Is a UX bootcamp right for me? Do I have what it takes to complete one? Is it worth it? Can I learn all of this online for free? How do I confidently apply for my first job in tech?
If those are questions you’ve been asking, you’re in great company!
Two years ago I was working full-time in a field I wasn’t passionate about, and searching the internet for inspiration. I wanted a new career I was proud of, something that made use of the skills I had but also allowed me to grow.
I wasn’t sure where to start or where to find the motivation to make a change when I was feeling so comfortable in my day job. However, that comfortable feeling was soon overshadowed by curiosity—a curiosity that led to the tech industry.
Coming from a non-tech background in psychology, I felt like I was learning a new language. Each blog article or podcast would leave me with more questions that led to another article, and another podcast. It felt like I was constantly struggling to understand what certain people did in tech, how they built their skillset, and how I could possibly find a job that was right for me.
Maybe you are feeling the same, and you are just starting to research what UX design and a job in tech might look like. Or you might be close to making a decision to sign up for a course. Wherever you are in your journey, you are likely feeling overwhelmed with decisions to make. I know I did.
Looking back, I realize that an understanding of how others tackled these decisions would have been really helpful for me. That’s why I’d like to share the steps I took when embarking on my career change journey, and why I made the decision to pursue a UX bootcamp.
1. Self reflect
So how did I settle on tech? First, I got very clear and honest about who I was, what my strengths were, and I made a few educated guesses about what would make me happy.
Two things I can point to that helped me gain personal clarity were taking personality tests, and writing a retrospective of my past work and volunteer experiences.
When I say personality tests, I don’t exactly mean the kind that you’ll find on Buzzfeed (although those can be a lot of fun). I mean ones that are backed by research, designed to give you greater self-awareness, and offer helpful tools and guidance in making great decisions for yourself.
Here are a few of the personality tests I found most useful:
Introverted or extraverted? Thinker or feeler? This free test gives you a comprehensive report which includes insight on how you make decisions and interact with the world around you. It even has a section in the report called ‘career paths’ for your particular type. I related most to an ‘INTJ’, a personality type that generally loves analysis, attention to detail, and research! Which one do you relate to?
Clifton Strengths Finder
The best career-focused test I’ve taken, as it divides 34 ‘talents’ into four categories that can guide you to a career aligned with your strengths. The four categories are: strategic thinking, relationship building, influencing, and executing. The assessment gives you a report that ranks your top strengths and gives you some insight on how to leverage them in a career. You can pay online to take the test, or if you decide to buy one of the Clifton Strengths books, it comes with a code to redeem an online assessment.
Four Tendencies Quiz
Gretchen Rubin is the author of a great book called Better than Before, which explores the relationship we have to our own habits. The Four Tendencies Quiz is free to take and reveals your tendency towards making, breaking, and maintaining habits. This quiz was especially useful when I was out of school for some time, trying to form a new habit of self-guided learning, and looking for tips and tools to help me stay focused.
Keep in mind, these tests are meant to provide better self-awareness and a perspective of your personality you may not have considered. They are not prescriptive and you may not feel that they represent you at all. Take what resonates with you and leave the rest.
Studies show that writing down your goals can help you take action. If you’re finding yourself full of confusion and doubt, you might find it helpful to write your thoughts on paper where you can look at them objectively and clear them out of your mind.
One day on my lunch break, I went to the boardroom in my office and wrote everything I knew about myself and my career goals on a whiteboard. Specifically, I wrote:
- A list of each job and volunteer experience I’d had;
- A brief description of what I did
- (e.g. ice cream scooper where I served customers; volunteer at an adult literacy program where I taught reading skills)
- What I liked and disliked about each role
- (e.g. disliked sticky ice cream hands; loved teaching and problem-solving)
Once I wrote all of this out, I paid close attention to the things I enjoyed and asked myself the most important question: “Why did I enjoy these tasks?”
After all the tests and questions, I was left with what I valued, enjoyed, and why.
Through this exercise I clarified that I had a love for research, data, and their role in problem solving. I recognized my passion for human behaviour, technology and identifying how an understanding of both could be used to improve lives.
I knew where my natural talents and strongest skills were. I also knew what kind of an environment I wanted to be working and learning in. Tech was an industry that offered endless growth, fit with my goals, and played to those identified strengths.
Remember, my career transition is unique to my skills and experiences. No matter what your background looks like, chances are you have transferable skills that would allow you to be successful in tech too! The career retrospective is meant to help you reflect on your skills and think of where to apply them. People come into tech from all different backgrounds—I am just one example.
2. Explore free resources
When I first decided on tech, I explored career ideas like UX/UI designer, data analyst, and developer. I made a habit of listening to podcasts on my commute to work, reading blog articles on my break, and watching a lot of YouTube videos in the evening.
Looking back, I wish I had found this tech careers guide sooner: it explains the roles of UX designer, UI designer, data analyst, and web developer in detail and shares some useful tips for figuring out which career path might be right for you. If you want a focused resource that goes through some of the most popular job titles in tech right now—make sure you start here.
So how did I settle on UX? My first impression of UX was pixel perfect wireframes and beautiful prototypes. Naturally, I thought I would have to be a skilled graphic designer before I could ever produce those kinds of products.
I didn’t understand that UX was much more than the beautiful end-product. I would find this out after experimenting with development first, and then coming back to a more realistic understanding of UX.
Here are some of the resources I used early on to understand my options:
- Medium - Design
- LinkedIn (I used LinkedIn to check out people in different tech roles and see how they described their work)
- CareerFoundry blog
I’d also recommend taking a look at this round-up of the best UX design blogs on the web.
- CareerFoundry’s informational channel
- Advice on choosing design vs. development
- Day in the life of a UX designer
3. Experiment with low-cost learning
Clearly I love research, but I had to start practicing the skills to really know if I’d like to do the work. I wasn’t ready to commit to a higher cost or commitment course yet, so I found inexpensive ways to experiment with different tech paths. Two notable resources I used were:
- Tip: Watch for sales on courses, they can be quite reasonable (under $40)
LinkedIn Learning UX courses
- Tip: Redeem a free trial month
These were low cost, and great for an introduction to the two different tech paths I was considering (UX design or web development).
However, after trying out both development and design, I had grown to understand that my skill set (research, data, communication, information sharing) really aligned more with UX than development.
Choosing my path felt great, and my next step was taking stock of all of the skills I needed to be a UX designer. This article does a great job of explaining the core skills a UX designer needs. From the soft skills (communication, empathy, and organization) to the more technical (user research, information architecture, and wireframing/prototyping).
My cost efficient learning methods were great at introducing me to the different fields, and what types of tasks I would be doing as a UX designer. Inevitably I hit obstacles and had a lot of questions while taking these courses, and searching for answers and support from around the web caused me to lose my learning momentum. Overall, I was lacking direct support and validation that I would be able to put any of this knowledge into action.
4. Self-reflect (again)
When I realized my scattered curriculum wasn’t going to work, I identified two main problems.
- I had no idea if what I was learning was comprehensive
- I had 1001 questions and no one but Google to ask
I set a time limit on the self-taught method and promised myself, “at the end of this month, if I’m still as interested in UX I will look into a more serious course”. The month came to an end and I was still engaged in the material and had more questions than ever, so it felt right to move forward with a more intensive training option.
5. Conduct informational interviews (talking to real people)
Once I decided I needed comprehensive hands-on UX training, I pored over bootcamp reviews and landed on my top choices. I sent inquiry emails, booked phone calls, and visited the closest in-person bootcamps in my area.
The next decision was: in-person or online?
With a flexible job that allowed for evening/weekend study, a full-time immersive would have meant giving up my job and moving to a more costly area. Financially speaking, online was the best option for me.
Speaking with different course representatives was what eventually sold me on the UX bootcamp I signed up for (spoiler alert: it was CareerFoundry).
After completing the introductory UX Design email short-course (the easiest low-cost/commitment learning tool to stick with), I booked a phone call with CareerFoundry. I ended up chatting with my future course mentor Leah, who asked me questions about my background, skills, and goals. After all of my research and interviews with different bootcamps, she gave me the best advice about UX for me.
On that call I learned that CareerFoundry’s curriculum was flexibly paced to allow for a busy schedule like mine, that I would be assigned a dedicated tutor who would provide thorough feedback on my assignments, and a mentor to call each week to ask questions. Not to mention the very active and helpful Slack channel—my network went from 0 - 100+ real quick.
I confessed to Leah that before I picked up the phone that day, I jokingly said to myself, “that’s your future calling”. It seriously was…Thank you Leah!
6. Make a commitment
Fast forward to where I am now, just graduated from CareerFoundry’s UX Immersion bootcamp and while I’m just beginning my job search, I can say with confidence that it was a great choice. CareerFoundry delivered exactly what was promised, and more. I have a great framework of knowledge, a number of new technical skills, and a huge global support system.
The thing I value most from my experience was the platform and the people. I connected with great designers, mentors, and classmates. I doubt that I would be starting my job search at all had I self-taught or continued to jump from resource to resource.
Making the commitment is the last step and might also be your biggest hurdle. You can research, interview, and ask yourself questions forever; everything I’ve talked about in this article would have been for naught, had I not taken action.
“In the absence of intuition, take action,’’ a quote from author Philip Mckernan that pushed me to make my commitment. I had learned, researched, talked, listened, and read all I could at the level I was at. I needed to take a bigger step, and that meant closing the open tabs of research on my browser and reserving my spot.
I can tell you that the feeling of finishing the course, making connections with a brilliant community, completing tough assignments, and noticing your skillset grow are HUGE. It all starts when you receive that confirmation email from CareerFoundry. Wherever you are in your career change journey, stay true to yourself, trust that you have what it takes (and the rest can be learnt), and remember that even the biggest changes need to start with small steps.
Considering a career in UX? Here’s what you should do next
As you can see, my UX journey started with a lot of questions and confusion, and it took patience and persistence to make a decision that felt right. To make a career change decision that feels right for you, here’s what I suggest:
- Reflect on where you are right now. Take stock of your personality tendencies, skills, and professional experiences.
- Explore your options with free information online (e.g. blogs, podcasts, and videos).
- Experiment with low cost learning tools to see where your skills shine.
- Set a time limit on the exploration and experimentation phase. Revisit your goals, be honest about your progress, and reassess your learning plan accordingly.
- Reach out to others, talk to people who are where you want to be!
- Level up your learning, and commit to a program that works for you.
- Work hard and have fun!
Everyone starts somewhere. Don’t steal the joy from your experience with too much critical comparison of others’ success—just focus on your next step. If you need another nudge in the right direction, take a look at some of these great resources: