Alumni Spotlight

How Joanne Pivoted from Visual Artist to Product Designer with BrainStation

By Jess Feldman
Last updated on March 29, 2022

After attending a friend’s demo day at BrainStation, visual artist Joanne Le was intrigued by the opportunity to help others through purposeful UX design. She enrolled in the full-time UX Design bootcamp, learning the fundamentals of design while building her portfolio. After landing her first UX role, Joanne enrolled in BrainStation’s Product Management course to supplement her UX knowledge so she could be a more effective Product Designer at DoorDash. Whether you’re reskilling or upskilling, Joanne shares her advice on making the most of the BrainStation experience!

What inspired you to pivot from visual art into UX design?

I've always worked in visual and creative fields — I have an undergrad degree in visual arts and experience in sculpture and painting — but I wanted to find a way to utilize my experience to have a bigger impact. While I was looking for art direction jobs, I noticed they were often seeking someone who had UX/UI experience, which got me curious about this highly-sought skill.

When researching UX design bootcamps, what set BrainStation apart?

A friend of mine introduced me to Brainstation and thought I'd like it as a way to upskill. I briefly looked at other bootcamps, but I was sold on BrainStation after attending my friend's demo day! I was hooked on the fact that people were building projects for the purpose of solving problems. I never thought I'd have the opportunity to use my creativity to build things that had an actual impact on other people.

I initially applied to the part-time course, but I soon realized that if I was serious about making my career change, I needed a more immersive, full-time experience. After talking it over with my peers, I switched to BrainStation’s full-time UX Design Bootcamp

Do you need to know basic design principles or tools in order to apply to BrainStation?

You don’t need to have any previous experience with UX design to get into the bootcamp. While there aren’t any prerequisites to attend BrainStation’s UX Design Bootcamp, there is a small UX exercise assignment to complete before admission. 

Once I was accepted into the bootcamp, there was an introduction to the course through a week-long, hackathon-style virtual sprint. After an online onboarding orientation, we were put into groups of four to build our first project, which we then presented at the end of the week. This first assignment immediately immersed us into the bootcamp, enabling us to learn on the fly. Once we completed that, my cohort attended class in-person and began the official bootcamp curriculum.

What was a typical day like in the UX Design bootcamp?

The schedule is a full day of activities, lecture, and discussion with our instructor and classmates. In the evening, we worked on 1 or 2 ongoing projects simultaneously. I was often on campus 12 hours a day, and I was certainly not the only person in my cohort doing that!

What were your UX Design instructors like? Did the teaching style match your learning style?

BrainStation instructors are experienced UX industry professionals. My instructor, Jason, was fantastic. I appreciated his teaching style because he incorporated his own experience and perspective into the curriculum. I never felt like we were being pigeon-holed in what and how we learned. We gained real-world insight into the application of the principles of UX. It felt good to know I was learning tools and practicing activities that would support me in becoming good at UX, even if I didn't use everything I learned directly on the job. 

Overall, it really does feel like a bootcamp — the full-time immersive program is intense. This type of learning style is not for everyone! Still, compared to traditional instruction, I really appreciated the teaching style at BrainStation. Of course, there are people who are able to learn UX on their own, but I personally prefer a structured learning style and the opportunity to collaborate with classmates. 

What did you learn in BrainStation’s UX Design Bootcamp?

The bootcamp offers a thorough introduction to UX research, design, and UI design. It covered UX methodologies, like: 

  • Design thinking: how to carry a certain problem from discovery to problem identification and user needs.
  • How to create personas, which isn't always used in the industry right now, but is definitely a good tool to have.
  • User interviews
  • How to put together experience maps.
  • Contextualized types of research
  • What to include in your UX portfolio

What kinds of projects did you work on in the bootcamp?

There were individual and group projects, but I loved doing the group projects most because I felt engaged in a different way than working on my own. In group projects, we were often assigned hackathon-style sprints, where we would work together with our team to come up with a product and present it. Our capstone project was done on our own. 

One of my favorite projects was something we did with the company BMO. The challenge was to help newcomers open a bank account. My group created a mobile application that we called ThinkBank. Because we were short on time, everyone was assigned a part in the group project so we could divide and conquer. Since I had a visual background, I created the UI, illustrations, and helped with the prototyping. Through the project, BMO supported us and offered feedback on what we were building. At the end of the project, we presented it to everyone.

Were the other students in your cohort also career changers?

BrainStation students come from all kinds of backgrounds, previous career paths, and education levels. One student even came to BrainStation straight from high school! 

How did BrainStation prepare you for the job hunt? 

You can’t expect to do a bootcamp and immediately get a job after graduating. It's not magic– finding a job requires putting in a lot of work. What BrainStation did for me was introduce me to the foundations of UX design and give me resources and support to know where to begin with my job hunt. They had us build a portfolio, do mock interviews, create a LinkedIn profile, and meet with previous alumni to help us get started. After the program I was able to continue iterating on my portfolio and applying until I landed my first role.

Which tech roles does BrainStation prepare UX Design students for?

