Jamil Al-Ghosein worked on his final project for startup Pandia Health with a team of other UX Design students at General Assembly. Jamil’s group helped Pandia move past their beta issues, streamline their user onboarding flow, and update their branding. This experience (plus career counseling) landed Jamil a job as a Product Designer at Chase Bank within a week of graduation. Now that Jamil is on the hiring side, he’s also got advice to UX bootcampers on the job hunt.
What were you up to before General Assembly?
In 2014, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology specializing in Digital Arts. I did my undergraduate in the Philippines and afterward, I worked as a Graphic Designer. Once I moved to San Francisco, I got a Front End Developer job. When I was looking into going into UX, I was working at a media company, handling the website for their film festival. I tried to learn UX myself and apply it to that project but since I was the only person on my team, I didn't know if I was doing it right. So, I started looking into UX Design classes.
You had experience with graphic design and with front end development – why did you feel like you even needed to do a UX Bootcamp?
Most of the design jobs here in San Francisco are transforming more into Product Design and UX instead of Print Design. I was working Developer jobs and I was trying to teach myself UX. I would do the UX design process myself at work to practice. I would apply the UX process but when I tried it out, I didn't have a good experience. I wanted to be able to get a job in UX though.
Did you research other UX bootcamps or did you have your eye on General Assembly from the beginning?
General Assembly was the only one I knew about when I started looking into UX bootcamps. I still looked into a few more that are here in San Francisco. I looked mostly at prices in my research. There are free classes online but those don't hold you accountable.
I went with General Assembly because I liked the part of the curriculum where they help you look for jobs. I was struggling with looking for jobs even though I had the experience. They don't connect you directly to jobs, but they help with interviewing. It was more about the career path for me.
What was the learning experience like at General Assembly?
I was actually nervous going into it since I didn't know anything about the educational experience in the US compared to what I experienced in the Philippines. This was my only education here in the US. But once we got into it, everything was fun!
We started each day with a 15-minute warmup. Then we went into a lecture and after every lecture, we did an activity that would lead to a project for that section of the course. We covered the basics during the first weeks so that we could apply it in the first project because the first project starts on day one. With every project after that we applied another one of the topics we learned.
How did you find the difference between a bootcamp style education and your undergrad?
I probably worked more at the bootcamp than when I was in university. That was partially because I wanted to do a good job and the length of the program is shorter. You have to fit in five projects at bootcamp. You would have to be working most of the nights. Weekends I could usually let go, but most nights I was staying up late.
Who were your instructors?
Our instructors were all UX Designers. One of them is Shalom Ornsby and he was at AutoDesk before that. The other one was Lauren Golden and she was a big researcher in the financial industry before teaching at General Assembly.
What was your final project at General Assembly?
I worked on a project for Pandia Health, which is a startup that does birth control delivery. This was a group project with three other designers in my class. There were three or four other teams. It was cool to work with a real company! General Assembly found real companies to work with us, they introduced us, and then brought the company team in for an interview with us. In the interview with the company, we talked about what the company was about and what their asks were.
This was a two and a half week project including the final presentation.
Did this group project reflect what UX feels like in the real world?
Yeah, totally. The main difference is that during the bootcamp project at GA, four designers worked on it together as equals. In my job now, there would be someone leading the project, but we were all on the same level at General Assembly. Luckily, we all got along with each other and we all brought different skills to the table. We divided and conquered with no clashes and everything worked great.
How did you communicate with Pandia Health for this project?
Pandia Health assigned a point person from their team who we could schedule meetings with stakeholders through and run ideas past. The startup is pretty small so we worked closely with the CEO and the CTO of the company.
What were you asked to do for this project?
For this project, Pandia asked us to look into their beta online form for signup and orders, their homepage, and branding. At the time, their online form's analytics showed that there were a lot of dropoffs in beta (people were not finishing the signup form). The UX Designer's job, in this case, is to look into why this problem is happening and how we can fix it.
So how did you and your team go about fixing the problems?
The first part of a UX project is always research. We did our own recruiting for people who weren't current users who fit into their target audience. The company also provided us with ten current users so that we could see what their experience with the beta design was. We tested the first version with current users and new users.
We provided a new, more consolidated form that fixed their issues by:
Creating a chart to show the different paths and pages their user would have to go through with their current form
Combining and reducing questions and pages to make the form have fewer steps
Adding a progress tracker
Delivering updated designs and wireframes. Everything we provided was a suggestion because this was all in beta. Pandia actually reached out afterward asking for illustrations and they even paid for them because they liked the design!
By the end of the project, we had cut their beta form down from 22 pages to 7 pages.
What tools in the General Assembly curriculum did you use for the project?
We used Sketch and Invision for this project. We also used strategies that we learned throughout the curriculum. When we worked on projects in the past we were applying something we learned from that lesson's activity. When we got to this final project, it was up to us to decide what we needed to do. We used activities that we learned earlier and adapted them to fit what we needed for this project. Real UX Design work is exactly that! It's about using those processes that we learned and adapting them to solve problems.
Can you tell us about a challenge that you faced with this project?
