blog article

Q&A with Alex Baldwin, Metis

By Liz Eggleston
Last updated on July 11, 2014


Since launching their Ruby on Rails bootcamp in Boston, Metis has expanded to new cities and added courses in new fields. Their upcoming Product Design course in New York aims to prepare students for a job in the growing field of UX and Product Design. We talk with Alex Baldwin, co-creator of Metis Product Design Curriculum, about the differences between UX Design and Product Design, why the bootcamp model is great for this subject, and the types of students who will excel at Metis. 


What is a product designer and how is it different from a UX Designer?

Never have I met another industry that cares more about what they call themselves. Are you a UI or a UX? Usually, you’re doing a lot of everything. So I see product designers as people who are not afraid to just jump into something. Some days, I’ll be doing database stuff. I might not be the one to write the queries but I’m the one that’s going to bring attention to that problem and make sure that resources are allocated to fixing it. There’s definitely been a push in the last couple of years; designers are becoming more of marketers and using growth hacks. It’s definitely bringing design and marketing together.

It’s really fascinating to see something like the Dropbox case study of how their referral program allowed them to be enormous. Our clients at thoughtbot request types of features like that, and being able to attach a growth loop onto something that people really desire is a fantastic way to make sure that you stay interested in your product and people are using it and recommending it once it’s good.

When it comes to products, you have to look at flows, user interfaces, functionality, measurement and research and there are all these other aspects to consider.


Why do you think that the boot camp model will work for product design?

I think our boot camp model is wonderful because the last month is all about passion projects. We’ve identified that there’s definitely this need when people join bootcamps, specifically those who want to do product design, that they have something in their portfolio that they can show. They care most about getting feedback on their work and getting those as close to done as possible.

Doing this learning in the classroom setting is way easier; students sit down, map out where they need to go, and the instructors can go through and evaluate how to get them there most efficiently.

I think that in-person feedback is really important. So, having the dedicated 3-month period of time where this is the only thing they’re focused on is what will really be successful.


What sort of student are you expecting? Are you expecting somebody who has to have a passion project in mind? Do they need experience in coding or web design?

First and foremost, they should have some sort of background in graphic design. I think if you already call yourself a designer and you have a portfolio, it doesn’t really matter what’s in that portfolio. It could be illustration, marketing pages, it could be anything about design, whether it’s UX or not.

There are no “last job” requirements. What we really care about and what we’ll be interviewing for is people that have been satisfied with their work but they crave more. They want more of a connection with the people that they’re making these projects for and they want to make sure that the projects work.


Will you all have a technical challenge or will it be more of a culture interview? Have you thought about what the interview will look like?

Yeah; the course does include basic HTML and CSS. The reasoning for that is it’s hard to get things to completion when you don’t control that stack. If you’re waiting on someone else to finish part of your work, you’ll just have to sit there and wait. So I think we’re going to spend a lot of time building those skills.

There’s not necessarily a technical challenge, although we are going to have people do a graphical challenge. We want somebody to produce something… Even if it’s really bad, that’s fine; we just want to see where people’s graphical skills are. But I can’t tell you exactly what our challenge is!


Will students have pre-work on HTML/CSS?

Yep, we have two weeks’ worth of pre-work, and all our pre-work consists of custom tutorials that we’ve written ourselves. We just want to make sure that they’re versed in the software flow and are able to scale up those skills pretty easily from the beginning.


What has it been like to design a curriculum for a fairly new subject matter?

This has actually been super fun because there’s nothing else to go off of. We took the core cases of interaction design and made those cases stick together really well. We looked at the key abilities and how we could increase people’s yield in those activities.

We’re doing these weekly exercises and they’re really meant to push you into getting to being in a production role and thinking about the whole loop of products.

For example, one of the exercises that we have students go through is we’ve produced all the Javascript to give students a weather app. However, there’s no style to it. So we’re giving them a little toolbox to build their own weather app that will actually work. What’s great about that is they don’t have to worry about any of the coding concerns; it’s already been done. What they have to focus on is okay, I have 100 options and they can be in a million different states. It’s those kinds of things that will be very valuable for our students, getting that confidence up.


It’ll be really cool to see how many different variations of the same assignment turn up.

We are all really excited.


So will students do those 7 projects over the first 2 months and then they work on their passion project?

The structure is 7 weeks of lectures and exercises- there are no abstract lectures. One day we’ll talk about data analytics. At the end of that lecture, they’ll translate that concept into an app.

The way the lectures work is that the co-instructors will trade off. You’ll have one person taking one day and the other will be walking around and helping students while the lectures are going on and answering questions.

Then we also have a team project that we’re going to put together. We want to group some of the designers in teams of 4 or 5 and have them work on a behavior builder. What I like about the behavior builder is that it’s really easy to see how people interact with this in real life and measure it’s success, as opposed to hey, let’s release a music app and maybe it’ll do something or it won’t. It’s very clear whether this action is happening or not.


In talking with students, I hear a lot of feedback saying that they want to work as a group and do team projects so they’re prepared for that in the real world.

It‘ll be super fascinating because these students aren’t all going to be from similar backgrounds. They’ll realize that one person is clearly better than them at graphic design, so they should be the visual designer of this project. One person has done research before, so they should fulfill that role. And just seeing how those roles specialize and how they work together will be neat.


Will the Metis Product Design bootcamp have “personal investment days” like the Ruby on Rails bootcamp does?

I think with the Rails bootcamp, they have Knowledge Bomb Fridays with friends of thoughtbot and employees. They also have Fireside Chat Tuesdays that are employer-focused, where they have people speak from hiring companies and they’d bring in a Head of Engineering to talk about something that’s specific to that company.

We plan on doing similar things with guest speakers from the community.


Have you had to think about working the outcomes into the curriculum like doing job placement, interview practice and stuff like that or are you letting Metis handle the brunt of that?

Metis is handling most of that. They have a really awesome talent placement manager that we’ll be working with and they’ve done great work. I think the hiring percentage out of the first bootcamp has been strong, and it’s only been a few weeks.

For me, I’m thinking how can we get someone in 3 months to be hirable at thoughtbot? I know that there’s other companies that hire similarly to us but usually their bar is not quite as high. They might want more visual design but generally, the bar at thoughtbot all around is high. If I needed someone to be hirable here  which we’ve done in the past through our friendship program – I think we’ll be doing a really awesome job and unleashing some seriously terrible monsters in the design field on the city of New York.


Does that mean that thoughtbot will be hiring from this program?

We are a hiring partner and we do have an office in New York. If anyone’s a fit, we’ll see. I still don’t have any students placed so as soon as that happens, we’ll have a better gauge.


Want to learn more about Metis? Check out their School Page on Course Report or their website here!

About The Author

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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