My IBM Bootcamp Experience

I press the button that reads 7. As it lights up, the elevator door closes. For the next 30 seconds, I am standing next to a young man who is also wearing a nametag that reads “Winter 2017 Bootcamp”. We say one of those we’re-stuck-in-an-elevator-together-don’t-be-weird-say-hello hellos, exit and walk toward the next 13 weeks of our lives.

IBM Bootcamp is a 13-week intense learning opportunity crafted by IBM Design for people like me: the fresh, early-career professional. We will work in diverse discipline teams practicing on real products in order to learn design thinking before we are shipped off to our product teams.

Walking through a tunnel of IBMers, elevator-boy and I are welcomed into the studio as they cheer at the top of their lungs. Excitement runs through my veins as I enter a room of 54 other people. I have been waiting for this moment since I received my job offer;… hell since I heard what the design studio at IBM has to offer.

In this room stand 33 designers, including myself, and 22 offering managers. We all come from different areas of the world, different disciplines, different levels of experience in the working world; yet, we are about to embark on this experience as one.

Winter 2017 Design & AOM Bootcamp Participants

As I look around at these new faces, I realize that I know no one in this room by name — except for the man I met in the elevator. I am overcome with discomfort as I let my mind wander in anxiety. I moved 2,000 miles away from my home to an unfamiliar city where I know no one for a job that I hope I am going to like. The voice inside my head says: “This is what you wanted. You believe that comfort and growth don’t co-exist. You can do this.”

My anxiety-ridden thoughts were not entertained for long for all 55 of us were thrown into our first assignment focused around accessibility.

Accessibility Project

“What happens when we step inside the shoes of someone we have not yet thought about?” — Tom Babinszki

These words, spoken by a full-time IBMer who is blind, hit a heart string deep within my INFJ personality. In our first attempt at practicing design thinking, each team was tasked to create a digital experience for a certain type of ablement — visual, cognitive, or physical — in the matter of one week.

I felt at home when I learned about IBM’s philosophy on designing for those whom are abled differently: it is simply not okay to leave people out because what you’re saying is “This world is not for you”.

Not only is accessibility a smart business practice because it expands your product to more users thus giving your offering a competitive advantage; but, it is a social imperative.

When our teams deliver our final solutions that week during what we call playbacks, Tom utters “If the whole world was as thoughtful as you all are when designing the world around us, my life would be a whole lot easier”. My heart was immediately filled with purpose.

I am going to like it here, I reassure my anxious self.


The accessibility challenge was only a small taste of design thinking. Our 4-week mirco-project would be a true opportunity to learn how to apply such a framework toward achieving a greater design outcome.

When practicing IBM Design Thinking, you begin with a set of principles that get to the heart of the problem you’re solving: users, relentless reinvention, and multidisciplinary teams. These principles provide the foundation for delivering user-centric solutions. My 12 person team — comprised of 3 Design Researchers, 4 UX Designers, 2 Visual Designers, and 3 Front-End Developers — was tasked to deliver just that. Our ask: facilitate a career experience and ongoing skill growth for all IBMers.

At IBM Design, we’re not measured by what we ship. We’re measured by how well we fulfill our users’ needs. In this project, our users are everyday employees across all business units and geographic locations. We have the unique opportunity to be so exposed to them and empathize.

Empathy Map: Design Thinking activity aimed to put us in the mindset of our user

Each week, we deliver playbacks to our stakeholders to track our progress and receive feedback. The weekly playback breakdown of the mirco-project is as follows:

  • Week 1: Research
  • Week 2: Concepts
  • Week 3: Vision
  • Week 4: Final Playback

Feedback here each week is essential because it drives another key principle: relentless reinvention. We must first understand our users in order to conceptualize and implement successful business outcomes, and reinvent until we achieve an improved user experience.

We’ll never feel done. We always will wish we had more time, more resources, or better technology; but these continuous conversations drive the next generations of our offerings while staying true to the fundamental needs of the user.

Dimensions of Diversity

The last key principle — multidisciplinary teams — touches my essence as a designer.

Every dimension of diversity is vital to a team’s ability to manage complexity and generate breakthrough ideas. In my group of 12, we are all diverse; but, our fates are intrinsically linked here in time. In the midst of solving complex problems, we need to utilize each other in order to deliver in the 4 week timeline.

JP is exceptional at sharing his knowledge of research methods. Cate augments our findings with her grasp of psychology. Lawrence brings us down-to-earth when our big ideas start to stray from what is technologically feasible. Zack pushes me to want to be a stronger visual designer because he is oozing with talent. Areebah’s calm, cool, and collective nature reminds us of our purpose when we get stuck moving through the loop: a continuous cycle of observing, reflecting, and making.

Then there is Yasmine, Jolie, Ale, Aaron, Nick, Monica and our fearless section-lead, Courtney, who are all exceptional in their own right.

Then there is me. What do I bring to the table when I’m surrounded by all individuals who I feel are smarter than me?

During week 2 is when we truly start to grasp what the second part of our ask is: facilitate a career experience and ongoing skill growth for all IBMers by driving awareness, engagement, and adoption of the internal IBM Open Badges Program.

I studied Graphic Design within a communications school and have experience running a national organization that lives in the communications space. Though I didn’t explicitly study public relations or advertising, I am no stranger of the components needed to tell a story and to position yourself in order to communicate.

