A Day in the Life of a Lambda School Student
Jul 11, 2018

Welcome to the whiteboard Friday. As the co-founder and CEO of Lambda School, one of the most common questions I get is, “what does the typical day look like for a Lambda School student?”

Today, I’ll be walking you through what a day-in-the-life looks like for our students, so let’s jump in.


So the first thing we do on Monday morning when we show up is a “code challenge.” We'll be using the language that you've been learning during that section of the course. In the beginning that's JavaScript, later on it's C, and even later on it's Python. But really the code challenge is kind of a brain teaser. Something similar to what you'd see in a job interview. You'll show up and they'll give you a little puzzle that you need to solve so they can verify whether or not you actually understand algorithms, data structures, and the nuance of programming. We actually practice that every day.

After the code challenge, we do a code review. You'll have a Team Lead (or TL, what we call a teaching assistant) walk through how they would have solved the code challenge. Sometimes there are multiple ways to solve them.

After we've done the code challenge and the code review, we move into the lecture or the instruction part. Usually, along with the live instruction, there's a 15-minute review or introduction that you're supposed to watch on your own beforehand. But whether or not that's the case, after that's done we move into live instruction. Live instruction will be with your cohort, with an expert instructor and they're going to introduce a new objective.

Everything that we do at Lambda School is objective-based, and that means we start out when we're designing curriculum by talking to our hiring partners, by talking to employers, and figuring out what they really need Lambda School students to know in order to hire them. Then, we work backwards from those objectives and build it out into a curriculum. So every time that you show up at live instruction, the goal of that is actually to get you to understand and be able to do something. Not just understand some theoretical idea. Even if it's in the computer science section, which is a little more theoretical, we still practice and make sure that can actually perform the tasks that you'll need to do as a software engineer.

During live instruction, there are three phases. We call it "I do," "we do,” and "you do.” "I do" is when an instructor will introduce a new concept. They'll talk about how it works, they'll implement it, and they'll build something really simple.

Then we enter "we do.” In "we do”, you'll actually code alongside the instructor. You'll bring up the lecture on one side of your display, you'll have the other students talking over there, and then you'll have your code on the other side. You'll actually be implementing a different project as the instructor is talking, and that really gets you into the flow of building things. But, you can see how you should be building things, and you can wrap your mind around it a second time.

Then after that, we do what's called "you do,” and that is when you're turned loose to try to implement it on your own. We see if there are any missing gaps, and then we go back in after the "you do", we see if there is anything we need to re-teach. We make sure that you thoroughly understand what you need to know about that objective or topic.

Sometimes people ask us, "Oh, so Lambda School is basically just a bunch of videos online?" and that's definitely not the case. Everything that we do and almost all of your time is interactive. You're working with other people and the process of learning really requires that in order for you to cement topics. You need that feedback loop of you, the TLs, instructors, and other students. That's how you really learn. It's not just learning from a bunch of video lessons.


After that, we have lunch. Lunch is at 11 a.m. Pacific, which you know is a little bit later on the East Coast. By lunchtime, your brain will be turning to mush, and we really encourage you to get out, to go for a run, to hit the gym, to do something to break up the day. Something physical ideally, so that you can come back refreshed, energized and ready to do the second half of the day.

When you come back, you'll have a project. That project is based on the stuff that we learned during that day and it's a completely different assignment than what you've seen before. But now, it's your time to really test and try out and say, "Do I actually know how to do the things that we've been talking about?"

Another thing we want Lambda School students to understand is that there is live help available all day. There's more than enough staff to be able to respond to any requests instantly. We rarely see a request for help go longer than 10 seconds. That said, the goal of help isn't to just give you the answer. The goal of the help is to help you understand what pieces in your mental model are missing. To understand what you need to do, to be able to do what you need to do, and to help you come to that conclusion on your own to some degree. Sometimes that feels a little Socratic. Sometimes it feels like, “I know you know the answer, just give it to me.” But, working through that process is really, really important.

Something that you'll hear Lambda School staff and students say a lot is that at Lambda School, we don't teach you how to do things. We teach you how to think. We teach you how to learn things, and you'll hear that expressed frequently by Lambda School students when they're getting close to graduation. When they see something they've never approached before, maybe it's a new programming language, maybe it's a new API that they've never touched, they understand how to think through that from first principles and learn what they need to do. That's what an engineer's job really is. You'll spend most of your time learning how to do something new, and relatively less time implementing things that you already understand. That process is very, very critical.

Then, after that project, at the end of the day we have a stand up, or a team meeting. In that stand up, you'll again meet with your little group of students. It's usually a really small group. You'll go over your project, you'll have a small code review, and we see where you're stuck, where you need help and try to fill in any final missing gaps to make sure that you can complete the objective of that day. That is the average day from Monday through Thursday. 

