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Lambda School’s Misleading Promises (nymag.com)
406 points by uptown 8 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 240 comments



I'm not a fan of bootcamps because I think a lot of them are more focused on making money than actually helping people who need help.

Last year I decided to take action and started a free coding group at our local library: https://www.meetup.com/San-Jose-C0D3

I show up before work every day (M-F at 8am) to help students who are learning how to code. So far no students have gotten a job yet, but our group consistently gets 4-8 students who show up promptly at 8am. I answer their questions, give them guidance, and teach them best practices I follow as a software engineer with 10 years of work experience. I ask for nothing in return except the joy of students going "ahhh" when something clicked for them.

Things are still early for us, but my dream is to inspire other software engineers to help create a free and open learning center at their local libraries so people have an alternative to coding bootcamps.


FAANGM has left us with an impression that if you build a decent product you will magically make so much money that you can divert portions of it to a fancy office, great salaries, open source and other philanthropic causes, with no consequences. The truth is few industries carry that much of a margin especially when VC, founders, and seniors, take so much off the top.

It's my opinion that some companies should never be done for profit, particularly Political Tech but also other social tech including portions of ed tech.

These industries should be left for FI/RE folks who are rewarded with various social credits, like awards, tax credits, and peer validation.


This is awesome! I love hearing that others are doing this. I do something similar but I run after school clubs. I work mostly with 5th through 8th graders and run clubs 5 days per week in 5 different local schools.

It is a lot of work but so rewarding and I feel it has made me a better developer. I myself have learned so much from doing it. I have met so many amazing kids & parents too and it's made me a much bigger part of my community.


I love hearing stories like this, and I feel what you feel. Definitely rewarding and fun, playing a bigger part in your local community feels amazing.


This is really inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

Few questions if you do not mind:

1. How did you broadcast your Meetup to your students?

2. It looks like you have students pull lessons from a repo. Do you find it challenging to manage a handful of students who are all at different places in your lessons?

3. How do you avoid burnout?

4. Do you plan on open sourcing your lessons?


Thanks for asking!

1. I simply created the meetup group. Showed up, people came. It was empty the first week couple of days, I just made it a point to show up. When there were no people, I simply just read hn or did some work. When the first student came, I made sure to be nice so he feels inspired to come back. The library took note, wanted to make it official with their library program and give us a dedicated room / parking even though we only have 4 consistent students. (Libraries love it when tech community volunteers to help teach).

2. I was honest with students that I can't help everyone and my time is limited (though I try). If they helped each other it would make my life easier. They have been good at helping each other.

3. I don't understand burnout, I'm guessing it's a symptom of ambition and expectations (I'm really not sure because I've never understood it. If I experienced it previously I never noticed). I just make sure to have no expectations. All I hold myself accountable for is to show up. If I did something wrong I apologize and move on, there's no point beating myself up over anything. I don't have big ambitions to make millions and millions, I just want physically show up for people who need help.

4. Yes. I want to open source it completely, such that if people wanted to repackage it into their own bootcamp they have the freedom to do so (not sure what license that would be, but I'm not at that point yet). Right now I just document everything in notion: https://www.notion.so/garagescript/Table-of-Contents-a83980f...


> If I did something wrong I apologize and move on, there's no point beating myself up over anything. I don't have big ambitions to make millions and millions, I just want physically show up for people who need help.

This is such a good mindset and, knowing myself and those around me, a rare one.


Appreciate you taking the time to answer.

I am really into what you are building here - are you looking for volunteers to help?


Yeah! We are always needing help. Just consistently show up if you are around the area and answer questions. Or signup and go through help people in the chatroom! The instructions are here: https://www.notion.so/Table-of-Contents-a83980f81560429faca3...

Basically... if you are a seasoned engineer, just going through what we are working with and being curious about it and understanding our approach is really helpful.

What wouldn't be helpful is to show up (in person or online), try to implement a bunch of new changes without understanding the current student journey, and then don't follow through. The intention is good, but I think the students end up more confused.


In the Netherlands (and by now a couple of other countries, I believe), there's a similar initiative called HackYourFuture [1], in which professional developers volunteer to teach refugees to code. This contributes to solving both to the lack of developers, and the challenges refugees face in contributing to the country they migrated to. It's really gratifying, and with volunteer sessions being limited to three Sundays in a row every now and then, less taxing than going there before work every day.

[1] https://www.hackyourfuture.net/program/


This is fantastic!

Other posts here are suggesting the choice is either a commercial school like Lambda or Harvard, so it's also worth noting that there is a whole range of options for folks.

Obviously, there are public and community colleges that teach programming. Many of these have a long history of working with non-traditional students who have jobs or other commitments. Some are remote-only or remote-friendly. In my state (GA), tuition for an accredited public community college is about $6,000 over 2 years for a programming diploma. That's $3,000 per year, and there's no income share required. (I'm not sure if people can do it faster for less money.)

There are also a set of nonprofits and foundations that offer free programming programs to certain populations. I believe NYC has something along these lines.


> Other posts here are suggesting the choice is either a commercial school like Lambda or Harvard

These are very much not the same. For profit schools have an incentive to get more students through while maintaining an acceptable level of quality because that way they make more money. Non-profits have much less motivation to make more money. If they get more applications than they want to fill their prestige goes up as does the quality of their student body. So you see the top US universities having more or less the same size student bodies as when there were 200m people living in the US.

Non-profits optimise for a pleasant work environment for faculty, for profits for maximum numbers students.


> Non-profits optimize for a pleasant work environment for faculty

Some do, some don't. Some Non-profits optimize for maximize impact to their vision.

> for profits for maximum numbers students.

Some do, some don't. Some for-profits optimize a small number of wealthy clients.


Please tell me of these non-profit schools that maximise for impact to their vision, or for-profit schools that optimise for small numbers of wealthy clients.


Sorry, in all honestly I don't know enough back my previous claims, I'm speaking from my personal perspective (which may be biased).

Some of the regular students that come into the library lives off non-profit assistance and one is homeless. They speak highly of local nonprofits providing them food / shelter. I've volunteered at a few shelters that were impactful (don't know them by name unfortunately, I'm too privileged). Staff there definitely didn't have the comforts I have at my current work place.

I spent a chunk of my childhood growing up in Beverly Hills around some peers whose parents run profitable businesses. They have always valued few wealthy clients over many average clients.

Again, take my experience with a grain of salt, I'm not interested enough to prove this point.


I wasn’t talking about generic for profits and non profits. I was talking about those which provide education. The incentives are very different.

Good on you for responding and explaining your reasoning.


> I'm not a fan of bootcamps because I think a lot of them are more focused on making money than actually helping people

This idea doesn't pass a common sense test to me - I'm sure bootcamps can be profitable, but the people running them are used to building things that scale. Bootcamps definitely don't scale. If these tech people were looking to get-rich-quick they surely wouldn't be running a school, of all things, even a profitable one.


I did some back-of-the-envelope numbers on the one I came into contact with previously (also keep in mind this was 6 years ago now too!):

20-30x students per cohort who paid ~$20K upfront for a 12 week program. 20% signing fee (based on 1st year comp) from employer on placement.

We definitely were not paying top of market as some of these students ended up at Uber and Facebook. That said the all in 1st year cost between base + signing bonus + equity wasn't much short of $200K. So:

30 * $20K + 28 * $200K * 20% = $1.72M/cohort

As for outgoings, all of the mentors were volunteers. As were most of the instructors. The content is mostly a one-time sunk cost to produce and is redelivered across cohorts. The largest overhead would have been a building lease. The biggest constraint on growth is how large you can make a cohort or how many cohorts you run (either multiple per year, or opening new locations).

Really felt like a bit of a racket that had found what was almost an arbitrage: between the inability of Bay Area companies to find local talent, the huge costs and risk associated trying to relocate people via H1B, and the desire for people to re-skill at any cost because tech jobs/salaries were distorting everything else in their city.

Sure it's not a $1B outcome. It's a pretty profitable and repeatable business, and especially given the limited downside risk (mostly carried by the students, who've already paid).


I've had a look at the books at a few different types of training style companies and the economics are always grim. It's one of those businesses where to the outsider, it's impossible to believe they're not spinning off unbelievable amounts of cash but they are always pretty marginal.

As additional evidence for this, the number of 1B+ exits in this space can be counted on one hand. General Assembly, for example, was acquired for ~$400M and it was one of the largest players. There was a player from Utah whose name eludes me now that had a, I think, ~$2B exit but that might be the only one.


> There was a player from Utah whose name eludes me now that had a, I think, ~$2B exit but that might be the only one.

Are you thinking of Instructure? They're based in Salt Lake City, and Marketwatch gives their current market cap as $1.86B


Yeah, I'm pretty sure that was the one, thanks!


if you think 28 out of 30 enrollee's in every cohort getting 200k as their first gig is a repeatable business, you are delusional.


Why don't you think schools can scale? You need instructional material and the equivalent of professors/lecturers and TAs. Instructional material scales really well; that's what textbooks and MOOCs are. Professors scale well; otherwise 100 plus lectures wouldn't work at all. They obviously do. Intro classes in the huge majority of US universities are in the 100-600 range. I wouldn't be surprised if there are bigger. So the only possible limiting factor that might not scale is TAs. You can render this irrelevant by having high enough standards for entry, like GA Tech's OMSCS, or you can work on scaling it.

