Reflection: After Launch School’s Core Curriculum

I started Launch School in July 2017 and completed my final course by the end of February 2019. That’s about 1 year and 8 months of studying after work in the evenings. Currently, I just wrapped up the first elective course involving building applications with Client Side MVC. I’ll be working on Rails with a side of Java and Python during the next 3 months followed by 2 -3 months of putting together my portfolio, building 1–2 personal projects before starting the job hunting process! React.js and Angular.js are also on my “to learn” list in the near future so I’m really looking forward to the years of continuous learning and improvement.

Before I started Launch School, I had 2 goals. The first was to work on my own projects and someday turn it into a startup if it picks up. The second was to secure a good paying job as a developer. When I was in college, I had ideas popping up in my head every now and then but I could not really build it. Sure, there were different drop and drag websites for creating websites but those were for generic websites or at most, online stores. I didn’t want to “dink around” trying to hack and slash in the attempt to flesh out my ideas. I knew it would be a very painful experience just to build up one complete application without a strong foundation. Just try googling and reading up language/framework/library documentations without having any real understanding in the fundamentals. Maybe it works for those who are naturally gifted but for me and most others; I would say its a nightmare.

What if I spent a year or two just to cobble up a working application and it doesn’t take off? I would have wasted that time and have nothing to show for it without really having the necessary skills to be effective in a software developer role. I’m sure there are exceptions to that rule but I prefer going about this in a more risk managed manner. My logic was to have a strong set of fundamentals and then enhance it with frameworks and libraries like Express, Backbone and Rails to rapidly develop prototypes. I’d spend about 2 years learning most of what I need before developing my ideas with my skill set. If the ideas fail to take off, that’s fine. It just gets added to my portfolio of projects. I‘ll have the necessary skills to be effective as a software developer and I can continue learning more tools, providing more value to my employer and continue on building more applications on the side. I think this approach is more grounded and less idealistic compared to the former so I chose it.

I found Launch School through a friend of mine and the rest was history. Looking back, there were 4 main qualities I appreciated:

  1. Honesty: Launch School is upfront about what to expect. Other programs especially boot camps tend to sugarcoat the process and promise high salaries upon graduation. On the other hand, Launch School tells it as it is and lays out the long and sometimes hard process of mastering the fundamentals before starting on frameworks and libraries. I would say this honesty was the main factor driving me to choose this online school.
  2. A structured curriculum: What I learnt about self-learning on your own without a proper curriculum is “you don’t know what you don’t know.” The more I learn about different technologies, the more I feel I know less. A recent example would be working with a task runner like Grunt. I would never have known about using Grunt to automate tasks on my own. Over the past month, I used about 5 of the plugins to automate certain tasks but there are over a thousand more plugins to explore and learn. Its moments like these that makes me excited about programming: the idea of exploring deeper into a technology.
  3. Quality and format of instruction: I enjoyed the gentle guidance of learning new concepts in a structured manner followed by various practice problems and finally a project at the end of some lessons to seal it in. Concepts were explained clearly and there was always the availability of teaching assistants to answer any question. I also enjoyed the assessments through Launch School. The format of practice, practice and more practice followed by feedback through code reviews and finally an assessment to tie it up together really works for me. This is where paying someone to provide a curriculum is far superior than creating your own curriculum which might not be as intensive.
  4. Its affordable!: At $199 a month, you can’t beat that price for the quality provided compared to other online schools, MOOCs and especially coding boot camps which charge a bomb. Its common to see boot camps charging $9000 — $13 000 for a 6 to 9 months online developer course. There are boot camps which only charge after you get a job but those are pretty selective, filtering those who display some potential. Those programs that don’t take a fee upfront are usually asking for a percentage of salary for MULTIPLE years! That would easily be a 5 figure payment versus $199 a month.

As a closing thought, what Launch School provides is the tools a person needs for a career in software / web development. There are so many other technologies to explore, its astounding how fast this field evolves. Its not just about completing the learning process, get a job and being set for life. Don’t get me wrong, its alright to have that mindset and often times, its enough to get a good career and life. However, I think a better mindset to aim for would be striving to improve continuous, be humble in learning and to enjoy the process because one should never stop learning.