Image credit: Giammarco Boscaro

2021 Edition: Your UX Boot Camp Will NOT Get You A Job: Unless You Do These Critically Important Steps

Samuel Harper
Growing Into UX
14 min readJan 1, 2021


Wow! It has been two years since I last wrote my very first article for the UX Collective, and for my own personal blog, Growing Into UX. Since then, I have worked at two agencies, and I am currently at an in-house software position in the heart of Silicon Slopes. I have also published numerous articles on Medium, I am running my own LinkedIn livestream show, and I am planning a 2021 TedX talk, among other pretty cool UX projects in the pipeline.

Wherever you are in your UX career, whether you are curious about this field or you have taken the plunge and invested the money into your UX education, the information in this article still holds relevant but has been updated with my latest experiences, new resources that have developed since then, and updated feedback I have.

Enjoy! And feel free to add me on LinkedIn; I have provided a link at the end of the article :)

There are no doubt, a ton of people who are shifting careers into user experience design with the help of boot camps such as General Assembly, Bloc, Career Foundry and many, many others. In fact, these schools seem to have found a niche around transitioning people to tech careers, and there is clearly a demand for it.

And for good reason. Although user experience design has arguably been around since the dawn of time, it is a field that has not seen a huge rise in popularity and demand until recent years, and the exponential growth of demand for technology reflects in the massive number of UX related jobs available.

And the pay and benefits are quite solid, too. In fact, Payscale reports that even entry user experience designers can make around $60k per year (although this can vary greatly with the area, experience, etc) with senior and top-level people reporting a salary well into the six figures.

What is also exciting is that the field of user experience design is not exactly cut and dry, such as being a heart surgeon, or a police officer, or a dentist. There are many different variations and interpretations of what a user experience designer does, even among companies that hire them. But this in itself is another appealing aspect of user experience design, at least in my opinion.

  • For example, your role may be more data and analytics centered, gauging how people are using your software, website, or app, while crunching numbers in statistical software and excel sheets.
  • Or maybe your role is more design-centered, focusing on building wireframes and deciding on the best possible outcomes for your page layout.
  • Your position may even be a mix of the two, or involve something very different and specialized from traditional app, web and software design, such as emerging voice-centered interactions (such as Amazon Alexa) or VR/AR.

Because of this, I believe this field primes itself as an excellent option for career changers who love getting their hands dirty doing a variety of tasks. Because I firmly believe that anyone can come into this field from just about any background and apply something both relevant and valuable from their prior experiences.

In fact, I often joke that user experience design is a “career for career changers”. More often than not, I hear far more about people who started in one field (such as Psychology, Marketing or Graphic Design), discovered user experience design later in life, and shifted into that field than I hear about people who went straight for a UX or HCI related degree right out of high school.

But there are people who come from so many other backgrounds and become incredibly successful too. In my case, I got my degree in marine biology from a small state university in Northern California. After I completed my internship with the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, Alaska, I eventually became intrigued with UX design. I enrolled in CareerFoundry’s UX boot camp program, and through lots of trial and error, plenty of rejection emails from jobs, and A LOT of patience, I finally landed my first UX job with a large digital advertising agency in Knoxville, Tennessee. Since then, I have gone on to work on projects for a variety of clients, ranging from small companies to Fortune 500 enterprises, won a hackathon on a road trip to San Diego, and helped design enterprise software.

But here is the critical thing; I did NOT get this job by just relying on my experience with Career Foundry to get me into this field.

Because in the end, the person who ultimately makes or breaks your UX career is yourself.

Although your UX boot camp will paint an extremely rosy picture of the field featuring high salaries, opportunities nearly anywhere you could imagine, and the ability to do so many different things in an ever-changing field in tech, the truth is that you still have to put in the work beyond what you do at your boot camp.

1. Create your own, independent work

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door” — Milton Berle

Photo by Minh Pham on Unsplash

Just because you are currently enrolled in a bootcamp does not mean that the UX fairy is going to immediately hand you a job upon graduation. Yes, the market shows an explosion in growth for UX related fields over the next several years, but that does not mean that you can just do a few UX projects from your boot camp, throw them up on your portfolio, and hope recruiters knock on your door.

I know this firsthand from experience.

Instead, you need to really show that you are capable of working in a team. That you can clearly and efficiently communicate your ideas to project managers, developers, UI designers, and your boss. That you are a self-starter who needs very little in the way of directions.

And that is why I believe everyone who is interested in breaking into this field needs to be a part of real-life projects outside of your boot camp.

You can spend time all the time in the world learning about all the theories of swimming. But if you don’t get yourself in the pool right away, you are sure to drown.