There are definitely people who can do a challenging Master's degree with minimal help and feedback, just books, marked essay assignments and a final written exam. This is a model that's as old as the University of London. TAs and structure will increase the proportion of those who start who actually finish.

What about running a school obviously doesn't scale?


> So the only possible limiting factor that might not scale is TAs. You can render this irrelevant by having high enough standards for entry, like GA Tech's OMSCS, or you can work on scaling it.

They said bootcamps don't scale, not that education or schools as a whole doesn't scale. And your solution of raising the entry requirements so only people who can teach themselves can attend is proving their point. Someone who can teach themself isn't going to pay to go to a bootcamp, but people who want to switch careers and can't figure it out without help, will.


Bootcamps are a kind of school. If we agree that schools can scale why should bootcamps specifically not be able to scale?

I mentioned two solutions, raising entry standards and providing greater support. There are people who can teach themselves. There are very few people who can teach themselves as fast and as well in a self-directed environment as they can learn with a real curriculum and some feedback on their work. If you are confident you can teach yourself in two years or reach the same level of employability after nine months of Lambda School the latter looks pretty good even at $30K once you get a job paying over $50K.


It is dubious to me that 40+ lectures work well (especially with first year students).


I didn't say they work well. But they definitely work. And you can take an existing crappy partial solution like video lectures, and add support structures until you have something that in aggregate works as well as a university course. Plain vanilla MOOCs work well for a small minority, about 10% now, when no one cares at all about them. If you can't quadruple that by actually trying I'd be very surprised.


IMHO we should aim at better than 40%, and I doubt that can be done without actual presence ?


Why do you believe that the folks running bootcamps are "tech people" themselves? If they weren't, would the profit notice make sense?


Well they must at least be aware of the tech scene and how it works, since they're working closely with it.


But they’re not. They’re salesmen selling a product to uneducated people.

There’s no requirement they be part of the “tech scene” ... whatever that is.


> “tech scene” ... whatever that is

The companies they're trying to get people hired into.


wouldn't be surprised if there's typically a "finance" guy making profit driven/marketing decisions pulling emotional strings on a the (willingly) naive "entrepreneur" partner


This is very generous, to donate your time like this. Just wanted to say you are doing a very good thing.


I tried to do something similar, but more as a mentoring program. I’ve been thinking about trying to do that with my company (having us mentor people outside the company—as a recruiting tool).

One thing I suggest is focus on code reviews for your students. I think that’s the best way to tech programming. They’ve already taken a stab at something, so writing comments on how it can be done better and why that way is better is much more useful than a lecture about something abstract.


You nailed it. I focus on code reviews and I agree that its the best way to teach programing. It teaches them how to structure their code to be maintainable. Just getting it to work is not good enough, you have to think about the engineer who is going to take over your code one day.


As someone making a somewhat-late-in-life career change (foisted upon me, of course), thanks for the site!

I'm not a beginner coder, but I haven't worked on projects in a team environment before, so I signed up on c0d3.com hoping to gain some experience.

Any pointers?


Not sure what pointers you are looking for, but you can start by saying hi in the chatroom.

If you think it is helpful, you can breeze through the lessons and exercises so you know / understand how other students use the curriculum, then work with the more senior students as a team on c0d3.com and build features to make it better. Proudly put all your contributions (features, mentoring work, authoring work - if you contributed to the course material) on your resume.


This is very cool! How did you choose the curriculum that you are following?


I made it over time based on observations with my coworkers and my personal work experience (I'm currently a tech lead at PayPal, formerly L4 at Google). What I want to do is to teach people to become good engineers, getting a job should be a side effect of that.

I think mainstream bootcamps value getting a job more than actually becoming a good engineer, which is something I disagree with. This also motivates me to show up at the library every day.


If neither you nor universities think that getting a job is more important than becoming a "good engineer" (whatever that means), then who is left to fill this void but the bootcamps you disagree with?


I think if a bootcamp is good enough, it will feed people directly into jobs (possibly without even a technical interview). This is my dream, I have no idea how realistic it is. My library experience (and my work experience) is one giant experience to find out.

If I find some great engineers in the library and bring them into my team directly, will they do good work? If they prove to do good engineering, would it be a sustainable model to hire directly from our volunteer program?

If this works out, we could replicate this model in other public libraries as well.

The comments above are my moonshot ideas, I'm currently experimenting to see if it can be possible.


Thank you for the inspiration. I'm tempted now to start doing the same myself.


Do it! We can share ideas :)

You can reach me via email: library at zheng.network


This is such a great demonstration of the value of public libraries.


Kudos to you for your actions. Much respect.


I've had a fair amount of experience with coding boot camps having have helped several friends and coworkers apply, get accepted, attend, and complete bootcamps across various cities and institutions.

The idea of bootcamps is fantastic, they allow people that may have not been exposed to computer science to get up to speed on technology and transition careers.

However, there are several problems. First and foremost, while 3-6-9 months are great when you are going from zero knowledge, the challenge is that isn't enough time to really be a junior developer unless you have prior experience. So you will need to continue to augment your education after graduation to ensure that you get a well paying job.

Most people attending bootcamps are doing so after college and later in life, which means even though some bootcamps are cheaper than attending a semester or a full year of college they are still quite expensive because the students are not "students" in that they are usually adults and need to figure out how to pay for school, attend classes, while effectively receiving zero income.

And applying for loans is much more complex because this isn't the same as taking out student debt for college.

The second issue is that all of these bootcamps say that they are for beginners with zero knowledge, but looking over their curriculums that simply isn't the case. Software engineering has gotten much more complex over the past decade. When I first started fumbling around with it myself I could just write some PHP or Perl code, and get up and running quickly. Today you need to know about github, javascript libraries, frameworks, and the typical "Hello World" application isn't a direct route.

Most of these schools don't realize that their first students are already exposed to these concepts, but later students aren't so they don't really adjust their curriculum.

With lambda in particular it also is a bit confusing because the school is online. Which should mean that you are able to provide the service for a lower cost, but they are charging the same amount as in person physically attended schools.

There are a lot of deceptive practices in the industry, lambda isn't alone, such as taking recent grads and giving them low paying jobs as TA (teacher assistants) so that they can provide help to students at a lower cost while also allowing the school to claim that they have higher placement.

The curriculums are really dependent on a per school basis, but I have seen a bunch of stuff that simply doesn't make sense and makes it more challenging for students.

One school had students do a group project, which wouldn't count as part of their final for the first "mod" of the school. However they continued to teach things that you need for the final which would be a personal project. If you got assigned to a bad team you would be working much slower and not able to keep up and then your final which has nothing to do with a group determines whether you proceed or repeat the course (they charge you to repeat). Also it's important to note that 50% of the students didn't pass the first mod, which means you have a 50% chance of being on a slow team that would hamper your learning. Their advice was that it is important to learn to pair, and I agree, but when you get to your first job you are pairing with people that have experience, not where your partner has a 50% chance of failing out.

I firmly believe that bootcamps and providing secondary education choices are essential and if done correctly can really begin to combat the monopoly that colleges hold over education, but it's a challenging mission.

With education there are student loans that you can take out and I think that is essential to get this going in the US because it is simply impossible for most people to not have any income and still pay for schooling for even 6 months, much less a longer period of time.

The other challenge is that you really need to have 3 terms. Beginner, intermediate, advanced. Each student can then apply based on skill set to determine where they place and students can move from one to the next, with each section being 4-5 months. If you did 15 months of education you would be much better off than what the school provides. It's great to get from zero to one in terms of knowledge, but students are still left far from having skills that are immediately beneficial to employers.

There's definitely more work that needs to be done.

As for Lambda itself, when you look at how other coding bootcamps have fared financially it doesn't paint a rosy picture. It's a challenging space to operate and the VC style returns simply aren't there. If you want to offer an online only education that is fantastic but you have places like codecademy that do that and also do not charge you $30k for the privilege of basically accessing information that is online for free.

The challenge with coding is that it really is much easier to get going when you have someone you can ask questions from, so helping to improve that aspect of it while providing it online at a low cost is really the challenge.


Just curious, what's wrong with a community college? It's cheap. It's flexible. Its admission rate is practically 100%. Its courses are not worse than a code camp's. My relative went to a CC, and I reviewed his course work. CCs does not spend much time teaching all the fundamentals, but they do teach some. In their data structure course, they don't teach student why two pivots are not better than a single pivot in quicksort nor do they cover discrete probability or classic complexity analysis extensively, but they do teach (and practice!) asymptotic complexity and why vanilla quick-sort may perform badly. They don't teach students how to prove the boundary conditions of ODE, but they do teach intuition and how to solve and apply a wide variety of ODEs. The examples can go on. They also hire teachers from industry to teach courses on data processing, frontend engineering, and etc.

With the belief that education is all about laying solid foundation for life-long learning, for job or not, I don't really see any need for coding camps. I'm not denying there are success stories, but I don't see coding camps make statistical sense.


I think community colleges are great, and if you can get one on one instruction anywhere it is fantastic. The challenge is that bootcamps are really designed for people who are changing careers. Which means they have already gone through college or actively working. So it becomes an issue because they are reliant on income to survive and they aren't living with their parents.

