Wojciech Hupert originally studied advertising and graphic design, but as the market demand for web skills increased, he transitioned into UX design. Now Wojciech is a UX Design Mentor at online coding bootcamp CareerFoundry. He also works full-time as a UX/UI Designer at Berlin startup BigchainDB. Wojciech explains why he wanted to get involved in education, how he uses his varied background to give career advice, and why he loves seeing CareerFoundry students grow and learn.
Tell us about your background and experience before you joined CareerFoundry.
My approach to the visual and advertising world was from an artistic angle, as I was always seeking a commercial avenue for an artistic expression. So I started to look at different ways of using my visual skills in visual media, like web design and publishing.
A lot of my knowledge is self-taught through e-learning, working with others and having great mentors. Over the course of a decade, I navigated through different territories, learning as I went to meet the market’s needs.
At what point did you start calling yourself a UX designer?
In the mid-’90s I wasn’t aware of the role of UX Designer for quite a long time even though I worked on a lot of front end projects. These were the early days of web design, so it was relatively easy to get into it, and only a handful of principles differentiated design for web from design for print. I learned CSS and HTML, and that was about it. I got into UX without realizing. I entered the space of digital design when the whole platform was going through this exciting phase of figuring things out. So once I picked up the right books and started to talk to UX experts all I had to do was to fill in the knowledge gaps that I still had at the time. It was a natural, organic transition. I started working as a UX Designer in 2011.
Do you work full time with CareerFoundry, or do you have other projects you’re working on as well?
I work with CareerFoundry part time. I also have my full-time job as a UX/UI designer at blockchain technology startup BigchainDB. There I work on a lot of things, but mainly UI, UX, and occasionally print design.
My work with CareerFoundry has a mutual benefit for both me and my students, because it keeps me engaged with what I’m passionate about the most – UX thinking. If I don’t have a pure focus on UX for a week or so at work, I am still very in tune with UX because I’m working with CareerFoundry students. People who work in UX tend to fall into narrow-focus pockets. We may work on a specific project for months, and get detached from other areas of UX work. When I work with CareerFoundry, I always need to be up to date with everything related to UX, so I never feel like I’m forgetting something or I’m far from the scene. It’s a great way to be on top of my game.
How did you become aware of CareerFoundry and what made you want to be involved?
I had been traveling for a year through Southeast Asia and I decided to come back to Europe and settle in Berlin, which was bursting with opportunities. I’d heard about the startup scene in Berlin, and I already had a freelancer lone wolf mindset, so I wanted to keep that going. I also wanted to engage with some startups in Berlin. CareerFoundry offered me that, I could do freelance work, and at the same time I could have a connection to a company with that startup culture and mindset.
At that time, CareerFoundry was just starting to recruit mentors, so I was actually one of the first mentors. I liked the idea of working with six to eight people at a time, and assisting their growth. It’s an interesting process to engage with. I have a lot of admiration for the CareerFoundry founders. They have created an amazing platform. I worked with one of their first students, and there was a lot of uncertainty in the beginning because it was the first time I was teaching. Everything worked well, and I really got to like the dynamic between student and mentor. I realized that since part of my job as the UX designer was to educate my own clients, teaching as a concept was not as abstract as I thought it would be.
Looking back, do you think a program like CareerFoundry would have been useful when you were learning?
Definitely, there are a lot of resources on UX. My transition was a little disorganized and took about five years. My process took so long because there is so much information and resources out there, it’s hard to see the big picture. It’s easy to get into a pocket of information, and you only know what you know, but not what you are still missing. But if you complete a course designed from start to finish, you know you’ve covered the entire scope of what you need to know.
When you complete the CareerFoundry UX design bootcamp course, you end up with a portfolio that you can actually show to clients or employers, and this is something that junior UX designers cannot get very easily. Most projects that UX designers do are under NDA’s (non-disclosure agreements) and are not to be published or visible. A course like this gives you a valuable asset – the development of a product through the entire flow of research, finding out what users want, and then making it happen.
Did you have mentoring or teaching experience prior to teaching at the bootcamp?
