My Journey to Lambda School

For the past several months, I have been doing a lot of research and investigation into coding bootcamps.  Why exactly have I decided to enroll in a coding bootcamp in the first place?  Isn’t this blog and website about my passion to become an expert in Amazon Web Services?   Why am I now talking about coding bootcamps?

Well, I found that there was a major gap in my learning of AWS.  As I strove to figure out how to build solutions in AWS, I found that nearly all the solutions pretty much require some degree of coding and software development.  Whether it is creating Lambda functions, to writing Cloud Formation Templates, to Python scripting, to understanding the Software Development Lifecycle so you can build out CI/CD pipelines, there is a huge role that software development fundamentals has to play.  Whenever I tried to understand AWS architectures and attempt to build one out from scratch, or following a tutorial, I noticed that there was some type of code involved that was “prewritten” for you in order to build out the application.  I also was receiving a lot of job descriptions from employers in AWS types of roles.  These roles often times mentioned that experience in programming languages is either a requirement or highly recommended.

These are some of the reasons why my focus has shifted to coding and software development, in order to become a solid Cloud Engineer.  Cloud Engineering is a broad field, and there are many different areas you can focus on when talking about the Cloud.

I started my coding journey by doing online tutorials, like codeacademy, and freecodecamp, udacity and coursera.  I wasn’t sure what language to focus on, but because I noticed that Python was in demand with a lot of jobs working with AWS, and due to its ease of use, I thought to focus on Python.  But as I was doing the online tutorials, I noticed that I wasn’t developing any solid foundation in coding.  I was doing a lot of jumping around for tutorial to tutorial, and learning about what is in demand and not, and the methodology to take was not clear to me.  I basically spent a lot of time spinning wheels.

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I would attend various meetups on meeetup.com, and I attended a few intro to softwaredevelopment courses.  There was a meetup held by the

Iron Yard, and another one by Coding Dojo.

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I found out they offer intensive 12 -14 week coding boot camps full time, and I was immediately attracted to the idea of focusing full time on this stuff.  It would be just the thing I need to give me structure and focus to my learning.  But after asking the price, I was a little shocked.  I don’t have a full time job, how on earth can I afford to spend $12,000 to do that?

Then I started doing some hard core research about different options available in the coding bootcamp space.  I spent hours upon hours just reading up and looking into different software engineering programs, and there are a ton of different options, believe you me!

The two main websites that provide a comprehensive list of coding bootcamps are at switchup and course report.  These are considered the “Yelp” of coding bootcamps.  They have great information about a lot of different schools and options.

One of the first programs that caught my attention was a program called Thinkful.  What attracted me about them was their tuition model.  They basically don’t require any payment up front, and you only have to start paying them once you get a full time job, after graduating from the program.  You have to pay 15% of you income for 3 years after landing your first software engineering job.  They also are completely online, which makes it convenient to learn from anywhere.  But at the time, I was thinking that an onsite option might be a better experience.  Thinkful also offers a 5 month program, which is quite a bit longer than other traditional 12 week programs, which was also another plus.  After investigating more, it turns out that Thinkful program is quite a bit pricey as compared to other programs.  Their justification for the price rides on the fact that there is a dedicated 1 : 1 mentor that you meet with on a consistent basis for the duration of the program.  But upon further research and testimonials, it turns out that a lot of the time spent with the required 1 : 1 meetings are not as productive as they could be.

I then went through a phase where I started looking for on site bootcamps because of my perceived notion that on site experiences are the best.  But this notion was dispelled by an informational session from the folks at Hack Reactor, another potential bootcamp I was looking into.  I talked with the TA quite a bit after the info session, and he was mentioning that the outcomes for the Hack Reactor program were identical online, as the onsite version was.  There is a good youtuber by the name of Tony Cassara.  He does some nice reviews of his experience at Hack Reactor.  I learned from him and other research that Hack Reactor is like the “harvard” of coding bootcamps, so I naturally wanted to see what all the hype was about.

Hack Reactor was recently acquired by another training company known as Galvanize, so now the program is known as “Hack Reactor @ Galvanize.”  They are primarily based out of San Fransisco and Austin, Texas.  They also have a completely online version of the program, which opens it up to the entire globe.  Their tuition is ~$18,000 and it must be paid up front or throughout the duration of the program if my memory suits me correctly.  There is no job guarantees or income share agreement that takes a percentage of your salary after you get a job, so there is added risk there.  But they have proven to be a solid coding school and boast a high industry recognition on linkedIn.

