Sorry to break it to you, but you won’t be working here right out of your bootcamp. Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

10 Sobering Realities Every Brand-New UX Designer Needs To Accept

Samuel Harper
Growing Into UX
Published in
33 min readAug 14, 2020


User experience design (or UX design, for short) is a field that is being touted left and right as one of the hot new fields to break into, and it will probably attract a surge of more people as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you are in an unrelated field and are tired of your job and career prospects, or you are in college and aiming for a job in UX design upon graduation, you have probably read a ton of very rosy prospects about this field.

Before we dive into the meat of the article (which I will forewarn you, is very blunt and honest), let’s talk about the positive side of things. I myself will admit that as someone who both survived a UX bootcamp and has been working in this field for a few years, that it definitely was the single best career choice I have made up to this point. I genuinely enjoy the abundance of jobs in locations I would like to live, the decent salary, and the challenging, creative problem-solving. As well as the flexibility that working in tech usually comes with, such as the ability to work from home (as COVID has forced many tech companies to do, thus revealing the increase in productivity and overall satisfaction employees have).

However, there are a ton of hard truths that anyone even thinking about this field needs to accept, and it’s not nearly as rosy as it is made out to be.

Bootcamps (and many UX graduate programs) market the hell out of this field, making arguably misleading suggestions and statements such as:

  • “In twelve weeks of our program, you can go from the low-paying job you hate to making six figures at Google”
  • “Top tech companies are clamoring to hire our students”.
  • “This is an extremely rewarding, amazingly fun job to be in, and job prospects are skyrocketing”.
  • “Tech companies will be scrambling over each other to throw money at you and bring you on their team”.
  • “Anyone can do extremely well in this field”.

While I am not going to say that these statements are completely inaccurate, it really over exaggerates the “demand” for brand-new UX designers (as well as implying a very low bar to entry where everyone who signs up for a bootcamp, passes and gets a certificate, regardless of actual skill or how well they really learned the material. This, of course, raises the question of how much it waters down the quality of our workforce), and it makes it sound like you just have to sign up for an X week/month-long program, wait for Google to knock on your door, move to Mountain View (or some other highly pricey city), and then roll around in a room full of money like Scrooge McDuck.

This is most definitely NOT the reality of new, or even some experienced UX designers. Photo credit: Pinterest

The problem is not the industry itself, but the way it is marketed. Bootcamp grads are lead to believe they can secure a job at top tech companies in Silicon Valley, with nothing more than a 12 week certificate from a bootcamp that barely even scratches the surface of UX design, and is sometimes taught by people who have never even worked a day in the industry.

I have seen far more rosy articles and marketing material for bootcamps and HCI masters programs, and yet there is hardly any “reality check” articles out there, which I know is both needed and appreciated so you can have a sense of what you are getting yourself into.

While this is meant to be an encouraging article, I cannot cover the entire thing in a sugar-coated manner (nor does that do you any favors). Because knowing your limitations quite well will benefit you in the long run.

1. You are not (yet) the ideal candidate companies want.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

If you have ever scoured job postings for UX design positions, you are probably pretty disappointed to find that most positions want someone with at least 3–5 years of experience. And a lot of these positions specifically ask for “Senior UX designers”.

They want someone who is proven to be able to hit the ground running, can boost the company metrics, work well in teams, can handle things going sideways, and most importantly, is someone that some OTHER company saw enough potential in to be able to take a risk on, and train based on how they conduct business.

The truth is, no one, whether it is an individual or a company, wants to be the first to take a big risk on someone or something. Fair or not, people with no experience are often seen as “high-risk” candidates.

We see that psychology all of the time, ranging from that time you didn’t want to try a new ice cream flavor out of fear that it will be gross and that you wasted a few dollars, to multi-billion dollar angel investments being wary about investing in new startups, especially when the founders have very little, if any startup experience.

I know this can be extremely frustrating, as you want to get a job that will give you experience. But you can’t land that job without prior experience, either.

Sadly, this is the reality we live in, for nearly every industry (not just UX design) across the board. The Matrix is owned by Warner Brothers.

Companies are there to make a profit, not to be your friend. They don’t know how good you will actually be if you haven’t yet proven yourself, and if you turn out to be a terrible employee, they are faced with the reality that they made a bad hire, which costs them lost time, money and resources to retrain you and/or compensate in other ways for the lack of skill you bring to the table.

