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Are design bootcamps worth it?
My honest review on this sensitive topic.
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Q: I’m breaking into design. Should I pay $15,000 for a design bootcamp?
This topic is controversial.
As a 100% self-taught designer (watching online videos, and practicing), I landed a six-figure digit design job after only a year of transition.
There have been talks on how bootcamp designers churn out cookie-cutter design portfolios, are unable to get jobs and others. So the real question is — are designed boot camps worth paying for?
Whatever the answer is, transitioning into design can be difficult, especially in this uncertain market and saturation of new designers 🍪.
🔔 As a disclaimer, I am NOT endorsing, any tech boot camp, online education resource, or anything along those lines. Springboard is a partner, but I have full freedom to write this opinionated article — these are fully transparent and unbiased thoughts from me.
Brought to you by Springboard
In Springboard’s UI/UX Design bootcamp, you can learn critical design skills and then apply what you’ve learned to a 4-week remote externship with a real company. Plus, build an amazing portfolio with 1:1 mentoring and career coaching included.
I’ve spoken to many former, and current bootcamp students and my personal research. The findings and insights are interesting. Read on 🙏!
My argument in this post is this:
Going to Design Bootcamps is worth it if you want to learn.
It’s a good starting line, but don’t expect a design job just by attending.
There are many factors around making this expensive decision.
It can be dangerous if you just do design bootcamps and nothing else.
The myths and truths of these bootcamps (I will write below).
Be wary of bootcamps that promise you a new career in 3 months.
One of my most surprising findings (at least for me) was that going design bootcamps are highly contextual. We think that design bootcamps are ONLY to help career transitioning but no. If you want a design job, bootcamps are a great starting line, BUT you need to be prepared to do additional work. Don't join if you expect a job to be handed to you.
What is Design Bootcamp?
They are immersive, short-term programs are designed to quickly teach the essential skills needed to start a (UX) design career. These bootcamps often focus on hands-on learning, real-world projects, and practical applications of UX principles. They provide:
Industry based knowledge
Mentorship during bootcamp
Projects for case studies
At a glance, design bootcamps
🔎 A Perspective From Tech Hiring Manager.
From Haifa Sekkouah (UX Lead, Zendesk) on Design Bootcamps:
Being “worth it” really depends on what outcome you’re aiming for…
If it’s to get a high level overview from end to end of the User Experience Process with some hands-on trial experiences, then yes;
If it’s to change careers and get hired as a UX designer from the one bootcamp, then no.
I have run a few bootcamps myself and students who find it the most useful are those:
Who are wondering what UX Design involves as a day to day job;
That want an idea of everything it can involve ;
That want an insight into just how deep it goes and the skills required
What UX is all about
Could I see myself doing this everyday?
💪 An Analogy of Bootcamp vs Fitness Instructors.
From Elaine Chou Arora, GM of Design at Springboard:
The question on if you should enroll in a Design bootcamp is similar to if you should hire a personal trainer. Many people are able to accomplish their fitness goals by joining a gym, finding a workout buddy, and/or watching videos on YouTube.
Others seek the accountability, structure, and professional guidance that only a real-life trainer can provide. Most of Springboard's Design students have at one point tried to self-teach, but weren't seeing the results they wanted. For our students, a dedicated Springboard mentor (an individual who is not only an experienced Designer, but is also selected for their ability to mentor and teach) was especially helpful in providing this accountability and support.
But while a trainer can make you more effective in reaching your goals, it doesn't mean less hard work. No one but you can put in the long hours and the blood, sweat, and tears (both applicable to fitness and pivoting into Design) 😎.
A transparent breakdown of pros vs cons
Let’s dive deeper into the most important questions people ask.
Cost: How expensive is it?
TLDR; It’s expensive. If you want, there are financial aids/grants.
I will be honest: a UX bootcamp can be expensive. Most of us would have to think twice before spending; it ranges from US $7,000 - $15,000 💸.
And it might not be possible to hold a job at the same time as you study.
While most offer scholarships and flexible payment plans, it would probably be best to explore with free resources first to ensure you enjoy it before committing.
Legitimacy: Is it recognized by companies?
TLDR; Yes it is; but only if you have real design case studies.