Because I was seriously considering Hack Reactor, I decided to take their Structured Study Program or SSP to get a flavor for how the curriculum is.  They have both a free and an immersive version of the SSP, where there is a community and slack channel available with daily meetings and coding challenges along with a live helpdesk to help you with the exercises.

Hack Reactor also places alot of emphasis on sticking only to one programming language, that is: Javascript.  They teach Javascript full stack throughout the program and they don’t tack on any other languages to worry about.  I felt this was a big plus as well, because once you understand how to code and the software engineering / problem solving mindset, then it becomes easier to pick up another language and syntax.

Overall, I found Hack Reactor’s SSP program to be worth the $250.  It was a great pre-bootcamp prep course.  I also now understand why they’re considered the “harvard”of coding bootcamps.  It’s because they require students to know quite a lot before getting accepted into the program.  The SSP is not an easy program.  It assumes you know the very basics and then quickly introduces quite complex concepts.  It is a fast moving course.  And to be honest, because of the lack of focus on the fundamentals of programming, I felt that it was no longer a good fit for what I’m looking for.

I’m basically looking for an intensive, comprehensive curriculum, that grounds you in the fundamentals of software engineering and coding.  Where I can take the time to ground myself in the basics, and thinking like a software developer.  The mindset and problem solving abilities do not come easily, and take time to build.   This is also the reason why I felt that I wanted something longer than only a three month coding bootcamp.  I felt 12 weeks wouldn’t be enough time to solidify my confidence and skills as a software developer, learning the stuff from scratch.

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This also ruled out my consideration of Coding Temple as a potential program.  Coding Temple is on site, based in Dallas, which is why I considered it.  And they have a completely python based curriculum, where they focus on Python for Web Development as well as Python for data science.  This made me unsure however, because I am not interested in doing data science, at least at this point in my career.  And also, 10 weeks simply seemed way to short as I mentioned.  The price wasn’t bad though at around $11k with flexible no interest financing options, being another key consideration in the program that I selected.  They do have a plus though with having extremely small class sizes, at around 5-6 people per cohort.

Another program I considered and interviewed for was put together by a University; Southern Methodist University (SMU).  Because they are based in Dallas, I gave them a shot.  They basically offer a 6 month part time Software Engineering program for $10,000.  They learn a variety of technologies, from javascript to Ruby to I believe other technologies.  The recruiter mentioned that they end up building 14 – 20 projects throughout the duration of the program.  The info session was quite appealing, and I was seriously considering the SMU bootcamp because of it’s prestiege being a University backed program, and being on site, so I could have the true immersive experience.  But the timings was something that through me off, with it being 3 times a week in the evenings from 6:30 pm – 9:30 p.m.  I personally am ready for a full time program, where I’m going at it full time, due to not having full time employment at the moment.

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I also looked at some longer programs, that were to my delight available.  There’s Make School and Holbertson School, both on site and based out of San Fransisco.  These programs are 2 year programs, and are considered Applied Bachelor Degrees in Computer Science.  The price tags also reflect a college education.  The difference is with these however, you don’t have to pay up front.  You get a percentage taken from your salary, which makes the costs definitely more digestible.

With Holbertson School, there is no teachers.  Everything is self taught, with you working with your peers to ‘figure stuff out’.  While being able to learn on your own is an important skill in Software Engineering, I feel that the fundamentals do need to be taught until a foundation is established.  Once the foundation is there, then self teaching and Googling makes more sense.   But anyways, these programs were a little more extensive than what I was looking for, especially since I learned that Make School requires the students to take gen-ed humanities courses, where you are really gaining a bachelors degree.  Because I already have a Bachelors, these became no-goes.