I am a firm believer in creating your own experience. So many of us get in the habit of relying on other people to give us an opportunity to gain experience through work or an internship. But that mindset does not allow us to really grasp what we can really do.

In fact, the best part of this is that you can center your UX project around whatever your interests are.

In my case, I gained a ton of experience back in 2017 when me and a small team of developers and a UI designer entered the Xprize Big Ocean Button Challenge. Our challenge was to utilize existing data collected from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as well as other government organizations and nonprofits centered around ocean health and then to turn that existing data into a digital product which the general public would find useful.

This was right up my alley. Having majored in marine biology in college, this turned out to be the perfect project for me. I was able to utilize all of the scientific thinking, statistics, and ocean-related knowledge and turn it into a really cool project where I could showcase both my major related skills as well as my new UX skills, all while showing that I can both manage a small team of tech people and also play nice with them.

And from there, our two submissions were born; Lionfish, which allows users around the Caribbean ocean to quickly and easily log their invasive lionfish captures, and Ocean Defenders, an app for kids that both educates and gameifys collecting trash from the beach.

And we made it to the semifinals! Not bad for a then wet-behind-the-ears UX designer!

Additionally, here are some other resources you can gain experience:

Tech groups that cater to individual personal interests:

There are plenty of tech groups out there that are specifically tied to causes you care about; LGBTQ+ issues, environmental concerns, social justice issues… these groups are all over the place.

One group that I have been involved with is Conservation X, which is a community of passionate tech workers that care about environmental issues that feature hackathons, challenges, community meetups and acts as a digital makerspace.

Other major issues facing this world need help, too. For example, the Help with COVID project needs plenty of technically and creatively-minded people to help kick this crisis to the curb!

Photo by Sung Shin on Unsplash

Do an internship

This is a tricky issue, as many internships will not accept people who are not currently enrolled in college. And yet, it seems like the vast majority of people getting into this field seem to be career changers.

I experienced that issue first hand when I was first getting started. The biggest issue I often found myself running into was that being a college graduate, most internships would not accept me on account of them looking for someone currently enrolled in college. And yet, I was not considered for most entry-level jobs, on account of not having enough experience (ironically).

So I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

But I did find that internships that would take me were often associated with relatively new startups who were not able to hire a full-time UX designer, but needed some design work done.

Needless to say, they were not able to pay me for my time. But I did get some work done for them which I was able to put on my resume.

I found both of these internships through AngelList, so you can always start there!

An additional resource that I recommend is, which has a fantastic set of internships that you may be able to get!

Photo by Anna Earl on Unsplash


Volunteering can be a really incredible opportunity to build experience, and you don’t need to have the experience to get started. Two great resources are Catchafire and Volunteer Match.

Even if you approached a local nonprofit, church, etc, and offered to redesign their site based on their personal needs (and you measured the outcome carefully), you can create experience from there!

Photo by Hacker Noon on Unsplash


Hackathons are tech challenges that gather tech professionals of all skill levels to solve an issue of some kind. Think of challenges like 24-hour film festivals, where filmmakers are challenged to make a movie in a limited set of time. Hackathons are similar, usually lasting 24–48 hours in duration, although I have heard of some lasting shorter than that, and some much longer.

These are great opportunities to not only build your confidence in working with other tech individuals across various disciplines, but it can be used for work to show on your portfolio, and it is sometimes used as a recruitment tool by certain companies to find talent.

And no, you don’t need to be a super genius to attend one. In fact, there are plenty of new people who attend these all the time. There are tons of hackathons that pertain to just about anything that interest you, and you have nothing to lose by participating!

An excellent resource to find hackathons is Devpost.

2. Find apps and websites you really love and reverse engineer them

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

This is one of the most valuable assets I can recommend to anyone, and it is something I still do to this day. Find several apps or websites that really spark your inspiration, break down how they did what they did, and reverse-engineer the thought process.

Pay careful attention to how the pages are laid out. For example, what is the message behind this website or app? Is it to serve as an e-commerce store? Is it to inform and educate? Is there some sort of logical story behind how it is set up? How is the information presented?

Something which really helps your portfolio stand out is to identify these websites. Then, using whatever prototyping tools you are skilled with, make wireframes showing how they are set up, and you can then identify how and why you would make new decisions to improve on how the information is presented.

An amazing resource for sites like this is Awwwards, which has an amazing collection of incredibly beautifully designed websites.

