Are UX Bootcamps Worth It? Here’s the Truth

Every day there seems to be a new UX bootcamp on the block. So, the demand must be there, despite the astronomic prices. But, if everyone else is enrolling shouldn’t you follow suit? Won’t you be at a disadvantage on the job market without having finished one of the top courses? The answers to these questions are a bit more complicated than a simple yes or no.

In this article, you’ll get an unbiased rundown of the pros and cons of UX bootcamps. No empty promises, affiliate links, recommendations, or promotions, just the truth.

  1. The unique reputation of UX as a career
  2. What is a UX bootcamp?
  3. How much does a UX bootcamp cost?
  4. Are UX bootcamps worth it?
  5. The truth about job guarantees
  6. Is a bootcamp certificate enough to get a job?
  7. So are bootcamps a waste of money and time?
  8. Beware of ‘Top UX Bootcamps’ lists and online reviews

The unique reputation of UX as a career

If bootcamps are thriving, it must mean that there’s a huge demand to learn UX, right? But what is driving all the demand? Why do so many people want to become UXers?

1. There’s a huge demand for UXers.

For a few years now, UX has been a fixture of in-demand career compilations and reports. This attract many people who believe that it’ll be easy to find a lucrative job in UX. After all, if the demand is that big, it should be easier to compete, right?

If we’re looking at the numbers only, there’s some truth to the above claims. However, there are some limitations you must consider. The first is location. There are differences in the number of active job posts from area to area.

While there might be hundreds of UX jobs posted in one area, you might find only a few in another. Therefore, if you’re not open to relocation, it’s best to do some research focusing on your target areas before making a jump.

Meanwhile, the supply is catching up with the demand. In 2020-2021 the competition has become much fiercer than a few years back. If you ask around, you’ll find many UXers who struggle to find a job.

What’s more, UX alone might not cut it anymore. To make yourself a good catch, you have to branch out into the complementary fields, such as UI design, web development, UX writing, or data analysis.

2. UX salaries are very high.

It’s true: UX pays better than some other design jobs. Money is important, and for many, it’s the main driving force when choosing a career. It’s on you, we’re not here to condone anyone.

However, when it comes to salaries, the picture is not that black-and-white. There are two things to consider: location and level. When it comes to location, the same applies as in the previous section: salaries differ from one area to another.

And there are even bigger differences when we look at job levels. If you can start on a medior, or senior level, chances are that you’ll make a decent amount.

However, as a junior, with no real-life experience (aka someone fresh off of a UX bootcamp), you’ll have to work your way up to the level where you’ll make the ‘advertised’ amount. It’s the same as with many other careers. There’s just no way around it.

3. Many skills are transferable to UX.

UX is the poster child of second career options because many skills are said to be transferrable to UX. This generates a huge – and to some extent inflated – interest in UX.

The idea is that you can exchange your professional experience in those fields into experience in UX, giving you a headstart. With some obvious constraints, this claim is true.

If you’ve worked in design, web development, and other tech-related fields, you’ll have a huge advantage in UX. However, your experience as a chef or accountant will not have the same boosting effect.

If you don’t have transferrable skills and experience, you’ll start out with a junior salary and you’ll have to climb the ladder like everyone else. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s something that must be considered based on individual circumstances.

4. UX is easy to learn.

No, it’s not. Learning UX at the level that’s necessary to succeed is not easy. After learning the basics, you’ll have to learn to use UX design software. Then you’ll have to improve your skills and evolve as UX evolves.

Then, you’ll be required to at least have a general understanding of web development, UI design, analytics, and other related fields. That’s why most companies are looking for UX designers with experience: they are already aware of the ways UX co-exists with other disciplines, which saves time and money.

The truth about UX as a career

The point is that while most claims about UX as a career are true, they all come with certain limitations that you should consider. It’s not in our interest to deter anyone from becoming a UX designer, but we wanted to paint an honest picture of what it takes to reap all the advertised benefits.

UX design’s reputation has done more damage than good. Since everybody and their mothers are becoming UXers, there appears to be a growing mistrust against candidates. Unfortunately, the bootcamp industry has only accelerated this, by promising to magically turn people into UX designers in 3 months.

UX is a serious career that requires dedication and effort. And it is nowhere near the guaranteed golden ticket into a better life that many would like you to believe. But if you’re considerate, passionate, and willing to put in the extra work, you’ll be fine.

What is a UX bootcamp?

UX bootcamps are structured, fast-lane learning programs that provide online classes, material, mentorship, and project work through a set period of time. Most UX bootcamps hand out certifications to their students, none of which are accredited or officially recognized.

How much does a UX bootcamp cost?

