Want to become a UX designer but have no idea where to start? Anja Lena Sack-Hauchwitz was in the same boat until she found CareerFoundry’s online UX Design Course. She tells us about what she learned at CareerFoundry, how she funded bootcamp tuition through Germany’s unemployment agency, her favorite inspirational UX podcasts, and how she uses her background in design to fuel her creativity and communication skills as a Junior UX Designer at Dept!
What were you up to before CareerFoundry?
I studied graphic design – illustration specifically – at Bath Spa University in the UK and did my Master’s in British Studies in Berlin. Then I went on to work mostly in the book industry. I started out working in a book shop as the Head of Art and Design Books and during that time I also had my first child. We moved back to Hamburg and I continued working in the publishing industry with a short interlude at a web design agency. I worked at an audio publishing house and a traditional publishing house called Carlsen.
What motivated you to do a UX Design Bootcamp?
I love design and I enjoy being creative! I treasured spending time in bookshops because it was an inspiring atmosphere, but I was always interested in progressing and learning something new in tech. I had looked into UX design while I was working at Carlsen in 2013. I was looking for a way to integrate the things that I was already good at and break into something new, but I didn't quite know how to go about it.
When I worked for Carlsen, I helped introduce new software and asset management tools to our book producers. It was my responsibility to make it easy for our employees to use and understand. We also produced applications for children, and I was able to take part in that project with a design agency in Sweden in 2015. During that project, I went through the whole design thinking process. And when the agency's UX designers presented to us, I realized this was the career I wanted to do! I had already researched UX design, but the only options I’d seen up until that point were always university courses. It's hard to earn money and go to university while being a mother.
Did you research any other UX bootcamps or did you decide on CareerFoundry from the start?
That was another coincidence! I read an interview with Raffaela Rein (the co-founder of CareerFoundry) in the newspaper! It introduced CareerFoundry’s online UX Design Course that could be completed at your own pace. It was kind of an ‘aha’ moment! I knew I wanted to do CareerFoundry – I didn't even research any other bootcamps.
How did you pay for CareerFoundry? Any tips for our readers?
The German government essentially paid for my tuition. I did research and found that our unemployment agency supports this course if you're unemployed. The schedule is more intense and there are specific requirements so be prepared and know what you want your outcome to be before you apply.
What was the application and CareerFoundry interview process like?
I took the course in 2018. At that time, CareerFoundry asked me to do the free seven-day Short Course to see whether the bootcamp would be the right fit for me. They also asked about my language skills because it's vital that you can speak and understand English.
What was the learning experience like at CareerFoundry?
The course is divided into nine Achievements. You take the course step by step, broken down into achievements and then into tasks. The learning interface showed your progress visually. I did the course full-time.
How did you stay motivated during an online bootcamp?
I’ll admit I hadn't done an online course like CareerFoundry before and it did take some getting used to. Sometimes it was tough but I also had the pressure from the Unemployment Office to finish within a certain time frame. I viewed it as a job.
CareerFoundry also encouraged us to communicate with other students via Slack. Of course, it's important to be focused but it's also important to learn how to communicate. UX jobs typically involve other people. You need to be able to communicate your designs and give and receive feedback. I was quite active in the Slack channel. I met some awesome people online which I never thought I could do! I decided to make the effort to meet the other students that are located in Berlin so that I could feel like I had a real, in-person cohort. I tried to combine the two worlds as best as possible.
Did CareerFoundry match you with a mentor or tutors? Who was actually teaching you?
Yes, both! My mentor and tutor were great. They got me through the low times. I did sometimes get frustrated because I had questions that I just wanted to ask a real person. They were always open for calls and they'd get me back on track.
I was in touch with people from all over the world and my mentor and tutor were actually based in Jordan. The way that people give feedback and approach things is different in every part of the world. It was lovely to be exposed to that. It was always constructive and positive at CareerFoundry.
What kinds of projects did you work on during CareerFoundry?
I built my portfolio at CareerFoundry. We worked on one big project to learn UX design and we started with different theories and design thinking. Then we moved on to user research and interviews. From there, we built the wireframes and learned to iterate and incorporate feedback. It was an intensive process. Their documentation materials were super helpful. It was an up to date approach. We also had a UI aspect that I enjoyed beginning to learn about. In the real working world, I can now see where the UI designers that I work with are coming from. I also learned the tool Sketch during the course completely from scratch. It was a steep learning curve!
