Are UX Design Bootcamps Worth It?
What General Assembly alumni in the San Francisco Bay Area think of their user experience education and their outcomes and salaries after graduating
I graduated from General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive course in August 2015. When I was making the decision about whether or not to invest in a design bootcamp, I wished for more data about who had taken these programs and what their outcomes were after graduating. Did they find a user experience job? Did they think the bootcamp was worth it? Were they happy?
In the past year there has been a lot of talk online about design bootcamps. Dan Maccarone and Sarah Doody wrote a critical Medium post from the point of view of educators, experienced UX professionals and employers about how the UX of learning UX is broken. In contrast, General Assembly’s Outcomes Report is a much more positive review of the outcomes for bootcamp alumni (scroll to the end of the article for more discussion on this). But as of late 2016, the voice of design bootcamp alumni was still missing from this conversation. So in the fall of 2016, I created a survey asking design bootcamp alumni to share their experiences before taking a design bootcamp and their outcomes after, with the goal of contributing the alumni angle to this broader conversation about the value and practice of design education.
This article is a snapshot of the experiences of about one hundred people who took General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive bootcamp in San Francisco with the goal of starting a career in user experience design. Because this survey used referral recruiting, there is definitely an overrepresentation in this data of alumni who took a design bootcamp in 2015 (when I took UXDI), likely an overrepresentation of alumni who found a job (most alumni I know), and likely an overrepresentation of alumni who work at design agencies (where I work). Moreover, I encourage you to keep in mind that people and their experiences are incredibly complex, and a survey like this cannot predict individual outcomes.
To all of the alumni who responded to this survey, thank you for sharing your experience. To all the future students who are interested in getting into the field of user experience and to my colleagues in the design industry at large, it seems like — for the alums in this survey, at least — there are a few key takeaways.
- Most alums in this survey group found a job in UX, saw their salary increase and report being satisfied in their UX job. In particular, 4 in 5 alumni found jobs in the field of user experience, 88% of alumni who found jobs in the field of UX did so in the first 6 months after graduating, 40% of alumni make a salary in the range of $80,001 to $95,000, 80% of alumni increased their salary when they switched into the field of UX, and alumni rated their job satisfaction in the field of UX a 6.1 on a scale of 1 to 8.
- For the most part, what it takes to find a job in UX isn’t quantifiable by demographics or past experience, as measured by the metrics in this survey. However, alumni age 35 and over were less successful in finding jobs than alumni age 35 and under. Alumni who had previous experience with qualitative or quantitative research were more likely to find jobs compared to alumni without research experience.
Even after analyzing these survey results, the critique of design bootcamps still feels very valid to me. There are a lot of unknowns around whether or not bootcamp alumni will have successful careers in UX and if employers are happy with the alumni they hired. Nonetheless, this survey shows that design bootcamps are successfully helping many people transfer into a user experience career in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Section 1: Who took this survey
This survey was designed to collect responses from any person who took a user experience design bootcamp in San Francisco with the intention of starting a career in user experience design, product design, user experience research, etc. Because 101 of 110 survey respondents took General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) class, this report focuses on UXDI alumni only. While the experience of UXDI alums varies depending on when they took the course, who their teachers were, what the curriculum was at the time, etc., UXDI alumni have more in common with one another than they do with other survey respondents (who took General Assembly’s part-time User Experience Design course, DesignLab’s UX Academy or Tradecraft’s Product Design course).
Women (75%) and people 35 and under (83%) were a clear majority of alumni. The largest group of respondents (45%) graduated from UXDI in 2015. Most alumni (73%) thought user experience was more different than similar, compared to their previous work experience.
Section 2: Who found a job in the field of user experience
This section focuses on alumni who graduated in December 2015 or earlier and found a job in the San Francisco Bay Area or are still looking for a job or decided to leave the UX job market. The section only looks at alumni who graduated in December 2015 or earlier to ensure results are not skewed by alumni who had less time to look for a job.
Seventy-eight percent of alumni in this group, or about 4 in every 5 alumni found a job in the field of user experience in the San Francisco Bay Area. Of the 22% who did not find a job in user experience, 14% are still looking for a job and 8% have stopped looking for a job. Most people (58%) who found a job have the job title “User Experience Designer.”
One selling point of GA is the offer of career coaching and access to their hiring network (although GA makes it very clear that they do not guarantee alumni will find a job). Thirty-three percent of alumni said General Assembly helped them find their job or was one of the things that helped them find their job. A larger group, 41% of alumni said that a friend, personal or professional connection within their network helped them find their job or was one of the things that helped them find their job.
Personally, I’m impressed that 4 in 5 GA alumni find UX jobs and that 33% find jobs through GA. While these numbers are lower than GA’s outcomes report, they are still very robust and indicate that GA is working well for many people.
Women and men were hired relatively equally: 79% of women and 75% of men found jobs. There were some differences in who found jobs by age: 79% or more of alumni less than age 35 found jobs whereas only 50% of alumni over age 35 found jobs. Of the total group of alumni who found jobs (100% of 51 people), most alumni (88%) found a job in the first 6 months after graduating from UXDI. Of the group of alumni who were looking for a job for 1 year or more, 92% are still looking for a job or have left the UX job market.
It is unfortunate to see that older alumni are less successful at finding a job in the field of UX. However, there could be many reasons for this trend, ranging from age discrimination in technology to older alumni having more specific job criteria and higher salary requirements compared to younger alumni.
Alumni with some experience in art and design, business or technology were not notably more successful in finding a job compared to alumni with no experience in these fields. In contrast, 96% of alumni who had some experience in qualitative or quantitative research found a job compared to only 66% of alumni who had no experience in qualitative or quantitative research.
