After being a pastor for 19 years, Jeff was looking to get into tech, and discovered UX design as a great way to combine logic and creative skills. He wanted to learn future-focused skills, and found online UX design bootcamp CareerFoundry met all his requirements. Jeff tells us how he balanced his part-time studies with his full time job in Charlotte, North Carolina, how Germany-based CareerFoundry ensured he had access to North American mentors, and how he landed his job as a Design Strategist at an Energy company!
Tell us about your background before CareerFoundry.
I come from an eclectic background. I got my bachelor's and master's degrees in music with a plan to go into music instruction at the university level but that didn't quite work out. I found myself in a data analyst role at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville for about five years. After that I went into ministry and was a pastor for about 19 years. A couple of years ago, my wife and I realized it was a good time to make a career change.
Initially, I was looking to go into coding. I thought that would be the easiest transition since I knew some VBA and SQL from prior experience. I came upon UX by accident. I loved that it was logical and systematic and that it had creative and problem-solving elements. It seemed to be the best of both worlds. The more I investigated, the more I realized it was the right fit for me.
Did you try to learn any UX design skills by yourself before bootcamp?
I didn't really try to learn anything on my own. I investigated to find out more about UX, but I am someone that really likes a systematic approach to my learning. I enjoy a coached curriculum. That way, I feel as though I am learning the tools that need to be learned in the order and process that is going to be the most helpful.
What attracted you to CareerFoundry? Did you consider an in-person bootcamp?
I did a lot of research as far as what school I wanted to go to and CareerFoundry was one of my top three. CareerFoundry was the only one that offered any kind of design course and voice interaction design, specifically with Amazon Alexa. I also liked the mentor and tutor model set up that they offered.
I felt that the local options for UX were not rigorous enough for me. Many of the programs were 3 to 4 months or 10 to 12 weeks and I didn't feel that I could get an immersive enough experience and marketable skills in that time. That was what made CareerFoundry stand out. It was a longer program, and looking at their curriculum I could tell that it was more in-depth and I would come out with marketable skills that would enable me to handle job interviews and make myself more attractive to future employers.
I believe that UX, as with all technology fields, is constantly evolving and changing. I wanted to be in a program that was already thinking ahead to what skills future UX designers would be required to learn. CareerFoundry seemed to be the only school that I looked at that was thinking with that future-focused mindset.
Can you share how you paid for UX design bootcamp?
I used CareerFoundry’s monthly payments program. I put a certain amount of money down upfront, then I paid installments throughout the course. It made it much more manageable and more financially accessible. The money-back-guarantee CareerFoundry provided also helped me make the decision to go with them.
What was the CareerFoundry application and interview process like?
I had an initial conversation with a recruiter. They worked with me to make sure this would be the right fit for me. They also answered any questions I had. After that the application process was very simple. I remember a logical assessment at the beginning. The interview process was more about trying to explore what it is that I enjoyed and if I had the mindset needed to be successful. I didn't feel like they were trying to hard sell me on anything. Other schools I had considered are still sending me emails to join them and I didn't feel that kind of pressure at CareerFoundry which I really appreciated. I felt like the people I talked to were honest. For me that made it a more secure and engaging process.
How was the program structured?
I was studying part-time. It took me about 10 months to complete. The workload was about 15 to 20 hours per week and I was working a full-time job as well.
The program was structured with deadlines. It was flexible enough to allow me to dictate what my schedule looked like each week. I was able to schedule a call with my mentor about once a month or bi-weekly at my discretion. A lot of it was interaction online which made it easily accessible. The job that I was working at the time allowed a little bit of flexibility which made it easier as well.
How was the material delivered?
The course had a student portal which housed all of the assignments, course work, materials, and curriculum. I would receive notifications and reminders through that when my assignments were due or when I received feedback. A majority of it was written material that I read through. There were some videos and supplemental tools that I interacted with as well. One of the things I love about it is that I can still go into the portal and access the curriculum and my work. They allow all students and alumni permanent access to all of their work and materials. Sometimes I still go back to the portal to go over certain topics to refresh my memory or find a tool that I need to use for my current work.