Fortunately, it becomes way easier to find work, once you DO have experience. In my case, it took me eight months from graduating from CareerFoundry until I landed my first UX role.

For my second UX job, it took me eight WEEKS to land my next role, with a year and a half of official UX experience under my belt.

And when I got laid off from my UX job for COVID related reasons, it took me even less time than that; only THREE WEEKS to find another job.

Even just having a couple of years of experience in UX design makes a WORLD of difference, and I believe convincing someone to take a risk on you is one of the hardest challenges in your UX career that you will need to face; landing your first UX job before you have officially entered the field.

For some ideas on how to get started, you can refer to my other articles, such as The Key to Personal Branding for UX Designers, or Your UX Bootcamp Will NOT Get You A Job; Unless You Do These Critically Important Steps.

2. You don’t have a lot of bargaining power (right now).

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Yes, I know this sucks. You have so much drive, you want to really show how capable you are of making an impact in UX design. You will put in long hours, do late nights, and maybe even deal with less-than-ideal working situations in order to land that first role.

But the truth is, no one has (yet) taken a risk on you, so that makes other companies hesitant to do the same.

Unless your previous profession involved created a wildly successful, well known design-centered company like Lyft or Airbnb, you probably don’t have a lot of chips on the table right now.

I remember chatting with an aspiring UX designer on LinkedIn, which later turned into a phone call. When I asked her what she does professionally, she told me that she was working at an extremely high paying consulting job where she got to travel the world and she was making six figures shortly after graduating college. On top of that, she was only in her late twenties.

“Wow, that’s amazing! I remember eating ramen noodles, and barely being able to afford rent, both during and after college. Why do you want to leave that profession”? I said.

She told me that she was not happy at her current job and that she wanted to do something a bit more creatively oriented.

She also happened to be in an extremely tech-affluent part of the country, and (understandably) she asked if it would be easy to find work as a newbie.

I hesitated for a bit and explained that I was rejected by over 500 companies, and I had to move across the country to a place I have never previously lived (and had no intention of moving to before my job offer) in order to secure my first UX job.

I told her that she would likely have an extremely rough time finding work in that area, as that part of the country has a mass abundance of UX designers, and jobs want people with several years of experience under their belt (more on this further in the article).

I posed the question to her that I pose to everyone else:

“Imagine you were offered your first UX position, except you have to relocate to the middle of nowhere where it gets boiling hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, your pay is low, and you don’t know a single soul there, but all of your needs are met. You don’t need to be there forever, but it will get you those vital couple of years of experience before you can move and be more competitive somewhere else that you would prefer to be. Would you take it”?

(Obviously, your situation may not be THAT extreme, but it’s that question that really helps me identify how serious people are about entering this field).

Her answer? “No. I would not move for that.”

Keeping yourself open to new opportunities, even ones you didn’t initially have in mind, can really do wonders for your UX career. Courtesy: Official Star Wars on GIPHY

My heart sank. I tried to contextualize the question, highlighting that new UX designers often have a difficult, and quite lengthy experience trying to land their first role and that they really cannot afford to be picky at first, but it gets easier with the more experience you develop.

I then asked her the exact same question once again, hoping I could change her mind and have her see that this might actually be a smart move.

Her response? “No, I still wouldn’t do that. I like where I live, and there is a really good tech scene here. I only want to consider places that are an hour (or less) of a drive from where I currently live”.

Hell, I even lived in a quite tech-affluent part of the country, and yet finding work for me (when I was a brand-new UX designer with no experience) felt like it was nearly impossible. So we were off to a good start already…

Then she inquired about how much money she will make in her first job and asked if it will be anywhere near her previous six-figure salary (also not a good sign).

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

I hesitated and explained to her that my first UX job (like many, MANY other entry-level user experience positions) paid less than the salary of an elementary school teacher, and that you have to work your way up the ladder for at least a few years before you can expect to make anything even close to those decent salaries bootcamps gloat about, and that most importantly, you really shouldn’t pick a career based off how much money you can make.

Between the long, awkward silence that followed and the disappointed sighs, I felt as if I could have cut the tension with a knife. We finally wrapped up the call and I wished her well on her journey.

As soon as I hung up, I shook my head in both awe and disappointment. This was someone with no UX experience, who wanted the immediate benefits and salary of her old job (without the less desirable elements of it), on her own terms, in a convenient place where she didn’t have to move.

