• Nader Dabit
  • Lucas Reis
  • Charles Max Wood

Special Guests: Ben Nelson

In this episode, the panelists talk with Ben Nelson who is a co-founder and CTO of Lambda School. The panelists and Ben talk about Lambda School, the pros & cons of the 4-year university program for developers, and much more. Check it out!

Show Topics:

0:00 – Kendo UI

0:33 – Chuck: We have Nader, Lucas, and myself – our special gust is Ben Nelson!

0:50 – Guest: Hi!

0:54 – Chuck: Please introduce yourself.

0:58 – Guest: I love to ski and was a developer in the Utah area.

1:12 – Chuck: Let’s talk about Lambda School, but I think explaining what the school is and how you operate will help. Give us an elevator pitch for the school.

1:36 – Guest: The school is 30-weeks long and we go deep into computer fundamentals. They get exposed to multiple stacks. Since it’s 30-weeks to run we help with the finances by they start paying once they get employed. It’s online and students from U.S. and the U.K.

3:23 – Chuck: I don’t want you to badmouth DevMountain, great model, but I don’t know if it works for everyone?

3:43 – Guest: Three months part-time is really hard if you don’t have a technical background. It was a grind and hard for the students.

4:03 – Nader: Is it online or any part in-person.

4:11 – Guest: Yep totally online.

4:40 – Nader: Austen Allred is really, really good at being in the social scene. I know that he has mentioned that you are apart of...since 2017?

5:20 – Guest: Yeah you would be surprised how much Twitter has helped our school. He is the other co-founder and is a genius with social media platforms!

6:04 – Guest mentions Python, marketing, and building a following.

7:17 – Guest: We saw a lot of students who wanted to enroll but they couldn’t afford it. This gave us the idea to help with using the income share agreement.

8:06 – Nader: Yeah, that’s really cool. I didn’t know you were online only so now that makes sense. Do you have other plans for the company?

8:33 – Guest: Amazon started with books and then branched out; same thing for us.

8:56 – Chuck: Let’s talk about programming and what’s your placement rate right now?

9:05 – Guest: It fluctuates. Our incentive is we don’t get paid unless our students get employed. Our first couple classes were 83% and then later in the mid-60%s and it’s averaging around there. Our goal is 90% in 90 days.

Guest continues: All boot camps aren’t the same.

10:55 – Lucas: Ben, I have a question. One thing we have a concern about is that universities are disconnected with the CURRENT market!

11:47 – Guest: We cannot compare to the 4-year system, but our strength we don’t have tenure track Ph.D. professors. Our instructors have been working hands-on for a while. They are experienced engineers. We make sure the instructors we hire are involved and passionate. We pay for them to go to conferences and we want them to be on the cutting-edge. We feel like we can compete to CS degrees b/c of the focused training that we offer.

13:16 – Chuck: Yeah, when I went to school there were only 2 professors that came from the field.

14:22 – Guest: Yeah, look at MIT. When I was studying CS in school my best professor was adjunct b/c he came from the field. I don’t know if the 4-year plan is always the best. I don’t want to shoot down higher education but you have to consider what’s best for you.

15:05 – Nader: It’s spread out across the different fields. It was a model that was created a long time ago, and isn’t always the best necessarily for computer science. Think about our field b/c things are moving so fast. 

15:57 – Chuck: What you are saying, Nader, but 10 years ago this iPhone was a brand new thing, and now we are talking about a zillion different devices that you can write for. It’s crazy. That’s where we are seeing things change – the fundamentals are good – but they aren’t teaching you at that level. Hello – it’s not the ‘90s anymore!

I wonder if my bias comes from boot camp grads were really motivated in the first place...and they want to make a change and make a career out of it.

17:34 – Chuck: There is value, but I don’t know if my CS major prepared me well for the job market.

17:42 – Guest: Probably you didn’t have much student loan debt being that you went to Utah.

17:58 – Nader: Why is that?

18:03 – Chuck talks about UT’s tuition and how he worked while attending college.

