it's still someone's education we're talking about. There have been a couple of cases where students get left behind when the curriculum gets changed at inopportune times.

State of the Lambda Union

It felt good to be back in class. Everyone seemed eager to get started with the back-end. That's what I like most about our cohort. Most of ‘em are intensely curious about the technologies we use and their uses. It's a rare thing to find. From what I've heard, this isn't uniform across Lambda. As a whole, our cohort seems to be outperforming most - if not all - of the US-based cohorts.

Next week, we'll be covering SQL. I'm both excited and a tad intimidated. SQL and I have never truly gotten along. I still have nightmares of making complicated joins… Whatever the case, next week will prove to be interesting.

Till then!

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