When I was freelancing I realized that whenever I was trying to sell my designs, I had to educate my client. I had to tell them what they were missing out on, explain the service I was offering, and what the expected results should be. So I took that approach to mentoring as well. UX is so young, and understanding of it varies, so having informed clients and employers is important for the UX movement in general.
There is a lot of misconception, and I think it’s the responsibility of UX designers to explain what it is, and what the role involves. It’s up to UX designers to educate whoever is looking for the service or product.
What is your specific role as a mentor at CareerFoundry?
In the course there is a lot of reading material and instructions for the students. The mentor is there to coordinate, assist, clarify, review, and answer questions. So as a mentor I step in at the most interesting part of the knowledge acquisition, when students are already informed about specific subjects. We always discuss topics and problems, but I hardly ever need to explain things from scratch.
On a daily basis I review whatever my students send to me – that could be questions, doubts they have and completed assignments. Once a week we connect over Skype, and we discuss things they sent, misconceptions, and mistakes. If everything is clear and covered, I often share my experiences from working in the industry. I answer questions about working in UX, getting work as an employee or getting projects as a freelancer. About 80% of students are career changers, so they need that insight, they need to know how to engage with this new scene and industry.
An interesting thing about the UX community, is that it’s not competitive, everyone is really helpful. I think it’s because UX has so many niches, and people are aware of that and don’t think of themselves as being in competition professionally. It’s more of a self-supporting community and there are many resources they are keen to share. The community at CareerFoundry is a proof of that – there are close to 1700 people on the CF slack channel at this point in time.
What is the structure of the curriculum, and where do you fit in?
The curriculum gives a wonderful overview of what’s involved in UX as a framework. It starts with research-related assignments, and ends with visual design assignments. The course covers everything from ideation through early concepts, to wireframes and user research. It’s really well thought out and well written. It’s always full of relevant information, very comprehendible, easy to read, and designed so you can work on it every day, on top of other things happening in your life.
The course requires an hour or two per day, so it’s very manageable. It’s divided into assignments, and tasks. As you go through it you get a sense of achievement and progression. It’s easy to measure how fast you move, you don’t feel stuck, and you feel you are moving through it really quickly. You get your results fast, and you can see how your work on the previous tasks contributed to the current one.
Throughout the course, students are developing an app (Taskly). They learn and build it as they go. Then I stand behind to help with anything that comes up. It’s the most effective way to learn and jump into the field. The course was designed to expose students to different stages of development, so by the time they are finished, they will be well prepared to go into the market and do real projects.
What technologies or subjects does CareerFoundry teach as part of the UX program?
Students are developing UX for web and mobile applications. The course also teaches the basics of HTML and visual language principals so students can talk to UI designers and developers in their ‘own language’. They can also do very basic UI design implementations themselves, and get exposed to copywriting, which can be a part of UX as well. By the time this course finishes, students can execute and have an active involvement in each department they collaborate with. They start with project management, and develop concepts as if they were founders. Students then create the marketing side of it to verify if the concept for a product works, then they create specific UX stuff.
The bottom line is, UX designers need to understand what needs to be designed before they start designing – this is an important and often ignored fact. Quite often, when people want to do UX they jump into creating wireframes, which is not the most efficient way to do it. This is something students discover as they go through the development of the workflow. Students are encouraged and supported to learn the most common applications and design tools. They are being provided with access to UXPin – a web-based drawing tool with prototyping capability, so they can produce their concepts and turn the design into clickable prototypes. They can also work in InVision, and they are encouraged to use Sketch, AdobeXD, and Illustrator if they are inclined to push their skills even further. Not every student has the desire to learn those, so it’s flexible.
How many students do you usually work with at one time?
My personal limit, and comfortable level, is a maximum of seven students at a time. I started with just three. With seven students, I tend to have calls almost every week. It’s a really effective way to interact with students, so I always look forward to those. As a contractor at CareerFoundry, I can decrease the number of students I work with if I think I’ll be busy in a specific time of the year. I can take holidays whenever I want and my absence will be covered. Or if I want my mentoring to become my full-time job I can simply increase the number of students and commit more time to it.