Alumni who believed that user experience was the most similar to their previous profession were not more successful in finding jobs than alumni who believed user experience was the most different from their previous profession. Seventy-one percent of alumni in both groups found jobs.
I find it fascinating that previous work experience in fields closely related to UX does not, for the most part, seem to have any correlation with finding a job in the field of UX.
In chart 10, alumni share in their own words the experiences they had before taking UXDI. Alumni had an incredibly diverse range of experiences, but there are no noticeable trends as to which experiences led to finding a job versus not finding a job.
In chart 11, alumni share in their own words why they believe they have not yet found a job in UX or why they decided to stop looking for a job in UX. Many alumni note the challenges of finding a job without having previous UX experience.
Section 3: Impressions of General Assembly
Chart 12 looks at alumni who found a job in San Francisco Bay Area, are still looking for a job, or removed themselves from the job market, and who graduated in December 2015 or earlier and provided a response to these questions (62 survey respondents total).
On a scale of 1 to 8, alumni who found a job were more likely to say that the UXDI education (lectures, class assignments, projects, etc.) helped them find their job (average rating 6.8). Alumni who did not find a job were less likely to say that the UXDI education will help them find a job (average rating 4.9). In contrast, all alumni rated the career coaching (resume advice, portfolio feedback, interview prep, etc.) similarly in terms of whether or not it helped them find a job or will help them find a job (5.2 and 4.9 respectively).
Section 4: Salary and job satisfaction
The following section focuses on 68 people who graduated at any date and found a job in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The salary of alumni in their first job after graduating from UXDI ranges from less than $35,000 to more than $125,000. The largest group of alumni (40%) have a salary in the $80,001 to $95,000 range. Many alumni found jobs at either design agencies (22%) or large established companies with more than 500 employees (29%).
Alumni over age 35 have a higher average salary than alumni under age 35 ($95k-$110k compared to $65k-$80k). There does not seem to be trends between average salary and graduation date. Alumni who thought UX was the most different from their previous profession have a lower average salary compared to other alumni ($65k-$80k compared to $80k-$95k). Alumni who work at large companies have a higher average salary and alumni who work at startups have a lower average salary compared to other alumni ($80k-$95k and $50k-$65k compared to $65k-$80k).
The next chart looks at the group of alumni who were employed in the San Francisco Bay Area both before and after graduating from UXDI, or unemployed before UXDI and employed in the San Francisco Bay Area after graduating (56 alumni total). In this group, 80% saw a salary increase, 13% saw their salaries stay the same, and 7% saw their salaries decrease. Twenty-three percent saw their salaries increase by one salary bracket and 57% saw their salaries increase by more than one salary bracket.
Personally, I was very surprised to see that an alumni’s UX salary seems to have very little correlation with their previous salary.
Going back to the larger group of all alumni who found a job in the San Francisco Bay Area, on a scale of 1 to 8 most alumni are very satisfied with their user experience job (average rating of 6.1). Notably, zero alumni in this group ranked their job satisfaction at a 1 or 2 (most unsatisfied). Most alumni feel that their job matches the expectations they had about the field of UX before they went to the design bootcamp (average rating 5.9).
In the chart below, alumni share in their own words the best and worst parts of their job. Many alumni think the best part of their job is being creative, having an impact on products, or working with their coworkers. Many alumni think the worst part of their job is not working with a mentor or other designers, having to explain UX to other people, or their commute.
When I started out with this research, I wasn’t expecting to find that the experiences of so many alumni were so positive. Anecdotally from classmates and other UXDI alumni, I had heard what sounded like more people struggling to find jobs (especially those with less relevant previous work experience), and a lot of concern about junior UX designers “flooding the market.” Moreover, the fact that GA hadn’t published a comprehensive report on outcomes results made me suspicious that the results weren’t good.
I’m happy to see that, at least for this group of UXDI alumni, many of my hypotheses were not validated. Of course, as the demand on the student side to enter the UX profession continues to increase and as GA continues to enroll more students each year, it remains to be seen if the hiring trends described in this article will prevail into future years. Moreover, I’d love to see research on the feedback of employers and senior designers who work with alumni to better understand if alumni are successful and contributing well in their new UX careers. (For more on this, check out another great article and critique of GA by Maccarone and Doody around what to look for when hiring UX designers.)
Nonetheless, it seems many students are finding value from their GA education and using it to launch a career transition into UX. For that reason alone, I think GA and design bootcamps more broadly are adding value to the design community, and especially to those seeking to enter it.
Postscript: Comparing this survey to GA’s outcomes report
In October 2016, General Assembly published a comprehensive report on the outcomes of students who graduated from either UXDI or the Web Development full-time immersive program from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 at any GA campus around the globe (Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Melbourne, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Sydney, and Washington, D.C). The report evaluates the experiences of 2,080 students.
The key findings of this report are that 76% of the GA alumni in this data set participated in GA’s career services program, and of those 76% of alumni, 99% got a full-time job within 180 days. Keeping in mind that the GA study evaluates a very different cohort of alumni and uses a different set of definitions compared to this project, this difference in outcomes is not surprising. The GA data set included more alumni from multiple types of immersive bootcamp programs in different cities/job markets over a more specific time range. The GA report also filtered respondents by whether or not they participated in GA’s career services program (this survey did not), and includes a specific definition of “placement within 180 days of job search,” whereas this survey more broadly asked alumni to self-identify whether they had “found a job in the field of user experience.”
Appendix: A note about methods
Several charts in this report show aggregated groups of alumni in order to increase the sample size of each cohort and therefore the strength of the interpretations. For example, originally respondents were segmented by age brackets of about 5 years. Because there were only a few respondents on the tail ends of each age bracket, I combined age brackets to create larger cohorts.
Also, I want to thank all the friends and family members who I roped into reading drafts of the research approach and this article. Your help was invaluable and much appreciated!