18:29 – Lucas: I don’t stop studying. The fundamentals aren’t bad to keep studying them. Putting you into a job first should be top priority and then dive into the fundamentals. Work knowledge is so important – after you are working for 1 year – then figure out what the fundamentals are. I think I learn better the “other way around.”

20:30 – Chuck: That’s fair.

20:45 – Guest: That’s exactly what we focus on.

The guest talks about the general curriculum at the Lambda School

22:07 – Nader: That’s an interesting take on that. When you frame it that way – there is no comparison when considering the student loan debt.

22:30 – Chuck: College degrees do have a place, too.

22:39 – Chuck: Who do you see applying to the boot camps?

23:05 – Guest: It’s a mix. It’s concentrated on people who started in another career and they want to make a career change. Say they come from construction or finances and they are switching to developing. We get some college students, but it’s definitely more adult training.

24:02 – Guest: The older people who have families they are desperate and they are hungry and want to work hard. We had this guy who was making $20,000 and now he’s making $85K. Now his daughter can have his own bedroom and crying through that statement.

24:50 – Chuck: That makes sense!

24:52 – Advertisement – FRESH BOOKS!

26:02 – Guest: Look at MIT, Berkeley – the value is filtering and they are only accepting the top of the top. We don’t want to operate like that. We just have to hire new teachers and not build new buildings. We raise the bar and set the standard – and try to get everybody to that bar. We aren’t sacrificing quality but want everybody there.

27:43 – Chuck: What are the tradeoffs?

28:00 – Guest: There is an energy in-person that happens that you miss out on doing it online. There are a lot of benefits, though, doing it online. They have access to a larger audience via the web, they can re-watch videos that teachers record.

28:45 – Nader: Is there a set curriculum that everyone uses? How do you come up with the curriculum and how often does it get revamped? What are you teaching currently?

29:08 – Guest answers the question in-detail.

30:49 – Guest (continues): Heavily project-focused, too!

31:08 – Nader: What happens when they start and if they dropout?

31:22 – Guest: When we first got started we thought it was going to be high dropout rates. At first it was 40% b/c it’s hard, you can close your computer, and walk away. If a student doesn’t score 80% or higher in the week then they have to do it again. Our dropout rate is only 5-10%. In the beginning they have a grace period of 2-4 weeks where they wouldn’t owe anything. After a certain point, though, they are bound to pay per our agreements.

33:00 – Chuck: Where do people get stuck?

33:05 – Guest: Redux, React, and others! Maybe an instructor isn’t doing a good job.

34:06 – Guest: It’s intense and so we have to provide emotional support.

34:17 – Nader: I started a school year and I ran it for 1-3 years and didn’t go anywhere. We did PHP and Angular 1 and a little React Native. We never were able to get the numbers to come, and we’d only have 3-4 people. I think the problem was we were in Mississippi and scaling it is not an easy thing to do. This could be different if you were in NY. But if you are virtual that is a good take.

Question: What hurdles did you have to overcome?

35:52 – Guest: There was a lot of experimentation. Dropout rates were a big one, and the other one is growth. One problem that needed to be solved first was: Is there a demand for this? Reddit helped and SubReddit.

For the dropout rates we had to drive home the concept of accountability. There are tons of hands-on help from TA’s, there is accountability with attendance, and homework and grades. We want them to know that they are noticed and we are checking-in on them if they were to miss class, etc.

38:41 – Chuck: I know your instructor, Luis among others. I know they used to work for DevMountain. How do you find these folks?

39:15 – Guest: A lot of it is through the network, but now Twitter, too.

40:13 – Nader: I am always amazed with the developers that come out of UT.

40:28 – Chuck: It’s interesting and we are seeing companies coming out here.

40:50 – Guest: Something we were concerned about was placement as it relates to geography. So someone that is in North Dakota – would they get a job. The people in the rural areas almost have an easier time getting the job b/c it’s less competitive. Companies are willing to pay for relocation, which is good.

41:49 – Nader: That is spot on.

42:22 – Chuck: Instructor or Student how do they inquire to teach/attend at your school?

42:44 – Guest: We are launching in the United Kingdom and looking for a program director there!

43:00 – Advertisement – Get A Coder Job!

End – Cache Fly





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