In other words, she wanted to play big-league poker, when she had no chips to bet.

While there is nothing wrong with realizing that you don’t like your current profession anymore, it is vitally important to stay humble, and realize that you don’t get to dictate the market. In fact, it is more of the opposite.

Now, of course, I am not trying to pick on this particular individual or to say you shouldn’t have standards when it comes to your career. And I also realize that this may be more of an extreme example than the kind of students bootcamps and higher education HCI programs usually accept.

But it still stands that you have to check your ego at the door when you are entering this field. No one owes you a job in user experience, much less an entry-level position that commands a six-figure salary and meets your specific criteria (which basically don’t exist, anyway).

Which leads to my next couple of points, which we will go into in great detail.

3. You may have to move, possibly to a place you don’t particularly care to move to (but that’s not necessarily a bad thing).

Photo by Sander Weeteling on Unsplash

I have brought this up in the past because I think it can open up doors that would not previously be available to you if you keep your circle of influence within your current location. New UX designers are often sold on the vision of being whisked off to Silicon Valley upon graduation from a design school or bootcamp, making a ton of money and living happily ever after off catered lunches, beer on tap, and video game rooms full of hip coworkers.

I can tell you that 99.9999999% of the time, that is not how reality works.

The truth is, major tech hubs like Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, New York City, London, Tel Aviv, etc already have a massive abundance of UX designers to choose from, many of which already have years upon years of experience in this field. Recruiters have so many amazingly skilled people to choose from in these places, that they will often ignore any applications from out of state (or country), especially from people with no experience.

The unfortunate trap I have seen new UX designers fall into is where they believe that living in (or moving to) a tech-centric part of the country will get their careers started that much faster. However, from what I have seen, it seems to turn out to be quite the opposite; they get overwhelmed by the sheer number of skilled tech workers who already live there, and are competing for the same positions, meaning the UX newbie has an extremely difficult time finding work as a result.

The problem with setting your sights solely on these tech-hub centered areas, is that there is an oversupply of skilled UX designers competing for these roles, and it ignores other opportunities in other parts of the country that may be more willing to accept a new person that may not be located in that area, based on supply and demand of available workers.

Believe me, I have seen plenty of people who set their sights on a city with a huge, well-known tech scene, and moved there, just to realize it’s way harder to land a position as a small fish in a huge pond full of huge fish, and go months, if not years with no UX work, while people who have their eyes open for new opportunities may be able to land something much sooner in places that their colleagues may have not previously considered.

Does that mean it is impossible to get hired for a true, entry-level junior position in one of these tech-centered, highly competitive places? I can’t say for certain, since just about anything is possible, and I am mostly commenting on my personal experience. I have also not secured a position in any of these cities, so of course, I am biased in that regard (as we are all biased in our own ways).

But here’s the thing; there are plenty of places where you CAN land your first position and in a much less saturated tech market. And it may have not been in a place you initially envisioned for yourself.

Aerial photo of Knoxville, TN. The city where I landed my first user experience job. And I was an out of state applicant, living two time zones away when I was hired. Photo Credit; Knoxville city government

For example, did you know that Huntsville, Alabama has a growing tech scene? So does Raleigh, North Carolina. So does Dayton, Ohio. So does Des Moines, Iowa. So does Lehi, Utah. So does Chattanooga, Tennessee. So does St Louis, Missouri. So does Louisville, Kentucky.

Hell, I moved across the country to get my first UX position in Knoxville Tennessee, in a (surprisingly beautiful) college town. I will admit that it was not my first pick I had in mind when starting my design career, but having that flexibility and willingness to move once I got the job offer was what opened the flood gates that ultimately allowed me to move up to bigger, better jobs and find UX work on my own terms.

And your experience you accumulate anywhere holds the exact same industry weight as it would in a highly well-known part of the country. Two years of UX work in Sioux Falls, South Dakota holds the same industry weight as two years of UX experience in Seattle, San Francisco, or New York City.

The distinct advantage to being open to relocating to places like this is while the insanely high demand for tech work is centered around the popular spots like San Francisco and New York City, these smaller, less “tech popular” cities have UX opportunities, but they usually have a lower supply of skilled tech workers who live in that immediate area (or want to move there). Therefore, they can be easier tech markets to break into, at least for entry-level experience when you don’t qualify for traditional internships (I know I certainly didn’t).

