Nikki Pandya was in a 3-year software developer rotation program at Liberty Mutual but wanted to add design skills to her toolbox. She chose to learn those design skills at Startup Institute’s Part-Time UX Design course in Boston while working full-time. And while Nikki ultimately decided to stay in her software development job after Startup Institute, she cultivated invaluable leadership qualities and learned how to incorporate the design process into her code. Read more about Nikki’s career journey.
What were you up to before you started learning design?
My degree was in applied math, although I didn’t know what I wanted as a career. My first job in the technology field was in a part-time role in IT administration. Once I graduated from college, I found a really cool three-year rotation program at Liberty Mutual. You start off as an IT Analyst, then move to Associate Software Developer and finally to Software Developer.
That rotational program at Liberty Mutual is how I worked my way up to my job as a Software Developer today. Prior to this job, I had no coding experience, but I learned software development on the job.
What inspired you to go to a bootcamp like Startup Institute?
I was working full-time as an Associate Software Developer at Liberty Mutual. As a developer at my company, I discovered UX design and I completely fell in love with it. Once I discovered that I really liked UX design, I took classes at Northeastern and I started a master’s program in Digital Media Design at Harvard.
I was just trying to figure out how I could get into the design field, so I talked to a Startup Institute alum, who told me that she used Startup Institute to get into design. I got exposure to and learned a lot about Startup Institute through her. Then I did a lot of research on my own about what Startup Institute involved and and how it could help me. What really convinced me was that they offer a part-time program where I could keep my job and my steady income while learning on the side.
In my company, it's a hard transition from developer to designer, so Startup Institute was where I went to build my UX skills.
Was Liberty Mutual supportive of your decision to start the Startup Institute part-time design course?
I did talk to my manager. My company didn’t pay for it, but my manager supported my participation in the program.
How was the Startup Institute application and interview process like for you?
It was pretty competitive. They are looking for passionate people who really know that they want to learn and make a move in their career. I think the application process was a good length. I went through about three interviews and their team was very personable. Startup Institute let me share my story with them; I told them what I was going through and why I wanted to do Startup Institute and what I was looking to gain from it.
Did Startup Institute’s teaching style match your learning style?
I definitely think Startup Institute is better than undergrad because it is more tailored to the work I would be doing. Anything we did in class applied directly to what I would be doing in the field. Everything I learned in class was hands-on and I was able to apply it to my job.
Similar to my rotational program, the learning at Startup Institute was very hands-on. I'm a hands-on person so just diving into the code really helped me. They don't just give you a lecture and expect you to go home and figure it out on your own. They really support you and guide you through it.
When one person is stuck, the other classmates say, "Oh, let me help you. I did this already.” or "I was having the same problem. Let's work together." It's very collaborative – they challenge you and still support you to get you going.
Tell us about your favorite project that you worked on at Startup Institute.
My favorite part of the course was the entrepreneurship track that Startup Institute gives to people planning on staying at their current company. It was amazing; they charged us with creating an innovative solution for one current company process that would make us stand out as a leader. For that project, I found that we had this major dip in conversion and I wanted to solve that problem. So I presented a solution using company analytic tools and Sketch to my manager and design folks, and I was able to give reasons why it was necessary to make changes.
For me personally, it helped me realize that I was a leader, I just was not believing in myself. Our instructor, Jaime, guided us and showed us that we are leaders on our own, we just need to push ourselves and take small steps to get there.
How did you manage your time while working full-time and doing Startup Institute part-time?
Honestly, it was overwhelming for me. Working full-time and doing projects on top of the workload every day was definitely overwhelming and I did feel a bit stressed. But finding time and dedicating myself to the course was very important. I knew that after work I had to spend at least two hours on my projects. Since it was a part-time program, we did meet on the weekends, so it was hard during the summer to not plan anything for the weekends. But in the end, it was definitely worth it. I don't regret it at all, but I do think it was a bit stressful at times.
Startup Institute understands how stressful it is so they help us as much as they can. It's not like they just throw material at us and expect us to finish it without help.
Did you express to Startup Institute that you wanted to change careers or stay in your current role? How did the bootcamp help you with career support?
I was unsure if I wanted to stay or change careers. During general meetings, they helped with resumes, updated LinkedIn profiles, etc. I didn't partake in that because I chose to go to the entrepreneur track meetings. Even though I didn't get to partake in the resume help, I was still able to send my resume to the instructors and they made updates and suggestions.
We did practice interviews after class, which was really helpful. If I was applying for a software developer role, they would have a software developer there to help conduct the interview and give us real experience. Once I was close to graduation and I made it very clear that I wanted to change jobs, Startup Institute was very supportive and started sharing my name with companies that were looking for designers. Startup Institute was really proactive about it.
Did you ever consider changing careers from a Software Developer to become a UX Designer?
Going into Startup Institute, I had decided that I wanted to switch careers into design, but once I graduated from Startup Institute, I got promoted. As a designer, you don't get to code as much, and I didn't want to give that up. With Liberty Mutual, I'm able to develop and design at the same time – have an input in the design while contributing to the code – whereas with most companies, those two jobs would be separate.
What do you work on today at Liberty Mutual?
I’m working on the Liberty Mutual quote app, so users can use the app to get a quote from Liberty Mutual for car insurance. Lately, we’ve been working on creating a better design for users. That's where I was able to piece everything that I learned at Startup Institute together.
Since you graduated from Startup Institute and learned design, what has changed about your job at Liberty Mutual?
We are revamping the way we develop and create products. I’ve changed teams to a newly-created, high-profile team that focuses on customer pain points and needs. I think I was added to this team because of all the hard work that I put in at Startup Institute. I got to present innovative ideas that I developed at Startup Institute, so I think it’s been a great change.
How do you feel you've grown as a developer with your new skills from Startup Institute?
With the skills that I learned from Startup Institute, I'm more involved in my job than I used to be. Before, I just did what I was told instead of pushing to change things. I was too comfortable and thought maybe they didn't want to hear what I had to say, but at Startup Institute, I developed the ability to speak my mind and give differing opinions that my company may not have thought of, which sets me apart.
I’m continuing to learn. We now do pair programming, which is a new methodology for us. Working with senior developers helps me grow as a developer by gaining more experience and more knowledge.
What's been your biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to learning UX design at Startup Institute?
Actually, learning design was a natural fit. And it wasn't just because I was a developer before; I also had taken a few design courses before I started Startup Institute. Startup Institute basically connected all the dots for me. At a university, you take one class and then it’s over. Startup Institute tied everything together for me and showed me how design works in the real world.
What’s your advice for people thinking about making a career change with a part-time coding bootcamp course like Startup Institute?
I think it's a great option if you're doing a part-time course because you get to stay in your company, and decide if this is really best for you. It's also great financially. Personally, I didn't have the ability to leave my job for a couple of months and not have any income. If you are still nervous about completely leaving your job, Startup Institute is a great option. It's a great bootcamp with a lot of support and motivation to help you transition smoothly. I was able to fully commit to it and follow with the program without having any fear of quitting my job and not being able to find a new one.
The one thing that really stuck out to me was that if I ever need help finding my next job, Startup Institute will have my back. They'll support me and help me find work. Startup Institute wants the best for you and they want you to succeed.
Even if you already have a job you like, Startup Institute is a great place to extend your skillset. It really got me out of my comfort zone in terms of leadership. I think a lot of people get comfortable in their position and feel like they are not going anywhere, but you only go as far as you push yourself. If you want to see how far you can get in your company, it's a great option.