Is a UX bootcamp worth it? Honest feedback from a bootcamp survivor turned industry professional

Samuel Harper
Published in
21 min readAug 20, 2020


As a disclaimer, I am NOT endorsing, or sponsored by any tech bootcamp, masters program, online education resource, UX coach, or anything along those lines. I am merely stating what I have noticed, and what has worked for me as a former bootcamp student who successfully transitioned into a full-time user experience career.

Brand-new UX designers who connect with me on LinkedIn ask me this question A LOT. And instead of answering each person individually (which can be quite time-consuming), I believe it will be much more helpful to simply write an article about it for anyone to reference at any time.

User experience is undoubtedly a massively growing field that is becoming more and more prevalent among the exponential explosion of demand for tech. And because of this, it is not only attracting aspiring UX designers enrolled in (or recently graduated from) college but also a considerable amount of people transitioning careers from some other field into user experience.

Although you may be hoping for a cut and dry answer, the truth is that whether you should or shouldn’t attend a bootcamp (or which one, if you so choose to), whether that be my “alma matter” (CareerFoundry) or any other one, is not a question that I can answer that for you. It largely depends on your life circumstances, the learning environment you want, how much free time you have, how much income you are willing to spend, and so on.

I can’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, since I don’t know your life circumstances and constraints better than you do. All I can do is tell you what I did that worked for me, make some suggestions, and let you decide what the best options for yourself are.

If you are truly serious about entering this field, than your UX education, whatever it happens to be, becomes an incredibly important choice. And no one can make that decision for you, better than you can.

As a bit of background, I attended CareerFoundry’s bootcamp from November 2016 to April 2017. The program has likely changed and improved quite a bit since I graduated. And similarly, it has become more expensive as a result.

Before I enrolled, I was deciding between General Assembly’s onsite classes at their campus in Denver, CO, and the online program that CareerFoundry offers. What ultimately made me select CareerFoundry was a combination of lower price (I was pretty dirt poor at the time), the fact that it is an entirely online program that could accommodate my odd work hours, and the 100% money-back guarantee offered within six months of graduation. General Assembly, on the other hand, didn’t have the job guarantee (at least, not at the time), the flexibility with my hectic schedule, and it was far more expensive.

Both programs ultimately promised the same outcome I was seeking, but CareerFoundry was far more of a more efficient bang for my buck and accommodated my schedule much better. And despite not having the in-person mentorship and peer support that I would have liked to have, everything else made it the obvious winner for me.

What led me to this point

If you want to skip straight to the point, feel free to gloss over this section. However, I realize that a lot of us have similar reasons why we left our former careers, and I don’t feel that I can tell the full picture without mentioning this extremely pivotal part of my life.

Before I discovered the wonderful field of user experience design, I suffered from a case of “I don’t know what I am supposed to do with my life” syndrome, as I am sure you have as well. I knew I was a creative individual, and there were certain things I was quite passionate about. For example, I discovered at a young age that, despite growing up in the middle of a landlocked state where the nearest ocean was over 1,000 miles away, I was fascinated with oceanography and marine life. I had fish tanks since I was seven years old, including a 55-gallon saltwater tank when I was sixteen, that I paid for and maintained myself (those things aren’t cheap, either!).

I also took a film class in high school that fascinated me with cinematography. We also happened to have a decent film school in town, and between my parents giving me the ultimatum to go to college or join the military, I enrolled in that film school and studied there until my early twenties.

After I later decided that I had no interest in the professional Hollywood life (for a variety of personal reasons), I decided to pursue my next love; marine biology. That lead me out to California, where I enrolled at a well regarded environmental science school in northern California, where I earned a bachelor’s in marine science at age 25, and ultimately planned on pursuing a Ph.D. in the field.

Approximately one year after graduation, tons of jobs I applied for (and didn’t get), along with moving back in with my parents because I could not afford rent, and near minimum-wage jobs to be able to have SOME money available, I eventually landed a position in August 2015, with a government agency in Alaska where I tracked and surveyed bald eagle nests.

And that SOUNDS like a dream job, for many people. But it was that point in my life that I realized something was horribly, dreadfully wrong.

Summary of an old Facebook post where I revealed the extent of my spiral into depression
Looking back at my Facebook posts, this was by far the one that summarized what I was going through the most. And you know it’s a problem when you realized that you used to like your own posts, too.