How often did you interact with instructors or mentors?
Quite often. Every time I submitted assignments or coursework, a tutor would grade them. and provide in-depth feedback. Sometimes they would ask you to repeat an assignment and let you know what you need to improve on. This feedback was great because they weren't just looking at the work and checking it off. They were actually participating with me in the coursework. The tutor would then let me know whether it was acceptable or not to move onto the next stage.
Then, there's a mentor that I could schedule a call with. The mentor reviews the benchmark points of all of the coursework. They do portfolio reviews, coursework reviews, and give approval to move on to the next module. They also allowed me to schedule calls for general questions. I found them very accessible. My mentor, Steve Arrington, was fantastic. I enjoyed his feedback and his contribution to the whole process.
Did you have an opportunity to interact with other students who were going through the program?
Yes. There was an online channel where you could ask questions to the general class. Each student made their way through the curriculum at their own pace so some students were working on the same assignments as me but others were ahead or behind. In the event that a tutor or mentor wasn't immediately available, another student might be able to help answer a question for you in real-time. It was kind of like being in a virtual classroom.
Because CareerFoundry is based in Europe, were there any time difference conflicts?
The tutor and mentor they provided were based in the United States. They worked with me to find someone in my time zone. I didn't experience any problems with that at all. I was actually concerned about that originally. That was my only hesitation with going with CareerFoundry was that they were based in Germany. I wasn't sure they would know the job market over here in the United States or if they would be able to help me navigate the culture here. I was also worried they might not be able to respond in a timely manner given the vast time difference. I didn't end up having any issues whatsoever. They have tutors, mentors, and staff here in the United States who are just as engaged.
How many hours per day did you spend learning and what was your study set-up?
During the week, I would do an hour or two per day. I would get most of my work done on the weekends. I probably put in a good eight hours per day on the weekend. I was fortunate enough to have a separate room available where I could do my work. I'm someone who likes a change of scenery. I would usually go to a coffee shop and do my work there. The nice thing about the online bootcamp was that it allowed me to work wherever I wanted to.
Did you have a favorite project that you worked on at CareerFoundry?
That would probably be my final portfolio project. I designed an application to allow users to hire an e-designer or an interior-designer. The process of learning more UI skills and learning the whole UX process made it fun and proved to be a valuable project to help me secure my job.
How was CareerFoundry able to help you with your job search?
I thought that it was going to be extremely challenging to find a job. The field I was coming from was radically different from the field I was transitioning into. I also had some concerns regarding age because I am doing this later in my life. I was worried about making myself marketable in an industry that is perceived as youth-oriented. I hoped that the bootcamp would make my applications seem more relevant and approachable.
The CareerFoundry career module included assignments and coursework to help students prepare for the job search and career. In order to get the money-back guarantee, you had to go through the whole career module. I went through five or six drafts of my resumé before my career coach at CareerFoundry felt like it was something that would be able to catch the eye of recruiters. The counsel they provided in helping craft my resumé, LinkedIn, and my social profiles was invaluable. They also helped me understand what the job market looks like, the recruitment process, and how to analyze job descriptions.
All of the career support helped me feel more secure in my job search. At one point I still had questions and was having some difficulty navigating through certain points and Mike McCulloch, who oversees career services at CareerFoundry, worked with me personally to answer my questions. I found their career coaching to be thorough and hugely successful.
Was the career guidance tailored to someone looking for jobs in the United States?
Considering my career coach was based in Canada but I was in the States, she did help me navigate the job market in the United States specifically. I think if I was living in another country they would make an effort to help me find someone to navigate that area too.
How did you find the job you have now?
