Would you recommend Lambda School?"
It's a question that's come up a few times in the past couple of months from friends, coworkers and at nearly every interview I go to.
I always answer with a version of "yes-if". After giving this answer so many times I realized it would make a great blog post so here we are.
Before we get too far ahead some background/full disclosure: I already had a technical degree and work experience before attending Lambda School (B.S. Civil & Environmental Engineering - UC Berkeley) & had been working as a high school math/science teacher for 5 years prior to starting Lambda's Full Stack Web (FSW) Development Program. I was a TA for Lambda's part time FSW program at night towards the second half of completing the curriculum (late 2018-early 2019). Once I finished the curriculum (early 2019) I additionally began to TA for the full time program during the day until I landed a role as a Frontend Engineer for Joymode.
Before we get to the "yes-ifs" let's start here:
Are there better options?
Pretty simple, if you have better options, don't go to Lambda School. What "better options" are is hard to say so let me try to give a few examples of what a "better option" might be for you.
Better financially. If you have a scholarship to a college/university CS program or other bootcamp that's better financially and that you are excited about then you should probably do that instead.
Better education. If you think you can get a better CS education elsewhere and have access to it then you should do that instead. This is subjective but talk to somebody you trust and get them to compare what you will be learning at Lambda against your other options. Get multiple opinions, you should be confident that you will be learning quality material. I felt and still feel like Lambda has a great curriculum but this is something you should look at and consider.
You know people in tech who can teach you and get your foot in the door. Now that I've been in this world for a little over a year I've met a handful of people who got their start this way. You can totally use your network to learn and start to get experience if you have friends who are in tech who can help you get started and get your foot in the door. Lucky you! 🙂
You can afford to study and learn on your own from freely available internet resources and are confident in your skills/experience/connections to get hired. Even if you DON'T have friends in tech that doesn't mean that you can't be completely self-taught and get in the industry. This is another option for some people, especially if you find an online resource that speaks to you and allows you to create interesting projects to showcase and level up your skills along the way.
Each of these are potentially better options than going through Lambda School. As I was looking at options for myself I didn't find a program that was a fit for me, didn't have friends in tech & didn't know where to start as far as a curriculum or the types of skills I needed to learn/showcase before being hirable. It was definitely the right choice for me at the time.
Okay, now for the
"You should attend Lambda School if you answer yes to these questions"
portion of the show:
Can you afford it?
Read this: Lambda School ISA
Lambda School FSW track is 9 months full-time or 18 months part time.
Don't assume you will be hired early or right upon graduation, add at least 6 months.
Do a little bit of math and planning for yourself. Do you know how you will pay your bills while you attend Lambda School and will this allow you to at the same time have the energy/focus needed to learn challenging new skills?
Do you understand the terms of the ISA?
Read this: Lambda School ISA (yes again)
The rules on this vary state to state but at minimum you get 4 weeks to decide if this is going to work for you and can withdraw early without penalty. You get full access to course materials on day 1 and should have an idea if this is working for you in a month's time in my opinion.
Find out what entry level developer jobs are paying in your area. Be conservative and pick a salary number at the lower end of the range. Take your state's income tax % for that salary + Lambda's 17% cut to find out how much you're looking to be making as you start off. If you're comfortable with that then let's move on.
Can you really afford it? Do you have a backup plan?
Ok, so you've done the math, are aware of the terms of the ISA, and are ready to move on. Not so fast.
I want to make sure I emphasize this point because it's one of the most important factors to consider if you're going to do it. Factor in a lengthy job search, having to repeat a unit or two as you progress through a challenging curriculum, holiday breaks, length of program & unforeseen life events & setbacks. Can you really afford it?
As I mentioned above, I had 2 careers before this (Civil Engineer & HS Teacher) I could fall back to if it didn't work out. I'm not rich or wealthy but I was able to lean on my savings, renting 2 rooms at home, my wife, friends/family, & I got a part-time job with Lambda School (at night) as soon as I was eligible to while going through the program to make ends meet. It was a challenge but I planned this all out before I ever applied and made it work in my circumstances. If you have a plan and feel prepared then let's go...
Are you disciplined? If you're not disciplined, are you open-minded enough to trying to change that and have you built a support network for yourself?
Getting through Lambda School requires a lot of discipline. To dedicate yourself to something for that long requires a lifestyle change if you're not used to it. Like any new skill it requires practice and training long hours. I started jiu-jitsu a year before Lambda School. It's one of the toughest things that's become a consistent part of my life. It makes everything else, including going through Lambda School seem not so bad and was a great way to gain perspective. It built-up my discipline muscle prior to Lambda School and helped me throughout the process. Find something that helps you maintain your discipline and keeps you healthy/sane. If you know you are going to struggle with this then plan for that and build in the tools, resources, support network that you're going to need to stay on track.
Is this your learning style? If not can you adjust and make it work for you?
Read this: Lambda School Curriculum
Online lectures and projects aren't for everybody. Neither is Slack, online-meetings or working remotely. Check out the pre-course and see if this format is right for you. Ask questions, talk to current/former students. I loved the format and thrive with this setup. I enjoy working remotely and communicating on the internet. I personally think it's a great way to teach and learn but I definitely know that it's not a good fit for everybody.