As I suggest our group look into a marketing plan or advertising brief as a way of accomplishing a solution, heads turn and ask me how we do this. I feel as if my teammates need me and this part of my expertise.

Here is where you provide value. Push yourself, I tell my relentless unconscious.

This multidisciplinary act we are performing is one that will continuously drive me to dig deep within myself, to reflect on what I excel at and what I would like to improve upon, and how I can work with those who differ from me to accomplish something greater.

My teammates and I are moving through space and time to design for our user and while that happens, we get to know one another as humans. By the end of week two, we all know each other’s Myers Briggs’ personality type, our love languages and our weird eating habits. I’m vegan so I have a couple.

Team Raindrop After Final Mirco-Project Playback

Maybe, just maybe… I’ll make friends in this unfamiliar place. For the first time since I’ve landed in the Lone Star State, I truly believe it.

Incubator Project

All 55 Bootcamp participants spent the remaining 7 weeks participating in our toughest challenge yet: the Incubator Project.

Incubation is an opportunity where teams ideate around the future of what an IBM product could look like within a specific industry domain. A successful Incubator could be a product that will be built in a few quarters from now or a recommendation to the stakeholders to abandon a business idea based off research strongly urging against its production. We early-career professionals act as the brain power and safety net of IBM’s future. No pressure.

The Director of Bootcamp needs designers to attend Incubator in Raleigh, NC, where IBM Design has one of its many global studios. These designers will volunteer to spend 4+ weeks co-creating with a stakeholder team on the East Coast.

As the opportunity is being offered, I conclude: There is no way I am picking up for a month seeing as I recently moved my whole life to Austin and I am not settled yet.

You can imagine what logical decision I made next: I booked my flights to Raleigh.

I have made a conscious decision after graduating from college to act upon the things that intimidate me during my early 20’s. I was scared to move to Austin; so I cleaned out my childhood bedroom, moved away from everyone I love, and flew South. I was frightened of picking up my life again soon after to head to Raleigh, so I volunteered.

The way I see it is that I have a short window of time as a young woman to be selfish, to do things solely for myself. I am not married. I do not have kids or a puppy. I am fortunate enough to be physically able, even more so semi-financially able to take on opportunities. I have no excuse holding me back except that I am scared and that is not a good enough excuse. Thus, I was RTP-bound.

I begin my Incubation project with 6 other creators—2 Offering Managers, 1 Design Researcher, 1 UX Designer, 1 Research/UX multi-tasker and 1 gold-hearted Incubator lead.

Together as Project Lapis, our mission is to leverage the cognitive services of Watson Workspace to improve collaboration within the healthcare industry.

Like all projects, we begin with research. But this is much more dense than Open Badges. I spend the first week trying to grasp my brain around what our ask even is targeted at.

What is an EMR and why does every healthcare professional hate them? Are institutions moving away from fee-for-service toward value-based care in practice or in theory? What do you mean that care managers are not the only professionals practicing care management?

Daily Visual Reminder to Myself

It is easy to become overwhelmed by complex problems and attempting to fix the United States healthcare system in 7 weeks was a true doozy.

I needed to act as a sponge; soak in the environment around me, knowledge dump later, make decisions once I had information.

We explored 3 areas of healthcare where a solution could live: tumor boards, direct patient care, and care management. Our offering managers recognized that care management had the largest market size which would equate to more users and for my empathetic heart, more opportunity to change health outcomes.

The seven of us slowly became subject matter experts as we interviewed doctors, nurses, home health care professionals, experts in cognitive technology, and even a wedding planner among many others.

As research progressed, it became clear that Watson Workspace could not be the only business unit at play. IBM has domain expertise in the healthcare space and as an company, we’ve hired thousands of talented individuals to cultivate that expertise. It was vital to get Watson Health a seat at our collaborative table.

Our project progressed week to week ending in a solution that energized our stakeholders to progress with more ideation and production after the 7-week period. We became the first Incubator to successful orchestrate cross collaboration between two business units. It sounds easy enough; but when IBM is the size of a small country, cross-business unit collaboration is cause for a celebration.

Incubator put into prospective for me that design is not an output of the work we do; rather, it is the mere way in which we work. Using IBM Design Thinking, Project Lapis was able to move quickly through a complicated landscape, ideate around a solution, and make a care manager’s life easier day-to-day through what we envisioned.

Every fiber of me feels that our design has purpose.

The women of Project Lapis team enjoying traveling around NC

Ending Take-aways

Moving across the country was the scariest and most fulfilling thing I have yet to do in my young adult life.

I was removed from every friend I have ever made and my family who are the most important people to me. I still had a cellphone… but, these people weren’t physically with me to influence my daily agenda.

Every decision I made in Austin during the Bootcamp period was a mindful one. Those choices—whether it was what to pack for lunch in this new vegan diet, how to spend the hours in my Saturday, or what friendships mean enough to continue cultivating—were empowering.

I listened deeply to what my body wanted to do versus how I had previously spent my life, listening to what other people wanted me to do. Now having others be your decision influencers is not a bad thing; but by removing them, self reflection is allowed to occur. And answers to questions such as What do you really want to do with this day? started commanding honest answers.

I took a risk to move 2,000 miles away from my home to an unfamiliar city where I know no one for a job that I hoped I was going to like. In return, I gained the opportunity to understand myself a little bit deeper than once before.

Bootcamp, and everything is represented, taught me that everything is a prototype—including myself.

Thankful for strangers who became friends.