Not too long into the position, the honeymoon phase of moving out of my parent’s house wore off. And then, I realized what I signed up for; mindless work, soul-crushing depression that I would never wish on ANYONE, very few local friends in Alaska, and a constant struggle to keep myself sane and somewhat distracted from every day mind-numbing, monotonous data entry work. And I also attempted to live on a measly salary in a surprisingly expensive city.

I would go to work, day after day, and feel an insurmountably heavy weight on my chest. I could not socialize with anyone, and I felt like I had to retreat into my room right after work every single day so I could avoid my roommates. I desperately needed human connection, and simultaneously I wanted nothing to do with anyone. I hardly knew anyone there, much less anyone I liked. I desperately (and unsuccessfully) tried to escape into my after-hours hobbies after work, to even slightly numb the pain. I couldn’t even enjoy weekends anymore, and each hour of each day felt like a miserable, smothering blanket of dread. And I would break down crying on several occasions, for absolutely no reason at all.

I had entered the single worst period of depression of my entire life. And that is something that I would NEVER wish on anyone. I felt like each day, my soul was being slowly smothered to death.

But what I didn’t realize is that, like a lot of us who eventually discover user experience, that was the shakeup I desperately needed in my life, that ultimately put me on the path I am on now. It was a blessing in disguise.

My old desk in Anchorage, Alaska
The desk I sat at, day in and day out, for eight hours per day, just to go home at 5 pm and feel slightly less dead on the inside. By the time I got to the office and left, it was already dark outside.
Downtown Anchorage, where it looks like it is nearly dusk when it is actually around noon
Downtown Anchorage, where the sun would rise at 10am and set at 4pm in the winter. And even with the sun out, it would look like dusk all day. This photo was taken right around noon.

It wasn’t until December of 2015 at the age of 26 that I came across a blog from CareerFoundry, highlighting what user experience is, and why it is so important.

I had never heard of it, although it sounded like an interesting profession to be a part of. I could never put my finger on WHAT I was supposed to be doing; I was a very creative person who also enjoyed science, research, and contextualizing why things function the way they do.

I never thought a profession that would allow me to be both creative and analytical even existed; that just sounded like blasphemy. I always assumed you could only have one or the other, but never both in the same profession.

After sucking up my pride and deciding I needed to hit the big red reset button on everything, I moved back in with my parents and immediately hired a career coach to help me figure out what I actually wanted to do with my life.

After taking a career assessment test, I was surprised to see that of all the professions; graphic design was by far the one I rated the highest for, personality-wise. However, a career in design was also the profession I was LEAST qualified for, with my background.

Or so I thought…

After more temporary job misadventures that ultimately led me to get a much more stimulating job as a school bus driver and a weekend science educator at a natural history museum, I began mentally sifting through all of the long-term careers I may want to pursue, and I eventually narrowed it down to user experience design.

So that led me to HOW I was going to get up to speed to enter into this field. I had researched numerous bootcamps and online resources, and I decided that having a step-by-step program with a mentor was the way to go.

I eventually narrowed the bootcamps down to two options:

  • General Assembly, which dazzled me with its startup-like office, guest speakers, fun and informative gatherings from Meetup, and the cool-looking work environments, located in the heart of downtown Denver.
  • CareerFoundry, with it’s significantly lower cost (at the time), the flexibility of online learning, and it’s six month, money-back guarantee.

Even though I loved General Assembly’s office and the instructors who worked there, CareerFoundry became the obvious choice for me.

Overall, was the bootcamp experience worth it?

For the most part, yes, it did pay off.

And at last, after six months of doing my bootcamp part-time in addition to working 60 hour weeks with no days off for months on end and barely making enough money to survive on, I finally finished my bootcamp and went on the job hunt.

And through the massive barrage of “thanks, but no thanks” job responses I received, I finally managed to get some interviews.

Some companies turned me down after the first interview. Some saw my drive and desire to break into this field and gave me second (and even third!) stage interviews.

My two best leads came down to an ad and digital marketing agency in Knoxville, Tennessee, and a software agency in Boston, Massachusetts. Both companies saw potential in me, and I managed to make it to the final stage interview with both of them.

In fact, the agency in Boston even flew me out and put me in a nice hotel for my final, eight-hour onsite interview (needless to say, it was intense!), with all of my expenses paid!

View of my hotel room of downtown Boston, the day of my onsite interview
November 2017: The view from my hotel room of downtown Boston, the day of my onsite interview. I would not even have had this opportunity without the help I received from my bootcamp!

Although the position in Boston did not work out as I hoped, it boosted my confidence, knowing that even a UX newbie like myself (at the time) could land an onsite, final-round interview on an all-expenses-paid trip across the country!

