A UX Bootcamp Graduate’s Guide to the ~Real World~
A candid peek into the not-so-glamorous life of a UX Bootcamper turned job-seeker.
I completed General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive in May 2018. I’m glad to report that yes, it worked really well for me; it was satisfying to be able to exercise my newfound passion for design, prove to myself that I could do it, learn new skills and rewire my brain for design thinking. With ~700 bootcamp hours under my belt, I definitely feel equipped for a job as a UX designer and find myself an advocate for condensed curriculum education.
But 2+ months later in the job-hunting process and little speakable traction thus far, I find myself in a state of doubt that, unfortunately, many modern job-seekers and bootcamp graduates can empathize with- did I do the right thing?
It is never easy to be unemployed, and the expedited pace of the bootcamp education model means that, for now, most bootcampers will inevitably face the anticlimactic lull of job-seeking after they graduate- despite optimism, despite background, despite drive.
Its is easy for me to chat about the selling-points of bootcamps (especially when I’ve already graduated one AND had my sip of the cool-aid). It’s also easy to pat myself on the back for taking a leap of faith in changing careers (what a practical and cost-effective alternative to traditional education, you did good!) But it is not easy to take a critical look back at what could have been done differently. With a few tweaks in my expectations, some much-needed reality checks and a feasible plan of action, I could have approached my first couple of months post-GA a more efficiently (and with a more level-head).
Here’s my take- from the other side of the finish line.
Reality 1: The design world is changing. You are a part of that change.
The NYC junior designer pool is crowded and competitive- unfortunately, I’ve been jostling against my peers for interviews with companies that seemingly need highly productive unicorns. For a few weeks, I thought that my only option was to become a unicorn myself. (Needless to say- this did not go well.)
The reality is, I’m a career changer that elected to do a bootcamp. I do not have and cannot have: “a stellar portfolio that showcases 3–5 years of experience designing pixel-perfect digital products end-to-end”, or “ a hands-on education in front-end development.” (I also just can’t seem to grow a long, pointy horn between my eyebrows- no matter how much I believe in myself.)
I DO however find myself with a strong foundation in human-centered design, a strong tie to user research and an iterative and strategic thought process.
Some firms that you interview with, especially on the east coast, do actually want and need a Unicorn. The reality is, bootcampers like me are ready to be UX designers, but some companies might not be ready for what you have to offer. Seek out companies that are looking for the type of UX designer that you want to be and are prepared to be.
Reality 2: It takes time; have your freak-out and get past it.
If you are unemployed, you are going to have a freakout. (Plural for me-I feel sorry for my roommates sometimes.) But for bootcampers, its all about managing expectations.
When I signed up for General Assembly, I‘d validated my decision with arbitrary job placement percentages and assurances of career coaching opportunities. Its a unavoidable topic for selling points in this burgeoning and competitive education model, but weeks feel like months when you are unemployed, and percentages lose their meaning when you become one of them.
I genuinely wish that I had had more candid conversations with my instructors, career team, peers and family about how it would take time and that I’m not “behind” or “failing” by not having a job two months into a search.
Job preparation is the very foundation of bootcamps. Preparation for job seeking could improve.
Institutionally, I would have liked to have seen job-seeking materials emphasized as deliverables at the end of my program, candid discussions around expectations and options, workshopping attainable post-grad goals and action plans and fostering authentic alumni/recent graduate relationships.
On a more personal level, I could have prepared for job-seeking by taking some deep breaths, cutting myself a bit of slack and talking to more GA alumni before diving into this tough world.
For the list-lovers out there, like me, I also made a list of things that I can control in this process and fall back on that list when I am feeling frustrated! The list includes: How many jobs I apply to, the quality of those applications, what I choose to learn today, how I choose to spend my free time, etc.
Reality 3: We are especially susceptible to the dreaded imposter syndrome
When you are looking for a job in the field that you are excited about, but no one seems to be excited about you, you will feel…bad.
Part of what can make a bootcamp different from the more traditional education that I’ve experienced is going through an intensive, skills-based curriculum with passionate peers; you feed off of and validate each others’ energy that focuses on this driving career change.
However, solo job-seeking days and networking events can warp your positive perspective into one of doubt before you are even aware of it. It is incredibly easy to falter in your momentum and lose your mojo when your 70 hour days of bootcamping feel like an eternity ago and you begin to interact with seasoned professionals and critical companies.
There’s a barrage of articles about imposter syndrome, especially here on medium. But the key thing to note is that as a graduate of a bootcamp, you are especially susceptible to questioning your validity. There will be times that you start to doubt your background and qualifications; it is your responsibility to yourself to stay grounded and confident.
You’ve proved to yourself that you are ready for a career by completing an intensive bootcamp; now you have to prove it to the design community by articulating the value of your experiences before having to potentially defend them.
Reality 4: Stay Sharp. Stay Busy.
The work isn’t over. Inevitably, you noticed gaps in skills or interest during your bootcamp. Now is the time to identify what it is that you are missing that will help you get to your destination. (Spoiler, it is not going to be watching the Great British Baking Show)
If your job search is anything like mine, you will receive lots of “No’s” and, if you are lucky, a handful of reasons why not. Take those reasons as constructive criticism and consider how you might feasibly meet this critique as a new goal. If you haven’t heard a lot of feedback, ask for it from your instructors and peers.
For instance, I was told point-blank that I needed to work on my visual design basics. Here are some ideas that I’ve tried for staying busy and honing those my visual and ux design skills (other than freelancing or working on a passion project):
ThirtyUI, DailyUI, ThirtyLogos, Fonts People Actually Use, Sharpen Design, Treehouse UX Design Patterns Course, Medium articles like this one and this one, 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, Well Designed,