This is very contextual; it depends on the leaders interviewing you. I have met leaders who absolutely do not care and leaders who just don’t have a good impression of bootcamp graduates.
Emerging trends on why it *could* be relevant:
The hiring market is getting tighter - needing more career support, mentorship, and industry-created curriculum to make sure you’re focused on studying the most important topics.
Hiring managers want to see a portfolio, not just a resume - you are tasked with projects to build this out in these programs.
Entry-level design jobs are competitive - credential + showing some workplace-based learning (internships, apprenticeships, freelance).
My honest observation
Only real-life design projects will *actually* set an impression. I’ve heard too many leaders not wanting to see made-up case studies, so don’t just rely on the program — you should aim to get real projects to show your impact.
Suitability: Am I the right person?
TLDR; If you’re looking to get into design/learn design, yes. But don’t expect a design job to just be handed to you after this.
Deciding to attend a design bootcamp is a decision that depends on several factors, including personal learning style, career goals, and financial resources.
Here are 5 groups of people who might benefit:
Little to no existing UX skills
Have tried to self-teach but not seeing the results.
Working professionals who don’t have time to search for the best resources out there.
Students / new grads who want to supplement education with industry skills.
Choices: Are some better than others?
Some programs have a proven track record of consistently producing alumni who flourish in the tech industry.
Others might not live up to some of their promises.
Before you dive in, do your homework on the school itself.
What do alumni say?
Where do alumni work, and with what titles?
Which tech companies have affiliated themselves with the institution?
What are their outcomes like?
Format: What format of learning is the most effective?
TLDR; Depends on your individual learning style (breakdown below).
Before deciding which program is right for you, you have to decide your priorities. What are your goals, what is the level of time commitment you’re comfortable with, and are you looking to study in-person or online?
So… what should you consider if it’s worth it for you?
What are your goals? Upskilling vs getting a job. Short online courses would be best if you already have the base knowledge of skills and just want to learn a new tool or refresh some skills. If you want human feedback on your portfolio or career advice, ADPList. If you’re starting from close to zero, or you’ve tried to “self-teach” and are not seeing the results you want in your job search, may want to consider a turnkey solution (boot camps).
Format - Sync vs async, full-time vs part-time, online vs in-person: how will this fit into your life, and how do you learn best
Who are the humans supporting you - 1:1 mentorship vs instructor-led class? Test on the quality of these mentors/instructors (are they currently working practitioners in the field? How much experience do they have?)
Real-world experience - How to stand out beyond the cookie-cutter bootcamp portfolio. For example, Springboard offers a 4-week internship with a real company so you can get real-world experience on your portfolio
Potential ROI - largely depends on how much you are currently making, what your expected salary will be, the cost of the program, and then what the expected ROI on that investment is. Ask for stats for each program on expected salary and actual salary increase of students, as it will likely vary by course. The cheapest pay does not always pay off depending on the expected salary increase based on the support you receive
Career support - It’s important not just to learn the craft, but also to learn how to get a job in the field. Does the Bootcamp offer career services to support your job search? What are their outcomes/placement rates?
Tuition refund guarantee - a lot of controversy around this. Of course, a bootcamp will not “hand” you a job after you graduate, nor can it guarantee you a job after you graduate. But certain programs will refund you if you don’t find a job w/in X months after graduating. There are terms and conditions, so read carefully to make sure they are reasonable. For example, for Springboard, terms and conditions are tied to making sure you are successful in your coursework, and doing the work of networking and applying to jobs, which are intended to help keep you accountable.
Reviews - CareerKarma, Course Report, SwitchUp. Ask network. You can cold reach out to students or alums for their opinions on the program.
What alternatives 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.
To summarize my beliefs on design 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.
Key questions to ask yourself:
Does it fit your schedule?
Does the value the program provides fit your budget?
Can you justify the cost of picking one program over another?
Are the instructor(s) reputable industry veterans?
What kind of sacrifices will you need to make in order to make it happen?
Are you working on REAL projects, and not theoretical projects?
How much guidance do you need, vs. how self-driven can you be?
Does it come with some sort of guarantee?
Are YOU willing and fully able to put in the work?
All I can do is offer my insight from my personal experience and this breakdown of data to make up your decision.
Thank you for reading 🙏! Hope you found it useful and share it with your network. Have a productive week ahead!
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