And not too long after, the agency in Tennessee called me up and gave me the green light to start, leading to my first job as a professional user experience designer! My relocation was paid for, and I entered the wild world of agencies and digital advertising where I lived and worked for a year and a half before I secured a better agency position in Salt Lake City, Utah.

With that said, my circumstances were very likely different from yours, and my success does not necessarily mean that your success is guaranteed. Everyone’s mileage varies.

A lot of it comes down to how creative you can get with breaking into user experience, combined with some fortunate timing, willingness to be flexible with your current situation, patience, and a solid understanding that paying for a bootcamp DOES NOT guarantee you a job in user experience, no matter how much the bootcamp tries to make you believe otherwise. You really do have to earn it.

Plus, you will likely have to take additional steps that your bootcamp will not teach you, such as creating real-world projects, networking, having a strong presence on LinkedIn, etc.

Those critical steps fall on your shoulders, and only yours. Not your future employers, not your bootcamp mentors, and not anyone in the design community. Yours.

Some people (although it is quite rare, from what I have witnessed) get hired even before exiting their bootcamp. Most people in my experience, go months and months before being hired. Some people get so fed up with the search, that they abandon ship altogether after they invested thousands of dollars into their bootcamp, and they go back to their old career with UX knowledge and more debt as a result of their bootcamp. But without the UX job they wanted.

My thoughts on UX education

I get messages all of the time from people who are deciding to make that massive leap into their UX education, and I am often asked questions like:

  • “Is a bootcamp worth it”?
  • “Should I sign up for (Bootcamp X), or (Bootcamp Y), or (Bootcamp Z)?
  • “What is the best way to learn about UX so I can get good enough for my first job?”

Although you were probably hoping for a cut-and-dry answer, the truth is that I can’t tell you, since you know your situation far better than I do. Whatever educational resource you choose, depends far more on you, your circumstances in life, and what works for your schedule.

Photo by Jamie Templeton on Unsplash

Imagine for a second that you have to go to the grocery store two miles away. You can get there through a lot of ways; you could walk, ride your bicycle, drive, or fly a helicopter. Admittedly, some methods are far more efficient than others, but if it gets you there, than that is what matters.

There isn’t a cut and dry formula to become a UX designer. There are no silver bullets. And there are no shortcuts, either. I have met lots of people who got into user experience who were entirely self-taught through Udemy classes, or something similar. Some people hire a UX career coach to help them along their journey. Some people go to bootcamps. Some go to a school for an undergraduate or graduate degree. Some people just happened to know the right people, at the right place, at the right time.

However, I encourage you to evaluate your decision, and not just blindly jump into something. Here are some choices you will have to weigh against each other (although it is not only limited to these; however, this should be a good start):

  • Does it fit your schedule? Can you work it around your current job, family responsibilities, time for decompressing, etc.? If it is an in-person classroom lesson with a physical location, can you regularly attend it without throwing your current job and schedule out of whack? If it is self-paced and online, will that make a difference, even if it has tradeoffs?
  • Does the value the program provides fit your budget? While this is a huge decision to make that you should ideally not skimp on, you also don’t want to have to bankrupt yourself over it, either. Pick an option that has a suitable balance between value offered and price.
  • Can you justify the cost of picking one program over another? For example, is it worth it to sign up for an expensive bootcamp for the additional benefits you would not get from a $10 Udemy course? And is there a clear benefit to going with a more expensive option vs. less expensive (for example, the more expensive option might involve direct mentorship, in-depth portfolio work, etc.).
  • Is there a good community (and do you need that)? This is a big deal, as you want to make sure that the people you are surrounding yourself with are going to help motivate you when you feel down, or you don’t want to work. It’s one of the clear advantages that in-person programs offer that online programs tend to struggle with. But some people can also do fine without it.
  • Is the instructor(s) a reputable industry veteran? Be sure you look up the instructor(s) on LinkedIn or any other place where they have an online presence. You want to make sure the very people who are teaching you know what they are talking about, after all. Don’t just take their claimed expertise at face-value; do plenty of research on them. I have heard of stories where bootcamps hire students to teach right after graduation, so they can boost their “hiring rate”, even though those new “teachers” have never worked a day in the industry. That of course, is a problem.
  • What kind of sacrifices will you need to take in order to make it happen? This can take a variety of forms, from financial burdens, time constraints, dramatically reducing your free time, little to no hands-on mentorship, etc. There will be a tradeoff somewhere, so you need to be aware of what you will need to sacrifice to make your UX education happen.
  • Are you working on REAL projects, and not theoretical projects? This is a HUGE one, as so many UX projects are created in a bubble, with no real-world feedback. And I can tell you that theoretical projects tell me nearly nothing about how good of an employee anyone will be. The difference between academic and real-world projects sometimes feels like the difference between being on a tame Disneyland ride and having to live in a real-life version of the Mad Max movies; one is WAY more intense and unpredictable than the other. In the real world, you will be extinguishing metaphorical fires, working under tight deadlines, dealing with huge egos, have parts of your work discarded for a variety of reasons outside of your control, etc. The more we can see how you handle yourself in the latter situations, the better.
  • How much guidance do you need, vs. how self-driven can you be? This can be a harder question to answer than one would think, as I have signed up for programs with a gung-ho, “I can do this myself without any guidance” attitude. And then, my motivation to finish wanes. If you can make it through without an actual person guiding and holding you accountable for the sake of saving money, then, by all means, take that option. But no one will be there to hold your feet to the fire, except for you. And that can be quite a challenge, in itself.
  • Does it come with some sort of guarantee? I say this because some programs come with a guarantee of some kind. And while I do not believe making a guarantee that your bootcamp will get you a job is entirely accurate, I do believe that it can come in handy, in case you still find yourself without work even after doing everything in your power to get hired. However, I will say this from experience; if you have not secured a job after the point you were guaranteed to find full-time employment, be prepared to fight tooth and nail to make sure they follow through with the original guarantee. Trust me, I speak from experience.
  • Are YOU willing and fully able to put in the work? Remember that even the best programs are useless if you don’t meet the program halfway and do a stellar job, as well as outside of it for networking, applying to work, etc. Once again, everything falls on your shoulders. You are the sole individual who determines your success, and no one else.