If you can make yourself mobile, I encourage you to apply for positions in less saturated markets like, but not necessarily limited to, the ones I mentioned (as well as your dream locations; you never know what will happen, after all).

Whatever you decide to do, I encourage you to approach the job search with an open mind, open ears, and see opportunities for what they are. You may be pleasantly surprised, and quite grateful that you took the opportunity, even if it was not initially your first pick.

4. Your first UX job (or two) will likely be a pretty low salary. And that’s okay.

GIF came from GIPHY

As we covered, your starting salary as a user experience designer will almost certainly not be six figures (or anywhere near that), unless you happened to secure an astoundingly good offer in Silicon Valley, where you need to make that much to even be somewhat comfortable.

Bootcamps and educational institutions that teach UX design often hard-sell people on the massive amount of money they will make. And to be honest, I really wish they wouldn’t do this, as it sets unrealistic expectations of the new wide-eyed, bushy-tailed aspiring designers. As I stated previously, my first salary was not high by tech standards, but I (mostly) didn’t care. I was just happy to have my first job as a UX designer.

And my second UX job that followed, while it definitely paid more than my first one, was still not close to these high salaries bootcamps often tout.

It is far sexier sounding to sell students on a dream of making gobs of money upon graduation than it is to accept the reality that your high salary comes only after years of dedicated work and proven experience in this field.

I will say, however, that I HAVE heard of people who come from bootcamps and make really good money right off the bat. But these usually tend to be people who are extremely experienced in a profession that ties in very closely with user experience, that they use to heavily supplement their new UX job, such as people who come from highly experienced business and startup consulting positions.

5. Your bootcamp (or other UX education) does NOT guarantee you a job, regardless of what anyone tells you.

Yup, I said it.

Just because your bootcamp or college program advertises a job guarantee within X months of graduation, or they talk about this being a “hot” field to get into, does not mean that you will find work anytime soon, if at all.

In my case, it took me EIGHT MONTHS to land my first job, after graduating from my bootcamp, which is surprisingly common for bootcamp grads. And even then, I feel like I was incredibly lucky to find the position I found in the first place.

I know it can be worse for other people, too. One person I spoke with said she went over a year and a half post-graduation, without getting a single job offer, and still has no leads. Some people get so fed up with searching, that they even go back to their original job with the UX knowledge they got from their bootcamp (and several thousand dollars in debt), but without the initial job, they were hoping for.

No one can make a promise based on what companies are hiring for, or how the market is behaving.

In fact, the vast majority of UX jobs ask for a minimum of 3–5 years of experience. And among the thousands of positions I have looked at, I have never once found a position that asks for “someone with no experience, who graduated from a bootcamp”.

And to make matters worse, the vast majority of internships only accept students who are currently enrolled in college. So that makes things even harder for most bootcamp attendees, most of which have at least a bachelor's degree and are making a career transition into UX design from some other field, and are therefore ineligible for an internship.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Does that mean things are hopeless for bootcamp grads? No. I, like many other people who transitioned into this field from a different profession, are living proof that while it may be difficult to break in, it is definitely not impossible.

But you need to be as prepared as possible to know what you are up against. I talk to bootcamp grads all the time who tell me how hard it is to find that first UX job. And based on my experience, I have to agree.

In my experience, even bootcamp grads who successfully transition into full-time user experience design roles often go MONTHS without finding work, before they finally secure a position.

Does this mean that people don’t get hired right out of their bootcamps? Not necessarily. I have heard of occasional miracle stories of people getting hired right out of their bootcamp, and sometimes even before graduating.

But these people very likely had a combination of really strong connections, were able to clearly illustrate transferable benefits from their former profession to UX design to compensate for their lack of experience, combined with some crazy, awesome luck and extremely fortunate timing. They may have also had previous UX internships, which can dramatically help, too.

For the vast majority of bootcamp (and UX college grads), that does not seem to be the case, however.

6. You are a JUNIOR UX designer, at best.

Just because you paid General Assembly $10k to learn UX design in 12 weeks, or even paid a school offering a master’s degree in HCI $40k does not automatically make you the next Jakob Nielsen or Jared Spool. And you don’t automatically get to be Steve Jobs either, just because you know some basics of user experience.

