Andrew Madsen

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Last Day

My Team at Lambda

A gift from my team on my last day.

Today is my last day at Lambda School. I’m really excited about what’s next, but first I wanted to write down my thoughts about Lambda and my time there. I started at Lambda in March 2018, just over 2 years ago. At the beginning of 2015, my friend Caleb Hicks was starting the full-time immersive iOS program at DevMountain. He asked me to come in to do a guest lecture. Teaching in a formal setting seemed like fun, so of course I said yes. I had a blast teaching a bunch of eager, brand-new iOS developers about SceneKit. He asked me to keep coming back, and soon I was teaching once a week.

A year and a half later, I joined DevMountain full time to run their iOS program. It was a nice change of pace from engineering, and I loved getting to work with students every day. Every teacher will tell you about the feeling of watching a student learning something from scratch and the excitement they feel when they suddenly can do something that seemed impossible just a little while ago. There’s nothing that compares. Having a job where I got to be part of that every day was great, and that it still let me exercise my expertise in programming was even better. I learned a ton, got a lot better at teaching, and most importantly got to be directly involved in helping a bunch of people start their iOS development careers.

Lambda School started in mid-2017. I had known of Austen Allred, the CEO and co-founder, from Twitter, mutual friends, and his work on a previous startup, Grasswire. That summer, I was interviewing at Apple for an engineering job, and staying with Caleb in San Jose during WWDC. Caleb was at Apple working on the Everyone Can Code project, and was talking to Lambda’s founders about maybe joining them. I got an offer to work on an incredible team at Apple, and was very seriously considering taking it. At the last minute, partly because I had Lambda in the back of my mind, I decided it wasn’t the right move for me. That fall, Caleb left Apple to join Lambda, and we had already started talking about me joining him there. A few months later, I left DevMountain to start Lambda’s iOS program.

At the time, Lambda was small, with around 20 full time employees. Our only physical office was in a small business park in Pleasanton, CA, though only 3 or 4 people worked there regularly. I’m used to working at companies this size, and it’s the sweet spot for me. Those of us in Utah got together for lunch every week, I talked to people working on everything going on at the company regularly, and felt like I had a big impact. In short, it was great, and quickly became my favorite job ever. I’ve worked with smart people, but the group of people at Lambda were some of the smartest, most ambitious people I know. It didn’t hurt that a number of them were existing friends.

We launched the iOS program at Lambda in July of 2018 and I taught the entire first cohort myself. Halfway through the course, I started to “run out” of curriculum that I had already written. It meant that I was staying up late almost every night writing lessons, creating project assignments, recording videos, etc. only to get up the next morning to teach. Anyone who has taught knows how fulfilling it is, but also that it’s not exactly relaxing! I’ve rarely worked harder, but it was a blast. Every day I got to work directly with a small group of students taking a chance on a brand new program. I was continually impressed by how hard they worked, how eager they were to learn, and how fun they were to be around. I’m proud to say that nearly all of them are now out in the industry working as iOS developers on amazing things. It was one of my favorite few months of my entire career. I got to hire a team of full-time iOS instructors who are still there, still teaching, and still changing students’ lives.

A year or so ago, I moved into a role where I was building and leading Lambda’s dedicated curriculum team. I got to assemble a team of curriculum developers, and building that team is the project I’m most proud of. I’m convinced there’s not a better group of people in the world. I’m impressed by them every day, and love working with them. Not getting to work with them is the thing about leaving Lambda that I’m saddest about. I’m really excited to follow what they do from the outside, though. If you have any doubt about the people making Lambda happen, go talk to the curriculum team. You’ll find some of the smartest, most accomplished, most interesting, driven, and most importantly, kind people anywhere in the world.

As all of this has happened, Lambda has grown. The company is in the neighborhood of 200 full time staff now, with thousands of students. It has changed a great deal in the two years I’ve been here. Many of the changes have been great, a blast to be a part of, and have helped us get even better at helping students change their lives. There have also been some growing pains, but even those have been an important part of the story, and have taught me a lot.

So, if Lambda’s so great, why am I leaving? I’ve been in tech education full time for about 4 years now. I’ve loved it, but I am an engineer at heart, and have been my entire life. Solving problems, especially deep technical problems, is the work my brain likes most. The past eight months, I’ve had some contract work for a few clients doing audio programming for iOS, which is right up my alley, and I’ve found myself looking forward to evenings and weekends when I could work on it. Simultaneously, I’ve felt like, while my engineering ability isn’t declining, I’m not pushing myself in that area. It makes me feel like I’m falling behind. In short, as much as I’ve loved being in education, it’s just time for me to be an engineer again.

I’ll share more about my new job next week, but I’m incredibly excited about where I’m going. It’s exactly the kind of project I love most, working with a very small team of people, including some I’ve known and respected for a while, on a native iOS app that people buy if — and only if — it’s excellent. I’ll even have one of my former students as a teammate. It feels like an opportunity tailor made for me, and when it came along, it was obvious pretty quickly that it was the right move for me to make.

I’ll miss Lambda, especially the friends -- coworkers and students -- I’ve gotten to know. It’s the best job I’ve ever had, and I couldn’t be more grateful for my time here. I’m extremely optimistic about their future, will be rooting for them, and if I’m lucky, they’ll invite me back to teach, even if only part-time.

P.S. Lambda had to lay off some people a couple weeks back due to the effects of COVID-19. I wasn’t part of this group, having decided to take this new job well before lay offs happened. Some really good people were affected, and you should snap them up if you’re hiring. Get in touch if you want recommendations.