Basically it's unplanned and so much harder to able to commit two years.

Certainly do-able, but challenging when you are thinking of it from a consumer perspective. Spend two years working towards a career shift or get it done in 6 months.

Maybe community colleges can do a better job of marketing themselves.

But ultimately I think the fact that computer science isn't a requirement in all education is criminal. We study "Math" and "English" in school. "Computer Science" is the equivalent of math 100 years ago, it needs to be a mandated requirement.


One issue might be how complexity analysis (amongst other computer science concepts) already requires a not insignificant math background...


"" Computer Science" is the equivalent of math 100 years ago..."

Would mind expanding on that?


You can't live in the modern world today without understanding math.

You also can't live in the modern world without language and the ability to communicate.

To me math is a language. Different than our verbal languages, but it is still a language none the less and essential.

Programming to me is also a language. And it is as essential today as math was originally. There was a long period of history where lower economic classes were prevented from learning and educating themselves and the fact that we have education that is subsidized by the government to various levels in all major countries is something that we take for granted, but it wasn't a right that our ancestors had.

The way schools force all kids to learn math, I feel is how schools today should force all kids to learn programming and computer science.


Having worked on low cost online educational content & as a bootcamp instructor previously - I think there are a few forces that lead to suboptimal outcomes:

1. No or low admissions bar. Some students very simply SHOULD NOT be admitted to what is intended to be a 3 month course. They either don’t have the learning ability that is required to absorb all of the content in 3 months or the drive.

2. Curriculum pacing - pretty much every human learns different concepts at different pace. A lot of code schools are just trying to assembly-line their course & put people in one end and shove them out the other end in 3 months. If these boot camps offered remediation at a unit level, students on the whole would go much further much faster.

3. Curriculum focus - some people want to be data scientists, others want to write backend code, others want to be iOS developers, others front end. A lot of bootcamps really have curriculum hitting very broad strokes in that 3 month period: big-o, SOLID, html, css, npm/yarn/etc, command line interface, JavaScript, react, elixir, etc. etc. is too much to cram into 3 months IMO. This is a consequence of students hearing this buzzword soup from friends and internet & bootcamps not owning responsibility to serve students.

4. Outcome reporting is hazy at best - CIRR is IMO the best framework for reporting student numbers & should be used as the gold standard. However it should be enforced strictly, if a member doesn’t report CIRR numbers within 3 or 6 months of a cohort finishing they should be penalized in some way by being removed or fined or something. Students need good & recent data to make good decisions & it’s just not their these days.

There are more problems but those are the biggest IMO. There is still a huge opportunity in helping people learn to code but I think it looks more like learncodethehardway.com than Lambdaschool.com


I've found online courses can actually be MORE expensive than meatspace courses because online, they usually make me buy some DRM nonsense that self-destructs at the end of the course. So it's not possible to acquire "books" through any of the traditional means secondhand, theft, borrowing.


Some bootcamps may allow "from zero knowledge", but quality ones always have an assessment required to pass before admission.


Just so you know, secondary education means high school. Past that is post-secondary school.


I'm a current student at Lambda School. It's a pretty stressful time at the moment - I don't have any loyalty to Lambda, but the recent string of damaging stories about the quality of teaching and average graduates is concerning.

It's true that Lambda is incredibly disorganised and the build weeks etc are chaotic. Equally true that they don't do a good enough job of ensuring we have something to show for ourselves on our portfolio.

It's also true that their admission standards are seemingly incredibly lax. About 40% of my cohort struggle to code at a fundamental level - I don't mean that harshly, it's Lambda's fault

With that said, I've really enjoyed my time at Lambda overall and it saddens me to see it fail like this. The atmosphere and internal culture that they cultivated is second to none and I have enjoyed my time there a lot.

As with many people at Lambda, I joined them at a difficult time of my life, when I was suffering from pretty severe depression. I knew I loved coding but barely spent any time doing it and struggled with impostor syndrome, etc.

While at Lambda I benefitted hugely from the daily structure and discipline, and from having a community of people in the same position as me. I've made some great friends, and met some very smart and talented people.

What pains me is the embarrassment of appearing like some clueless fool who got caught up in some get-rich-quick scheme. I love programming, and I just wanted a structured curriculum to train as a professional.


> What pains me is the embarrassment of appearing like some clueless fool who got caught up in some get-rich-quick scheme. I love programming, and I just wanted a structured curriculum to train as a professional.

Don't let this stop you. The world needs more good engineers, and if you practice your craft you will always find a home. There are plenty of industry professionals who now look a bit silly for their choice of company (Uber, WeWork) but ultimately it's all just a job and if you have the raw skills you can find a new gig.


> What pains me is the embarrassment of appearing like some clueless fool who got caught up in some get-rich-quick scheme. I love programming, and I just wanted a structured curriculum to train as a professional.

Been there. I think this feeling comes mostly from the fact that this initiative has had a lot of attention, and of course, a lot of public criticism from people that weren't really able to give qualified opinion.

If you are having a good time there, if you are perceiving value, learning new things that makes sense and seem useful, just ignore those bad opinions and try not to think how others are looking at you.

I myself had a course on investing given by a moderately famous youtuber, and the environment around it was full of sarcasm and debauchery. I somehow managed to ignore it, took the course to the bone and now, less than 12 months after finishing, had a more than 3-fold return on the money I spent on it.


Just keep at it. The one thing that Lambda does best is the constant drilling of practicing. That method of learning is second to none.


> What pains me is the embarrassment of appearing like some clueless fool who got caught up in some get-rich-quick scheme. I love programming, and I just wanted a structured curriculum to train as a professional.

If you are learning more than you would have otherwise, or if you get a decent job at the end of this joining does not make you a clueless fool. Other people who don't know you or what you have done might think so but they don't matter. What matters is what you've learned, and that you'll get a job out of this in the end. Haters gonna hate.


Also learn generic problem solving VS just pattern matching on how to do a specific thing. Frameworks, languages and patterns themselves will keep changing. Core problem solving skills and understanding will stay relevant always.


Having friends in the program, I can tell you it's run like a circus.

Expecting 10 people who don't have any experience programming to cooperate on a project without any support or oversight is just asking for student failures.

Of course they'll say that the students have supports through their PMs, EMs or TLs (depending on the mood, they change the role title), but they're never available and miss meetings constantly. Also, they've reogranized the curriculum multiple times during the tenure of my friends, and don't wait till the next batch like a sane school would.

I feel really bad for the excellent teachers they brought on board. They ended up with a lot more than they bargained for.

Half or more of the program is composed of the crappy group projects.

The people who succeed after lambda school is in spite of the program, not because of it.


I agree with almost everything you say. However all the college projects I was part of, there was no supervision whatsoever. We were all children learning to be adults. Some of us were already there before others. I'm guessing lambda students are more adults than kids. Bottom line, TA support is golden. Supervision, not so much.


This is a golden example of where in person beats online. It's so much easier to weed out the people who will not show up when you do things in person (and there are plenty of those in College). But even diligent people are more likely to flake when things are online. There's simply less commitment.


I've been enrolled at Lambda for just about a year now, so I feel qualified to comment here.

> Of course they'll say that the students have supports through their PMs, EMs or TLs (depending on the mood, they change the role title), but they're never available and miss meetings constantly.

This statement is full of hyperbole, however it gets at what I feel is Lambda's biggest problem: Team Lead quality and consistency.

The problem is a misalignment of incentives (sound familiar?). TLs are current students who are further ahead in the curriculum. The schedule makes it effectively impossible to have a job and TL, in addition to being a student, so I'm guessing most of those who apply for a TL position do so largely for the paycheck.

I don't mean to say that all TLs are bad or don't care about the success of their teams. In fact my experience has been mostly positive. But ultimately students are not at Lambda to be TLs. They are at Lambda to get high-paying tech jobs.


From the point of the student, the TL quality being low is a huge minus, plus the fact that they are also busy means that you don't get that much help.

From the point of the business, I can see the trade off. Running a cheap shop is essential for the kind of deal they offer: A time-capped value-capped full-risk sharing agreement.

Lambda's model could have much, much higher quality if there were a less restraining cap on the ISA, but that will affect sign-ups and might increase the trouble of the people that fall-off the track.

I dont know what is the best positioning of price-quality, but I'm sure many people would prefer to pay more through ISA to have a higher success rate and stronger guidance.

That said, Lambda is really just 3 years old, they need to figure out a million things.


In fairness, all start-ups are "run like a circus." That's the point of a start-up--to figure out new/better ways of doing things. Most of the time it doesn't work, and then you try something else.

If you want the stability and reliability of Harvard, don't get your education from a scrappy upstart.


That's great, except they're charging students $30k for the privilege of beta testing their "circus".


I thought they only had to pay if the students actually landed a decent paying job.


This is true. I suppose I was being a bit hyperbolic.

Having said that, it still seems like a bad deal even for students who get jobs. If the curriculum is not up to par, it's likely that successful students would have also been successful with self-teaching or less-expensive online courses. There's also the opportunity cost of being out of work for 9 months.

It seems unfair to treat your students as guinea pigs for iterating a startup - especially when you're already often targeting desperate people.