The first was that I was the only guy on my team, and I knew nothing about birth control. Once we started doing the research, at first I was nervous to even be asking women about their birth control preferences. I was worried that the women we were surveying might not feel comfortable and might not give us real answers because of that. But it worked out fine and I know so much about birth control now!
Wow – you cut 7 pages out of the 22-page signup flow. What’s an example of a step you would cut out?
As we were testing out the website, there was a question that users were having a hard time answering: "How frequently do you have your period?" When we tested it with users they told us that the main reason they were trying to get birth control was because their periods are not regular. They had a hard time answering the question because their answers wouldn't fit into the options provided. We told the Pandia team that it was likely that if the user picked an answer it wouldn't be accurate, they wouldn't get clean data, or the user would just stop filling out the form altogether. We suggested adding another question giving them an option to say, "I don't know." That way, the users don't have to worry about it, but Pandia can still gather some data on the question.
We ended up going to the CEO and they told us that the question was there for data gathering. The users were confused by this question, though, and it seemed like a reason they weren't finishing the form. The CEO agreed to make it an optional question and enhance the question to make it more understandable.
What was your biggest takeaway from your final project?
This project showed me that even if you are not a member of the target audience, you can still have empathy. My instructor’s advice was to take advantage of that! UX requires you to have empathy for the user so that you can design for them.
Do you think having this project in your portfolio helped you get a job after Bootcamp?
At Chase (where I'm working as a Product Designer now), we've been hiring other designers and I'm part of the hiring panel. My team and I were talking about this researcher that we interviewed who couldn't answer the question, "What's your favorite insect?" The hiring manager looked at me, and said, "Remember when you interviewed and saw that question?" He repeated the exact scenario that I experienced on the Pandia project about period frequency. He remembered it! He told me that it gave me a lot of credit toward getting this role that I have now.
So what is it like being a Product Designer at Chase?
I've been a Product Designer at Chase for just over a year. I work specifically in the real estate division of the company. I got hired when this particular team was just starting and we have grown so much in the past year.
What is the difference between Product Design and UX Design?
It depends on what that specific company has listed as your responsibilities. Outside of work, I would say, when people say UX Design they mean the basics and Product Design would be a level up. Product Design specifically asks you to be part of the product from start to finish. Product Design is everything from research to design and then iterations once it launches.
Do you think that having Front End Development experience is helpful to your career now?
At General Assembly, they helped us learn how to use past experiences in your interviews to sell yourself. When I interview I always mention that I was a Front End Developer in the past and how it helps me be a good UX Designer. That experience helps me communicate with developers. One of our Front End Developers at my job now was a Designer before. It's helpful to know the other side. You know the lingo and you have experience.
Is this job what you expected when you decided to do a UX Bootcamp?
I'm happy with this career change. I don't know if I expected exactly this but it turned out to be similar to what I was doing at General Assembly. My day-to-day is never the same. Sometimes I don't even touch my laptop because I'm doing interviews all day. I'm doing research more and whiteboarding a lot more to find solutions.
How did General Assembly prepare you for job hunting?
Specifically, for me, because I had prior experience in different roles, I struggled with how to advertise myself. Before, I was trying to throw all of my skills at these companies and prove that I could do the job. My instructor told me that by mentioning so many skills, a company couldn't tell what I wanted. They showed me that I can advertise myself as a UX Designer specifically and then show that my prior jobs gave me skills like Front End Development and Animation and that I can show how those skills help me be a better UX Designer.
They taught us how to tailor our resumé and cover letter to a specific job in order to have a better chance of a hiring manager seeing it. That helped me a lot. They also helped us with tracking the jobs that we apply to in a spreadsheet. That way you know what jobs you've applied for, if the company has responded, and if I've followed up. This helped me make sure that I was applying to the right amount of jobs to give me the best chance.
Do you have any advice for bootcampers approaching the job hunt?
Focus on one thing and advertise that thing well. Don’t forget about your other skills, though. You can use them in an interview to show how they make you a better UX Designer.
How do you prepare for a UX job interview?
It all depends. The main thing with UX interviewing is presenting your work. I learned so much at GA about how to present my work. At first, I used to choose to share projects that I really loved without realizing those projects had no connection to that job at all without even talking about it.
For some roles, like the one I have now, I got asked to do a coding project because they were looking to fill in a Product Designer role with someone who had Developer experience. The task turned out to be really difficult. I tried my best over the weekend and then emailed my manager that it was not something that I could learn in one weekend. They were understanding and asked me to show them three projects that I had done in the past instead.
I've learned that all of these tests are there to help you. If you don't have the right portfolio and we still think you're a good candidate, then the employer may give you a chance to show us that you can do more.
After a year in your UX job do you think General Assembly was worth it?
It was totally worth it. I got the job that I have now a week after I graduated and I actually got two offers during that time.
Now that you’re on the hiring side, what advice do you have for people who are making a career change through a bootcamp?
Be sure to have a story. When it comes to presenting a project, make it a story instead of just a step-by-step show of skills. It's all in the delivery. This helps us see your thought process. If we just wanted to see your work, we could look at your portfolio ourselves. We want to see how you got there.
Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!
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