What other options are there?

While bootcamps are marketed as the trendy option for new UX designers, they are by no means the best or only way to get in. In fact, Michell Wakefield’s article “UX Bootcamps: Buyer Beware” on UX Planet offers some sound advice on this very subject, and he dives further into the pros and cons of each than I do in this article.

Also, Debbie Levitt’s article “UX Education Is Broken — Let’s Discuss, Research and Improve It” also provides a ton of valuable insights into the problems we are facing with bootcamps.

I will say that both individuals make fantastic arguments, and I agree that UX education is flawed in many ways. Similarly, I also believe that it falls on the individual themselves to ensure that they do not depend on a school or bootcamp to land themselves their first job. Instead, the aspiring UX designer must be proactive, create opportunities for themselves through personal branding, have a strong presence on LinkedIn, make real-world UX projects, among other things.

In the end however, even the best program can not get you into user experience without solid, dedicated effort on your end. You must be able to meet the program half way, and do as thorough and stellar of a job of learning, and implementing the material as possible.

Industry certifications

Google offers industry-level certifications. Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash

There are quite a bit of fantastic industry certifications out there. For example, Google is developing a program, taught by Google employees, to train individuals for careers in UX design, Data Analysis, Project Management, and IT Support, which will be hosted on Coursera.

Additionally, Google offers a massive range of additional certifications, from job skills such as improving one’s resume, to training for specific career paths, to startup and business training.

Many universities are offering industry-grade certifications from leading universities on Coursera, and you don’t even need to apply to the college or deal with horrific student loans, either. Just find the program you want, sign up and viola, you are in!

Mitchell Wakefield also dives deep into certifications you can get from legitimate universities and UX professionals, which you can check out here.


Photo by XPS on Unsplash

I cannot comment a lot on how people go about informal self-education. However, I suppose one could argue that any program requires some level of self-education, as you must still read books, articles, do the course work, do projects outside of your course work in order to do well in the program. But a resource that provides a vast knowledge base is the Interaction Design Foundation. I use it to this day, and it has been a fantastic resource for me!

Also, Udemy, Treehouse, and LinkedIn Learning are great resources as well!

Coaches and mentors

Coaching can be a helpful supplement to a UX education, as there are plenty of industry professionals who can help you on a 1–1 basis. However, it should not be a replacement to education by any means, but rather a supplement. This can range people you know already know who work as UX designers who can provide feedback over a coffee chat, to industry professionals who have a professional coaching program established.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Some people I am aware of off the top of my head who have established coaching practices (and are quite knowledgeable) are:

ADP list is also a great resource, and the Interaction Design Foundation has a more expensive option where you learn from their courses and also get hands-on mentorship from one of their mentors. And I also coach new UX designers!