Not about lambda, but I had the opportunity to read the full details of an ISA contract from other school and there might be some times when student will be mandated to payback even if they don't get a job. Related to this: someone in Reddit is trying to collect the docs..


"Crappy group projects" are actually great training for life in the real world.


I'll counter this by saying that in my experience school projects are no better. TA's and prof's don't have enough time to give to groups. Students are left to figure things out on their own. Some classes assume (wrongly) that concepts were taught in prior classes so you have to figure it out on your own.

Not sure when you graduated - I'm sure it was better when there were more resources and less students - but today that's not the case.


Did your friends learn to code?


> Whether or not this counts as “selling” strikes me as a meaningless semantic distinction: Either way, the school receives some money up front and an investor shoulders some of the risk of the ISA not paying out. And either way, Lambda School students don’t know that the school isn’t as incentive-aligned with them as the school’s marketing indicates.

It is certainly not meaningless! Selling an ISA means that Lambda no longer has any financial interest in its outcome. Borrowing against an ISA is completely different; if the ISA doesn't pay out then Lambda goes bankrupt, which is precisely the incentive alignment they claim to have.


It is selling, because the loan is backed by the ISA. Which means if Lambda can not repay the loan, the loaning company now owns the ISA and can use any sort of aggressive tactics to get the student to repay their ISA.

Just like if you take out a mortgage on a house and fail to pay the loan back, then the bank owns the house.

In this case since the ISA is used as collateral, the company that originated the loan now owns a lien on the ISA, effectively giving it ownership.

Similar to when you lease a car, there is a company that provides the finances for the lease, and has a lien on the car, which means you do not own it. Otherwise you could lease a car for $250/mo, then sell it the next day for $30k, but you can't because there is a lien on the title.

So in this case, while the loan is outstanding, the originating loan company effectively owns the asset used for collateral. Ownership means you have 100% control over the asset, and in this case, Lambda has given away 100% control over the ISA.

It also means that they are not aligned anymore, since they have received financial compensation for the ISA up front, they can default on their repayment of the loan as it doesn't matter because the collateral aren't shares in their company, but just the ISA itself.


I don't think that's quite right. Lambda is taking out loans against the ISA but the only way to discharge the debt is by declaring bankruptcy. If Lambda defaults on these loans the bank will indeed own them but won't be satisfied just taking back the ISA contracts and enforcing them themselves (and presumably, if they default, the ISAs aren't worth what they were financed at anyway). Lambda is still on the hook for the full balance of the debt unless they want to close up and liquidate or file chapter 11.


You seem to think that this "loan" that the investor makes to Lambda School only has to be paid back when the ISAs pay out, and if they never pay out then Lambda School's debt is just forgiven. That would indeed be similar to just selling the ISAs to the investors, but I don't think that's what is described in the article (as Lambda School's current practice). Rather the article says that Lambda School gets a "loan that is secured by students' ISAs" which implies that Lambda School has to pay it back with or without the income from the ISAs.


Secured by the is the part I focused on. When a loan is secured by something, the underlying asset is what the loan originating company retains after you fail to pay for the loan.

So if I take out a mortgage, and fail to pay for it, the bank gets the house, I am not still obligated to pay the remaining loan amount. Sure there are a few other items that occur in that process, but ultimately the loan is forgiven, of course with some credit penalties and future ability to take out loans. But I am not responsible to continue repaying the loan.

If the loan is secured by the ISA the same thing applies here. Sure there could be other stipulations and without reviewing the contracts there is no way to know, but stands to reason that the more likely situation is that they get the ISA and then can use aggressive tactics to go after the students for collections such as garnishing wages and also potentially charging them an interest for failure to repay. Though the original ISA believe has no interest, that's not to say that late penalties or other fees can't be added in later potentially.


Ah, I think you have a misunderstanding about what collateral is. Collateral is not generally a limitation on the lender's ability to collect the debt. In some specific cases (like certain home loans in certain states) the law adds this limitation but generally collateral is just something the lender can take in the event of default.

To bring up the car loan example you mentioned earlier, if you decide after a year that you don't want your car anymore you can't just drive it to your bank and drop it off instead of paying off the rest of the loan. If you stop paying it they can repossess it but you will still owe whatever is left on your loan balance after they auction it.


> Just like if you take out a mortgage on a house and fail to pay the loan back, then the bank owns the house.

I think most homeowners would disagree that when they bought the house, it was actually sold to the bank.


Sadly, in practice it often was?


It's not zero financial interest, but certainly more indirect and less compelling.

If investors in Lambda ISAs are not getting good returns, the value of buying a Lambda ISA will go down. If Lambda can't sell ISAs for a good price, they won't get the operating income they need or will have to shoulder the ISA themselves.

Still, selling the ISA just feels shady relative to the marketing that touts ISAs as aligning incentives.


Selling the ISAs would make it more indirect, but this article is referring to borrowing against the ISAs' future income, which does not make it more indirect.


allred copped to straight up actually selling ISAs in the past (despite denials) as well


Yep, if Austen misled people that's bad. I am just disputing the argument that the later practice of using them as collateral for a loan is financially similar to selling them.


Why do you find that less compelling? As you point out, even if Austin sold hopes and dreams and/or investor story time for the first two years of ISAs, eventually there will be hard results to model out. So how does that misalign incentives?


The claim made to the student is not that they have some long minded financial alignment with the student cohort in aggregate - it's that specifically, the school does not make any money off the student (individually) until the student has an outcome.


Yes, and that is accurate; borrowing against a student's debt is not "making money" from the student. The transaction you describe does not hedge Lambda's risk; in fact it increases Lambda's risk because now if the student defaults they still need to pay interest as well.


that's a fair enough point, and I suppose I could have built the point more clearly in the article that I feel that the actual transgression is a misleading statement made to a student.


The value of the ISA's as sold depend on the company success. The alignment is really the same...


Hi, I'm the author of the piece, perhaps better known here as founder of CoderPad. Feel free to ask me anything but things are a bit crazy right now!


I don't think you mentioned that the student doesn't have to pay back Lambda after 60 months of deferred payments. That seems important. From the Lambda site:

"The income share agreement has no interest. It's a flat percentage that goes away once you've reached the $30k payment cap, you've made 24 payments, or after 60 months of deferred payments (even if you haven't paid us anything)."

But you wrote in the article:

"Students with no safety nets experience real financial pain from the nine-month hiatus from work, in addition to the looming dread of possibly having to pay Lambda $30K one day."


Still seems like a way better deal than student loans, which can follow you until you die.


Yeah, got cut for brevity, but students definitely experience serious anxiety about even the five year horizon.


It's a pretty important point though. Compare with a student loan, which never goes away. Failing to mention that seems in pretty clear bad faith.


That seems like a giant omission. 5 years is nothing compared to student loans. There are people in their 40s still paying back loans they took when they were 18


That seems really disingenuous. Can't you update the article with this important detail?


It's not disingenuous; I think an earlier draft had it. This came down from 4000 words. I'll try to ask my editor to add this as a correction but things are pretty hectic. It's a fairly minor omission in my opinion, but I understand disagreeing.


It's hardly a "fairly minor omission" in a country where the conventional tertiary education saddles the average student with a debt that is often far bigger than $30k, doesn't expire, and cannot be escaped even through bankruptcy, meaning that even retirement benefits can be garnished above a meagre $750/month.


Agree it’s a minor point, can’t expect OP to fit every contractual detail in a short article.


Well, it is to me.


"Yeah, got cut for brevity, but students definitely experience serious anxiety about even the five year horizon."

Lambda School is <5 years old. Pretty disingenuous man.


Writes a 2000+ word article, cuts 14 "for brevity".

Overall, I think this was an insightful article, but cutting that out seems misleading, even underhanded.


And let's be honest here, I am no fan of Lambda school and I think it's way too expensive for an online school.

But if the editor cut those 14 words out, it wasn't to make the article more concise, it was to make the audience more outraged and more likely to share that article with others -- thereby increase the number of page views.

Not that I would expect the author to admit that. The author can't speak to the intent of his editor, obviously. And even if he could, I don't think his editor would be too pleased with him if he did that.


Got cut? Meaning you knew about this crucial detail and consciously decided to not include it?


Thanks for publishing it! It takes a lot of courage to go against the "who's hot in the valley" zeitgeist.

Also, CoderPad was life changing when we started using it at Airbnb. It made phone interviews so much more effective, thanks for creating it.


Not having VCs of my own helped a lot!


Why is that? Can you elaborate?


Why did you choose to write about this program as opposed to other programs that teach people coding skills, but have vastly worse payment plans, including some which can't even be dispensed in bankruptcy? The criticism seems unmoored from its placement in the set of alternatives for people who want to try to see if they can get a job coding. The undergraduate degree is notoriously bad for this purpose, from time, practicality and cost perspectives. How do you propose that people learn these skills- or learn if they are capable of achieving these skills?


Why? Its prominence.


Do you admit it has advantages over the alternatives? It sure doesn't sound like that in the article, where all you do is bash the company, without mentioning how it is an improvement.


Exactly ^, Lambda has gotten a lot of mindshare quickly, based on some provable misrepresentations. That’s not good for either bootcamps or startup ecosystem generally.


"How do you propose that people learn these skills- or learn if they are capable of achieving these skills?"

Is that too difficult to answer for you?