3. Get a Mentor

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” — Bob Proctor

Getting a mentor is by far, one of the best things you can do in the first few years of your UX career (and even beyond that). While your boot camp will provide a mentor for you to learn from while you are with them, realize that you are still going out into the world very new and fresh to the world of user experience. There are still A LOT of things you will learn along the way.

I recommend going to virtual UX meetups around your area (pending COVID) and connecting in person with those individuals. You can also reach out to people in UX groups online if you need to. Keep your non-disclosure agreements in mind, of course. But don’t be afraid to tell these individuals what skills you are struggling with and ask for feedback. Most of them will be more than happy to help you. They used to be novices themselves, and they are usually quite happy to contribute back!

I also recommend buying them lunch and doing whatever you can to keep them happy.

A fantastic resource I recommend for mentorship is ADP List, which is hosted by Felix Lee and gained prominence in response to the increased need for mentorship during COVID-19.

4. Build a Personal Brand

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

“All of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.” — Tom Peters

This is one of the biggest things people tend to overlook. When you enter into a new field, many times you go into it with the job in mind, and that’s it.

But I believe that is the wrong way to look at it.

I believe that self-branding is incredibly underrated. In fact, most people do not even stop to think about doing it at all. Their goal is often to put up a portfolio, apply to jobs, and do that job until they move on to the next big opportunity.

Now don’t get me wrong; having a solid portfolio is incredibly important. But it is only one piece of a much larger, more complicated puzzle.

Exclusively focusing on your portfolio and applying to jobs is like trying to become a professional basketball player by only getting really good at free throws.

In self-branding, you have to be proactive. You have to market yourself. Contribute information and as much of your knowledge as possible. Book yourself at conferences and give a speech on a UX related topic. Write a book and/or blog articles on the subject. You have to make yourself known.

Don’t believe me? Look at people such as Donald Norman, Jakob Nielsen, Steve Krug, and Jared Spool. Yes, these guys contributed a TON to the field of user experience design (and they still do). But they didn’t do it by hiding in the shadows. They got out there and made themselves known.

One of my favorite examples is my friend Tim Salau. A couple of years ago, Tim enrolled in an HCI related masters program at the University of Texas at Austin. But he was not just going to class every day and working towards his degree. Despite his incredibly busy schedule (which also involved several internships and a job), he was proactively connecting people, building communities and giving as much value back as possible.

He created the Facebook group Mentors and Mentees, where he connects people who are experienced in a certain field with newer people in that given field who are still wet behind the ears. He is always proactive in welcoming members, congratulating them on graduating college and getting a new job, and he always “hearts” comments (as opposed to just giving the standard Facebook “thumbs up”), and he personally responds to nearly every message in the group. Additionally, he utilizes the most out of Linkedin, always creating extremely valuable content there as well.

He is also constantly networking, contributing content, and writing very informative, helpful articles. He gives speeches to college students about networking. The best part is, every one of his Facebook and Linkedin posts are centered around branding himself, his experiences and the opportunities he both creates for himself and gives back.

He is an incredibly positive, loveable guy who finds ways of giving back constantly, without asking anything in return.

And guess what? Shortly after graduating with his master’s degree in hand, some folks at Microsoft became aware of his active contributions. They picked up on Tim’s brand which he was creating for himself, and they offered him a really sweet job as an AI Product Manager! And from there, he has created his own career, gives tech talks around the world, and is one of the cofounders of his startup, Guide.

Not only does this create opportunities with other people who will be more than happy to work with you and expand your connections like a wildfire, but it also shows that you are a really likable person, and therefore someone people want to work with.

6. Never Stop Learning

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

“There are five important things for living a successful and fulfilling life: never stop dreaming, never stop believing, never give up, never stop trying, and never stop learning.” — Roy Bennett

I believe this is one of the biggest mistakes people can fall into with their careers.

When you are starting out, it is easy to nod and say “Yup, I definitely have my learning cap on”. And that is great! But don’t forget that this is a fast-growing, ever-changing, and evolving field. Best practices now will likely be obsolete in five years (or less).

The trick is to remember that you still don’t know everything, even when you are a seasoned veteran.

Ultimately, do YOU have what it takes?

The trick is to remember that you still don’t know everything, even when you are a seasoned veteran.

Remember that becoming a UX designer is way more than just getting a job. You have to be proactive. You have to never stop learning. You have to see yourself as a brand and create value for other people, constantly.

Are you starting out as a UX designer? Comment below about how you got where you are; I would love to hear about it!

P.S. As a bonus, I strongly urge you to read this article on what you need to do before and during your first UX job. Trust me, go read it.

Before you go…

Feel free to add and connect with me on Linkedin! Let me know you read my Medium article so I know where you came from :)



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!