Design bootcamps will only get you so far

Design bootcamps will only get you so far
Photo by UX Store / Unsplash

The way 2020 has panned out, many of us are at home which has given us the time and space to sign up for online courses to learn a new skill or even start a journey down new career paths.

Becoming a UX Designer has grown year after year, and it’s still a highly sought-after career for many of us. More and more programs online or in-person (pre-COVID) continue to appear, presenting the idea you can become a designer within a relatively short amount of time. And these programs are appealing! Many of them have career coaches, personal mentors, and job guarantees. Even Google recently announced their certificate programs, one of which is for people wanting to pursue UX Design.

If you’re one of those people on the edge and thinking of signing up for one of these programs, I want you to take a step back, and really think hard about your intentions. Is this really how you want to be spending your money and (the forgotten, but so important) time? Even if you’re paying thousands of dollars, and there is a job guarantee at the end, to be quite blunt…nothing is guaranteed.

This sounds very discouraging, I know. And it also sounds like I’m really knocking on these programs, but that’s not what I’m doing. What I am doing is questioning your motives, and whether or not you’re aware that, all of these programs will only get you so far. While they may be helpful in many ways, these programs are only a stepping stone on your journey into design. You may go through the most expensive, most elaborate program there is, but having a career in design goes beyond the program, certificate, or degree that you have.

I attended one of these bootcamps a few years ago, so I’m not here to bash the experience. It gave me good information and helped me validate and figure out what my gaps were in design. But one of the biggest takeaways I had was if you wanted to get into design, whatever program you attend is only the tip of the iceberg. What you should really focus on is, if you want to become a designer, are you willing to go the extra mile?

How far is far?

Everyone has different life circumstances that will influence what kind of path they want and can pursue. Regardless of it being a 4-year college degree, a 1:1 mentorship-based program or you’re in a more class-structured curriculum, it’s what you personally do to supplement and bolster your experience and beyond that will help you on your journey.

Learning the methods, doing the projects, and building the portfolio are the foundations to get you started, but what are you doing to stand out? What else have you done to enhance your education? How are you going “out” there (because it’s 2020), to make yourself known to others that you are a designer?

The Extra Mile

Even with the curriculums that are developed with these programs, a lot of them are going to require to you have the self-motivation, self-discipline, and self-perseverance to set yourself up to be successful in the long run.

Remember in high school that one kid who seemed to do everything and was involved with everything? People would classify them as the “over-achiever”. Well, you’re going to want to take a few pointers from that kid. Getting involved and going the extra mile is what is going to make you stand out. It’s going to let others know you’re serious about design and show that you are able to design outside of the confines of a boot camp curriculum.

If you plan to go down the boot camp path, here are a few suggestions to get you to further enhance your education:


These are some of the best ways to network and get your hands-on projects outside of your program. It’s an opportunity to work on both your soft skills and hard skills in design within an allotted amount of time. It will also give you a quick insight into how design isn’t always a linear process. By the end of the hack, you’ll have the opportunity to write a case study to share your experience and share the design thinking and skills you used.

Great resources to see what when hackathons are being held, check out:

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Major League Hacking
The official collegiate hackathon league.
Devpost - The home for hackathons
Participate in online virtual and in-person hackathons to build products, practice skills, learn technologies, win prizes, and grow your network.

Personal projects

It’s time to think outside of the assignment box! It can seem intimidating because the world is your oyster! Find a problem that is important to you, and develop a solution to address it. Think of it as an opportunity to develop your process and dive deeper into the new skills you’ve learned. Sometimes it’s ok to adventure outside the confines. It can help spark creativity and explore what works and doesn’t work without the pressure of “having to complete an assignment”.

Tools you can use to build and share your personal projects:

Webflow: The no-code platform for web design and development
Webflow empowers web designers to build professional, responsive, and custom websites in a completely visual canvas with no code. Try Webflow for free!
Notion – The all-in-one workspace for your notes, tasks, wikis, and databases.
A new tool that blends your everyday work apps into one. It’s the all-in-one workspace for you and your team.
Responsive Web Design | Website Creation | Editor X
Experience the future of website design with responsive layouts, CSS precision and smooth drag and drop.