There might not be a good answer, but that doesn't make the existing attempts good. That argument is the same logic I could use to say "Why did you criticize their plan of hitting people in the head as treatment for stage IV cancer if you haven't got a better proposal?"


Can you explain in what sense people voluntarily signing up for an educational course that they only have to pay for if they make a solid living within 5 years is the equivalent of hitting terminal cancer patients in the head?


Well, I can try. So, are you familiar with the general construction "A is to B what C is to D"? If you're American, you might have seen these analogy questions on the SAT.


Yes, I understand what that kind of comparison is, but you haven’t substantiated it.

It’s a pretty horrible analogy - demeaning to cancer patients aside from anything else, and seems to seek to tarnish a seemingly well-intentioned business by linking it to something awful, without any basis.

I don’t suggest the company is beyond criticism or without a need to improve; it’s still a fairly new company after all.


Demeaning to cancer patients? Huh. I thought I was writing out a really incredibly obviously clear instance of "if a thing is bad, you cannot criticize it unless you provide an alternative - if you cannot provide a better option, then the thing must not be bad". I didn't realize I needed to scaffold this so much for people to actually focus on the logic being criticized and not get hung up on "but this thing isn't bad!?@!??!" How would you have presented it? Or, do you think it's not actually possible in this context to explain why that construction is illogical without upsetting people who like the school?


Anyone who is committed to serious enquiry and good-faith discussion understands that there is a very large class of things that might seem bad at first glance, but turn out not to be so bad, or indeed quite good, when compared against the available alternatives.

This class of things includes pretty much anything that's really important in the world - including economic systems, government policies, human behaviours, and, yes, companies, including ones that offer deferred payment for education that can lead to higher incomes and better standards of living for the customer.

You're clearly intelligent enough to know this but are poisoning the debate by making a comparison with something that is horrible but not at all comparable.


What the hell. Obviously I know that many things are maybe not bad. That's why I picked an example where people would not argue about whether it was bad in order to demonstrate the logical point.

It is clear that I not only didn't get my point across but that people don't even believe that the point existed, and I miscommunicated so badly that you're not even willing to believe that I was ever arguing in good faith. Fuck this.


It's more like, these guys are offering a plan where you get treatment for stage IV cancer and you only have to pay if it works. The other options require you or someone else to pay huge amounts up front, regardless of outcome, and are no better at getting results.


I wasn't commenting on whether it works. I was showing that his objection to criticism that didn't include a suggested better alternative was illogical.


It wasn't just criticism without an alternative. It was saying, this thing is bad, don't use it. If the other things are worse, you still have to use it. This is why your analogy was ineffective, because you used a thing that was obvious worse than the other approaches.

People need to learn things. If funding education through an ISV is the best way to do that, then they should do that, even if there are problems with it. What the article really seemed to be implying was that they shouldn't do it that way, that there was something wrong with it, which justified an extremely negative view of the company, and leaves people with no option to learn to code without large upfront costs or loans to pay back if they are unsuccessful.

Describing the very best option in purely negative terms is misleading.

If you are telling people to stop doing a thing with a x% chance of working, but the other options have a lower chance of working, you are effectively saying don't do the thing at all.


You are assuming here that you and the speaker have a shared belief that this way to accomplish the thing has a chance of working and is worth doing in the absence of alternatives (or that it is obviously better than alternatives). That is almost certainly a false assumption when someone tells you "don't do that thing". Instead of continuing to hold those assumptions, you should either ignore their opinion altogether or attempt to find out which of those beliefs you don't share.


You mention that there's value in Lambda's mission, but I'm curious as to whether you believe that Lambda's business model is redeemable.

It's hard to argue that there's clearly a major risk involved in attending a program like this, but at the same time it seems to be working for some individuals. Would these high-achieving individuals be able to teach themselves? Possibly. But I'm not sure that going back to the traditional college route is the right choice either. And how can we better help those who lack the aptitude or enjoyment of programming and find out too late into these programs?


Bootcamps probably need a longer and more rigorous trial period - one thing that students were really pissed about was that they didn't find out that Lambda was bad until after the month-long forgiveness period ended.


These documents show that, as recently as August 2018, a hedge fund paid $10K to purchase half of Lambda School’s ISAs.

Was this at $10k/ISA? And was it half of all ISAs or all of half of the ISAs?


i see now that i could have worded that better - but 10k per entire ISA, and half of ISAs minted


Hey man. Thank you for publishing this article, and doing actual journalism (researching the actual data, and giving people opportunity to respond). I've been recommending lambda school to my friends, only based on their marketing. I may stop doing that now.


I have to be honest that I’m not really seeing any major issues here. They _used_ to do something and now they don’t, so he didn’t lie about it. They _have_ had low placement rates and informed their investors, but it’s unclear what the average or common placement rate is and if it’s significantly different from what they claim. And _some_ students didn’t like the curriculum. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

You also make reference to some internal documents. Perhaps sharing them will help further the story?


I disagree that this is an accurate assessment of my claims. When you claim that you "never have" done something after you've already done it, you're making a statement about both the present and the past. Your point about averages or something is also difficult for me to parse.


Hey Vincent! Great to see you here. Are you gonna go back on IH for office hours this year?

Also how much time did you spend on all of the research for this piece?


I learned to code from scratch using freeCodeCamp.org, tutorials and official documentation. Got a good job after 8 months studying full-time. Almost 3 years now and everything is good (more details on my experience here: https://rodrigohgpontes.github.io).

As a totally outsider (not even from the US), Lambda School seemed too good to be true, in a good way, and I said so here in HN. 9 months of serious commitment, no upfront payment, ISA, all of it seemed good to me.

These days, I don't think the same way. Lambda School and it's founder seem more worried about being a billion dollar company than doing the right thing for its students. Personally, that's strategically stupid and counter-productive. They won't be a billion dollar company because they don't care about their students. But it looks like the direction they took. This mistake is not inherent to VC ventured companies or Silicon Valley, so I think the ones to blame are Lambda leaders, not the system.

So, I still recommend freeCodeCamp.org as the best thing that exists for people that want to learn to code and get a job. I wish some of these effective philanthropy multi millionaire would give them generous money to pursue their mission.

It changed my life.


While I find Lambda’s incessant twitter evangelizing as annoying as the next guy, I’m not sure any article I’ve seen is painting a realistic picture about Lambda.

Media outlets have incentives to either paint you as the second coming of Christ or as Satan. It appears Lambda, for a while, actually succeeded at convincing journalists they were the former.

After a while, people get bored with that though. The incentives that drive clicks flip. Suddenly Lambda is now Satan. Burn it down! Downvote all sympathizers!

Here’s the reality: all models for education can work for certain people in certain instances. Lambda is definitely the best choice for some people. But no single company is going to solve something like “education” or “healthcare” because they are political institutions tied to the power dynamics that determine how society is arranged. You cannot brute force this without gaining influence over government itself.

This is not as simple as disrupting where people buy their shampoo or where they see ads.


There are always two sides to every story, but when you have outright fraudulent claims I don't think you can say that the article is simply painting the school as "Satan"

If you stated that you have an 86% placement record and in reality it is 50%, that is a pretty large discrepancy. If the original 86% placement was from the first 70-ish students and now you are over 2500 students, that seems a bit fraudulent.

If placement rates aren't critical to you getting students, then you can say it is 50% publicly and see if that affects your enrollment numbers or not. Otherwise, it would stand to reason that stating a higher placement rate gets you more students.

Also, this isn't run a a non-profit organization, its a for-profit enterprise. So they have a financial incentive to get more students because that equates to more value for them.


Cherry picking a strong cohort and using it to create a narrative is the same thing as cherry picking a weak cohort and doing the opposite.

This is my point. Journalists are picking a narrative first, then seeking out facts to justify that position.

When they thought lambda was going to fix education they were more than happy to report the 86% number without any research. Now that lambda is “evil” they look for the lowest number they can find.

I’m sure the truth is somewhere in the middle.


The other wasn't a weak cohort. It was the most recent data.

Also if you were an institution interested in disclosing information fairly you would simply list all cohorts and let the consumer decide.

But they aren't doing that and instead claim a single number.

By the way, having had recent experiences with a number of bootcamps through friends I would say that the 50% number anecdotally is accurate. That's also not taking in to account the drop out rate. If you look at people starting the bootcamp to placement it would be even lower.

If you have 465,000 customers and you want to round that up to 500k - ok, not exactly true, but whether you have 465k or 500k isn't going to change my decision about using your product.

Telling me you place 80% of your students and actually placing 50% is a big deal. 80% means I have a 4 out of 5 chance of being successful. 50% means I have a 1 out of 2 chance of being successful. Those odds are very different and certainly part of the marketing push to get people to sign up.


Maybe that’s true im general, but the facts are very consistent - Lambda repeatedly misrepresented them while attracting lots of positive attention. This is what a free press helps correct.


> After a while, people get bored with that though. The incentives that drive clicks flip. Suddenly Lambda is now Satan. Burn it down! Downvote all sympathizers!

What this means is that bullshitting works until it doesn't.


Doesn't surprise me. Culture starts at the top. Austen has repeatedly proven to be a liar (this article has a few examples and you can find others in Verge's reporting) and that culture has been normalized at Lambda.