#BootcampPriceFormatDuration
1.Careerfoundry$6,555Online20-40 weeks
2.Designlab$6,249Online16-48 weeks
3.Flatiron$17,000In-person24 weeks
4.General Assembly$14,950Online12 weeks
5.Ironhack$12,000In-person9-24 weeks
6.Springboard$7,194Online24 weeks
UX bootcamp prices, format, and duration (in alphabetical order).

Are UX bootcamps worth it?

We’ve read through 6 of the most known UX bootcamp’s descriptions to find out what are the common things they highlight about themselves:

  1. Personalized instructor support, mentorship, or coaching,
  2. Personalized job/career support after graduation,
  3. Flexible schedules,
  4. Building a portfolio, and
  5. Accountability (tasks, Slack groups, etc.)

Then we asked 9 alumni from various UX bootcamps to share why would they recommend enrolling into one:

  1. Mentorship (feedback),
  2. Portfolio material,
  3. Accountability,
  4. Flexibility, and
  5. ‘I’ve learned a lot about UX’.

The two lists align perfectly. Then let’s see their cons:

  1. Price,
  2. Lots of extra effort needed,
  3. Hard to find a job after finishing,
  4. Rushed portfolio work,
  5. Not enough feedback.

Mentorship, feedback, and accountability seem to be the three main perks highlighted by bootcamp alumni. Indeed, finding mentorship and reliable feedback in the wild can be challenging (but not impossible), so there’s good value there.

Meanwhile, the need for accountability depends on your personality. It’s true, that having a schedule, deadlines, and reviews can light a fire under you, so you keep going.

At the same time, many bootcamp graduates – in retrospect – wouldn’t pay for a bootcamp again. Their main reason being that they’ve realized what they’ve paid for could’ve been attained for free or for much less money than the cost of a bootcamp.

What’s more, they’ve found out that bootcamps are not the all-in-one career solution. There’s a lot of additional work needed to succeed, which is not advertised.

For example, you’ll need to find projects outside the bootcamp since you’ll need experience and portfolio material. There’s nothing more important than these two things when it comes to landing a job or a freelancing gig.

So, ask yourself the question: are the pros worth the cost? If you answer yes, you should definitely give a try to one of the more reputable UX bootcamps. You’ll get the accountability, feedback, support, and structure that you’re looking for, and you won’t feel like it was a waste of time and money.

The truth about job guarantees

Some UX bootcamps offer a job guarantee, which is a great tool to increase trust in their program and attract more students. A job guarantee means that you can get a partial or complete refund of your tuition if you’re not offered a position in a set timeframe (usually 6 months) after finishing the bootcamp.

It should be no surprise that such guarantees are tied to conditions. We’ve read through a few of such documents, and here are some of the main points to consider

  • You must be located in a metropolitan area or willing to relocate,
  • You must apply to a set number of job posts per week,
  • If you turn down a job and you don’t find another one you can’t get a refund,
  • 15-30 hours of work (freelance or employee) per week is considered to be a qualifying position.

The guarantees are also tied to meticulous, documented job-seeking processes: keeping spreadsheets, sending out set amounts of applications, consulting with your career coach, following your coach’s instructions, etc. This might look very extreme at first glance, but the reality is that job guarantee or not, job seeking can be a full-time job in itself.

If the job guarantee is your main reason for choosing a bootcamp, make sure to read the complete Terms & Conditions (not their tl;dr version!) for a complete picture and be honest with yourself.

Portfolio template examples

‘Practice & theory’ not ‘practice vs theory’

Some UX bootcamps differentiate themselves from UX courses and degrees by advocating for practical skills instead of theory. Depending on your background and your existing knowledge, this could be a blessing and a curse.

Fact is, there’s no way around learning theory. In the real world, ‘advocating for UX practices’ is a much bigger part of a UX than most people realize. But even to get there, you have to pass a job interview, where you’ll need to be able to express yourself in a professional manner.

What this means is that you’ll have to put in some extracurricular work on top of the regularly scheduled bootcamp work. This seems to be the common theme with UX bootcamps: the ones who succeed are those who put in the extra work.

This seems to be the common theme with UX bootcamps: the ones who succeed are those who put in the extra work.

On the other hand, if you have theory down, you’ll definitely enjoy jumping straight into practice. You won’t be bored and you’ll find much more pleasure in the entire bootcamp experience.

Is a bootcamp certificate enough to get a job?

There are cases when a certificate will not substitute for a degree. If a company is looking for someone with a relevant college degree and x years of experience, there’s just no way around it.

However, UX is a rather democratic field, meaning that many companies don’t ask for a relevant degree or a degree at all. Neither do they ask for a bootcamp certificate. Instead, what tends to matter is your

  • Experience, and
  • UX portfolio.