My advice if you choose this route, is to be selective of whomever you decide to work with. Make sure they not only have the credentials that back up what you are looking for, but that they also have a personality that meshes well with yours. You don’t want to sign up for someone’s program, just to realize that even though they know what they are talking about, that your personalities clash, and you don’t like them. That turns into a lose-lose situation for both of you.

Another word of advice; PLEASE don’t cold-message a UX coach LinkedIn, and tell them “hey I love your program, but I can’t afford it. Would you mentor/coach me for free?”. It happens a lot, and coaches do not find it amusing.

Many of these coaches, both in UX and in other industries, worked extremely hard to establish their programs and make sure they are delivering the best value they can. They are also incredibly busy people. So asking them to give up what is left of their free time to mentor you (for free) devalues their time and hard work. You wouldn’t walk into a Lexus dealership and demand that they give you a free car, after all!

Instead, the better thing to say is, “Hey, I love your work, and I would like to supplement my UX education with mentorship. The outcomes I am looking for, and areas I need help with are XYZ, which I know you can provide. Can you tell me what your rates are”?

A good coach knows their worth, and they are also very busy people. Even if you just decide to reach out to a local UX designer who happens to be a friend for a chat, make it worth their time; buy them lunch, coffee, etc. Always treat the time of the person you are asking for guidance from as extremely valuable, and they will do the same for you.

Colleges and Universities

Campus image of the University of Southern California
The University of Southern California is one of many colleges offering undergraduate and graduate programs in user experience. Photo credit: Mercury News

Before we go further into this section, I STRONGLY caution against jumping into a bachelor’s or a master’s program, and especially a Ph.D. without heavily weighing the benefits and risks associated with taking on a mountain of debt and sacrificing years of your life for a program that may not even help you that much. That includes the time you could have spent building experience as a UX designer in the industry, the financial burdens, the effort, or anything else you have to sacrifice that would get in the way of you getting into this field.

“Don’t let schooling interfere with your education”. -Mark Twain

I also realize that some positions, such as UX research, usually ask for a graduate degree in HCI. Also, some people aspire to be college professors, so if that is your end goal, then a graduate degree in HCI will help you.

But for designers who have no aspirations to teach or do UX research, I want to emphasize that a college degree in HCI holds far less weight than one would think. There are highly skilled UX designers in this field who have degrees in English, Psychology, Art, Gender Studies, Economics, Music, Sociology, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science, Underwater Basket Weaving, and so on, who became UX designers and currently have a successful career in this field.

In fact, one of the best UI designers I know has no college degree at all.

I have a bachelor’s degree in marine biology and an associate’s degree in film studies. I have no formal education in UX design, aside from my bootcamp, industry experience in both agencies and in-house roles, courses on Udemy and the Interaction Design Foundation, and countless blogs and articles I have read. And I can tell you that my past and current employers know this. And frankly, they don’t care, either. They don’t measure my worth based on what topic a horrendously expensive piece of paper says I know. They instead, measure my worth based on the contents of my portfolio, my UX thought process, how well I communicate and present myself during interviews, and how well I can connect my skills to the needs of my current employer.

That does not mean I am anti-college (for the most part). However, it is essential to realize that as college gets more and more expensive, they are also not sufficiently equipped to handle the lightning-fast speed at which technology changes. And companies like Coursera, Google, Udemy, and the Interaction Design Foundation and others are evolving to fill that gap with faster and less expensive training options. Even colleges themselves are building their own bootcamps so they can try to stay relevant.

If UX design is your primary goal (and not UX research or teaching), you should seriously consider cheaper, and frankly more effective options to learn UX design, as there are an abundance of options.

And even if your desired outcome involves research or teaching, I still STRONGLY encourage you to gain plenty of industry experience, BEFORE you even consider graduate school. Make sure you are not putting the cart before the horse!

If you have decided after having some experience in the field that you want to do something that requires a college degree, such as UX research or teaching at a university, go for it. The same goes if, despite my best efforts, I was unable to persuade you against getting a design degree without prior experience, and you still want to move forward with this option. You can find a list of the top schools offering a UX education here.

In conclusion

To summarize my beliefs on UX education (regardless of what it is), it is critically important for you to identify what programs fit your needs and what you are looking for. I cannot tell you what program to sign up for or what path to take, that is exclusively your job. All I can do is offer my insight from my personal experience.

For more tips on how to stand out as a UX junior, Mitchell Wakefield wrote a great article on how you can stand out among a crowded junior UX market, which you can read here.

And if you would like to connect with me on LinkedIn, feel free to send me a connection request!



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!