From seeing this guy's (Allred's) tweets pop up on twitter a few time, I always got the feeling that he was a scammer or con artist. This article provides a lot of evidence that seems to confirm my hunch.

I've seen people have success in startups using similar tactics throughout my career, and one realization I've had about this is that sometimes perception matters more than the actual numbers. It's especially true when it comes to investing and VC fueled businesses where success tends to follow the funding (i.e., if you get enough money you can buy your way to success).

Eventually, however, everything comes out in the wash. At some point lying about the numbers won't work anymore, and maybe for Allred this is an example of that. As a founder, if you don't eventually deliver on what you've promised, it will all unwind and you'll be left with nothing.


Taking a more benign view, I don't know if Austen is a scammer, but he seems like a smart guy, who's a bit over his head, with a smart team, who are in over their heads. The kind of students they've targeted need more help, not less, which makes this a bit of a messy situation.


Seems to have worked out pretty well with Elon... when were we supposed to get the Model Y/Roadster/Full Self Driving/Profitability (and all of the other things) again?


The author also posted a 50-minute audio clip of his interview with Austen Allred: https://twitter.com/fulligin/status/1230162120701964289


This is exceptionally good. Fantastic journalism.


Interestingly, Lambda School has just announced a new "ISA Financing Blueprint" [0] and "Better Data Transparency" [1] which address some of the concerns from the article.

[0] https://lambdaschool.com/the-commons/announcing-our-new-isa-...

[1] https://lambdaschool.com/the-commons/building-better-data-tr...


Mildly interesting how this story has gotten 130 points in two hours but is still placed beneath numerous other HN front page stories with less points in more time. Not least since the incentives of YC would be to want this story dead. In the 5 mins it took me to login on mobile it dropped from 15 to 25.


The submission hit some software penalties, like HN's flamewar detector. Moderators didn't touch it or even see it until a few minutes ago (I'm getting a late start this "morning"), when I saw it and turned off that penalty. This placed the article back on the HN front page.

We moderate HN less, not more, when YC or YC-funded startups are in a story. That's literally the first principle of HN moderation, in the sense that it's the first thing PG told me when he was training me to do this in 2012. I didn't even have time to grab a chair before he blurted it out.

It's natural for people to question this, so such questions will always come up. We're scrupulous about following this rule for two reasons. The first is that we need to be able to answer the questions in good conscience; the second is that moderating any other way would be dumb. The community's trust is the most valuable asset HN has. In fact, if you think about it, it's the only asset HN has.

https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&qu...


Indeed, odd to see this story is dropping off the front page so quickly. Someone ought to do some datascience analytics on how YC-negative bs YC-positive stories do on HN.


It’s interesting how learning to code is so challenging. Especially because it’s something humans make. Over the past few years, coders have been abstracting the complexity away, but man there’s a lot of it.

On a more meta level, it feels like we’ve barely touched the margins of how humans learn best. That’s always struck me as odd.

Like nobody has quite cracked the nut for how to do it. Not with programming, not with language, not with cooking. It’s always so much effort. As if the lessons people have learned are forgotten as soon as a few years pass.

We know a little bit. Spaced repetition helps. Not doing anything after studying intensely helps (as in literally just doing nothing after studying improves retention).

Going for long walks helps. So does transforming concepts into something you can see (I suspect because we have a lot of “machinery” for visual computations).

Engaging more of your muscles during an activity (writing as opposed to typing) helps too.

Engaging extra senses (like smell) seems to help.

But that’s about it. There’s no common modality, no library of how humans learn, retain, and transfer knowledge.

It’s been like what? 200,000 years since we’ve been on this planet.

We’ve barely touched the surface of what we’re capable of doing because we keep forgetting.


> On a more meta level, it feels like we’ve barely touched the margins of how humans learn best. That’s always struck me as odd.

It's very well studied. I'd start by reading a cognitive science textbook and go from there. I have Cognition by Reisberg[0], it was well-written and well-structured.

Alternatively, an entertaining and informative popular account is Make It Stick by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel[1].

I do agree that the research findings are greatly underapplied, though.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Cognition-Exploring-Science-Mind-Seve...

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Make-Stick-Science-Successful-Learnin...


I enjoyed the second book recommendation. Looks promising.

Thank you.


There are two ways to learn. Copy knowledge from someone else or trial and error. Copying has the advantage that it's much faster but it doesn't necessarily result in comprehension.

When someone shows how to install i.e. kubernetes they show you the happy path. Once something goes wrong you can't debug the problem. The alternative is to simply try installing kubernetes yourself. You will probably make some major mistakes but you will also gain enough experience to deal with all the edge cases when they do occur.


I respectfully disagree.

In my 30+ year carreer in IT the most beneficial insights came from brilliant people I had the pleasure to work with and who were willing to share.

In a way that's self-evident. Really smart people with a true clue about what they are doing are not wallowing in angst that their trainees (for lack of a better word) would ever endanger their position and they're often happy to share.

That does not discount the trial and error approach, which could work quite brilliantly when the documentation was good. (being something of a dinosaur I'd happily refer to anything DEC in its heyday).

But there is that list of people, which I can't really thank enough for instilling some of the invaluable knowledge, which defined my career.


> On a more meta level, it feels like we’ve barely touched the margins of how humans learn best.

I think it’s naive to think there one way that will work for everyone. Attempts to find such a solution inevitably fail because it’s not something that can be generalized and then scaled. The more mechanized and focused the process, the more outliers get left behind.


I read parent's post as more of a generalization. As in 'what are the best ways humans best learn', not a single best way.


I could be wrong but isn't Lamdba School a perfect example of destroying a noble idea due to the venture capitalish returns expected from the company ? If there wasn't so much pressure to grow that fast, perhaps they would have done a better job focussing on the quality and outcomes instead of growth at any cost ?


Reading history about the founder, I think he had his eyes set on massive growth from the outset over the actual experience.

He got starry-eyed working in growth at LendUp and wanted to build his own rocket ship. I don't think he ever put the students above running a trendy fast-growing startup.


It would take years for the first cohort of students to be able to pay back the cost of running the business, so this is exactly the sort of thing you really do need venture financing for


Without VC money Lambda would have had at best 10 students and you wouldn't have heard of it.

There are real beefs Lambda will have to sort out on how it runs things, but running with VC money isn't one of them. Also, weird to have that opinion in HN, made by an incubator that sells startups to VCs.


Yep, exactly. This is Kaplan 2.0.


Since the original HN post[0] is about 2.5 years old now, one would expect there to be more data released by LS regarding job placement/salaries before a potential student would sign a $30,000 ISA. I've been a fan of the idea of up-skilling at a bootcamp for those who either don't want to spend 4 years getting a CS degree or being unable to finance its associated costs which can be in excess of $75,000. In an increasingly tight labor market, there's fewer jobs available in the 'middle' where companies seem to be either wanting an experienced SME in a specific domain or less-experienced programmers to do testing rather than development.

I think the bundling and selling of student CDOs works for a company in its early stages, since the costs for recovering unpaid tuition can range from high to being declared a total loss. Some of the anecdotes make it seem like the company doesn't receive enough feedback from employers in order to strengthen parts of their curriculum that make interviewees fail at some stages during the interview process. Creating a complete curriculum takes more than bundling together Leetcode and Hackerrank problems, where the actual teaching reflects that bootcamps and a CS education aren't in direct parity with one another. [1]

Regarding the finances, student loan debt through an established institution can't be removed through filing for bankruptcy. This allows access to federal loans and underwriters that give better rates and agreements for all the business parties invloved. I've been denied refinancing my loans from multiple companies for a combination of those effects including not graduating and having too low of an income. The business seems like a good idea but too fixated on higher short-term valuations in order to attract VC capital; rather than fixing its underlying structural problems.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15011033

[1] https://hackernoon.com/bootcamps-vs-college-11dd76a4d127


Lambda grad with a job, who also worked as a PM/TL.

Overall I think they're trying.

The problem with the PM/TL program is the people who are normally the best at it tend to be the best at finding jobs. The TLs that stick around forever tend to be ones that aren't the best or the worst who are normally replaced when someone complains. Instead it's the okay people who are just cruising.

One thing that seems to be overlooked about Lambda is the fact that they are remote. An applicant from the middle of nowhere who lives hours from the nearest city has as much chance of getting in as anyone. It can be harder to find a job there and they won't relocate. Remote work is much harder to get in as a junior dev.

Overall though, I wouldn't be in the position I'm currently in without them though. Maybe I just made it in before the line, maybe they're just undergoing growing pains as expand to a profitable size.


I don't have an informed opinion on Lambda School, but it seems as though most of the concerns raised in this article are true of universities as well, and in some cases, worse in universities:

Lambda makes money through some financial engineering : Ivy league schools are essentially hedge funds with their multibillion-dollar endowments

Lambda's curriculum is lacking : Most CS students are taught theory, but learn very few of the skills they'll actually need on the job ( e.g. application deployment, source code management, etc.)

Lambda inflates its job placement stats : This is never defensible, but also highly prevalent in both non-profit and for-profit higher education institutions.

I commend Austen for at least attempting to better align students' and educators' financial incentives.


Lambda School didn't invent the ISA.


