16 votes

Students say the Lambda School coding bootcamp isn't delivering on its promises, with concerns about poor instruction and prospects while being bound by income-sharing agreements

14 comments

  1. [8]
    thundergolfer
    Link
    People in these situations ending up at places like Lambda School is a classic American story. Someone down on their luck and struggling is seemingly offered a quick route to riches. At their...

    Bethany Surber was sleeping on friends’ couches and living out of her car when she first heard about Lambda School, a buzzy coding bootcamp that promised world-class instructors and a top-tier curriculum.

    People in these situations ending up at places like Lambda School is a classic American story. Someone down on their luck and struggling is seemingly offered a quick route to riches. At their worst, tech bootcamps are get-rich-quick schemes just like the Multi-Level-Marketing companies that recruit vulnerable people into selling bullshit supplements or poor quality leggings.

    The best stories coming out of (usually just the top) bootcamps are those of people who already had advanced technical degrees who wanted to intensively on-board into web or app development. These people are smart, used to solving difficult technical problems, and have an advanced academic credential that pleases potential employers. They might be trading a $40k lab technician job for a $100k mobile application development job.

    Occasionally I wonder if these bootcamps are actually a great idea, mostly because my university experience was pretty bad and I felt like so much time was wasted in that program. But then I snap out of it and realise that I still worked my arse off for 4 years at university and in self-study to get into a high-paying job in the field, and I'm not slow; in my home state of Victoria, Australia, my high school academic performance was top ~5%. It just makes no sense that 3-12 months in a bootcamp is enough.

    These bootcamps are selling a fantasy to people who are too desperate or naive to realise their chances of success are tiny.

    11 votes
    1. [7]
      jmillikin
      Link Parent
      As one data point from California (the state where all this is taking place): I went to a 4-year university program, and of that spent maybe half of that in Computer Science classes, and only half...

      But then I snap out of it and realise that I still worked my arse off for 4 years at university and in self-study to get into a high-paying job in the field, and I'm not slow; in my home state of Victoria, Australia,

      As one data point from California (the state where all this is taking place): I went to a 4-year university program, and of that spent maybe half of that in Computer Science classes, and only half of that was relevant to contemporary software engineering. Even then there was a lot of wasted time and review and make-work -- it would not be at all surprising if a focused program at a vocational school could cover the same material in 6 months.

      It's also worth considering that higher education in the US is very expensive, partly because vocational schools have been historically considered inferior to 4-year universities. Someone who drops out of Lambda School has lost time, but they are not also stuck with $100k of debt that would come from trying to do the same thing at e.g. Stanford.

      8 votes
      1. [3]
        ali
        Link Parent
        I can't imagine anyone being able to learn what is being taught in university in 3-4 years in just six months. Especially starting from zero, it takes so much time and repetition to finally get...

        I can't imagine anyone being able to learn what is being taught in university in 3-4 years in just six months. Especially starting from zero, it takes so much time and repetition to finally get things, and not just churn out code.
        The math that is contained in a degree by itself takes way more than 6 months to fully grasp.

        6 votes
        1. [2]
          jmillikin
          Link Parent
          Well, first subtract the time spent on gen-ed (history, literature, foreign language, cultural studies). At my university this was about half of the total course load, so that gets your 4-year...

          Well, first subtract the time spent on gen-ed (history, literature, foreign language, cultural studies). At my university this was about half of the total course load, so that gets your 4-year degree down to 2 years.

          Then think of a typical university schedule (3 classes a day, 1 hour each) and compress that into a typical full-time employment schedule (8 hours per day). Homework and studying on the weekends. You're dropping the peer socialization, the clubs, and probably a lot of the after-school parties -- and saving another half of the time.

          We're already down to to 12 months by this rough napkin math, and I haven't even talked about the useless classes. My degree's databases class spent about 40% time on relational algebra, 40% on relational calculus, and 20% on learning Oracle's PL/SQL. Exactly none of that was useful to me, and when I encountered MySQL for the first time I had to self-learn the concepts from scratch. Same story with the graphics class (direct-mode OpenGL!), AI (ELIZA and single-layer neural networks), and digital circuits (entirely simulated, never covered enough material to understand a 555 timer).

          6 months of 9-5 classes from people with contemporary industry experience would have been a much stronger education than what I actually received, and what I got was good enough to get into Google; it's not like a 120k person company expects their entire inbound cohort to be geniuses.

          5 votes
          1. skybrian
            Link Parent
            I'm of two minds about this. When learning a musical instrument, practicing more has diminishing returns because you need time for stuff to sink in. Daily practice, even for just a few minutes, is...

            I'm of two minds about this. When learning a musical instrument, practicing more has diminishing returns because you need time for stuff to sink in. Daily practice, even for just a few minutes, is recommended over trying to learn a lot in a day. It also seems like if studying were just a matter of putting in the time then cramming would work better than it does?

            On the other hand it seems like you need lots of time for experimenting and trying new things. I'm remembering how rushed lab courses seemed in college when you're not getting done what they expected in a 2-3 hour period.

            Also, with learning a foreign language, immersion seems pretty effective?

            4 votes
      2. [3]
        thundergolfer
        Link Parent
        I saw your comment expanding on this claim below, and I still disagree with it but could see than an exceptional, intensive course could get it done in 12 months, assuming everything is super...

        could cover the same material in 6 months

        I saw your comment expanding on this claim below, and I still disagree with it but could see than an exceptional, intensive course could get it done in 12 months, assuming everything is super optimised and the student workload is >= 50 hours a week. 12 months is possible but it almost resembles a hazing ritual.

        Beside that though, I'm very confused by you saying that you think learning relational algebra was "useless" to understanding MySQL. Relational Algebra is core to SQL.

