As a self-taught UX designer and coder, Nick was looking for a way to pay it forward and help others transition into an exciting career. He found an opportunity to be the first UX Design instructor for Lambda School’s online UX Design school! Nick tells us about his own UX background, why the Lambda School education team is always tweaking and improving the UX design curriculum, and how he tries to be “the most engaging instructor” to help motivate and encourage his students to launch new UX design careers!
How did you get into UX Design and what lead you to teach at Lambda School?
I’m American but I went to school at Franklin University Switzerland and double majored in international economics and international banking finance with a minor in studio arts. I thought I would do economic research at a big bank, but realized it’s hard to land those kinds of jobs.
After graduation I worked at two startups simultaneously (I don’t recommend it!) doing accounting, bookkeeping, business administration, and sales. The startup founders often had challenges describing what they wanted in product features to their developers. Because of my studio arts minor, I was able to help the founders create mockups and wireframes – that’s how I got exposed to the world of interface design and user experience (UX). I started teaching myself, doing it on the job, and learning about user research, ideation, and the user experience process. It was all about practicing, reading books, and meeting as many designers as I could.
I taught myself how to code and knew that coding and UX design was the career for me. My first Front End Developer job was at International Studies Abroad where I was also the unofficial UX designer. After that, I had roles at different startups as Lead UI/UX Engineer and Full Stack Engineer where my role was again a hybrid between development and UX. I started UX consulting with some early-stage startups helping identify their problem space and solutions, doing user research, articulating that into interfaces, and advising on their product development.
I was also teaching on the side for Vue School creating their Vue.JS Intro Course. I was blogging, doing YouTube live streams, and falling in love with teaching and giving back to the community. As a self-taught designer and developer, it was always super important to me to give back and help the people who are where I was just a few years ago. I saw the UX Instructor opportunity at Lambda School and thought it was something I could do! I started in August 2018.
Why did you want to work at a school like Lambda?
Being in the tech space, I’ve worked with a number of tech bootcamp graduates and they’ve always been good at their jobs. A remote online bootcamp was a bit unique, but I’d been teaching online and knew that plenty of people can learn effectively that way.
It was exciting to get in on the ground floor of the Lambda School UX Design bootcamp and be the first UX Design instructor with the Program Director, Christijan Draper. But what excites me most about working at Lambda School is how focused everyone is on seeing the students succeed – the entire Lambda community, not just the instructors. I also like the income share agreement option – the school is aligned to support the students from Day One and makes it as risk-free as possible to access this incredible life-changing education.
How does teaching for Lambda School differ from your other teaching experiences?
The other course I taught was a recorded course so I only had to set up the curriculum and record some videos. Lambda is all live instruction so I now have the opportunity for dialogue, discussion, and helping students in the “classroom” – which takes place in an online Zoom video conferencing room. There’s a lot of interaction between myself and the students. Just today, we spent an hour doing a Q&A about their current project, the tooling, being a UX designer, and the industry at large. That discussion and facetime communication is what I think makes teaching at Lambda School so special.
What does each UX Design module cover?
The UX Design curriculum is broken up into six different units and I’m currently teaching the first one on UI design. The instructors switch around so we’re not teaching the same module over and over again. We’re currently reevaluating our course. One of the things I love about Lambda is we’re so open to change and making the best programs possible. We’re constantly thinking about reorganizing information, presenting it in different ways, and making it more action-oriented and project-centric so we’re producing the best UX designers possible.
The current modules are:
How does Lambda School integrate career preparation into the online UX curriculum?
We pepper in career prep throughout the course, starting on Day 2 where we talk about setting the students up for their careers. They learn about what a portfolio entails, the types of case studies they need to include, and when they need to be thinking about it throughout the course. We talk about networking, being engaged in the design community on social media, and how blogging can help your online visibility, highlight your design thought process, writing skills, and critical thinking abilities to potential employers. After that, every week we sprinkle in additional career curriculum with our career instruction team.
Students are always welcome to come to me or any other instructor with questions about their portfolios, social profiles, job postings, or guidance in general. I’ve helped a couple of students with networking. We also have a dedicated career coach who is the point-person for helping students be the best candidates possible. Students have multiple resources, people, and touchpoints, to ensure they’re as prepared as possible for their new careers as a UX Designer or a Product Designer.
What does a typical teaching day look like for you at Lambda School?