Most UX leads admit that they don’t care about certifications and degrees. They jump straight to the candidate’s portfolio to learn more about their skills, capabilities, and experience. The later stages of the UX hiring processes also include a UX portfolio presentation and on-site tasks that reveal a lot about candidates.

On the other hand, if you’re a junior, having finished a UX bootcamp might at least signal that you understand UX concepts and have some sort of experience. This shouldn’t be underestimated.

The unspoken problem of bootcamp portfolios

“One of the biggest problems that I hear from hiring managers at my company is that they can spot a bootcamp portfolio from a mile away,” concludes a Redditor. This is not just a random opinion. In fact, this is becoming a huge thing, which you should keep in mind, if you’re doing (or have done) a UX bootcamp.

As we’ve learned above, one of the biggest selling points of bootcamps is that you’ll finish with a portfolio. This is very important because you can’t get a job without a portfolio. But the issue is that every month there are dozens of bootcamp graduates applying for the same jobs with the same projects in their portfolios.

Every month there are dozens of bootcamp graduates applying for the same jobs with the same projects in their portfolios.

Hiring managers have realized this a long time ago. If yours is the 100th portfolio with the same, food ordering app case study –  90% of which were mediocre and rushed – you can’t blame them for the side-eye. It is just not a good a look.

If you want to be taken seriously, you’ll need to find portfolio material outside of the bootcamp (or a bootcamp that assigns unique topics to students). This can only be done by doing redesigns, or hustling: freelancing, internships, hackathons. Anything to polish and add real value to your portfolio.

Now, bootcamp projects will still benefit you. Creating a good portfolio is its own form of art, that requires experience. So the more case studies you write and the more you work on your UX portfolio the better you’ll become at storytelling, structuring your pages, perfecting your bio and ‘About’ section.

All in all, we can conclude that bootcamps that don’t rush the portfolio segment will benefit you one way or another. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to do projects and write UX case studies outside of the bootcamp in order to build a respectable portfolio.

Image of a case study template generator

So are bootcamps a waste of money and time?

No. Attending a bootcamp is just one of the many potential ways to start out in UX design. You’ll learn a lot about the tools and skills needed to succeed as a designer. Also, you’ll be following a tried-and-true structure that has been designed to accelerate your progression. What’s more, peer-pressure and mentorship can help you to push through when your motivation level is down.

Finally, we have a tendency to value the things that we pay for (a lot) more than those that come free. So, the fact that you have paid to learn UX can increase your chances of actually finishing your studies and pursuing UX as a career.

But still, bootcamps are the only way into the world UX. Don’t let anyone make you believe that! If you’re serious about this, you’ll find a mentor as well as learning and portfolio material without spending thousands of dollars. In the end, you’ll have the same chances to land a job as those who went the bootcamp route.

Beware of ‘Top UX bootcamp’ lists & online reviews!

Considering the price of UX bootcamps, we feel obliged to warn you about something that is pestering the UX bootcamp/course scene: affiliate marketing. You should be aware that almost all ‘best UX bootcamps’ and ‘top UX bootcamps’ lists are biased as they make a commission by referring you to one of the bootcamps on the list. Most of them will push the one that promises the biggest affiliate commission to the top. Here’s how it works:

You read the list, click on a link, and a cookie is left in your browser. This cookie will be there for a certain amount of time. Once you’ve been cookie-d, it doesn’t matter when or on which route you’ll sign up to the bootcamp: the affiliate (who published the list) will receive a commission. Yes, even if you navigate to the bootcamps’ site from Google 2 weeks later.

There’s nothing wrong with affiliate links if the commission does not interfere with the visitors interest. But since there’s huge money in this industry, it’s better to be suspicious than sorry. Instead of these lists, check out recommendations on social media, such as Facebook, Reddit, or LinkedIn. Social proof trumps all articles. Just don’t forget to double-check the messenger!

Build a better portfolio with UXfolio!

One thing is for sure: it’s almost impossible to become a UXer without an outstanding portfolio. And it’s never too early to start working on yours! You might be doing a bootcamp at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t start working on your ‘About’ page or the design of your portfolio. So register to UXfolio and start working on your portfolio for free!

UX career expert & creative @UXfolio. I've been participating in and writing about UX design for 4 years. In my free time, I read, listen to opera, and work out.

Hit me up at akos@blog.uxfol.io

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A typical mistake I see in UX portfolios is lack of content explaining their contribution to the effort, the images are only the final product and not the process to get there.

UX is very much about strategy and if the person is not showing how they got from A to B, they appear to be another UI trying to move into a UX role.

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