Lambda AMA: When will I get a job? Do you hire your own students? What’s up with project managers?

Caleb Hicks
Caleb Hicks
May 10 2018
This is our first post in a new series we’re calling Lambda AMA, or Ask Me Anything. Every week we’ll answer one to three questions from applicants, students, or anyone else. Follow @LambdaSchool on Twitter to catch future posts.
If you have a question, use the hashtag #LambdaAMA on Twitter. If you’re an applicant or student you can also submit questions in the #LambdaAMA channel in Slack.

Hi, my name’s Caleb Hicks, I’ve been working in career and technical education for the past ten years, and I came to Lambda School in October after working on Apple’s Everyone Can Code program. I work with our instruction team on curriculum development and instructional design to make sure our students land great jobs, and I’ll be answering the questions this week.

If you want to find out more about Lambda School and how we work, check out LambdaSchool.com.

Alright, on to this week’s questions:

Q: When should I expect to get a job after attending Lambda School?

A: This is a fantastic question, and it usually tells me that an applicant or a student is carefully planning their future based on their current life situation.

It’s hard to give a universal answer, because it depends on a lot of variables — your previous work experience, where you live, your willingness to relocate, and your network — that aren’t directly tied to learning or technical skill. What I can say, after five years in this industry, is that students who show up and do the work get jobs. Sometimes it takes three weeks, sometimes it takes three months. In some cases, it can be to 4–6 months or longer.

So what’s the difference between the student who lands a job in three weeks vs a student who takes 3–6 months? Almost always, it’s a combination of the following:

The student has a preexisting network in the tech industry, or spends significant time building one during class.

He or she may have friends or family that work in the industry, is active in local meet ups or code nights, or attends industry conferences. Or if the student didn’t already have a network, he or she has spent time during class building one.

We help students get involved with their local developer communities, and we show students how to build their network organically using informational interviews. Informational interviews give students a framework for spending 15–30m with someone at a company they might want to work for, asking informal questions about that person’s career and role in the company, and asking for advice. These interviews help students who don’t already have a technical professional network begin to develop one, opening a world of opportunities.

The student loves what they do, and it shows.

He or she builds additional features on assigned projects, or works on side projects outside of class (when life circumstances permit). The student explores new languages, frameworks, or technologies and isn’t afraid to ask questions to further their understanding.

We add “stretch goals” to every student project to encourage students to explore and go above and beyond within the scope of the current unit. We cover a lot of ground, and we want our students to live balanced lives, so we don’t expect every student to do every stretch goal, but the students who regularly attempt stretch goals, or invent their own, are often those who land jobs quickly.

The student has built a portfolio that demonstrates understanding of in-demand skills.

He or she has live projects that solve real problems, and makes the code available for public review. He or she can speak to all of the technical decisions made to build the projects, and describe challenges they faced and how they solved them.

In the tech industry, if you can contribute to a project, you can get a job. If you can’t, you won’t. We tell our students that they’ll need two, polished, functional projects to get in the door for an interview.

In the past, students who’ve attended Lambda School have worked on at least three projects that can go in their portfolio. Beginning with our most recent cohort, students who attend Lambda School will build at least six projects for their portfolio. The first five come from one-week project sprints that are spread throughout the curriculum. The last comes from our software apprenticeship program called Lambda Labs. Students in Labs build and ship real projects under the direction of experienced engineers. We open-source the code and host the projects forever so students will always have a live, active portfolio piece.

Job-seeking graduates are invited to stay in Lambda Labs to build on their portfolio as long as it takes for them to get a job. Those who take advantage don’t stay long.

The student has learned how to learn, and is flexible in the tech stack.

He or she can take any feasible technical requirement, and use their experience to define scope, research tools, read documentation, build sample projects, and implement the required feature in a real project–unafraid of picking up a new tech stack.

Our Full Stack Web Development course focuses on a JavaScript using React, Node, and MongoDB. But during the Computer Science semester, students focus on applying their knowledge using new languages or frameworks. They work on lower level technical problems with C, and see how other languages and frameworks solve similar problems when they build a project using Python and Django.

All the while, students are practicing the fundamentals of how to learn. Students who show up, practice, and complete every project are able to ramp up with new technologies in a matter of days or weeks, making them great candidates for any company looking to hire a new developer.