Yes, I know the title “Junior” may sting, especially if you had a previous career where you were in a director (or high-level) position in your previous profession, and/or you are coming into this field in your 30s/40s/50s/60s. No one wants to be on the bottom rung, but it is where everyone has to start out.

You will not lead high-level strategy groups. Instead, you will report to your UX manager (or UX director), and you will work with senior UX designers, many of which may even be far younger, and more experienced than you are at this point.

You have to be okay with this, be humble, and realize that your time to move up the ladder will come eventually. But you have to be patient, accept where you are, and contribute as much value to the team as you can, within the context of your role.

7. You probably know far less about UX design than you think you do.

Have you ever noticed that the more you learn about a specific topic, the less you feel you know about it? Like how you thought you were a math whiz as soon as you learned how to add and subtract, but later realized how badly you got your ass kicked once you studied calculus or physics?

There is a well-known psychology term for that; it’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The Dunning-Kruger effect highlights that the more skilled we become, the more we realize how little we actually know. Photo credit: Online Pet Heath

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a chart that highlights the trajectory our wisdom goes through, the more we learn about a subject. The less experienced anyone is in a field, the more they think they know. And similarly, the more experience someone gains, the more they realize how little they know about the subject.

When you are first starting out in UX design, it is critically important to realize and be honest with yourself about where you stand on this chart. People who graduate from a bootcamp (or from a UX program in college) and are seeking employment (or employed in their first UX role) may feel like they can take on the world when they are actually at the most dangerous point of the chart; at the peak of what is commonly referred to as “Mt. Stupid”.

(Obviously that does not mean anyone at this point is stupid, and “Mt. Naive” is probably a more fitting term. But it still stands that the goal is to overcome this initial hump as soon as possible, and start your true ascension from the valley of despair, where you gain true wisdom from experience).

I will say from my personal experience, that I have never seen more people on LinkedIn who try to pass themselves off as full-fledged unicorns, and say they can do literally everything in and related to user experience, from research to information architecture, strategy, and wireframe designs, all the way up to polished UI mockups, and even tangentially related skills, such as HTML/CSS/Javascript, graphic design, and marketing.

So many of these self-proclaimed “unicorns” have never even worked a day in the industry. And yet, they are claiming to be able to do more than someone with over 20 years of professional UX experience, who have gone through hell and back and actually earned their stripes as UX designers.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

While I will not go too deep into this particular topic for the sake of this article, I implore new UX designers, to be honest about their skills. Knowing the basics of Photoshop does not make someone a full-fledged UI designer. Having done a half-hour practice session with HTML does not automatically make someone competent in front-end programming. Knowing what an A/B test is, does not make someone a UX researcher.

While this may seem harsh, please know that my intention is not to mock anyone. But I need to call people’s attention to the fact that everyone (myself included) knows far less than we give ourselves credit for. Simply declaring oneself to be a unicorn for instance (as it feels like way too many people in this industry claim to be), especially with no actual industry experience, does not necessarily make it true.

In fact, it is often quite the opposite.

The first step to becoming an enlightened master is to admit, and fully embrace how little you actually know about this industry.

The key here is to not only be humble but be as aware of your shortcomings as early on possible. We are all blind to our limitations, and while achieving true UX career enlightenment is a long and lengthy process, it is something that everyone needs to understand early on.

8. No, your first (and probably even second) job out of your bootcamp will not be at Google, Lyft, Netflix, Airbnb, etc.

Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, California. Photo credit: WIRED

This is a bootcamp (and HCI college program) marketing myth that I need to bust right now; unless you have an insane amount of connections at a top tech company and these people know and love you enough to give you a chance, you will almost certainly NOT be working there upon graduation.

Consider that Google gets over 3 million applications per year, and they only hire 7000 of those people annually. That means they accept 1 out of 428 applicants, or the top 0.2% of people who ask for a job. And the vast majority of those applicants are highly skilled in their respective fields, have tons of positive LinkedIn references, have accomplished a mind-boggling amount of achievements in their careers, and are often aggressively courted by numerous tech companies who are competing for that particular employee.

And yet, Google told them “no thanks”.

So if insanely talented, and highly experienced people get turned away from Google on a regular basis, you can probably guess what that means for UX newbies with no industry experience.

With those odds, you have a significantly better chance of getting accepted into Harvard University than you do of getting a job offer at Google. And it is a very similar story with so many other well-known tech companies, where the supply of skilled talent is insanely high and the demand for specific positions is far, far lower.

