How I Discovered Launch School

Crawfish is like shrimp with a lot less meat and a lot more work!

Back in July 2017, I was invited to a Crawfish boil party for the 4th of July Independence Day Celebration. It was hot and humid but I was just glad to be outside, chilling with my friends and most importantly; not studying. Just a month prior, I sat for the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)level 2 exam; a brutal exam which I prepared for since January 2017. In total, I spent about 400–500 hours studying for that exam but that’s a story for a later day. As the sky darkened, most of us were sitting around a fire pit roasting some s’mores. They are these little marshmallows that melt in your mouth when you roast them over a fire. I call them “diabetes on a stick” or a “dentist’s best friend” but they do taste like heaven though especially with melted chocolate on it. Get a cup of hot tea and you’re set. I was sitting next to my housemate, Gooi when our conversations shifted to coding bootcamps…

We had work visa issues back then, I still do. I still remember Gooi and I spending nights talking about our employment situation. With just a bachelors degree without any specialized skills, no companies were willing to hire and sponsor us. It would be an added expense and not to mention the paperwork involved. We simply did not have the skill set to justify being sponsored with a H1B visa . At that point in time, we were fortunate enough to be working through a staffing agency. We could pay our bills and comfortably in Des Moines. However, neither one of us was doing anything we went to school for nor saw any potential to remain in the United States given our current course of action. Gooi did Actuarial Science and he could not secure an actuary position due to high competition and he also did not really enjoy it. I did Finance and Information Systems but I could not even get an interview for a Financial Analyst role because I had to be a full CFA in order to be sponsored. In order to be a CFA, I have to pass all 3 exams and work for 4 years so it was really a chicken and egg problem here. My information Systems major was a joke; the only thing I learnt was excel and access along with some simple VBA and some intro level HTML/CSS. There was no way I could start a career in IT with that limited skill. However, I did have a good 1 year stint as a database administrator for a small team in an insurance company though. That was all thanks to a friend of mine who owned the staffing agency and helped push me through. I told Gooi that our only way out of this mess was to improve our skill set and the best potential market for it would be in software development. Companies are more willing to sponsor a software developer, there’s an acute shortage and the pay is decent. That was back in October 2016.

I did some research on my own and two boot camps stuck out back then. One was Flatiron and the other was Bloc. They had these really flashy websites, particularly Flatiron with an excellent design layout and impressive testimonials. These bootcamps promise a fulfilling career in software development in just 6–9 months! I was hooked and I was pretty sure that I’d go with either one of those bootcamps when I completed my CFA level 2. Both bootcamps weren’t cheap though, with one putting a $9–12K dent in the wallet. But surely 9–12K is worth it as an investment for my future. Within 6–9 months, I’d be job ready and 9–12K would be nothing!

Back to the crawfish party around the fire pit. Gooi had done research on his own and he had started on this “coding bootcamp” called Launch School except that it wasn’t really a coding bootcamp per say but more of an online school for web developers. The founder, Chris Lee, recently wrote an article on this:

Instead of paying a lump sum or paying fixed amounts for a predetermined amount of time like other bootcamps, Launch School charged a fixed amount of $200 a month for as long as it takes the student to complete it. In their words:

“Ours is not a quick cram of concepts in a few months, but a slow mastery of fundamentals over a few years”

Gooi just could not keep his mouth shut about how great Launch School was with its emphasis on mastery based learning. That sounded very interesting and intuitive to me. Gooi emphasized repeatedly that learning software development over 1–2 years mastering the core fundamentals before jumping into the more advanced and fancy frameworks would be more beneficial in the long run. That made a lot of sense to me as a finance person. I was taught back at my school to look for companies that are strong fundamentally but weak at that moment in time. It wasn’t about the big companies like Apple or Walmart that everyone talks about. Those companies would be good in a portfolio to reduce the risk and stabilize the beta but you won’t see much returns because they are most likely correctly valued. It’s more about finding companies that are undervalued: companies that have a higher intrinsic value than the current market price. One of my favorite investors was Michael Burry who uses this principle to find what he called the “ick” factor to great success.

“I tend to become interested in stocks that by their very names or circumstances inspire an unwillingness — and an ‘ick’ accompanied by a wrinkle of the nose — on the part of most investors to delve any further,” Burry once wrote in a shareholder letter.

I am diverting but I really like finance so I can’t help myself..More finance articles to come later in the future ;-)

6–9 months sounded really short to me to have a solid grasp of the fundamentals and the frameworks especially after hearing that Gooi took 6 months to complete the prep course along with Ruby foundations and Object Oriented Ruby. What was even scarier was the assessments that a student has to take and pass in order to move on. If a student fails, that student has to wait at least a week to retake the test. It actually gets very interesting if that student fails repeatedly.. he or she might be asked to leave the program and that freaked me out. That was the first time I heard that a paying client could be asked to leave if not performing up to expectations. Fortunately, I have not failed one yet (though I came quite close to failing one!) but it just shows how serious this coding bootcamp was. You just have to study and master the material well before attempting an assessment, albeit on a much smaller scale than the CFA exam which is once a year…

I was intrigued and excited. My original plan was to finish coding bootcamp as quickly as possible within 6–9 months and get the hell out of Iowa. Chatting with Gooi made me realize that my journey to be a proficient software developer may very well take longer than 6–9 months. It was looking to be more like 1.5 to 2 years at least, without even touching the more integrated and advanced topics. That sounded a lot more realistic to me. It was like opening up a beautifully designed life insurance brochure, crumpling it up and asking to see the sales illustration with all its wordiness and numbers and actually taking time to analyze it. We as consumers tend to fall for the nice brochures with all the colors and promises. Instead, we should be taught to look and analyze at the dry, boring specs of the product itself, kind of looking and studying the product manual which we all hate.

That night, I visited Launch School’s website and back then, it was honestly quite simple looking and straight to the point. The introduction video was honest and blunt. The founder, Chris Lee was straight to the point and did not mince his words. A promising career in software development awaits provided you put in tons of hard work irrespective of the amount of months or years it takes you. Now, I cannot personally attest to the promising career part yet since I have not completed the course. I’ll have to write an article on that some other day if I ever land a job as a software developer hopefully in a few months time after I’m done with the 8th course(There are 9 in the core curriculum and I just started 7th).

Looking back, I’m glad I dodged a major bullet by not attending Flatiron because it actually went through a $375 grand settlement in October 2017 for running without a license and its bogus claims:

However, Launch School is not for everybody. Since its mastery based irrespective of time, you really have to spend at least 20 hours or more weekly studying and have the motivation to do it on your own. It gets even harder if you have a full time job and it gets even harder if you have a family with kids . To those that can complete this course while holding a full time job with a family with kids, you have my utmost respect.


  • The opinions and views here are based solely on the personal opinions of the author and has no 3rd party influence.
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