This also ruled out another very interesting program, known as Launch School.  I wasImage result for launch school logo
considering doing this along with another bootcamp that do, because the program is self paced and completely online.  The price was also right at around $200 / month until you finish the program.  They advertise that it should take between 8-16 months to complete the foundational curriculum, and they have an advanced curriculum as well, and even an optional capstone on site program as icing on the cake.  But what is stopping me from pursuing the Launch School route at least as supplemental material is the fact that they are based in Ruby as well.  Because I already completed some basic foundations in primarly Javascript and a little Python on the side, at this stage adding a new language would only confuse my organization of the syntax.  Maybe later after I’ve solidified one syntax, would Launch school be a nice additional resource.  What attracts me to Launch school is their focus on the Mastery Based Progression Model of learning.  That is their bread and butter.  They have a major focus on fundamentals, and not moving on to learn fancy frameworks.  They keep reiterating and thrive on the point that you can only move on once you have mastered every fundamental topic, which frankly is an appealing model in my mind.  But learning Ruby along side Javascript as I have been doing with the Hack Reactor SSP and Freecodecamp just doesn’t work for me at this time.

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There were other’s I evaluated as well, like Flatiron school, App Academy, General Assembly, & Tech Academy.  Props to FlatIron school for the animated logo.  Flatiron instructs in Ruby, which I already mentioned was something I ruled out.  A nice perk with FlatIron school is that they provide you with a complimentary membership at WeWork, a really nice coworking facility.  They are opening up a new location in Dallas in 2019.

Image result for App academy logoApp Academy was a potential because of it’s longer length model of 6 months, and with a guarantee that you will get a job after completing the program or you don’t have to pay.  Their language of choice however was Ruby, and I basically wanted to learn Python over Ruby for the purposes of AWS.

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I had my heart set on an onsite program, General Assembly in Dallas was a definite contender.  I went through the applciation process, and it was a pretty intensive one, where I got the chance to build 3 cool websites from scratch.  They also teach Javascript and Python, which also was a big plus. They even have an ISA (Income Share Agreement) which financially makes it approachable, but the program is your typical 12 week bootcamp style.  Again, if there is something longer, I would prefer that over doing a 12 week program which is the classic standard bootcamp length.

Tech Academy was one of the first bootcamps I looked at.  They are a completely self-paced bootcamp, and they allow you 40 weeks of full time access to the course.  If you need more time to complete the program, you have to pay for additional access to the materials.  I even had a chat with some of the graduates of the program, and they all were saying decent things about it.  I wasn’t interested in a completely self paced bootcamp however, and the idea of paying more for time wasn’t something that sat very well with me.

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This lead me to Lambda School.  I actually became acquainted with it early on in the bootcamp hunt, but I wanted to save the best for last 🙂 .  Lambda School is a full time coding school, that is completely online, and it is now 9 months long!  It is the longest program I’ve come across, aside from the applied bachelor degree programs.  They teach full stack javascript and they also go into Computer Science Fundamentals, where they teach about algorithms and data structures.  In the CS portion of the program, they teach the C programming language, as well as Python.  They also use the ISA tuition model, where there’s no tuition up front and no payments due until you’re making a full time salary as a software engineer.  That takes the risk off the student.  They also have a good prep course of the fundamentals of html/css/javascript that you take before applying, which is 8 days in length.  After the course, you take the Lambda Challenge and do a cultural fit interview with the admissions team.  Then they notify you of your acceptance into the program.

What really shines about Lambda School is that they seem to be extremely focused on student outcomes.  They really want to do everything they can to graduate the most capable software engineers.  This is my perception after doing a lot of research and watching videos of students, etc.  What also stands out is their job placement program, known as Lambda Next.  I’m not sure how it will be now that the program is 9 months long, but Lambda Next happens after Lambda school is over.  Lambda Next is where you are full time working with the job placement team to work on your resume, white-boarding and interview practice, applying to jobs and contributing to open source projects.  Lambda doesn’t leave you to yourself to do the job hunting.  It is integrated into their program!  I found this to be unique to Lambda School.  Also, since being accepted to Lambda School, they have companies presenting to the students of Lambda school nearly every day of the week.  I love attending these sessions where I get a chance to learn about different companies and options I can apply to after or during my time at Lambda School.  It seems that Lambda school has a really strong company outreach team that is able to make great relationships with prestigious companies.  Some of the company presentations I attended so far are, IBM & Uber.  Not only do big companies present, but you also get the chance to learn about small startups and the exciting stuff their doing.  These company presentations make going to Lambda School feel really exciting.

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