How do you communicate with the students?
For regular exchange of messages, we use a brand new internal messaging system. For weekly calls, we use Skype. Some students want to use Hangouts, or other programs. We tend to have the first call with video so we can get to know each other better. But after the first couple of calls, I tend to recommend audio only, so we can both concentrate – it’s better to look at the design rather than each other. If there are any technical problems I’ll often share my screen and my workflow and show them how to do particular things. We discuss changes as they are happening on the screen. Students love this.
How often do you have one-on-one time with individual students?
It’s recommended to do one Skype call every week. With some students it’s not required if they are moving very swiftly, so we connect every two weeks or so. It’s really up to them, but the course is designed to have one Skype call per week and I always recommend that.
Where are your students located? How does that work with different time zones?
CareerFoundry does a great job of distributing students to mentors in their timezones. So the majority of my students are in Germany. When CareerFoundry first started up, it wasn’t as organized so some of my students were in the US, and there was a time difference problem. It’s no longer a problem – all of my students are in Europe. Some of them are in Berlin like me, so we sometimes meet face to face whenever there are conferences or UX meetups. But that’s not a common practice.
What are the students like at CareerFoundry?
CareerFoundry facilitates a community between me and the people I mentor. It’s a really rewarding and enjoyable activity for both me and the students. They always have interesting stories and different professional backgrounds to bring to the table. I’m there to see how they adjust to the UX mindset and workflow, and it’s always fascinating to follow, to get their ideas and answer questions. So far I’ve worked with about 30 to 40 students, and every single one has a different story, a different experience, and a different unique talent. I’ve never had two students that would be alike.
Have you contributed to the bootcamp curriculum? If so, what was your role?
As I got to know the course really well over the years, I had a lot of ideas and observations, so I shared them with the CareerFoundry team. There are hardly ever any errors, my suggestions are more like “hey let’s optimize this”, “let’s make it easier, add something or update the resource.” So I actively participate to make sure the course is up to date. I know the audience, I know who the students are, and I want to optimize their experience.
Do CareerFoundry UX students collaborate with each other?
I believe they do collaborate, especially in the phase of user testing – they all leverage the existence of the community to send their design concepts for user testing purposes. This is where the collaborative, supporting characteristic of the scene comes in. All the students are happy to participate and later they get the favor returned. Plus, they are always interested to see what others are working on.
How many hours a week do you expect your students to commit to CareerFoundry’s UX program?
Some tasks are more in tune with their current background, some are not. So there is no standard amount of time. But it usually takes an hour to two hours per day.
How do you assess student progress and ensure they are getting through the material?
There is an initiative called the Job Readiness Rubric which helps to quantify the quality of the work. Mentors use this rubric to see what kind of advice to give to students to push them towards the industry standard. It’s hard to quantify those things, but when you’re looking at deliverables, you can easily see what the student excels at and what areas need to improve. So the job readiness rubric helps to tune the aspects of where they need to be, with where they are right now.
Do you have a hand in career advice or job placement at all?
Yes, very often. Because I have worked for both corporations and small companies like startups, and I’ve done freelancing, I know the different ways of talking with employers or clients. So students can always reach out to me and voice their fears or expectations or desires of what they want their next career step to look like. Towards the end, the last assignments help students to get ready for stepping into the job market. They prepare their first portfolio and UX Design-centric CV. They also plan their future outreach for their personal brand, so they know how to market themselves and speak intelligently on what they can offer.
We often talk about goals. I always take a customized approach to each student and find out their needs and where they want to be in the next six months.
Tell us about your biggest student success story!
I have a couple of successful entrepreneurial stories about people who worked in a boring job, trying to get their side project off the ground. Once they had learned the UX workflow,they could then visualize their projects and promote them. It’s always a great thing to witness. I have also worked with a couple of students who were sent to the CareerFoundry UX course by their employers to educate and later drive their UX efforts within the company they work in. Quite often they would be doing something else before, like project management, research etc. Once they learn the UX workflow and mindset and practice it, they have the potential to drive the UX department in the company. There are a lot of success stories like that.