Advice from UX practitioners on what to look at when choosing a UX course or bootcamp and how to find the best path for transitioning to UX design.
I’ve been in the UX education space since 2018, first through UX Goodies and since 2020 through Mento Design Academy. Believe me when I say I’ve probably had over 100 conversations around UX education and transitioning to UX design, both with aspiring / junior designers struggling to make the switch, as well as with senior designers struggling to find the right junior talent. I’ve heard both sides of the stories, the pain points, the struggles, the red flags, the mistakes, the best practices, the advice, and I’ve consolidated everything into a couple of ideas that are worth (sometimes even mandatory) to be taken into account when choosing the UX education path to pursue in your UX transition. Here are my (industry-informed) two cents around the criteria one should look at when choosing one bootcamp over another.
1. Who will be your teacher / mentor By looking closely at different bootcamps when trying to map out the problems and pain points of transitioning to UX, I found this particular point to be recurrent and quite serious: many teachers or mentors don’t even have UX experience. Sometimes they have too little experience (just been through a bootcamp themselves), other times they’re not UX designers at all (but developers or graphic designers). This is a major red flag and a real problem, as it’s pretty much impossible to guide someone through the weeds of UX when you haven’t been there yourself. So when choosing a UX bootcamp, start by investigating your teacher / mentor. Look them up on Linkedin, make sure they have real design experience, maybe see some of their past roles, work or credentials. You wouldn’t want to be taught how to drive by someone who doesn’t have a driver’s license, right? :)
2. Schedule / Rhythm — Remote vs Self-paced To navigate different options around which vary in terms of necessary time investment, effort and rhythm, you need to start from yourself and begin with an introspection or self-assessment exercise. You should explore questions such as: How much time per week am I willing to invest? Is my calendar flexible, can I meet at fixed hours or do I need to be given freedom? Do I want to keep my full-time job or am I going to quit? Can I invest a full day or do I want to study whenever I can? Which model do I prefer: classroom-teacher or mentor-self-study? As a learner, am I independent or do I need hand-holding / constant guidance? How have I learned best in the past: by doing? by reading? by watching someone explain? Do I have a learning style? And the list can go on, but the bottom line is you should start with an honest self-exploration that’s meant to help you figure out what type of learning system resonates most with you and might help you maximise your results.
3. Practical Projects & Portfolio Another essential topic to explore is what you’ll actually be working on in your bootcamp. Moreover, you should probably make sure that by the end of the bootcamp you’ll have a portfolio that enables you to land interviews. From all the conversations I’ve had, fictional prompts are not particularly appreciated by hiring managers / recruiters. So, ideally, you would look for bootcamps / programs / opportunities that support you in finding real projects to work on (ideally even real clients). The problem with fictional prompts is that you will mostly be working in a, well, fictional setup. Another problem is that if that’s the general bootcamp topic, all graduates will feature the same case study in their portfolios, which makes it pretty hard to differentiate between candidates for employers (and pretty boring sometimes, as they say). So, when analysing your options for UX education, make sure you investigate or ask about the practical projects that you’re supposed to work on.
But there’s no practice without the proper theory, right? So to make sure that the bootcamp meets your educational needs, goals and expectations, go through their syllabus in advance and maybe ask a senior designer to give you an opinion around it. It should cover most, if not all aspects of what it takes to design a good experience. You will want to consider whether their course outline matches your goals (tracing them back to the introspection / self-assessment exercise). So let’s say you see yourself becoming a UX researcher, you’d want to make sure that the curriculum doesn’t focus too heavily on visual design, and that it has a robust treatment of the Research space.
5. Support after graduation What happens after you finish the bootcamp? One of the major pain points we uncovered when researching the UX educational problem space was that most students felt lost and sort of abandoned after their graduation. They either experienced a feeling of being insufficiently / inadequately prepared for the job hunt and the real world, or they felt that they lack continuity and guidance through the (difficult) stage of searching for UX jobs. This is important, even though it doesn’t necessarily feel like it before embarking on the journey. The job hunt for a UX role can be tough, it’s a very competitive space and while there are plenty of UX roles out there, most of them target seniors, so as a junior designer you’ll have to prepare for a fair amount of rejection and frustration. But, that isn’t to say that I don’t see plenty of success stories as well, so it’s definitely possible, but you will need patience, persistence and, ideally, support from your bootcamp.
6. Community Who you learn alongside matters. The camaraderie and friendship that can emerge from being on a learning journey together can prove to be valuable long-term and impactful in terms of how well you preserve motivation in the short-term. Also, networking is an important part of a successful transition, so make sure you maximise networking opportunities through your colleagues and teachers / mentors. Ideally, your bootcamp would have dedicated people making sure that the community is active, connecting students in social gatherings, fostering meaningful conversations and more.
7. Personalisation & Flexibility Every transition story is different. Every student comes from their own, individual background, possesses a particular set of skills, has or doesn’t have prior design experience (note: absolutely no problem if you don’t! Sometimes, that’s even better, since you start off as a clean blank slate), and has a personal set of goals, dreams, aspirations. Ideally, every student would get personalised guidance. Steer away from programmes that are very rigid, feel like a “junior factory”, serving every student the same recipe, even when it doesn’t make sense for the student. Examples of how personalisation and flexibility might look like can be something such as: a person with a background in graphic design, that doesn’t want to spend as much time on learning typography and color, but wants to invest more time in understanding how to design and run the research efforts in a UX project. This person needs to adjust the amount of time spent + effort to fill in their particular set of gaps, matching their particular set of goals. Sometimes, they might want to skip some parts all together, and as long as that doesn’t interfere with their path towards mastering UX holistically (and that’s the mentor’s job to judge!), and that could also be fine. Bootcamps, through their mentors, should be able to tailor each experience to the person that’s going through it.
8. Honesty You might want to look at how fair the bootcamp you’re considering feels. You can evaluate this by setting up a free call (most bootcamps offer that, from what I’m aware) and making sure that they’re not too salesy, nor they’re creating overly optimistic expectations. Also, you would want to have a conversation that is honest, transparent, not sugarcoating things and that explores your personal motivations and goals. Fair bootcamps will tell you if you’re not right for that programme and point you towards resources or opportunities that might make more sense in your individual context.
It might be a good idea to reach out to past students asking for an honest review. Though be mindful of whether their answer might be biased by referral commissions that the bootcamp offers them.
You might want to make sure that UX is right for you before embarking on a long bootcamp journey that demands a lot of energy and resources. While you can never be completely sure of anything, but can explore the field of UX to a decent level of confidence. And I’d say there are three ways to go about this:
Reach out to senior designers and ask them if they would be open to having a conversation around how a day in their work life looks like, what are their main attributions, responsibilities, activities, and so on.
See if the bootcamps you’re considering offer an Intro course
Take one or two quick online courses that take you through what UX design entails, for a small financial investment, like those offered by Interaction Design Foundation
I would love to read comments of senior designers or juniors who have successfully transitioned. I really hope that this article along with the additions that might arise will serve as a good foundation for making the right decision around what UX bootcamp to choose. If anyone wants to have a conversation with me, I’m open and friendly, find me at UX Goodies or on Linkedin. At Mento Design Academy we also offer a free call with one of our mentors, that’s meant to be a simple, informal conversation aimed to help you find the best educational opportunity for you.
Whatever you do, good luck on your learning journey, you’re in for a rollercoaster! And at the end of this ride, hopefully, you’ll be doing meaningful work and building the career you dream of!
To many happy transition stories!