I co-started LS before it was in YC. Here's the original course I taught https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnUp9BNCQZM Weird seeing stories about it now.


Are the other videos in this series publicly available? You are great at explaining things.


Thanks! I'm not sure where the other videos are (I don't see them on my Youtube). I'll see if I can dig them up.


What happened afterwards?


We went separate ways. I had a job offer I couldn't turn down and it was still very early days in the venture.


There are inherent limitations to edu that go unacknowledged.

- There are a relatively fixed number of high skill jobs.

- More people with the same skills/portfolio reduces the value of that skill/portfolio.

- While people can learn new skills, people have different learning rates and integrating that knowledge deeply often takes much longer than teachers/bootcamps want to believe.

- Most edu info exists for free online, what school/bootcamps uniquely provide is feedback. Quality feedback is HARD to scale.

- How much does pre-application screening find people who don't really need that much help vs trying to help every applicant and getting unmotivated people in your bootcamp. I have seen very few examples of a bootcamp fundamentally changing someones motivation/work ethic.

ISAs will be the big winner in the ed tech space and providers of education will likely come and go unless someone cracks all the issues above. Perhaps the current distribution of students to universities (having plurality) is actually more suited to serving this function than a typical tech world power law distribution where one or two companies would provide 80% of the edu.


The more I think about bootcamps, the more they appear to be a rather insulting business proposition. Did they genuinely believe that one can take someone off the street, albeit someone relatively intelligent and motivated, and teach them enough to be a professional programmer in 9 months? Imagine that we replaced programmer with mechanical engineer. Or with marketing executive. Would that sound believable?

What is it about programming that makes people believe that they can learn it in a hilariously short amount of time? Sure, we programmers may be harboring some imposter syndrome and secretly believe that programming is super easy. Sure, programming doesn't require lots of math. But it's still hard! It's still a craft that requires problem solving ability, lots of semi-arcane knowledge and a detail oriented mind.


I don't think we could pump out the well rounded developers like 4 years of undergrad can, but I don't see how we couldn't pump out SQL technicians, front-end developers, or otherwise specialized workers that could alleviate the supposed shortage of developers.

I also helped a person go from zero knowledge of programming to pumping out android games in a month of self study. So I know that smart, motivated people can get pretty far pretty fast. In regards to your point, I don't think this person knows UML or ever learned big O notation, but this person was able to gain the skills required to do what they wanted, plus some pro-programmer friends and stackoverflow to fill in the "semi-arcane knowledge" when required.


I think we can pump out good apprentices. After 9 months of study, the person could definitely have enough skills to write semi-valid code and work on some small projects with supervision from a developer. However I would not call this person after 9 months a developer. A developer should be able to look at a codebase, learn it, learn the relevant technologies and start contributing. I doubt a bootcamp graduate will be able to do that. Or worse, they'll do that and wreak havoc on the codebase.

> front-end developers

I suspect this is part of the issue. Plenty of people believe that front-end is easier or lesser than back-end, and therefore can be learned quickly. Lots and lots of terrible front-end code has taught me that this is not true. Good front-end developers are really hard to find and subpar ones can lead to horrible user interfaces and direct impact to the bottom line. Even if we're talking the most minimal of front-end stacks, i.e. HTML, CSS and JS, which, I'm not even sure people hire for anyways, there's a lot of subtle issues with accessibility, responsive UI, writing halfway decent JS, etc. If we add on the various libraries (a sign of a good developer is also knowing when to use these libs and when to avoid them), then the amount of knowledge required is far far more than 9 months can provide.


Ime past a certain point years of experience doesn't seem to improve one's programming ability. Even in large organizations promotions tend to slow after reaching senior engineer as the job becomes more about people management than actually improving as an engineer. Yes you can continue to gain experience in new tech but the fundamentals of thinking through software solutions doesn't really change.


> Ime past a certain point years of experience doesn't seem to improve one's programming ability. [..] Yes you can continue to gain experience in new tech but the fundamentals of thinking through software solutions doesn't really change.

In my own 20 years of programming experience I've kept improving significantly every year. There are so many different areas to cover (hardware internals, compilers, languages, tooling, databases, networking, graphics, user interaction, i18n, cryptography, compression, etc) and in each area there are so many different competing ideas. Each of them, when deeply understood, will provide insights in other areas. I don't see my learning hitting significantly diminishing returns before death by old age.

I'm curious, at what year of your programming history did you find yourself not progressing in fundamental software thinking and how long has the plateau lasted?


Because you can, and because lots of people are doing it.


Austen has totally disappeared from twitter. He used to tweet all the time about their AMAZING success rate.


He was also quick in the past to post about LS on HN but no comment in this thread at all. Might be responding in blog form and outlining a few changes they're making to address the concerns?


Now he just posted a they have received $100M Investment.


This is the biggest red flag imo


There are plenty of red flags in the article but the part about Lambda selling the ISAs removing their incentive is BS - their long term incentives are clearly still aligned because they won’t be able to continue selling ISAs if they don’t deliver. Selling the ISAs presumably just helps with cash flow. That said it makes one wonder why a company that’s raised 9 figures needs to worry about cash flow.


This anecdote is particularly damning for Lambda School, like a hedge fund choosing not to update their investment return numbers year after year because they were so great in year 1:

> So where does that 86 percent figure come from? Lambda has reported graduate-outcome statistics at the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR), a voluntary trade organization of coding boot camps whose purpose is to ensure that participating schools publish truthful information about student outcomes. Allred has often used this report to defend his company online. But where other boot camps have multiple reports spanning many student cohorts, Lambda has only reported statistics for its first 71 graduates — 86 percent of who, the school claims, found jobs. Sheree Speakman, the CEO of CIRR, told me that Lambda has not undergone the standard independent auditing for the sole report it has submitted, and that her communications to Lambda School regarding further reporting and auditing have gone unanswered.


relatedly, it's so nice to see zed shaw tilting at a windmill that deserves it for once: https://twitter.com/lzsthw/status/1212284566431576069?lang=e...


"If you are contemplating joining a coding bootcamp in 2020...", his tweet starts.

I wonder whether the quality of education at coding bootcamps has gone downhill. From what I know of the Web Development Immersive program at General Assembly in 2014, or the software engineer program at Hack Reactor in 2015, they both were very decent.


He's been shitting on bootcamps for a while. I want to say it's been at least three years since he first did so.


I learned how to code by reading his book Learn Python the Hard Way 6 years ago! It cost me $0.


The lambda school struck me as odd due to its very long 18 month duration. Most successful bootcamps I've seen have been focused on 2-4 month programs. They also try to get students that have already taught themselves some coding (at least be able to code up a hang-man game in a terminal), and focus on teaching effective abstraction and how to use git. Basically, they don't seek to take people who don't know how to code and turn out engineers more than a year later. They take people who know how to code, and refine their skills to the point that they are employable.


18 months is the part time. 9 is the full time. It used to be six, but they raised it because people would expect a job on graduation, nine is more realistic for that.


All the haters seem to be piling onto Lambda and its CEO, but looking at actual reviews by students it is clear that most students are very happy with Lambda: https://www.switchup.org/bootcamps/lambda-school

And the problems mentioned in the article are straightforward to fix:

(a) Be honest and transparent about the job placement rate for each batch

(b) Don't sell the ISA or borrow against it

(c) Improve the quality of teaching and accept a lower growth rate


Take a look at the other coding bootcamps on that site. They all seem to have very positive reviews.

The problem is that switchup uses the affiliate links of the bootcamps, so it has a financial incentive to sell the bootcamps it features to its viewers. That's how it makes its money.

Now Amazon does the same thing, you'll say. And you'd be right, but with Amazon, it has a reputation to maintain. If Amazon reviews are unreliable, people will stop shopping at Amazon.

With Switchup, it's different. Most people will only buy one coding bootcamp in their lifetime. So withchup doesn't have the same incentive to make its reviews super accurate. It mostly has the incentive to sell as many coding bootcamps as it can.


About these ISAs: do they require any kind of good faith effort to find a tech job after completing the boot camp? If someone was just interested in tech, but worked in an unrelated field with no intention to switch, how would Lambda protect themselves? Obviously they could probably sue if there was bad faith on the student's part, but do these agreements address this scenario? Do they focus on screening students to avoid this?


I was one of the first 10 cohorts to go through Lambda and it wasn't a requirement for me. Actually, this was one of the primary reasons why I chose them! I was coming from public accounting, and I was concerned I may have to take a pay cut to switch into tech, but reading the contract at the time was very clear that I wasn't obligated to pursue a career in tech -- I wasn't even obligated to accept any tech offers I received! It was total financial and career freedom. If I went through and wanted to stay as an accountant, I could walk away owing nothing.

The Lambda model is set up to operate at scale -- and teaching people who don't want to get a career in tech or change their mind is baked into their operational model.


My understanding is that Lambda school is very focused on teaching you what you need to get a job, so if you were just "interested in tech" you would probably be better served by Udacity, other free or nearly-free online courses, or just reading books.


Right, there are certainly better options. I'm not necessarily interested from a practical standpoint, more of a theoretical one, being relatively unfamiliar with how these agreements work beyond a one-sentence description.