Did you land a UX design job after you graduated?
I started working as a Junior UX designer for Dept Agency last December. I do workshops and wireframes, depending on what the customer needs. Our agency specializes in e-commerce but I've also had a couple of B2B customers. It's a diverse experience that is good for the learning process. I get to work on a variety of different projects.
How did you get the job?
Basically, I applied to a lot of jobs using the structured system that the Career Course laid out!
What were those Career Services like?
There was a four-week Career Course at the end of the bootcamp. During this course, we completed our final projects and created our portfolios. The career prep course provided a structure for the job hunt process, which I liked. The three career advisors gave me advice on my CV, how to tell my story, how to pitch myself. These are all things that I didn't know how to do before. Things have changed in the job market since I last looked for a job. I'm a bit older and I'm a mother so this was all valuable information for me. The international perspective on that was helpful too. I had a tutor on that course as well who did 1:1 calls with me. It was structured in steps like the main part of the course. In the end, you had a system to apply for jobs. That made the process feel less overwhelming.
Now that you've been in your job for a year, is the UX designer job what you expected when you went into CareerFoundry?
I still enjoy being a UX designer and I definitely think it's for me. The real world is slightly different from bootcamp. Some customers are more open towards research and user interviews while others need to be convinced. Communication is a huge part of the job and I’ve learned that it can actually be the most difficult part. I'd like to improve on that and get better at it.
It’s important to continue to be vocal and advocate that you are there for the user. That's the job of the UX designer – perspective and communication. It's a lot of communication. I wasn't aware of that going into it. I do wireframes, sure, but it's also about presenting them, convincing people, and also getting people within your company together to talk and find the best solutions. As a UX designer, you need to stay curious and open and that's another aspect that I love about this job.
Did you feel prepared to start a job as a UX designer when you graduated from CareerFoundry?
I did feel prepared. I took a little bit longer to work on the UX design course than the schedule originally intended. I ended up paying for a few months out-of-pocket because I knew that if I rushed through it I wouldn't be able to use the methods and tools as efficiently as I would probably need to in a real-life working environment
That was the best decision I made. I felt confident with the UX methods and tools. I actually introduced some new tools to the company! It's about finding the best thing that helps achieve and therefore suits what you want to do. I love learning about how we can improve collaboration and what tools might aid us in doing that. It’s all problem-solving! Working every day full time makes it difficult to do another course, but I'm still trying to learn as I go. I like to listen to podcasts and do small side courses that I can continue to do on the side without a deadline.
Which UX Design podcasts have you found helpful?
The InVision Podcast Design Better Podcast, specifically the episode featuring Benjamin Evans of AirBnB about inclusive design
Wireframe by AdobeXD and Gimlet: Sounds like Good Design and Trust Privacy and Good Design
About to listen to: Why UX? Helena Levison
I like listening to how people made their way in the UX field. It's a lot of hard work and it's nice to see that other people went through the process. Everyone has a story, everyone gets into it in a different way.
Do you have any advice for other moms who are juggling a UX bootcamp with other time commitments?
It was difficult! Before I found CareerFoundry, I couldn't see how I could make it work. There were other bootcamps but they either required in-person attendance or they didn't fit in my schedule. CareerFoundry's online course suited me well with my family situation. When my kids were at school, I studied. I also often studied on the weekends or in the evenings.
What’s your advice to someone who is about to start an online UX Design bootcamp like CareerFoundry?
Admittedly, my biggest challenge was the fact that the course was online only. It can be a roadblock. It can be frustrating to study by yourself. Make time to talk to a real person to understand how they saw the problem and how they might solve it.
Make an effort to meet people in real life! Conferences are quite expensive, even when you're employed, so I went to UX mini bootcamps and meetups! Here are a few I liked:
UX Camp Europe. (Berlin) There are UX Camps in many different cities, I went to one in Hamburg and the UXCE in Berlin. It was a good place to meet people and see what they're up to. People would present their work or projects. There were also a lot of senior UX designers at these. There's another UXCE coming up in May 2020 (in Berlin)!