        Someone who drops out of Lambda School has lost time,

        In the bad cases the students are forgoing income and burning through their savings. If the students were living at home with parents able to support them then it's better than guaranteed debt.

        2 votes
        1. [2]
          jmillikin
          Link Parent
          It may be core to the theory of relational databases, and important to someone writing a query planner, but as a mere consumer of existing database software I have never had reason to use...

          Beside that though, I'm very confused by you saying that you think learning relational algebra was "useless" to understanding MySQL. Relational Algebra is core to SQL.

          It may be core to the theory of relational databases, and important to someone writing a query planner, but as a mere consumer of existing database software I have never had reason to use relational algebra over more common notation (SQL).

          2 votes
          1. thundergolfer
            Link Parent
            Yeah but relational algebra is the foundation of the SQL language, so that's why I think it's weird to call it useless to a MySQL practicioner.

            Yeah but relational algebra is the foundation of the SQL language, so that's why I think it's weird to call it useless to a MySQL practicioner.

  2. [6]
    Deimos
    Link
    Follow-up to this today as well, after responses to the report brought attention to the fact that Lambda was selling the income-sharing agreements: As Lambda students speak out, the school’s...

    Follow-up to this today as well, after responses to the report brought attention to the fact that Lambda was selling the income-sharing agreements: As Lambda students speak out, the school’s debt-swapping partnership disappears from the internet

    5 votes
    1. [4]
      cwagner
      Link Parent
      Can someone explain what the problem with selling ISA’s is? I don’t understand how that distorts incentives. For the student nothing changes and if Lamba school students don’t find those...

      Can someone explain what the problem with selling ISA’s is? I don’t understand how that distorts incentives.
      For the student nothing changes and if Lamba school students don’t find those well-paying jobs, the ISA becomes useless to investors. The only potential problem I see, is that if (which according to the gp article they might) Lamba sucks, then it becomes essentially a con for the investors. Is that the problem or am I missing something?

      1 vote
      1. [3]
        Deimos
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        I think it comes from seeing Lambda always making claims like, “Lambda School doesn’t just train people; Lambda School bets on them". The impression they're trying to give off is that they're so...

        I think it comes from seeing Lambda always making claims like, “Lambda School doesn’t just train people; Lambda School bets on them". The impression they're trying to give off is that they're so confident in the quality of their program that you don't even have to pay them unless you're able to get a good job because of it.

        But if they're selling the ISAs, obviously they're not actually confident. They have to be selling them for considerably less than their repayment value, otherwise there would be no reason for the other company/investors to buy them. So while they frame themselves as being that confident, in reality they're not betting on their students and are selling their ISAs at a fixed rate. In a way, they're almost betting against their students, believing that this fixed, lower return is safer than one dependent on their students' success.

        That can also encourage them to do things like reduce their costs, instead of focusing on maximizing the success of their students. Their hiring rate doesn't actually matter to them much, as long as it's high enough to keep the ISA buyers happy with the overall return.

        13 votes
        1. jmillikin
          Link Parent
          I don't work at Lambda School and I don't know the exact terms of these sales, but in general this is not true. Selling a securitized ISA isn't that different from selling a mortgage -- there will...

          But if they're selling the ISAs, obviously they're not actually confident. They have to be selling them for considerably less than their repayment value, otherwise there would be no reason for the other company/investors to buy them.

          I don't work at Lambda School and I don't know the exact terms of these sales, but in general this is not true. Selling a securitized ISA isn't that different from selling a mortgage -- there will be some analysis of the expected repayment schedule for each ISA, they get chopped up into tranches, and the buyers will be looking for returns in the single-digit percentages.

          There's also a lot of good reasons to sell an ISA. Lambda School almost certainly wants to grow, and requires liquid capital for leases / furnishing classrooms / marketing. Deferring that cost until later (when the ISAs mature) might cost more (via lost opportunity) than the investors are charging. The alternatives would be a commercial line of credit (expensive) or ... bonds, I guess? You could model selling an ISA ("buyer pays money, gets income stream from student") as equivalent to a bond ("buyer pays money, gets income stream from students via LS") but without the claim on LS assets.

          In a way, they're almost betting against their students, believing that this fixed, lower return is safer than one dependent on their students' success.

          It, uh, is safer. They've got the money. They bought protection from the risk of (for example) a total crash in the Silicon Valley business market, and I would probably do the same thing if I were running a business that depended largely on the continued prosperity of a different industry.

          That can also encourage them to do things like reduce their costs, instead of focusing on maximizing the success of their students. Their hiring rate doesn't actually matter to them much, as long as it's high enough to keep the ISA buyers happy with the overall return.

          The buyers of these ISAs are almost certainly not coming in for a one-and-done deal. If they buy a tranche of 2-year ISAs (that's the standard repayment term), and half of them default because the students couldn't land the job at Netappgoosoft then they're not going to line up for more. Lambda School still has a strong incentive (maybe stronger, now that they answer a bunch of investors rather than a bunch of underemployed ex-students) to teach their students usable skills and help them land good jobs.

          4 votes
        2. cwagner
          Link Parent
          Okay, that all makes a ton of sense. Thanks for the explanation.

          Okay, that all makes a ton of sense. Thanks for the explanation.

          2 votes
    2. vakieh
      Link Parent
      This confuses me - the terms don't change just because it's now nominally owned by someone else. It would be interesting to see whether the terms require an actual sale, or if Lambda became a...

      debt can be sold off and enforced by a more aggressive collector

      This confuses me - the terms don't change just because it's now nominally owned by someone else. It would be interesting to see whether the terms require an actual sale, or if Lambda became a middleman where the investors couldn't go after the students directly). Regardless however if the terms say you don't pay unless xyz conditions are met then you don't pay unless conditions xyz are met, no matter how aggressive the creditor might be.

      1 vote