Volunteering + Freelancing

These projects are what get you the experience of working on real-world projects. You’ll be working with a client that has real needs and customers. Freelancing usually implies that you’ll be paid for this, but unless you plan to go full-time freelance (which is another story for another day), the monetary benefit will be little to none. Instead, you’ll be spending a lot of time and effort, but gaining context to what design is like applied to real business needs.

One of the best ways to find projects is to reach out to your local community to volunteer your time. This is always a great opportunity to learn and develop your presentation and strategic skills when speaking with businesses and organizations about a project you could collaborate on with them.

VolunteerMatch - Where Volunteering Begins
Search Volunteer Opportunities. VolunteerMatch is the #1 volunteer-engagement network. Find volunteer information and listings in your local community now!
Virtual volunteering with nonprofits
We’re on a mission to mobilize the world’s talent for good
Upwork | The World’s Work Marketplace for Freelancing
Upwork connects businesses with freelancers, independent talent, and agencies around the globe. Where companies and freelancers work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

Design Challenges

There are so many resources out there to challenge yourself. You can search Google and you’ll have a plethora of results. It’s up to you to go and tackle those challenges and let them bolster your skills.

Daily Creative Challenge
Daily Creative Challenge
Sharpen — Design Challenge Generator
Millions of practice design prompts to challenge you to think outside the box.
Solving Product Design Exercises: Interview Questions & Answers
Prepare for your next UI/UX/product design job interview, practice digital design skills and learn how to interview designers.

Networking + Events

Networking and attending events have changed with the current state of the world. Since a majority is not all meetups are online, now you have the chance to attend, learn, and connect with people from all over the world now! You can also join online communities on Slack, Discord, and Facebook groups to stay involved and connected with the design community.

Great places to find groups and events near you or design-related:

  • Linkedin has a feature where people can host events! Keep an eye for those and check them out as you see them!
Meetup Login
Find groups that host online or in person events and meet people in your local community who share your interests.

Online Communities

Facebook Groups
Designers Guild has 20,699 members. As one of today’s most impactful design communities, Designers Guild helps designers level up their design careers. It’s where world class designers share valuable...
Designer Hangout: Global, invite-only UX design community
Designer Hangout is the world’s #1 UX design community. Find UX jobs, mentorship, design resources, and real-time user experience design conversation.
Design Buddies is an inclusive design community that welcomes anyone interested in design to connect. We have online workshops, mentorship, Ask Me Anything (AMA) panels with industry leaders, clubs (game, book, and movie), portfolio reviews, resource sharing, and virtual meetups. We are also the lar…
Find, Book & Meet Mentors
Meet design mentors from over 40 countries for portfolio review, career advice, mock interviews or leadership advice — all in this global community.

Learn about other skills

I know, I know you’re just getting into design, and you don’t want to be bombarded with some other skills. Maybe it’s not something you need to learn about extensively (like you are with design), but learning new things like how to code, what it’s like to be a product manager, or getting better at copywriting for products will give you a better edge in working with others on cross-functional teams. As designers we’re all using empathy to design products for humans, well the same goes for working with other people. Not only does this give you a better understanding of what they’re thinking, but you’ll have additional skills that leverage what you have to offer outside the scope of design.
Learn to Code — For Free
Product School
Global leader in Product Management training. 1 million+ product community. Our instructors are top PMs working at Google, Facebook, Netflix, Uber & Airbnb.
About | The Odin Project
The Odin Project empowers aspiring web developers to learn together

You got this!

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

Partaking in a design program is just the beginning. There is a multitude of ways to enhance your education, so when you’re ready for the job market, and your education is much more robust and holistic. Learning is lifelong, and design is an ever-evolving field. Your program provides a foundation, now take it beyond, and continue to build your knowledge. It’s not an easy road, and the added extra mile may seem long, but once you get there, you’ll look back and be proud of what you’ve accomplished.

I would love to connect and hear about other ways you’ve been able to go the extra mile in your pursuit of becoming a designer.

Connect with me on LinkedIn here:

You can find me on in the other realms of the internet:

Originally published on Medium on September 14, 2020.