The student acts like a professional, and works well with others.

He or she shows up every day, works reliably, and delivers on time. The student writes with proper grammar and punctuation, uses appropriate language. He or she works well with others and responds well to feedback, and is respectful of others with different backgrounds.

Students at Lambda School follow a full-day schedule and are held accountable for attendance, participation, and successful completion of assigned projects. Our Student Success team works closely with students to set clear expectations, and provide learning and work strategies to improve when needed.

Students also learn how to work well with others during pair programming, daily team meetings, and during group projects. In the unfortunate cases where students aren’t able to work productively with others, we work closely with the student to identify the root issues and address them.

In any case of unprofessionalism, we protect the learning environment. We have a zero tolerance policy for racism, sexism, and other offensive or disrespectful interactions with fellow students, staff, or guests.

We don’t just care about your first job, but about your entire new career. We cover the fundamentals of Career Development during Lambda Labs, where our Career Coaches teach workshops on informational interviews, building professional networks, resumes, interview techniques, and how to advance your career once you land a job. Our Career Coaches continue to work with students after they graduate to land a job and advance their career for years to come.

Q: Do you hire your own students at Lambda School to pad your hiring statistics?

A: We hire a number students as teaching assistants for 15 week contracts before they enter Lambda Labs, the last month of class where students work on pre-specced capstone level portfolio projects in a dev shop environment. The students who work as Teaching Assistants support newer students by answering questions, pair programming, facilitating small group meetings, and doing regular one on one code reviews.

After students complete their contracts they return to Labs, complete a project, graduate from the program, and begin looking for jobs like every other student. When we report placement rates, those students are included with the class they finished with.

We will never count students working for Lambda School in our hiring statistics.

Q: What’s the deal with Teaching Assistants or Project Managers?

This question comes from one of our students in Slack:

A: In the previous question, I said that we hire a number of students as teaching assistants. Inside Lambda School, and to our students, we call these teaching assistants Project Managers to more closely simulate the workplace, and to better describe the relationship we hope exists between students and their teaching assistant.

In the workplace, great project managers inspire, provide direction, remove blockers, and help the team succeed however they can. We want all of those same attributes in the teaching assistants working with our students.

Project managers work directly with students to review code, answer questions, pair program, and run weekly one on one code reviews. Project managers also run a daily team meeting with their assigned students, where students share a regular standup report, and they review the day. We generally hire one project manager for every eight students we have in a given class.

Project managers are almost always current Lambda School students, who are hired just before entering Lambda Labs to work on their capstone projects. Students who are interested in working as a project manager apply for the position, go through a staff review and two interviews, and are hired on 15 week contracts.

If hired, the student will not complete the course with the cohort they began with, and instead will spend the 15 weeks working with a new cohort just beginning a new section. When the contract is finished, the project manager returns to Lambda Labs as a student to finish their coursework, build a capstone project, and complete the Career Development workshops before graduating.

With our new 30 week schedule, the project manager may spend their 15 week contract with a new cohort just beginning at Lambda School, or a cohort that is just beginning the second half of class.

Project managers get to revisit material, build their skills solving problems, and just spent more time working with code before they graduate. Here are a few comments from some of our current project managers:

The biggest thing for me was seeing the material again, and helping the students learn and debug the code helped me get a lot better of an understanding with just about every concept.
 Chris Atoki, CS3 student, CS8 Section Lead, Projected CS6 Graduate
The Lambda School education is a tremendous experience that creates an endless line of opportunity for it’s students. It feels great to be a part of providing that experience to incoming students while staying close to the ever expanding material. Lambda’s culture is something that every student is looking for in their future. It feels a lot like joining a big family that shares the responsibility of making the student experience as great as it can be.
 Alex Figliola, CS4 Student, CS9 Project Manager, Projected CS6 Graduate
I like being a PM because I get to help create Lambda culture and contribute to a community that I believe in. Lambda afforded me an opportunity that I couldn’t have otherwise had and I see this as a way to pay it forward to others.
 Susanna McDonald, CS4 Student CS9 Project Manager AIMLDS1 Section Lead

If you have more specific questions around our Project Manager program, let us know.