So why then, do bootcamps advertise that you can get hired at these top tech companies? It all comes down to imagery, arguably deceptive marketing and filling quotas.

I suppose because it is TECHNICALLY possible, for the same reason you could run nonstop from San Diego to the coast of Maine, Forrest Gump style without dying of heatstroke, and without being a professional runner. You COULD sink a basketball in a hoop from 100 feet away without having ever seen a basketball in your life. You COULD score a hole-in-one with no prior golf experience. And you COULD beat Dark Souls in one sitting, without even dying a single time.

But is any of that realistic? Hell no.

In fact, for your first role, you will be lucky to land a position at a relatively unknown company that does something mundane, like creating tax software.

What they are not telling you, is that while you are extremely unlikely to land your first job at a company like Google, you may be able to get hired at one (or more) of those places later on in your career, after getting to the top of your game, spending years upon years in this field, and forging the right connections with key individuals at the right place, at the right time.

But here is the silver lining; many incredibly skilled UX designers have not, and frankly never will set foot in a prominent tech company. And they don’t need to, for the same reason many highly intelligent people will never need to set foot on an Ivy League campus, or even go to college, for that matter.

That does not mean that they are bad at their jobs by any means. It just means that they don’t need to work at a top tech company to have a successful career.

During one of my podcast interviews with a friend and fellow UX designer who has worked at Facebook in the past, he highlighted that working at a top tech company is actually quite overrated. The problem is that even if you get hired at one of these companies, you are doing UX design on something that has already been built, and any impact your work has will be quite minimal among a massive organization anyway.

The amount of people who want to work at top tech companies is staggeringly high. But at the end of the day, you are simply doing the same thing as you would do at any other tech company; building a digital product, collaborating with team members, and doing your job to the best of your abilities.

That will always be true whether you are working at a very small startup company or Google. Instead of aiming for top tech companies, I encourage you to find a team at a company you work well with, that challenges you, and that builds something you are proud to work on.

9. Don’t become a UX designer just because you want to escape your previous career

Photo by Kev Seto on Unsplash

This is a huge red flag that I see often; some people get into UX design for the entirely wrong reasons. They heard they can make six figures right away in this industry, and decided that their current career sucks. They think “yeah, design sounds cool, I can do that for the rest of my working life”.

It’s not just a problem in UX design; lots of people become developers because they want to make more money, without putting much thought into what they will be doing professionally for the rest of their life, or if they will really enjoy this profession in the first place. Same with lawyers. And doctors. And engineers.

And it’s that very reason why so many people spent years, if not decades preparing for their profession, just to realize after being too deep into the field that they actually hate their career. Just because user experience is frequently mentioned as one of the “top career professions for 2020” does not mean that everyone is cut out to do it, or should be in this field, for that matter.

Here are some examples of traits that DO NOT mesh well with this field:

  • Someone who is frequently crabby, impatient, and not a people person should not be conducting user tests.
  • Someone who “is not a numbers person” and thinks UX design is more like graphic design than anything else should not be doing UX research or making highly strategic decisions.
  • People who can’t work through complex problems, infer what data and usability findings indicate, and really connect the business needs to the product and its outcomes through strategic design and digital product layouts probably won’t do well in this industry.
  • Anyone with a thin skin who cannot handle criticism without getting overly emotional instead of seeing the feedback for what it is, should not be in this profession.
  • An asshole who can’t be kind, diplomatic, or lead their way out of a wet paper bag should not be in a UX director position.
Photo by Juan Rumimpunu on Unsplash

The truth is, not everyone is cut out for this field, and that’s okay. And for your sake, as well as the sake of our industry as a whole, it is vitally important to be honest with yourself about this. You don’t want to sink several thousand dollars into bootcamp training (or a college degree in HCI), just to realize that it wasn’t a good fit from the beginning.

If that is you, there is nothing wrong with admitting it; self-awareness is a truly wonderful thing to have, and it is even more wonderful to be fully aware of, and completely honest with yourself about your weaknesses.

In fact, you will be doing yourself a favor (as well as potential employers, coworkers, and the people using the products you work on) if you decide this is not the right profession for you. We will always need firefighters, teachers, bankers, business executives, etc. And if any of those are fields you enjoy and would excel in, you may be better suited there!

