The Lambda Experience
Last time you heard from me, I was just getting into UX design after being accepted to Lambda School’s UX design track. I felt like I need to post an update because.. whoa. It’s been a ride!
I know that there are a lot of opinions out there about Lambda School, the viability of it, the length of time they require, the type of work in the curriculum, and the way they build their network. I’ve consumed a lot of content around this. I remember feeling trepidation when I went through the application process. It’s hard to take a chance on something new — but the ISA (income share agreement that allows students to pay for the course after landing a job in the industry they selected) pushed me over the edge. I stopped considering what I had to lose and started thinking about what I had to gain.
I will say this first and foremost — my time at Lambda was life-changing. Years ago, I received my degree at San Francisco State University in Biology. I worked damn hard for that degree, but it was nothing like the work I did at Lambda. All of my work at Lambda was collaborative and hands-on, which is a funny thing to say for an all-remote learning environment.
I started Lambda in September of last year (long before the pandemic hit) and remember feeling uneasy about a fully remote environment. Would I feel engaged? How would they hold me accountable? Would I connect with the other students? Could I learn in this environment? Those questions in my head were answered literally on the first day. I felt engaged, they had systems in place to hold me accountable, and they spent so much time making sure I had the resources I needed. I had multiple ways of reaching out to multiple people and they encouraged it! It was nothing like any class I had ever been in before.
One of the things Lambda gets right is that they are focused on creating a comfortable and inclusive learning environment. That whole “no stupid questions” ideal is actually applied everywhere. I never felt uncomfortable asking questions or for additional clarifications from anyone — advisors, instructors, etc. I was also given many paths to get help, including several teacher’s assistants (they call these student leads or team leads) who were just students like me who had already completed the unit I was working in. All the lectures I attended contained group work, partner work, and group discussions where we all helped each other. Everyone at Lambda was super accessible to me via slack and every single one of them was happy to hop on a zoom with me to work something out. I even felt as though my instructors were learning alongside us as well — they were learning how to teach us as we were learning how to learn from them.
That brings me to my next point — Lambda is a company that believes in the iterative process. Some folks who don’t have a lot of experience with startups probably felt uncomfortable about this. Lambda doesn’t pretend it has all the answers. Their process is adaptive, exploratory, and constantly changing using the new data it picks up every day. Students are constantly asked what they think about the curriculum, what they like or don’t like, what they think would work better and why. Then, miraculously, they make those changes (in real time!).
This constant data-driven change is something I am quite used to. It’s what defined my life in startups. If you aren’t used to this kind of process, constant changes can make you feel like you’re being lied to, you may not be able to feel trust in the institution and you might feel unsure that anyone actually knows what they’re doing. I get it.
I saw some of my fellow students disengage because they lost trust in Lambda — and it made my heart break. They were looking to Lambda to change them into what they wanted and once they began to doubt Lambda could do that, they just stopped. Lambda won’t remake you, you are the only person who can do that. In my very humble opinion, Lambda was simply where I could access the resources that would help me launch into a period of hyper-fast growth.
And boy did I grow. I remember the first day I collaborated with software engineers to build something I had designed. It was like trying to connect with someone who barely speaks the same language. Part of my role, I would learn quickly, was that I also had to teach my teammates what UX design was all about. This role is what I would end up learning the most from. I learned how to communicate common UX practices to people who either had no idea what I was talking about, or thought they already knew exactly what I was talking about. I can sum my feelings up with just this: patience is a virtue!
Through my collaboration with students from all tracks (iOS devs, full-stack devs, and students from data science) I got a solid taste of what it’s like to build something from scratch. How to find out what problems to solve, how to get others on board with your ideas, and how to facilitate true collaboration. I did pair-design work that I am supremely proud of and learned a bunch about front end development and data science modeling.
I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t get anything out of Lambda that I didn’t put in. And that’s why Lambda works. Getting involved, pushing yourself to do your best work, pairing, collaborating, following through, and talking things out with advisors, instructors, and other students, that is the way to learn!
You can see my progress and projects here: lynnb.design