Students begin with a morning warm-up activity for an hour where they review work from the previous day with a peer, have design discussions with their small groups of eight students and a Project Manager (like a Teaching Assistant in a university), or do pre-work for the web development course. I’ll then give a two-hour lecture where we walk through a specific concept via a guided project, which is a realistic project that pertains directly to the day’s topic. After lunch, students work on an assignment until 5pm and end the day with a stand-up with their Project Manager (PM) groups to reflect on their work. I’ll often go through students’ assignments and try to give as much feedback as possible.
For example, the other day we were teaching UI Design in Sketch – we walked through Sketch, the buttons and concepts, how to design an interface, and what the workflow looks like. For the rest of the lesson, we practiced designing an interface and using the different components and features to bring the interface to life. It’s a very practical curriculum. We want to make sure you’re learning-by-doing and practicing.
How do you personally work with students and help them understand the concepts?
Outside of the classroom, we have a weekly Q&A, and I have office hours for individual student questions. There’s a lot of discussion and collaboration. Unlike in development, where you can be right or wrong, in design, there’s only better or worse. Our conversations are about designing in these contexts and understanding what’s working based on the information we have.
I try to do the opposite of what I experienced in traditional university classrooms (boring lectures with slides). I want to be as engaging as possible, show students through concepts, discuss back and forth, help them with corrections, and ask them to share their screens to show me what they’re working on. I like to start every lesson with music as people are hopping on to the call to make sure we’re fired up for the day.
I’m trying to be the best instructor I know how to be. There have been times when the feedback demonstrates that half of the students missed the concept – this means I’ve failed in some capacity and we should cover the material again the next day to make sure everyone understands. That’s illustrative of many instructors’ mindsets at Lambda School. We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure the students are understanding the material.
How do you and the PMs work together to assist the bootcamp students?
As instructors, we do the two-hour lesson every morning, make sure students understand the material, and answer any questions. After that, the PMs are the first line of defense. They are current students who have already taken the material, performed excellently, and have a good grasp on the information. A PM can answer a lot of the smaller questions and the instructors can tackle more conceptual questions or if something’s not clicking.
As a remote bootcamp, how do you communicate with Lambda students?
Pretty much all instruction and in-person interaction are done live in Zoom, and if a student is struggling or has questions we can jump on a call and sort it out. We also use Slack. Each cohort has their own private Slack channel where they can ask questions, and there are public channels like “UX Help” where all the UX students can collaborate with other cohorts. Newer students can ask questions of the students who have been in the program longer. Lambda is a community of life-long learners, and people are willing to help each other out. I don’t have to jump in and answer questions very often, because the students themselves do a great job.
What has been one of your biggest student success stories?
One specific student from our first cohort is working on his final project and gearing up for his job search. The growth I’ve seen in him from Day One to what he knows now has been nothing short of astonishing. Whenever I get stressed out, I think of his and all of our students’ successes, and it gets me fired up. It’s been a powerful reminder that we’re here for them, we’re here to change their lives and to be the best possible resource.
How have you contributed to the Lambda School UX Design course curriculum?
I primarily work on curriculum updates in the afternoons while the students are working on their projects, in between answering any questions. We’re very data-oriented and are always using feedback from students to improve the curriculum. It’s also very effective when students can demonstrate their understanding of a concept or if they missed the goal of the task.
We also interview hiring managers, talk to people who will be hiring our students, find out what skills they’re looking for in job candidates, and incorporate those insights into the curriculum. I joined the team with Christijan Draper as Program Director, who had the vision for starting the program. We brainstormed the structure, developed the lessons, assignments, and projects, and we’ve already revised it a few times. Now that we have a few more instructors, we each focus on our individual units and each have full ownership over the material.
What types of learning opportunities does Lambda provide their instructors?
While we can’t take the other bootcamp courses because we’re teaching simultaneously, we do have access to all of the curriculum material. I’m frequently poking around the mobile and data science courses because I’m interested in those fields, there are some incredible professionals teaching those courses, and I’m trying to pick up new skills! All the instructors meet weekly to catch up; we share tips and keep each other informed about what’s going on in our fields, and across the instructional teams.
What are some resources or recommendations for anyone curious about learning more about the UX field?
I was self-taught and learned a lot on the job, and I always think about how I wish Lambda School had been around when I started. The staff is so aligned with helping you succeed and land the job in a way that I never saw in my own educational experience. At Lambda School, we are here to help you get the life you are ready to have.