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The UX course graduate survival guide

Something strange has happened over the past several years.

With more UX graduates attending bootcamps and intensive sessions designed to get them up to speed on UX design and research, we’re seeing more people come into the industry from different backgrounds.

Graphic designers, art directors, writers, illustrators — I even worked with a lawyer recently who took a turn into UX research.

This is good. It’s good that the industry receives people from all walks of life; diversity is the key to vibrant, dynamic and good designs.

Here’s the bad part: sometimes they walk out of a bootcamp thinking they know way more than they actually do.

This isn’t necessarily the case with younger people coming straight out of university. It’s drilled into them they are starting on the bottom and have a long way to go. But for those who already have a long and perhaps successful career in another field, often the belief is that a UX intensive will add to their existing experience and therefore put them on the same level as someone who’s been working UX for a long time.

Straight up: no.

The consequences of this attitude are toxic. UX bootcamp graduates talking down to experienced professionals. Not understanding how to collaborate with other designers. Becoming protective over designs and not listening to feedback.

Thinking that a 10-week course — which many people have access to — somehow entitles them to acting like they own the place.

If you have graduated from one of these intensive courses, then you’re in a good place to start your career. But there is a lot you don’t know, and checking yourself will serve you better than if you come out all guns blazing.

Here’s what you need to remember.

You probably don’t know as much as you think

A bootcamp run through an institution like General Assembly is a great tool because they attempt to run you through a complex profession in a small amount of time. You’ll understand the principles of what it takes to create UX designs, conduct research, etc.

Often, many people go their entire careers without learning principles like these.

Here’s what they can’t tell by virtue of it being such a small course: every project is different. Sometimes you have to adjust the principles you learn on the fly. There are business expectations, even personalities that affect how you get the job done.

This isn’t a hit on any type of bootcamp. (I took a GA course in data analytics last year — it was great!) They do a good job of teaching a massive amount of information.

But I’ve witnessed recent grads of these types of programs try to run projects according to the strict principles they learn, instead of adjusting them to the organisation they’re in.

“In out course we did this…” is just a starting point. It’s not the be-all and end-all.

Don’t talk down to more experienced UX professionals

I’ve had recent General Assembly grads try to tell me how a navigation works. Or how a UX research session should be run. They start sentences with, “well, we’re meant to be objective in a user research session, the point of these sessions is so that we remove our bias from the experience”.

Someone literally looked me in the face and said, “a website is a collection of pages, and a navigation is a way to sort through those pages for the user”.

Oh, you’re right — excuse me. I’ve only been using the internet since 1993.

Don’t be arrogant. Don’t think you know more than anyone else there. Just keep your mouth shut lest you be proven a fool. If you do have something to teach someone, make sure you voice it in a way that doesn’t come across as arrogant.

If you’re in a team deciding how a session should run with user testing, for instance, it’s much better to say, “we did something in my course that might be valuable here”, then describe the process. Don’t speak with authority when you have very little.

Don’t call yourself a “senior” anything

Uhhh more power to you if you can get a nice title, I guess. But being called a “senior UX designer” when you’re straight out of a bootcamp isn’t going to do you any favours once people realise that your work isn’t matching your words.

This happens with people who have previous experience in a UX-adjacent field like copywriting, or graphic design. Going to a bootcamp and then becoming “qualified” in UX doesn’t mean you are now the equivalent of someone who spent 10 years working in UX at an agency.

You’re at the bottom of the ladder. Your experience can help, sure. But it’s not your savior, so think of yourself as a grad and you’ll be better positioned to learn — and be respected.

It’s always better to underpromise and over-deliver. If you’re a recent hire and do absolutely awesome work, you’re going to progress faster than if you exaggerate your abilities. Everyone gets found eventually. Everyone.

Your portfolio is more valuable than your education

That’s not to say education isn’t valuable at all. But it does mean that if I have the choice between someone who has a killer portfolio and no formal education, and someone with formal education and nothing noteworthy they’ve actually produced, then I’m taking the former every single time.

Your bootcamp or short course is a start. It’s a useful tool, but what’s really going to prove your worth is the work you actually create. Your career as a UXer is just starting now.

If you’re smart, you’re going to spend time crafting a portfolio that doesn’t just show visuals, but examines the problems you’ve faced, the process you took to solving them, and the outcomesSo much of UX is about process, so start thinking about how you can show that value to an employer.

Just saying, “oh I attended GA” is actually not as much of a benefit as you think. In fact, I’ve heard at least one senior designer say coming out of university can often be better because those who graduate at that level take a longer, in-depth view of UX processes instead of a crash-course.

And we say millennials are the arrogant ones.

Again, nothing wrong with a crash course. They’re great. But your ability to show your work is way better than a certificate of completion.

Assume you know less than anyone until proven otherwise

Be humble, until a situation shows you that you have something to offer. Trust me, it’s far better for you to keep your mouth shut and only show value when you can actually provide it, then run your mouth and raise expectations that you can’t possibly deliver on.

I’m not telling you to sit down and shut up!

Please don’t interpret this as me saying you need to know your place, do what you’re told, etc. Not at all.

Put forth bold ideas. Challenge the status quo. Look for ways to put your stamp on a project and really make it your own. Take up more responsibility, and continue to build out your portfolio with exciting work.

Just don’t walk out of a 10-week intensive and assume you’re on the same level as someone who’s been doing this for 10 years. You’re at the start of your career. Enjoy it, learn from the people who have been there ahead of you, and don’t build up a reputation for yourself as being arrogant too quickly.

Being a good person will make you successful far quicker.

This post was originally published on Medium.

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