Here are some not so obvious questions to help you evaluate a UX bootcamp, degree, or other program you may be considering.
At least once a week, someone emails me to ask which UX education program they should take, ranging from masters degree programs to short in person bootcamps and self-paced online programs.
Here’s the thing, I can NOT tell you which one is best for you! And I can’t tell you that because I don’t know you and your unique situation.
But my inbox is so flooded with this question, that it’s clear you are overwhelmed with this decision. There are so many programs available today. They are all competing for your dollars. They make a range of promises from being interview ready in a week, to having a portfolio, to guaranteeing a job.
I know … you’ve read tons of reviews. You’ve read every syllabus. And you’re still stuck.
Listen, what you need to do is take a step back and do more research … but this time you have to stop researching the programs and research YOURSELF.
The UX education that is right for you is the one that fits your goals, lifestyle, learning style, timeline, and budget.
Ask yourself these 15 questions before you commit to a UX bootcamp or education program:
1. What is your goal?
Do you want to get a job in UX? Do you want to learn more about UX so that you can be more informed in your current role (eg. even if your current title doesn’t contain the word “UX”). Do you think that having a certain school or program on your resume will help you stand out from other candidates?
2. What is your starting point?
Are you already working in a complementary field to UX such as graphic design, psychology, journalism, anthropology, industrial design, or architecture … just to name a few? If so, the one that’s best for you will be different than one for someone who has zero experience in design or any loosely related field.
3. What is your budget?
UX education programs are priced from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. You must determine your budget. Is your employer going to pay for part of it? Just remember, you get what you pay for. On the flip side, a more expensive program doesn’t always mean it’s higher quality.
4. Do you have the time?
This is not just about the hours required to attend or watch the lectures. You must also factor in the time that you’ll have to commit to homework, design exercises, reading, and project work. If you’re already working, will your employer let you put work hours into the program?
5. What is the opportunity cost?
If you are going to attend a full-time in-person program, will you still be able to pay your bills? Do you have savings you can live off for the months that you will not be working?
6. What is your learning style?
Do you learn better in a formal classroom setting? Do you need the accountability of showing up for lectures at a specific time? Or, do you learn better when it’s on your terms and timeline? If the latter is the case, then maybe an online self-paced program is better than an in-person one.
7. Do you have the opportunity to put into practice what you’re learning?
If your goal is to get a job, then you will very likely need a portfolio. And to make a portfolio, you will need projects. Now if you already work in UX or are working on your own product, then you’ll be able to apply what you are learning to your day job, side hustle, or freelance clients. And then you’ll have projects for your portfolio. But, if you have ZERO access to opportunities to put into practice your new UX skills, then you should choose a UX program that gives you a chance to do real-world client projects (and not just “mock” class projects).
8. How much feedback do you need?
Are you the type of person who needs to rally discuss what you’re learning and get feedback on your work? Do you crave critique? Do you need validation from others to feel confident in your skills? Then choose a program that provides real-time mentorship, access to instructors, and a student community.
9. How much value does your country, culture, or the company you want to work at value a degree, certificate, or well-known institution?
Some countries put more emphasis on a formal education from an accredited institution. Some companies require you to have an undergraduate degree. Consider this as you decide which UX education program is right for you.
10. How technically confident are you?
No, I don’t mean learning to code. I mean using software. What software do you know right now? Can you confidently use software like Keynote, Illustrator, Photoshop, etc? Or, does the thought of using these tools give you a headache? If you feel like you need more hands-on learning of the software, then choose a program that covers that in the curriculum. Or, be prepared to supplement what you’re learning in the formal program with your own self-direct program through other online courses or specific topics such as those offered through the Interaction Design Foundation.
11. What is your comfort / success with job searches in the past?
Assuming your goal is to get a UX job, you have to consider how much extra help and guidance you think you’ll need when you’re finally ready to apply for jobs. Some programs have well thought out career guidance included. Other programs offer none of this. Choose your program accordingly.
12. How thorough is the curriculum?
This seems obvious, but it must be said. UX includes a lot of topics and roles. It’s unrealistic to think that if you choose a shorter program, you’ll be able to understand the details of each part of UX. For example, don’t expect to be fully versed in all the details of user research. If you are looking to specialize in a certain part of UX, then make sure the curriculum matches the topics you want to specialize in.
13. Do your career goals align with the promises that the education program may make?
For example, many programs say you’ll graduate and get a job making a starting salary of X. But you must consider that stated salary will be different if you live in New York or London versus Lisbon or Kansas City. Make sure that you have explored salary options and job availability where you want to live to confirm salary ranges and demand for UX folks.
14. Who is teaching this course?
The reviews you read about any program are largely dependent on who taught the program. Courses taught by different instructors can result in a very different student experience. Just because you have worked in UX, doesn’t mean you’re good at teaching it. So, as you consider different programs make sure you also talk to students who had that specific instructor (if you can).
15. Why do you want to get into UX in the first place?
I hear it at least once a week, “Sarah, how to I break into UX?” Yes, UX is in demand right now. And yes many companies offer great salaries. But before you go chasing shiny pennies, you should honestly make sure that UX is the right field for you. That’s a whole other article! But know this, UX is largely about understanding people, problem solving, being wrong, educating other people on your team about UX, communication, and creativity. So if you don’t like uncertainly and hate collaborating with people … then, this may not be the field for you.
Here’s the bottom line …
When people are looking to hire a UX person, what matters most is your EXPERIENCE.
UX hiring mangers need to see that you have the skills that their company needs right now. And in my opinion, I don’t think they care where or how you got those skills. They just need to know you have those skills.
Although some programs carry perceived extra value or credibility, a program doesn’t make a great designer.
What makes a great designer is the designer’s ability to think and implement.
So before you choose a program, take some time to do a bit of evaluative research about yourself and what matters to you and consider the learning experience that best matches you goals, goals, desires, and motivations.