From the Other Side of the Desk: A Former Educator’s Advice for Surviving a Design Bootcamp

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Nathan Llewellyn is a UX Designer at Overstock.com. An alum of the Kobi Cohort, Nate previously worked as a middle school teacher. And after we shared a few of his insights about his experience in DESIGNATION from the perspective of a former educator, we asked him to write this guest blog piece for the benefit of anyone else considering joining a design bootcamp.

 

Now the teacher has become the student

A little over a month ago, I graduated from the DESIGNATION full-stack design bootcamp. And overall, the experience was definitely a positive one. I now have a whole new career before me that just a few months ago I did not.

Not only was DESIGNATION challenging, but it was also very enlightening, and not just in the way I expected. As I reflect on my experiences in the program, I wanted to share a few observations about the types of people that do (and do not) succeed in an environment such as this.

With that in mind, here are a few things I think are essential for having a great experience at a design bootcamp.

Be prepared to do a ton of work.

On one or two occasions I was approached by incoming students and was asked how many hours they should expect to put in and how much effort was needed to get by. While such questions are understandable, they reflect an attitude I often saw when I was a middle school teacher, an attitude of wanting to put in as little effort as possible to succeed. Such an attitude is contrary to the mentality you need when learning a new skill with the intention of advancing your career or making a career change.

Get used to criticism. Fast.

Your interest in a bootcamp is likely rooted in a desire to learn a new skill. That being the case, one of the best ways to learn anything is to fail, recognize that you have failed, and then try again. While at DESIGNATION your work will be critiqued by instructors and peers. If your response to these critiques is to become defensive you’ll keep yourself from learning as much as you could and your experience will be painful. On the other hand, if you approach critique sessions with a desire to learn, the feedback on your work can be of enormous benefit to both you and your peers.

Empathy is your new best friend.

I once heard a friend express disdain for an engineer who redesigned the experience of his company’s CAT scan machines after he witnessed the fear children experienced before and while being scanned. He said it would have made more sense if he redesigned the machines to increase ease of operation or to decrease wait times. As it turns out, even though the engineer’s original motivation was spurred by his empathy for children, the redesign actually came with a number of other unexpected benefits, including decreased costs for the patients and hospitals and greater job satisfaction among the doctors and nurses involved in the CAT scan process. The moral of the story is that your ability to empathize with others and use that as a source of motivation and inspiration in your designs isn’t a cliche. It’s what design is all about!

Prepare to collaborate.

Whether it was among my own team or a team of my peers, I often witnessed a designer who was unwilling to be a team player. Some of the things I witnessed included team members who were inattentive during a collaborative ideation session, team members who let personal opinions get in the way, and team members who shut down when their work wasn’t chosen by a client. There are going to be times when you may not completely agree with the direction the team’s work is taking. Regardless, your ideas are still valuable and your input is needed. There may be times when you think the idea of someone on your team is wrong or ineffective, but instead of arguing about it, find a way to test it out. There will definitely come a time when a client or even your team chooses to go with a design that is not yours, so it’s important to always put what’s good for the team ahead of your own personal opinion.

But for those who stick with it…

While a design bootcamp isn’t for everyone, that doesn’t mean it isn’t for you. Many of the things listed here are easily overcome with a growth mindset, a willingness to work hard, and a healthy dose of humility. I’ve seen firsthand that if you come with the right attitude and are willing to put in the effort, the skill and career benefits are undeniably there.

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