(My journey to Full Stack Web dev via Lambda School)
The pacific northwest has a plethora of water features. Lakes and streams… and certainly the Coast. If you find yourself in Oregon it’d be a shame if you didn’t find yourself at Frog Lake in the Mt. Hood national forest probing the shore for a nice flat rock to chuck across that pristine mountain water. Skipping rocks is relaxing, fun, and certainly a good waste of time….but the stone might disagree.
On October 27th 2019 I found myself, like that skipping stone, propelled across Lambda Schools lake of intense Full Stack Web Developer courses.
I can say now that I had sufficiently prepared myself for the intensity of the course because I never really did have a bout of imposter syndrome… okay maybe once while in the computer science portion. (Bloody hell! Recursion!!!) Lambda was sufficiently challenging on so many levels. I struggled with not knowing how every aspect of the code worked… something I now understand is a requirement for any full stack web dev. The idea that every piece of code I wrote was built on top of some other system, and the idea that the tools I worked with were abstracting away so much of the core code was something I had a hard time getting used to understanding. Eventually I adopted a “let it go” ideal and just submitted to learning everything I could with laser focus. I was becoming smooth and flat after skipping so far across that Lambda School lake… school actually began to shape me!
Fire and Ice:2020–21
Now, aside from the massive endeavor of attending school part-time while working Full-Time I also found myself in the insane year that was 2020. Kicking off the difficulties was a world pandemic, followed by a huge fire in the beautiful Mt Hood wilderness that almost kicked me out of my home. Then the final days of Lambda Labs in 2021 paired up with a massive ice storm (another “unprecedented event”) that shut off power/internet for a week. This school experience has been a challenge scholastically but the literal apocalyptic nature of my existence made skipping this rock across a Slushy seem easy in comparison.
The First Ricochets
Skipping The Rock Farther: Front-End complete
Fast forward almost 4 months and I had been fully exposed to React, Redux/Context, Node/Express, and testing. I was heading into the computer science cohort but not before I did one final front-end focused test.
This one test used almost every aspect of what I had spent the previous few months learning for front-end development. It was a single page application using React for C.R.U.D. operations and utilized a built-in backend. It involved planning state using state management (Context/API), fetching the data and displaying it, and creating a form to create new data (in this case a Smurf with an age, name, and height.) We had three hours to complete the required task and also a stretch task of deleting some of the data…. I had fun skipping this rock and finished all the tasks quickly. I didn't make a pretty app but I got the job done.
The Final Skips: Back-End, Computer Science, and Labs
The three final portions of my journey found me the most enjoyment. Back-end had me thinking less visually as in a front-end React environment and I really enjoyed the abstract thought processes involved with building an API. In my current role as a composer I find myself dealing with more sensory based creative processes. My ears dictate my work and guide me through how I create, but building an API with Node/Express is a fully brain centered process… and I loved it. Lots of rules and guides and processes. Also… no fidgeting around with components! I learned KNEX and SQL, and a host of technologies to plan and data model, implement schema, build tables and host an API.
Following up back-end curriculum was the Computer Science cohort where I really got to understand exactly how to use a lot of these technologies I had been learning. Python was a pleasure to learn but like that rock skipping along the water I felt like I simply glanced off the top of it…I can’t wait to go deeper with Python. CS was, of course more about data structures, algorithms, hashtables, and graphs than learning Python. This really helped me understand what it means to be “code agnostic”. I started thinking more in terms of the tasks at hand and how to complete them rather than how to learn specific coding paradigms. This was very exciting! When I realized I knew what I needed to do to solve problems and just needed to look up the syntax/mechanics of the language I was working in then I realized I had come full circle in my learning and was beginning to become a coder. CS scared the hell out of me and still does but now I feel like I can at least sort through concepts with a basis of understanding in order to tackle any problem. At the end of CS I could not believe what I was capable of compared to almost a year before. Lambda has done this amazing thing where they throw a ton at you and it just sticks some how!
Unfortunately for me Labs was not a slick glance off the water… more like one of those annoying rolling skips. It would have been nice for the last skip of the rock to be a nice bounce silhouetted against the setting sun… but it was not to be. The drama of 2020 had weighed heavily on me and my off school/work hours starting at the end of the front-end cohort were not spent creating new projects on my own time. Combine that with the amount of time between Front-End curriculum and Labs (more than 6 months) and it was like pulling teeth trying to get my brain back into React and State management. I spent most of Labs pair programming with a very patient partner whilst trying to wrap my head around a previously built out code base clone of Etsy. I definitely struggled through it and I learned a lot about contributing to a team (more on that in my next post!). I did, however, enjoy working with other team members! I am looking forward to my first position on a team because of the Labs experience and I can’t wait to collaborate with other devs.
One thing I did get a great insight on during Labs was planning. One of my fellow team members was already employed as a full stack web dev, working as the only member of a one man team. His combined experience and the great planning instruction from our instructors made planning our project absolutely awesome. We used Whimsical for visualization of the architecture, database models and schemas, API contracts, and all other technical decisions that we made. It was very well planned. We also used Trello for project status and Figma for design.
I have several personal projects I am planning and I’ll be using all of these tools! Here’s a picture of some of our planning:
As I write this I am in the final sprint of Labs… I’m getting ready to take that last final skip across the water. It’s a great time because I finally get my evenings back and I can start working on my own projects to get better at coding and ultimately start building awesome stuff.
Throughout the expedited learning process that Lambda offers there was an urgent push for learning that seemed frantic at times. So many concepts, frameworks, and projects were shoved across the screen that I felt overwhelmed on a daily basis. I know that the purpose is ultimately to push students to get a job as quickly as possible and for many at Lambda there is an urgency to find work to replace their current employment or to start something serious so they can make real money. I find myself a bit outside of that paradigm. Ultimately I wish to find a job that can offer more money than my current career but I feel a responsibility to really master what I’ve learned in the last year. I want my interviewers to know that I know I am going to get the job when I walk in to an interview.
Ultimately every “rockskipper” chucks that flat, smooth rock in hopes of it landing on the opposite shore. Right now I find myself flying speedily toward the other side of the lake…. and….I fully intend on landing in the sand on the other side.