I sent out over 40 resumés in the job search process. Fortunately, I'm in Charlotte, NC and we're going through a bit of a tech boom. I got a notification about this job that I'm in now after I had just accepted a job at a bank. The interview process at this job seemed very creative and unique. I decided to go through the interview process just for the experience of it. I went through a design challenge, whiteboarding session, a brainstorm session with other candidates, a design thinking session, portfolio review, person to person interview. It was a creative interview process and it was a great experience. I really appreciated the process. It told me a lot about the culture.
To my surprise, I received an offer! I accepted the job and I love it. It's a wonderful culture and opportunity. I was the first Design Strategist they hired. I've gotten to be a part of helping build something from the ground up.
Congratulations! Can you tell me about your new job?
I’m a Design Strategist for Duke Energy, a large energy company that currently covers about seven different regions here in the United States. I started in April, so I'm about five months in. Working for an energy company didn't seem like it would be innovative or creative but it has been! They are starting a brand new innovation project called Light House where they've built a new state of the art facility geared toward a collaborative and innovative culture. Their desire is to create digital innovation within the entire enterprise in the next few years. I get to be a part of creating applications to serve our energy workers and the enterprise as a whole. We're building from the ground up to respond to specific issues and challenges that the workers are having.
Can you tell me more about the tools you're using on the job?
CareerFoundry gave me the foundation for everything I'm currently using. But I am expanding more on design thinking principles and skills. The thinking skills I learned in the bootcamp curriculum, like empathetic understanding of the user, recognizing the problem, problem-solving, and strategy creation based on research was essential to me securing the job that I have now. I'm doing self-study on the methodology and philosophy of that. I'm also learning how to readily apply those methods and practices to problems that our product owners and teams are trying to address. As with any job, I'm constantly learning, gaining new skills, and developing skills I already had. I'm actually finding myself getting more into graphic design. I'm designing logos for our products in this process. This job requires me to be flexible and learn as I go.
How is your previous background proving useful in your new career?
My background in ministry helped me gain an empathetic understanding of people, what they're dealing with, and the challenges they may be facing. That definitely prepared me. Going back further into my data analysis experience, that provided me a cognitive understanding of the industry. I've been able to take bits and pieces over the years and kind of create this mosaic of skills here and now.
What would has been the biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to becoming a UX designer?
The biggest challenge was myself. Were there points of discouragement? Were there points where I thought maybe I made a mistake? Absolutely. But there comes a point where I realized that if I’m going to make a big change I’m going to have to keep pushing through those low times and those times where I feel like it might not work out. It was important to be aware of my personal obstacles and realize that maybe I don't know something yet but that doesn't mean that it has to stay that way. If you set your mind to it, do what's required, and do the work, then I really believe there's a benefit.
Do you think you could have got to where you are without CareerFoundry?
No, I don't think I could have gotten here without what CareerFoundry has set up. Absolutely not. When it came time to apply for jobs, I heard repeatedly from recruiters and people that I interviewed with that my portfolio was strong, my resumé looked great, and that I interviewed well. Those things got me a number of interviews and I don't think I would have gotten those beforehand.
How do you like your new career so far?
For me, it worked out perfectly. I enjoy the people that I work with and the culture that I'm working in. I was fortunate enough to be able to make a decision about what I wanted to do and not feel desperate. The most important thing in a job for me is that it has the culture that I’m looking for. I want to work in a healthy, dynamic, and energetic environment. I would encourage anybody to make sure that you know what your priorities are and what you're looking for and not to compromise on that. CareerFoundry helped me make a great career transition.
Do you have any other advice for people who are thinking about making a career change through an online UX bootcamp?
As with many things, a level of sacrifice is going to need to be involved in order to achieve certain goals. More specifically for those who are considering a transition later in their life: ageism definitely exists, but that doesn't mean that it exists everywhere. There are opportunities out there. There's a greater value in this field for those who do have a level of life experience to bring to the table. Don't give in to that worry. Remember, sometimes our greatest enemy can be ourselves.