If you’re an aspiring UX designer, you may be wondering how to break into the industry. You know you need to master some hands-on skills and ultimately gain real-world experience before you can even think about applying for UX design jobs—but where do you start?
Two highly effective routes into the industry are UX design bootcamps and UX design internships. Both have the potential to teach you critical design skills and propel your career forward—but, depending on your personal circumstances and current skill level, one may be more suitable than the other. So how do you decide which road to go down?
In this guide, we’ll help you figure out whether to pursue a UX design bootcamp or a UX design internship. We’ll consider the main benefits of each, and pose some questions that will help you assess your own situation and work out what’s best for you. Finally, we’ll share some tips on how you can make the most of the experience, whichever route you choose.
We’ll cover the following:
- What will you gain from a UX design bootcamp?
- What will you gain from a UX design internship?
- How to decide which is right for you
- Making the most of the experience (whichever route you choose)
So, should you do a UX design bootcamp or a UX design internship? Let’s assess!
1. Why do a UX design bootcamp?
Before you can decide between a UX bootcamp and an internship, it’s important to consider both options and what they offer. Let’s start with the UX bootcamp.
What is a UX design bootcamp?
The bootcamp learning model first emerged in 2011 and traditionally focused on teaching people how to code. Since then, bootcamps have popped up in different areas of tech, including digital marketing, data analytics, and of course, UX design.
Especially in recent years, we’ve seen rapid growth in the market. To give you an idea of what this looks like, the coding bootcamp market is estimated to grow by 49% in 2019 alone. As tech skills such as programming, data analysis, and digital design have become increasingly crucial—both in the workplace and in our everyday lives—bootcamps offer a structured, hands-on way of mastering these skills.
A UX design bootcamp is essentially a course or program that teaches you fundamental UX design skills and, most importantly, shows you how to apply them in the real world. UX bootcamps come in all different shapes and sizes, ranging from intensive, in-person bootcamps to completely flexible online programs—and everything else in between. Unlike traditional university or college programs, bootcamps focus primarily on practical skills, ensuring that graduates get hands-on experience and are job-ready.
Who can do a UX design bootcamp?
The great thing about UX bootcamps is that they’re designed for beginners. Believe it or not, a bootcamp has the potential to take you from complete novice to job-ready designer—as long as you choose a high-quality program! So, you don’t need any previous design skills to qualify for a UX bootcamp: just a passion for the field and a good dose of motivation.
Not only are bootcamps ideal for beginners; due to the flexibility they offer, they’re also much more feasible for those who have other commitments and can’t sign up for full-time, attendance-based study. The right bootcamp will fit around your full-time job, regular hobbies, and caring commitments, making the prospect of a career-change much more realistic and achievable.
UX bootcamps are typically geared towards adult learners and aspiring career-changers. However, they’re not exclusively open to those who want to switch careers; they’re also well-suited to people looking to learn new skills in order to enhance their current career. In short, most UX design bootcamps are open to anyone willing to put in the work.
What will you gain from a UX design bootcamp?
A good UX design bootcamp will give you a solid grounding in both the fundamental principles of user experience (UX) and the practical skills and techniques that make up the UX design process. A great UX design bootcamp will offer expert mentorship, constructive feedback on your work, help with building and polishing your portfolio, and extensive career coaching. Bootcamps can also help you connect with fellow students and career-changers, giving you a sense of support and community even if you’re studying online. Ultimately, the right UX design bootcamp will take you from complete beginner to highly employable designer, regardless of your existing skill set.
Let’s consider the key benefits of doing a UX design bootcamp:
A focus on practical skills: Bootcamps are all about getting hands-on, so you should graduate feeling confident enough to take on a UX design role. This learning-by-doing approach is ideal if you want to make a career-change into UX.
Clear structure: Learning independently can seem daunting, especially with such a wealth of resources out there. A UX design bootcamp provides a logical structure to follow, making sure you learn all the right things in the right order.
Mentorship: One of the most common pieces of advice given to aspiring designers is to find a mentor, but that’s not always so easy in the real world. Some UX bootcamps will pair you with a mentor (usually an industry expert) who can provide one-on-one feedback and guidance.
Flexibility: As already mentioned, there are all different kinds of bootcamps out there. Online bootcamps in particular offer plenty of flexibility in terms of location and pace, making them ideal if you’ve got other commitments.
Accessible for beginners: UX design bootcamps tend to be geared towards beginners who want to transition into a completely new field, so you’re not required to have any prior knowledge or experience. A bootcamp should teach you everything you need to know—from scratch, and in manageable and accessible ways.