You can read what Lambda School describes as the "template" for their ISA contracts:

https://leif.org/api/products/5b5b8bd0e59b743f9a086ed9/pdf

It says that you agree that you "are entering into this Agreement in good faith and with the intention to pay us" and will "make reasonable and good faith efforts to seek employment" as long as you are not paying them.

I don't see any specific provisions describing how that would be enforced and I bet in practice it is not a major issue for the reason I mentioned above: there isn't much reason to go through with Lambda School if you don't actually want a job in tech, so it probably doesn't happen much.


On the authors Twitter, he comes across as having an axe to grind:

"lmao I woke my boy up" [1]

Sounds like he's keeping score of something, which isn't a quality I necessarily want from my "journalists".

[1] https://twitter.com/fulligin/status/1230251533951889409


Is this the same, or does it stem from, Lambda School that started with a kickstarter in 2016?


>Lambda School is free, but with an asterisk: To attend, you sign a contract that says that if you get a tech job paying $50K or more, you have to pay 17 percent of your pre-tax income to Lambda School for two years, or until you pay back $30K, whichever comes first.

30k? Seriously? my trade tech certification was only $2900 for two years. Is Lambda School a 4 year program or a college of some sort? Is room and board of some kind included? I mean I get that STEM pays a lot...but the cost here seems a little steep.

There are only 4 STEM related courses on the site. my trade-tech school had nearly 20 by the time I graduated.


Was it an 8 hour a day 5 days a week program for two years?


The problem with Lambda School is the model and vision that suggests a general college education isn't worthwhile. That college should focus on a marketable skill directly leading to some job. That's optimal, but that leaves out the social aspects, the critical thinking aspects, and the safe space to have an open mind and absorb and share ideas.

I would argue those other aspects of higher education are far more critical than the bootcamp model and vision.

And eventually, it boils down to a waste of time for some subset of students, which is not helpful to our higher education interests.


I found his constant Twitter boasting distasteful and cringeworthy. It always came off like an infomercial.

Coding bootcamps are not all bad, though, it's just that I think if you are going to do one then 1) you really need a solid financial cushion (either parental or own savings) and 2) you should really do a top rated in person one. I can't imagine doing this through a Zoom for 9 months in my apartment alone. The value of having social support you get from instructors and being around other students in the same boat as you can't be understated.


Lambda's marketing is deceptive and should rightly be stopped. But what is so bad about a bootcamp with no up front cost that gets 50% of its graduates a job? https://chrisyeh.com/2020/02/the-cost-of-cynicism.html


Found this blog from last year comparing Lambda to AppAcademy, confirms many of the details and adds some.. no involvement with them. https://blog.appacademy.io/app-academy-versus-lambda-school-...


Fascinating story. I think there is value in the service provided by Lambda School but the questionable revenue tactics like selling ISAs or using ISAs to secure loans means students can't really trust them with placements.


Good to see this finally get called out. Basically Lambda is using CDO’s & subprime mortgages as a revenue source.. Even if it hekps some of the students some of the time, we know how this show ends.


I mean, it's still a vastly, vastly better deal than college or other boot camps. It has no up front monetary investment, and you only pay for it if i works for you.


> it's still a vastly, vastly better deal than college or other boot camps

I'd like to see ten-year outcomes before claiming this. That said, it's also hard to control for different student backgrounds.


I would be more interested in the ten-year outcomes of something like the Lambda School versus self-teaching or using cheap online resources and entering the job market. Either way you're going to have to start with a very junior and entry-level position in order to crack the job market. But at least you're not on the hook for a huge chunk of your paycheck.


50% placement doesn't seem bad to me at all...


Sure, but controlling for different student backgrounds is a super high standard. Very few people try to control for example colleges by student background; almost nobody would say that Stanford admits having high grades is a point against Stanford.


It's not at all comparable to a four-year college experience. And it's a terrible solution to the problems we are having with the cost of secondary education.


Secondary education is high school. I think you mean post-secondary education, right?


Undergraduate, yes.


This is not true at all.

There are plenty of self-studied developers who have full-time jobs on HN. I've met a vast number of devs in real life who didn't go to college. It's not incredibly rare. It costs almost nothing but time to self-study and build a portfolio.

The other option would be go thru university. And there are many universities that offer a BS in CS for a reasonable price such as University of Florida. You can apply for a FAFSA, and depending on your financial needs, you could get it all paid for in grants. It will likely take 3 years but you get a legit degree by an accredited University, not some University of Phoenix equivalent scam. Some of these online BSCS students even get accepted to reputable PhD programs, good luck doing that from Lambda School because it's not happening.


Paying $30k for a 9 month coding bootcamp is not a good deal. A lot of colleges in the US are not good deals. But this doesn't make Lambda School a good deal.


If you go from minimum wage to a job making $50k+, the lifetime earnings from that makes $30k an outrageously good ROI. Especially since the $30k is not up front and only contingent on success.


No it doesn't. You can get the same education for much less (in other countries, other bootcamps, on your own etc.). Additionally, you take a big risk by foregoing income for 9 months. How do you think a person who had minimum wage before would pay for their life during those 9 months?


I'm curious what exactly happens if say you get a 55K job doing 'marketing' at a startup

are they collecting 17% of your paycheck?


Lol.


As a working developer you will spend a sizeable portion of your time learning new things, so if you are not good at teaching yourself programming, maybe it's not a suitable career choice? Especially with amazing MOOCs like Stanford's Swift course?

At least in the context of something like Lambda school, that does not teach computer science, as I understand it.


There's no point to doing coding bootcamps. I know plenty of individuals who were non-CS majors, not even STEM, switch to software developers after self-study and building up a portfolio.

if you decide you want an accredited university degree, then you can get FAFSA to fund community college, then transfer an online university such as Florida


Strongly disagree with this. I know 50 people that think they can learn to do Data or something with an Udemy class and end up doing nothing.

I think the negative picture painted by the author masks that the company is placing 50% of graduates which mostly paid nothing for the education they received. Lambda is not high quality education, but its super cheap and higher quality than just reading a Knuth Book, or Skenna's algo book which has no completion rate.


Sounds like you know unsuccessful people. I know plenty of developers who became front-end or dev ops from their own studies. It's not too hard to learn SQL or data visualization. The majority of questions can be answered via stackoverflow or slack communities. You don't need to know everything to land a entry-level job, you just need to prove you know how to problem solve.

Either way, you are not becoming a true machine learning researcher via self-study nor a bootcamp. You will need at least a master's in CS/Math/Stats to land those roles. A bootcamp is neither the lowest cost to a softwaredev career nor is it the a career effective maximizing choice.


This seems more like job training than education - something that should be directly done by the companies that end up recruiting these people instead.


A skill of knowing how to use React in a particular way to create simple views is something that will be redundant in a few years. These people will unfortunately be out of jobs. The mundane work of converting sketch files to react views will be automated soon


These courses should be free.

If government agencies really had their acts together, then these courses, as well as many others would be free, as part of 'extended learning' programs.

For all the crazy amount of grant money being thrown around by so many governments, and given the need for certain disciplines, it's odd that this doesn't happen.


I had a sinking feeling when the inventor of the CDO appeared in this article.

The housing bubble occurred, in part, because there was optimism that acquiring a certain tangible asset - a house - was a sure path to prosperity for the buyer. And the buyers of mortgage-backed securities had decades of data showing that these were solid investments.

What about intangible assets like knowing how to code? Is this what Lambda School is really doing?

And like the housing bubble, once the originator can sell the debt, they have some incentives to inflate expectations on both sides.

Perhaps Lambda School’s ISA-selling isn’t vulnerable to this flaw. Maybe the ISA-buyers are doing due diligence. But you would have thought the same was true in 2008 too.

Like everyone with a Twitter account I’ve interacted with Austen. And I had a mildly positive impression, or at least I thought he deserved more credit. Not sure about that any more. I would like to see his response.


I'm wondering why it is that two hit pieces came out at the same time [1]? Is it just a coincidence?

https://www.theverge.com/2020/2/11/21131848/lambda-school-co...


These don't seem like hit pieces. They seem like investigative journalism.


It's a coincidence. I was working on the story for five months, but some recent student unrest catalyzed Kate Clark's (excellent) reporting.


I've seen discontent with Lambda brewing on twitters for quite some time:

https://twitter.com/KeziyahL/status/1155154616281178114


Any program teaching CS or software with relatively open admissions will have its discontented students, because there are simply people who don't have the cognitive ability to handle it, and their inability to do the homework is always the teacher's fault.


Perhaps a number of journalists who were targeted by the 'learn to code' meme a few months ago actually made a go of it and are beginning to graduate around now.


It must be a conspiracy? I mean come on. The issues with ISAs and the fact that they can be sold, means the student has no protections, as they would with regular student debt.


Regular student debt is effectively nondischargeable in bankruptcy due to special provisions of federal law, it’s one of the hardest types of debt to escape from.


I’m neutral on this, but if I had to guess: @DHH shed light on it via his twitter recently in a big way.


I noticed that too. @DHH appears to have been one of the biggest names/voices to speak out against Lambda School recently. In their defense however, I follow a YouTuber that goes by "Dummy Codes" that landed a pretty good job doing Flutter development after attending Lambda School. So it looks like they are at least helping some people find jobs. It'll be interesting to see if Lambda School survives and thrives, or if it goes the way of Theranos. Only time will tell!




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