UX is a big umbrella and the jobs you're qualified for will depend on your past experience and career goals. Some of my cohort sought specific roles, like UX Content Strategist, UX Copywriter, and UX Researcher. There are also a lot of transferable skills with UX. You don't have to stay in one industry. I have a friend who went into UX from healthcare and became a product designer in healthcare. 

I was teetering between UX researcher and UX designer. I knew I wanted to be in design because of my visual background, but I initially took on a role as a UX Researcher to improve my research skills.

What was your first UX job after graduating from BrainStation?

My first role out of BrainStation was a contract UX research role for Capco, which is a fintech consulting company. As the sole UX Researcher on the project, I was put in a team with project managers, consultants, and other cross-functional partners. I had little direction, onboarding, or explanation of my tasks, so this role took a major level of initiative. I set up my own meetings, assessed my own research projects, came up with project proposals, and then pitched them. It was a huge learning experience for me and a lot to take on for my first role!

You also took BrainStation’s Product Management course. What inspired you to add product management to your skill set?

I wanted to continue building on my knowledge of how to build a successful product and learn more about product thinking and strategy. Being able to think like a product manager is a valuable skill for a product designer to have as they design. 

Were you able to juggle the Product Management course while working?

Yes! I attended lectures on Sundays and worked on weekdays around my work schedule.

What is the difference between a Product Designer and a UX Designer?

The skill set of UX designers and product designers are similar, and the terms are often used interchangeably. The main difference is that product designers focus more on the business-side of a project, especially in senior roles. As I became more of a product designer on the job, my mindset evolved to focus on the success of a business rather than only consider the user.

Were you able to apply what you learned in the product management course at your job?

I was immediately able to apply what I learned in the course to my role at the startup, Clutch.  It's common in startups to wear a lot of hats, which is exactly what I did. When I joined Clutch, we didn’t have a dedicated product manager, but after the BrainStation course, I became both the product designer and the product manager so I often took on some of those responsibilities. Taking this course validated my knowledge and introduced me to theories that made a lot of sense since I was practicing them on the job. 

You’re now a Product Designer at DoorDash! What kinds of projects are you working on at DoorDash?

We know DoorDash as mainly food delivery, but they're expanding into other verticals, like groceries and storefront, where you can order groceries through the app or purchase food directly from restaurants’ websites  instead of through an app. I'm currently working in the Ads & Promos team. I work specifically with consumer packaged goods (CPG) to promote and advertise specific brands and products to make them more discoverable to consumers on the app. 

What have you learned since graduating from BrainStation? 

My skill set has evolved since graduating from the bootcamp. While I was in the program, I had expectations that I would follow a perfect design process from start to finish and that once a design was finished that was the end. What I learned on the job is you’re constantly working with constraints and it’s more important to learn what type of activities/tasks to prioritize within those constraints.

You’ve gone from entry-level roles to lead positions in your design career. What is the difference in the responsibilities between these levels of design roles?

The responsibilities between levels of design roles depends on the company, their needs, and your experience. Typically as you gain more experience, the level of impact that you have on the product and business will also grow, as well as your craft and skills in visual design, interaction design, or product thinking. As you become more senior, you’ll also be expected to mentor other designers and have strategic input on the broader business. Once a designer gains experience, they’ll also have the option to stay as an Individual Contributor, moving on to Staff or Principal Designer roles, or they can switch into a people manager role like a Design Manager. 

Both types of roles are equally skilled — they just focus on different things, like managing other people and building out teams and the processes, or focusing on their craft as a designer.

In my role at Clutch, I was a Design Manager, so I vacillated between both management and individual contributor tasks. Now I'm a Product Designer at DoorDash where my main focus is working on the product rather than managing others. Eventually once I develop more of my design skills, I’d like to go back into being a design leader. .

Looking back on your career change, was BrainStation worth it for you? 

Looking back on my experience, BrainStation was definitely worth it. Although there were still a lot of skills I had to work on after graduating, BrainStation helped me identify those gaps so I had direction with what to improve in order to land my first job.

What is your advice for incoming UX Design bootcamp students?

You're not going to leave bootcamp completely industry-ready. BrainStation offers the foundation, but it's up to you to put in the work to deepen that understanding. A bootcamp offers a solid starting point so that you know what and how to improve after you've graduated. Putting in the work to learn, network, and utilize feedback will make you industry-ready. 

Are there any new trends in UX design in 2022 that anyone on the job hunt now should keep in mind?

When I first graduated from bootcamp, the roles in job postings were called UX Designers, but now they're shifting to Product Designers. The idea is that the industry is no longer looking for someone that only thinks about the user, but also the business as a whole. Starting with the business, product designers have pivoted to thinking about how to leverage their skills in creating a great user experience to achieve business objectives. Focusing on metrics, product designers are now thinking about how to use data to drive business decisions. At the end of the day, a product designer is designing a product to meet the goals of a business, and it's important to be aware of that going in. 

Find out more and read BrainStation reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with BrainStation.

About The Author

Jess is the Content Manager for Course Report as well as a writer and poet. As a lifelong learner, Jess is passionate about education, and loves learning and sharing content about tech bootcamps. Jess received a M.F.A. in Writing from the University of New Hampshire, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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