You're going to end the day mentally exhausted. You're going to learn faster than you've ever been able to learn before. You're going to be shocked at how quickly you've learned and are able to process, maintain, implement new knowledge, and build new things.

After Hours

From 6 to 8 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have what we call "After Hours.” This is an optional review where every section has an open QA/review where they talk about the stuff that they've been learning that week. One of the really cool things about After Hours is that you don't necessarily have to stay with what your cohort is learning that week. Maybe you need a review of something that you should have learned a month ago, that you need a refresher on. You can go ahead and jump into that review. Maybe you want a preview of what's happening up ahead, you can jump into that review. That's really just kind of your own time to understand what's going on, to ask questions, and make sure that you have a full understanding of all the things that we've been going over.

The second unique thing we do on Thursdays toward the end of the day is what we call “Feynman Hour.” Feynman is a famous physicist and we model a lot of our pedagogical methodologies after what he discovered about how people think and how they learn. One of the things that Feynman talks about a lot is that the best way to learn is to be able to teach.

So, in Feynman hour, students that are say, two months into the program are going to try to teach students that are four months into the program what they learned that week. This serves as a review for one party. Really, one of the best ways to learn something is by being able to teach it. Then, the reverse will happen as well where another student will teach back and you'll get kind of a preview of what's happening up ahead. But most importantly, being able to think through all of the topics and everything that you need to understand in order to be able to teach it to somebody else makes you much, much better.

Sprint Challenges

In my opinion the most important day of the week at Lambda School is Friday. Friday is when you're given an opportunity, in what we call the Sprint Challenge, to show us and yourself what you've learned during the week. You'll be using all of the objectives and all of the topics that you've covered during the week to do one final, larger project.

Brown Bags

After the Sprint Challenge time, we have what we call a brown bag. That's an optional lecture or discussion. We'll bring somebody in from industry that is an expert and they'll talk about what they do and how they do it. Sometimes we'll talk about how to quickly move from being a junior engineer to a senior engineer, or how to really contribute to a team. Sometimes, it's an additional deep dive on salary negotiation, and sometimes it's going to be people just showing you something new that you've never seen before in the world of software. It’s optional, but it's a really cool way to see get a sense of what's happening out in the world, meet some people that come in from different companies, and understand what different companies are working on.\

Sprint Review

After the brown bag we have what we call a Sprint Review, and that is when you'll have a full code review. We'll go through your code, we'll see what you're missing, we'll see what you did well, and we'll give you a very frank assessment of where you are relative to where you need to be. Now, there's some times when we're doing a sprint review and we discover that we missed something, or that something wasn't fully understood during the week, and that is where Lambda School becomes really, really special. We will both assign additional resources, to help make sure that you understand those things as we go forward, or sometimes it makes sense that there's something that we weren't really grasping and we need another shot at teaching it.

We use something called mastery-based progression, and if we discover during a sprint review that there's a lot of things from this week that are not just not clicking, instead of forcing you to move on and be more and more confused, we will actually just roll you back a week. On Monday you'll come in and you'll start the whole week over again – this is called “flexing.” Our mastery-based progression model where you don't move on unless you fully grasp a concept is something that no educator would argue against. Everybody understands that that is the best way to truly learn, it's just frankly expensive and hard to do and that's one of the times when we see how important it is at Lambda School that our incentives are aligned with yours. Frankly, it's really expensive to do mastery-based progression. It takes a lot of extra effort and coordination on our end to make sure that everybody can repeat the material that they need to as often as they need to, but we need to do that so that we know that any Lambda School graduate has a stamp of approval, that we say "Yes, this person is absolutely ready to go get a job". When our hiring partners come and talk to us, or when somebody comes and says "Hey, do Lambda School students know XYZ, can they perform in these scenarios?", we can adamantly say yes.


At the end of almost every lecture and definitely at the end of every week, the way that we learn how you're feeling and how you're doing is we have feedback. We have a feedback period every lesson, and we have it every sprint, which is a week long. We have it tied to instructors, we have it tied to your project managers and section leads, and these feedback cycles are a way for Lambda School to really easily see at-a-glance what we're missing. One of the most important things that makes Lambda School great is how quickly we can receive and iterate on that feedback. When we get that feedback, if there's something that's unclear we will address that and within a week, that lecture, or that unit has already been retaught.

Lambda School just gets better and better as we go. If you're a student, please use the feedback form. That's one of the things that makes Lambda School great. Please leave very brutally honest feedback. You won't hurt our feelings.

Whether or not you're a Lambda School student, we'd love to hear your thoughts! Please leave something in the comments below make sure to like this video and subscribe to the channel to get more videos like this. Have an idea for a Whiteboard Friday video? Tweet at us!

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