10. Contrary to belief, your job is NOT just to design for “users”. It is to drive business outcomes, increase a company’s revenue, and make your involvement on the team worth your salary.

Photo by davisco on Unsplash

This is another common point I see with new UX designers; they believe the very reason for them being in this profession is about designing for “users”.

That is an extremely trendy, yet quite vague term. And it also ignores an extremely critical “user” in this situation that is often completely overlooked; the company that hired you.

Imagine for a second, that a company hires you to be on their UX team, and offers you a salary of X dollars per year. Regardless of what that number happens to be, they brought you on board for a very specific reason; to boost metrics related to that product.

That translates into money generated for the business itself, which in turn needs to be more than enough to justify the salary you are getting paid in the first place. So you could spend all day designing a digital product to look nice, have cool animations, etc. But if it does not meet the business requirements that increase their KPI (Key Performance Indicator) values, you are not providing value to the company, and definitely not justifying the salary you are getting paid.

Rather, you are simply playing in a digital sandbox, which is not what UX design is about, or why you were hired in the first place.


Having a graduate (or even undergraduate) degree in HCI alone does not automatically make someone an amazing designer.

Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

While this article has primarily focused on bootcamp graduates, I do feel the need to address another market; those who seek (or already have) a master’s, or even a Ph.D. in user experience.

I bring this up because I have been asked by new UX designers if they should get a master's degree in this field in order to boost their credibility. Although I myself have not pursued a masters degree in HCI (at least, not yet), I always urge people considering this route to take a step back and really evaluate how much it will help them in the grand scheme of their career, and not just blindly jump into it because “it will make them more marketable”.

There are lots of people with college degrees they don’t use, after all.

Graduate school is definitely not a silver bullet to get someone’s UX career started. I have several friends who do not have any formal UX experience and graduated with a master's degree in HCI. They are still in the same position as a lot of bootcamp grads; having a very difficult time searching for junior-level roles.

Similarly, I have spoken with people with masters degrees in user experience (both informally, and also as a participant in a group job interview), who, despite their educational background, did not have a clear grasp on what user experience is, or the problems they were solving for.

Needless to say, the individuals who cannot display a strong demonstration of user experience, regardless of formal education (or lack thereof), do not stand out as particularly strong candidates.

Rather, they have an expensive education, and are coming to terms with the fact that their education alone, while it may be a great supplement to prior experience, is not necessarily enough to land their first role.

Similarly, one of the best UI designers I know attended community college for one semester, before he got hired full-time, and is now a digital design director at a prominent agency. To this day, he still does not have a college degree.

In fact, I myself have a bachelor's degree in marine biology (ie, no formal HCI college degree), and I currently work in the industry. No one has ever asked to see any degree of mine that says I was certified. They see my portfolio and the value I am able to provide their business, and that is good enough for them.

It is the same with so many people who work as UX designers, who don’t have degrees in this field, but they still managed to land their first roles and successfully transitioned into full-time UX design positions.

So does that mean that you shouldn’t get a graduate degree in user experience?

Honestly, it really depends on your career aspirations. But I always encourage any prospective students to get experience in UX first, and then decide if a graduate program really will help them, before they go into several thousand dollars worth of debt for a piece of paper that may (or may not) help them out as much as they hoped it would.

For example, most UX research positions I have come across (especially at prominent tech companies) ask for a master’s or a Ph.D. This makes sense, considering that you would be doing very data-heavy analysis to identify trends and insights. You would sift through complicated, sometimes vague information, that you would then crystallize it into clear, actionable steps that the design team, or even business as a whole, needs to take.

A graduate degree is also needed for anyone who wants to teach UX design at a university. Although once again, you should be well-versed in the industry before you go this route, assuming you want to be a university professor.

However, I strongly caution anyone against jumping into a college degree, without really doing a ton of research, and identifying if it is needed to begin with. Just because a school offers a program that promises to make you more competitive in a field, does not mean that is how it will exactly pan out.

Under the right circumstances, such as specifically desiring a position within UX research, or if someone is at a company that wants it’s UX directors (once you get to that point, of course) to have a masters (and they are willing to pay for it), then by all means, go for it. Or if you want to be a college professor who teaches UX design, it will serve you in that regard.

