Do UX bootcamps really work?

Photo by Airam Dato-on: Pexels

As someone who wants to start their career in UX Design or UX research, you need to get the skills before being hired as a professional. There are various ways of building your skills

  • Get on-the-job training – work as a part-time paid / unpaid worker at you current job or another gig.
  • Join a design school
  • Take training online through MOOCs
  • Join a bootcamp

While the pros and cons of the first 3 are known, the last one – bootcamps have started mushrooming on the UX landscape and there are organizations offering bootcamps from $$$ to $$$$$. Some of these are very well-known like General Assembly, NN/g and Springboard. The fees are usually high and so are the promises – assured jobs with high pay after completing the curriculum.

What do bootcamp curriculums look like?

Most bootcamps will follow a similar structure and will cover the following

  • Basics of UX design
  • Basic usability principles
  • Design Thinking
  • Common methods of user research
  • Wireframing – low-fi to high-fi
  • UI design
  • Design tools like Figma, Miro, Figjam, UserTesting, Notion
  • Capstone project

What are the types of bootcamps available?

You can choose from various types of bootcamps depending on your need, time available, geography and other factors. You can pursue most bootcamps while continuing your day job, but some require you to focus completely on the course while it is being taught. Since the activities are time-bound, you will have limited chances to catch-up if you lose a day or two.

Most bootcamps are held through online lectures but some more localised bootcamps are available offline – you have to attend the courses in person. I prefer the latter simply because they offer you a more immersive experience and an opportunity to meet peers and mentors in person.

What do bootcamps offer that regular online courses don’t?

  • Opportunity to meet mentors in real-time – This is important since it gives you an opportunity to interact with real people and clear any doubts or questions you may have. It also helps build connections with people who may actually get you your next job, depending on how you stand out in the cohort.
  • Opportunity to meet peers and network – Your peers and students are a great source of strength and support. They can help you with questions, doubts and missed curriculum – just like a classroom. They could also be your peers in future jobs, so it’s great to know them.
  • Time-bound curriculum – Bootcamps have a timebound curriculum which forces you to cover the portion and complete your assignments in time. This is specially helpful if you are a busy person or a procrastinator. I have been guilty of dragging a 10 hour course for over 2 years since I was combination of both and there was no time limit involved.

Disadvantages of bootcamps

  • Quality of instructors varies and could be questionable – Not all teachers are created equal. Many of the instructors in many live online courses, specially if they are recruited by an institution, are hired for their ability to parrot the material that has been created for them. They may not necessarily have in-depth knowledge or even have experience with what they are teaching. This means that you may not really be being taught by the best as is normally claimed.
  • Some bootcamps are not really better than online self-paced courses – These just mix and match material from other courses and deliver it online or in-person through a hired, lowly paid, unmotivated instructor. Reputed self-paced courses with good content are a better choice here, if you have the discipline.

The industry perspective on hiring bootcampers – what do hiring managers think?

The most important thing for hiring managers is the knowledge of UX processes, usability fundamentals and a good portfolio. In my experience, if you are being considered for an entry level job, you will be given a design test whether or not you hold a UX design certificate of any kind. Having seen the widely varying levels of proficiency, hiring managers rarely depend on certification alone to make a decision. That said, having any kind of certification at least gets your foot into the door.

Many bootcamps will tout their successes and guarantee you job placements. The reality is that the shining examples of their students getting placed in the top companies are a tiny tiny minority of their total student strength. The dodgier ones also employ some of their students into “internships” at very low wages and call it “placement”. So beware of tall claims about placements. Remember – your demonstrable skill + hiring manager need = job!

What you should keep in mind

With all this in mind, if you decide to go for bootcamps, make sure you also the following:

  1. Check the reputation of your shortlisted bootcamps online and from other students you may know. The internet is full of real stories on most of the courses, where you will be able to explore a course from all sides. It pays to check, since it is your hard earned money and bootcamps are not exactly cheap.
  2. Be disciplined. Keep a schedule. In spite of being live, it is easy to slide on lectures and assignments as many bootcamps don’t bother to follow up.
  3. Read up on the internet. Once you learn something in a lecture, go online and gather as much information from different sources as possible. Read the theory behind it. This helps you gain insights not covered in the camps and get a more rounded knowledge.
  4. Think up some real-life projects where you could apply this knowledge. These need not be initiated by someone else. You could imagine something useful and work on it. This helps you gain more hands-on knowledge and build your resume. The last bit is important as your capstone will not suffice for your resume. It is common to multiple people and does not help you stand out. Moreover for many bootcamps, it is just a check mark in the curriculum and they will not really bother about the quality beyond a certain threshold.

My honest opinion on how to learn UX design and research

With all the above points, my honest opinion if you are disciplined, can keep a schedule, and don’t want to spend a fortune to get trained, will be to go for MOOCs, take on live projects, apprentice yourself and build a portfolio.

All the best and happy learning!

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