Do you have a work plan? Are your family/roommates/dog on board?
Have you thought about what life is going to be like while you attend Lambda School. Do you know where you'll be working? Is it quiet at the right times? Have you scheduled out the track in your calendar? When are you going to find time to take care of all of your other responsibilities after adding this full or part-time commitment into your life? Are your family/roommate/dog/etc ok with this and going to be supportive? Your life during Lambda will be a lot easier if you planned for this ahead of time.
Related, are you collaborative or do you want to be?
Lambda School does its best to prepare you for a career after you finish the course. This includes working with teams of other developers, design, data science, UX, & iOS students to create projects as you progress through the course. You are encouraged to ask questions and to use your TA for help you when you are truly stuck. There are office hours and your fellow students will also be very helpful. If you planned on working as a solo-developer and never interacting with other students/staff then Lambda School is probably not for you. If you don't like working with others that's completely understandable and maybe you can use this as a starting point where you can begin to practice and develop those collaboration skills. In any case you should be open to working with others if you plan on going through Lambda School.
Do you enjoy learning? Are you someone who asks questions?
This is a silly question. We all enjoy learning. But do you enjoy learning the material that's being offered? There's pre-course material available for every track. If you are looking at signing up for Lambda School you would assume that you are excited and the answer is yes. Speaking from a TA's perspective for a moment I would run across students who would never reach out, wouldn't ask questions and would then proceed to complain that the material was too challenging or not clear enough. This may be true at times, it may be purposeful, but it makes teaching, progress, and learning the material impossible without any questions or feedback. Don't join Lambda School if you aren't willing to learn and ask questions along the way.
Do you enjoy challenges?
The Lambda School material is challenging. So is getting a job as a developer if you don't know how to code. I felt challenged every week if not everyday I was at Lambda School. I feel like I'm a stronger developer for it and was able to contribute in my first role from day 1 because of it. Even when the project was "easy" there were always extra stretch goals and other things I could learn to push myself when necessary. You're given the building blocks and can take it as far as you want. You have to be comfortable knowing this going in and be ready to push yourself and be open to challenging days/weeks. I mean all of the above in the best connotation of the word "challenge", I had a lot of fun.
Each of the questions above could have easily been a blog post of their own so I apologize if I was short or unclear in my responses to any of them. Feel free to DM me on Twitter if you have any questions or want to chat.
To summarize if there aren't better options and you answered "Yes" to the above questions then I would absolutely recommend Lambda School to you and would start telling you about other reasons you should check it out... such as:
Lambda's Slack Channel
As an alumni I'm on Lambda's Slack channel all the time. It's a great place to keep up with friends, encourage each other in #health-fitness, and have a friendly community of people I can interact with at any time.
Networking & Friends Along the Way
I made some good friends during my time at Lambda including some instructors and meet up with people from time to time for lunch or Lambda meet-ups which happen once a month. Looking at my LinkedIn now compared to a year ago and I'm amazed at how many Lambda friends I have working at various companies throughout the world now, it's pretty cool!
When I found out that the Joymode warehouse in Culver City was shutting down, I was able to contact Lambda's career services team who helped me in my transition to a new role. They have daily office hours where you can meet and talk to a member of the team and get your career questions answered or just general advice.
Curriculum & Knowledge Sharing
The curriculum was one of the main reasons I chose Lambda School in the first place. I went through the pre-course. I saw who they were hiring as instructors and their background. After working with some of them directly I can tell you how much they care about maintaining an up to date world class curriculum. I have a lot of examples of this but one quick on is this: I've been working in Vue for the past 7 months, my next job is in React, I went back to the curriculum last month to brush up and the Redux units/projects are brand new, that's awesome.
When I needed to learn Ruby on Rails to help on the backend at Joymode I was able to use Lambda's curriculum to do that. As alumni I have access to all of the tracks which is an amazing career tool as I can easily add to my knowledge/toolkit at anytime for free. They also host frequent brown bags on various technical topics which are also very useful and interesting way to stay up to date on other technologies or best practices.
Being a Cal alum I'm well aware of the value and privilege that brings. It was a huge reason I went there in the first place. I knew I would be able to land a job in any major city in the world after I got my "engineering degree from Berkeley". It's mostly true, people know the name and respect the institution. I had been following Austen on Twitter for a few years before I signed up for Lambda School. I saw the progress. I was beginning to see the names of the companies that were hiring the first crop of students and I knew that it was a place that I would be proud to have attended and that would be known for producing talented developers. I think so far so good. I've been on multiple interviews since graduating and for those people I met that have heard of Lambda before meeting me I would say that all but one had a favorable view of the school, the structure, and the curriculum/talent they were seeing come out of the program.
It's been one of the best decisions I've ever made but I don't recommend it to everybody, hopefully this helps explain why. I see it getting better everyday and would definitely recommend it if you said yes to all of the above.
Yes IF - there are no better options & you:
Can afford it (understand the ISA). Like the material/format. Are collaborative (or want to be). Enjoy learning. Love challenges/puzzles. Are disciplined (or have a plan in place to be) and you have a plan.
Bonus Tech Demo for my Twetch people, if you liked this blog post, show me some love!