Conversations with Fortune 100 Tech Leaders​

The New Way To Teach Tech

Josh Knell, the Head of Instruction at Lambda School, drops by to discuss how Lambda is changing the way students learn coding, development and more.

Listen On:

Show Notes

After a career in app development and with experience as a CTO, Josh Knell (LinkedIn, Twitter) joined Lambda School to help change the way students think about coding, school, and learning. As the director of instruction, Josh is constantly innovating and adjusting the Lambda curriculum in order to make sure that his students are as prepared as possible when they graduate from the program and enter the real world.

In this episode, Josh and Ian discuss the challenges associated with creating and maintaining an online coding boot camp designed to change the face of education. Plus they dive into what it means to have a community of well-trained graduates and how Josh’s past experience as a CTO helps him excel in his role today.

Topics Discussed: CSS, innovation, growth, development, education, technology, CTO, coding, HTML, app development.

Introducing Josh — (1:20)

  • Josh started building computers at age 11 and he thought he could build a better, cheaper computer that the one he saw in a shop down the street, so that’s what he did.
  • Warcraft was his game.

What Josh does at Lambda School — (3:00)

  • Josh is the Head of Instruction, which is a new role that grew out of the rapid growth Lambda has been experiencing. He moved into the role after spending more than a year as a web instructor.
  • “We needed a true north for how instruction at Lambda School should look.”
  • Josh works with program managers who in turn work with instructors working with students.
  • “We’re teaching them how to be better instructors.”
  • Many of the teachers have an IT or tech background but no experience teaching, so finding someone who has the skills to both teach effectively and actually do all the technical things they are teaching has been like searching for a unicorn. So Josh is helping to train the instructors.

Why is it important to be building Lambda School? — (5:25)

  • “We’re income accelerators more than we’re teaching students or creating technologists. We’re trying to change lives by changing income trajectory.”
  • Technology is the lowest hanging fruit.
  • “It’s not an easy thing to do to train people and give them confidence.”   
  • Josh didn’t come from education, he taught on the side of his career in IT for fun.
  • Lambda is trying to incentivize people to come to the school using income share agreements or a living stipend. That’s what draws people in, but what makes them stay is the curriculum.
  • “People come into Lambda School thinking it’s a boot camp, it’s online and it’s ISA, but that’s only one-fourth of the story.”
  • There is a community of students around the world who are trying to fill in the gaps that exist in the programming world.
  • “We’re trying to create students who can help you immediately. We’re doing things that boot camps can’t cover and we can because of our ISAs and our structure.”

Why is the instruction at Lambda School different? — (9:35)

  • It begins with the mental barrier of the financial barrier being removed.
  • “The grit level in a Lambda School student is above and beyond the grit you see in others.”
  • When you have a hunger to learn HTML and CSS, the lessons become 10-times more impactful.
  • “We go to hiring partners and ask them what they wish they had in someone they needed to hire, and we teach that. …We are looking toward the hiring managers and what they need, not just what our instructors can teach.”

The community of graduates — (14:50)

  • The Lambda School graduates are on fire out in the world and they naturally come together.
  • “We started to realize the power of our own community.”

Making sure students are set up for success — (19:30)

  • Lambda has a mastery-based progression built into the program called Flex.
      • If you fail an aspect of the program, instead of having to wait to try again for an entire cycle, you can try again immediately. This opportunity is what sets Lambda apart in the way of preparedness.
  • Sprint challenges, project-based work, being able to actually build minimum-viable products are all bars Lambda students have to reach in order to complete their education.
  • Lambda offers a lot of resources to help students prepare for and learn from interviews, including doing play-by-play style interview analysis.
  • Not everyone is ready to hire a Lambda School graduate, so there are still fit problems that need to be solved.
  • “We don’t have a 100% hire rate, but that’s our goal.”
  • When students don’t land a job, are not good at interviewing or there are some other problems that make it hard for the student to get hired, Lambda offers career coaches and helps to those students.
  • If you lose your job, Lambda offers lifetime career support to its students.
  • “As long as we’re in business, we’ll be supporting our students.”
  • “We love university graduates because that’s kind of like a grit badge.”
  • Lambda tells students that it is investing in them, and that is a confidence booster for students who want to go from the sandwich shop to a developer career.

Driving innovation at Lambda — (29:45)

  • Innovation is top of mind especially when you are creating everything from scratch for your team.
  • The risk of investing in your employees is scary because if they become smarter they’re going to ask for more money or go somewhere else.
  • Lambda constantly reinvests in itself because they believe that their own people will be the drivers of innovation.
  • “Educate your people and form them into what you want your company to look like.”
  • Total mental buy-in from the executive board needs to happen to allow innovation to occur.

Looking back on Josh’s time as a CTO — (36:15)

  • There was no empathy for technology among executives. Josh wished he was a better salesman in his approach to technology.

Lightning Round — (37:40)

  • Josh built a funeral app in ActionScript3.
  • He’s been involved in James Cameron’s 3-D Deep Dive,, and Campbells Soup’s website.
  • Did app development for Donny Osmond.
  • Autosleep is the most fun app.
  • Kim Scott’s Radical Candor
  • Park City is the best one-day getaway
  • Josh is a banjo player
  • Most excited about the future of CSS
  • Advice: “It’s not the end of the world if the website goes down.”
    • If you are coming from a software background, do not neglect deployment.”
  • “If you don’t build, you fall behind.”


Conversations with Fortune 100 Tech Leaders​

Subscribe to get conversations with IT leaders, founders, and futurists.

Subscribe Now To Get

– Conversations from top tech leaders with actionable insights.

– Access to exclusive giveaways from The Mission full of awesome swag and prizes.

Copyright © 2018 The Mission