But as government subsidies pull back and fund colleges less and less, those hefty price tags then become more and more of a burden to anyone who signs up for them. And for designers who want to use it as a bridge to get themselves into the field, I do not believe it is the most effective method.

Photo by Ameer Basheer on Unsplash

A graduate degree (or even a bachelors degree) does not necessarily make someone a fantastic, or even an okay designer. It just means they spent tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours of their life to learn a subject.

If your goal is to do something that requires that level of education, such as UX research, then, by all means, go for it. I am not opposed to graduate school by any means. But I encourage anyone looking at these programs to heavily consider what it will get them, what they will have to sacrifice to get it, and how necessary it is for your career advancement in the first place.

Whatever you do, please make sure your decision is more than justified by all of the efforts, the hefty price tag, and any time you will have to take not being in the industry to make it happen.

And before anyone sends me hate mail, please understand that I am not (completely) anti-college. I believe in the right circumstances, a college degree can be beneficial. And there are lots of highly skilled UX designers out there with graduate degrees. Similarly, there are plenty of not so great ones without a graduate degree, and vice versa.

My point is that a graduate degree makes someone look good on paper, but I believe it is not a strong enough indicator on its own to decide if the person has the “UX street smarts” to be able to handle the job well, which can only be learned on the job, working with real clients or in-house companies (and not in a classroom).


User experience (UX) is NOT User Interface (UI) design, and it is definitely NOT graphic design, either.

Photo by Bradley Howington on Unsplash

This is a point I see WAY too often; user experience (UX) design is far different from the visual, pretty elements that make up the digital product (UI). Sure, there are some overlapping elements, such as selecting colors strategically to get people to take action on certain buttons, or designing with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance in mind, to ensure that color blind people can see, and interact with your digital product.

But I see way too many people who seem to think that putting together a pretty page constitutes as UX. If you don’t know what you are solving for, how your audience behaves, what strategic business metrics or outcomes of the product you are making are (and how to design and test to make sure those metrics are being met), then I hate to break it to you, but you are not doing UX; you are just making pretty layouts.

I have talked to plenty of people who call themselves UX designers and presented their “methods” to me. What I see a lot are style guides, font choices, color swatches, animations, logos, etc. But the user experience side, which centers around the highly strategic decisions behind HOW and WHY a digital product needs to be laid out the way it is, how it will boost key metrics for the company it was made on behalf of, and how the designer plans on testing and re-testing to ensure those key metrics are increasing, is often severely lacking, if even existent at all.

I know this can be a confusing industry since there is so much terrible, and conflicting information out there. But please familiarize yourself with the key difference between things like user experience and visual design; they are quite different. And please don’t try to pass off graphic design as user experience (or vice versa). Understanding the difference helps our industry, and it also further helps cement that you actually know what you are talking about.

In Conclusion

Phew, let’s take a breather.

Let’s end the article on a positive note, so here’s a picture of a kitten! Photo by Andriyko Podilnyk on Unsplash

I realize this article may come off as a bit brash, but I want to wrap it up on a positive note and highlight that I am not anti bootcamp or anti-education in any regard, whether that be self-education or college. However, you can get yourself in the industry, assuming you still want to be here, after everything I covered, is fine by me. Even if it conflicts with anything I laid out. Your path is ultimately yours to own; I am just here to make suggestions based on my journey, and what I have observed from other people.

There is definitely a place for new UX designers, and I fully encourage anyone who has done quite a bit of soul-searching, and fully understands the not-so-great elements of this field (and breaking into it), is NOT in it for the money and is willing to be patient and work their way up to the top, instead of hoping for “instant career gratification” (which does not happen). If you can be humble, take feedback well, genuinely love user experience design, and are willing to come into this field with realistic expectations, I encourage you to dive more into this field.

Furthermore, I have an additional article covering even more feedback I have accumulated from my UX journey, which you can read here.

I also accept LinkedIn connections from people, so if you liked my article and want to connect with me, send me a request (and please let me know which article you read)!

P.S. For more articles that give a balanced approach on UX bootcamps, check out Michell Wakefield’s article “UX Bootcamps: Buyer Beware” on UX Planet. Also, Debbie Levitt’s article “UX Education Is Broken — Let’s Discuss, Research and Improve It” is also a great read.



Samuel Harper
Growing Into UX

Professional UX designer and UX career coach; I help brand-new UX designers land their first jobs, excel in their first jobs, and network like a badass!