A portfolio-first approach: A professional portfolio is your golden ticket into the UX industry, allowing you to show prospective employers and clients what you’re capable of. It can be difficult to curate a portfolio if you’re new to the industry and lacking that real-world experience, but a good bootcamp will help you with this.
A sense of community: As a UX design bootcamp student, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a diverse community of fellow learners. Even when studying online, you’ll likely be connected to other students as part of your chosen program.
- Job preparation and career coaching: Given that UX design bootcamps tend to focus on career-change, you can expect to receive some kind of career coaching and help with finding a job once you graduate. Some UX design bootcamps even come with a job guarantee. The level of support offered depends on the kind of bootcamp you go for, so it’s important to do your research.
Now that we know all about UX bootcamps and what they have to offer, let’s consider our second option: A UX design internship.
2. Why do a UX design internship?
Internships tend to be the go-to stepping stone when it comes to making that transition from industry newbie to employed professional. When faced with the classic conundrum of wanting to start a new career but not having any real-world experience, you might look for an internship. Before you do, let’s consider what exactly a UX design internship might entail.
What is a UX design internship?
A UX design internship is usually a short-term placement within a company, lasting anywhere between a month and a year. The purpose of an internship is to gain valuable work experience and to get a glimpse into the inner workings of the industry. Ideally, you’ll be mentored by an experienced UX designer who can show you how things are done. You should also get a chance to work on some real projects.
So what kind of tasks can you expect as a UX intern? Well, that all depends on the company you intern with. Most of the big names in tech offer internships, including Google, Microsoft, and Airbnb, but equally, you can intern at startups, agencies, and even with freelance designers. At a smaller organization or start-up, you might find yourself more heavily involved in the entire UX design process. At larger organizations and agencies, on the other hand, you may focus on a select few aspects of the process.
Now for the question of money. Internships may be paid or unpaid, although unpaid internships have been the subject of controversy in recent years. The good news is that intern salaries in general are on the rise: according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the hourly wage for interns in the United States went up by 3.7% in 2018. At the same time, the percentage of students taking unpaid internships fell from 50% in 2012 to 43% in 2017. According to PayScale, the average hourly wage of a UX intern (in the U.S.) sits at $15.21. Before taking on an internship, it’s definitely worth finding out whether it’s paid or unpaid and, if it’s the latter, making sure there’s plenty of valuable experience in it for you.
Who can apply for UX design internships?
While UX design bootcamps are generally open to everyone, applying for UX internships is a more competitive sport. As you’ll be working at a company, you may be required to have some prior knowledge of the UX design field.
When browsing UX internship job ads, you’ll notice that many organizations require knowledge of industry tools and an understanding of user experience principles. Some internships also favor candidates who are enrolled in some form of relevant study program. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to land an internship without any previous experience; some companies will take you on if you have some relevant soft skills (such as communication and collaboration, for example) and a clear desire to learn.
It’s important to note that, although the word “intern” might have junior connotations, internships are open to people of all ages; as long as you’re willing to learn and embrace the tasks in your job description, there’s nothing to stop you applying for an internship at any stage in your life.
What will you gain from a UX design internship?
A successful UX design internship will provide you with the real-world experience you need to apply for full-time roles. Even if the role is unpaid, there’s plenty to be gained from a UX design internship—including expert mentorship, a chance to learn about UX design in a business setting, real projects for your portfolio, and even the possibility of a job offer at the end. Let’s round up the benefits of completing a UX design internship:
First-hand exposure to the industry: When it comes to learning about the UX industry, a UX design internship is the next best thing to full-time paid employment. You’ll be privy to everything from the UX design process and tools right through to meetings with stakeholders, giving you valuable insight into your future field.
A focus on practical skills: Just like UX bootcamps, a UX design internship should focus on practical skills. You’ll have the chance to get hands-on with real-world projects, allowing you to practice what you’re learning and talk knowledgeably about the process in future job interviews.
Material for your portfolio: Based on the practical skills you’ll learn as part of your UX design internship, you should end up with some impressive projects for your portfolio. Even if you only contribute to these projects in a small way, they’re well worth featuring in your portfolio as proof of what you’ve learned.
A chance to develop key soft skills: An often overlooked yet crucial aspect of the UX designer role is soft skills. In addition to mastering the technicalities of design, a UX internship will also help you develop valuable soft skills such as communication, collaboration, empathy, and an understanding of business. These will all serve you well as a UX designer!
Networking opportunities: While working alongside experienced UX designers, you’re automatically starting to establish a professional network. Even if there’s no chance of full-time employment at the end, it’s always good to make industry contacts, and a UX internship will help you get started.
Mentorship: As an intern, you can expect to be mentored by an experienced UX designer. Another benefit is that no one will expect you to be producing senior-level work, so it’s the ideal opportunity to experiment, make mistakes, get feedback, and learn as much as you can.
- A potential job offer: Some companies view UX internships as a trial period before making a permanent job offer, so an internship may be just what you need to get your foot in the door.
Now we’ve covered both UX design bootcamps and UX internships in detail, let’s return to our original conundrum: Which one should you choose?
3. UX design bootcamp vs. UX design internship: Which is a better fit?
Perhaps by now you have a clear preference for one or the other. That’s great!
Still undecided? Here are some things to consider when choosing between a UX design bootcamp and a UX design internship.
What’s your availability?
Before committing to either a UX design bootcamp or an internship, you’ll need to think about your schedule. An online bootcamp will allow for more flexibility, while an internship will likely require you to be present in the office on at least a part-time basis, and potentially over several months.
If you’re already working full-time but are still keen to take on an internship, consider asking about any opportunities within your current company; it may be that you can spend a few hours a week with the design team on top of your regular job. If you have a lot of other commitments such as family or caring responsibilities, you might be better off opting for the more flexible bootcamp route.
What is your current skill level?
Another factor to take into consideration is your current skill set. If you’ve already picked up some UX design skills and simply lack the real-world experience, a UX design internship is an excellent way to consolidate what you’ve already learned and develop your skill set further. If you’re a complete beginner, however, it may prove difficult to find an internship that will teach you about UX design from scratch. A UX bootcamp will start from the very beginning and take you through everything you need to know in a logical order, leaving you with a solid foundation on which to build your new career.
Have you done enough research?
Both a UX design bootcamp and a UX internship require significant commitment. While it might sound obvious, you’ll want to be as clued up on the field of UX design as you can before committing to either option. Gain as much insight as possible into what it’s really like to work as a UX designer; talk to people in the industry, read blog posts, watch tutorials, and try playing around with some UX tools.
If you’re leaning towards a UX bootcamp, try a free introductory course to see how you like it. If you’re thinking about taking on a UX internship, see what positions are currently available in your area and what kinds of skills or experience they require. The more certain you are, the easier it will be to commit to your career-change—whichever route you choose to pursue.
What’s your financial situation?
Last but not least, it’s important to think about your financial situation and how much capacity you have for either a UX design internship or a UX design bootcamp. We discussed earlier how paid internships are on the rise, so taking on a UX design internship doesn’t necessarily have to mean working for free. Even if you do take on a short-term unpaid internship, this may lead to a paid position. If money is a deciding factor for you, it’s important to discuss the likelihood of a permanent job offer before committing.
As for a UX design bootcamp, be sure to find out exactly how much it will cost you in tuition fees and exactly what you’ll get for your money. Not all bootcamps are created equal, so you need to make sure that you’re investing your money wisely. We advise opting for a UX bootcamp that offers a job guarantee; that way, you’re guaranteed a job upon graduation, or your money back. One financial advantage that UX bootcamps have over internships is that they tend to be more flexible, allowing you to study UX without giving up your job.
Hopefully those questions will help you to gain some clarity when choosing between a UX design bootcamp and a UX internship. For more advice, we highly recommend checking out the following:
4. How to make the most of your UX design bootcamp or UX design internship
Whether you opt for a UX design bootcamp or a UX design internship, both routes will provide you with invaluable knowledge and experience. As with most things in life, you get out what you put in, so it’s important to make the most of your experience.
When it comes to a UX design internship, you’ll need to show up everyday with enthusiasm and a clear desire to learn. If you’re not officially assigned a mentor, seek one out; invite your fellow (and more experienced) designers out for coffee and try to learn as much from them as possible. Encourage them to critique your work and provide honest feedback; this may be painful at first, but it’s something you’ll need to get used to. Keep on open mind and take constructive criticism on board—that’s how you’ll become a better designer.
The same goes for a UX bootcamp. If you’ve chosen a mentored program, you should receive regular feedback on the work you submit, and it’s absolutely crucial to listen to—and act upon—this feedback. In terms of networking, don’t think you’re alone just because you’re studying online or independently. Tap into your community of fellow students, try to meet up with any students living nearby, and make an effort to offer (and seek) support wherever you can. Knowing that hundreds of other people are also making a career-change and learning UX design will do wonders for your morale while taking a bootcamp course.
Whichever route you choose, mastering key UX design skills will set you on an incredibly rewarding career path. If you’d like to learn more about breaking into the world of UX, check out the following: