Springboard recently launched the UX Career Track – a flexible, 6-month, online bootcamp that prepares you for an entry-level UX design career. We sat down with co-founder Parul Gupta to learn about the application process (including the 3 backgrounds that could make you a great UX designer), the mentor-driven learning style, and how Springboard will make good on their job guarantee for the UX Career Track.
Parul, what inspired you to start Springboard? Describe your background and your current role at Springboard.
I co-founded Springboard five years ago. I came from an engineering background – I studied Electronics and Computer Engineering in college and grad school and worked at a tech startup. A moving personal experience amplified my interest in education. Back in 2012, when I was working at IBM Research, I needed to learn new skills for an upcoming project. Between being a mom to a 2-year-old and a full-time job, conventional offline courses weren’t an option for me, so I was forced to look for alternatives. Fortunately, it was the early days of the online learning revolution and I found two excellent online courses taught by the best experts in the field. I worked hard on them during my commute for weeks and successfully completed them. That experience was truly transformative and I wanted to help make good education accessible to people around the world.
Throughout my journey within Springboard, I've built each function from scratch – I built our engineering team, then moved on to product and operations and curriculum design. Now I’m overseeing our new courses like the UX Career Track.
Coming from that more traditional background, how did you feel about the bootcamp model? Were you skeptical at first?
Actually, I totally believed in the bootcamp model to train people for jobs in the new economy. I got the four-year degree and went to grad school, but what I learned in college is not what helped me build Springboard. When I was starting Springboard, I took a bunch of online courses and put myself through a pseudo bootcamp.
Springboard has taught a shorter UX Skills Track for a while – why did you decide to focus on UX design as a Career Track?
To be honest, we are overdue for a UX Career Track. We’ve offered a UX Design Skills Track for years. The Skills Track is meant to be more foundational and give students an overview of what UX design is – we always knew that there was much more value to add. About 50% of our Skills Track students wanted a career in UX design, so there was a big need for offering a more advanced program with career support.
The UX Career Track is for students who want to change their career – what’s the time commitment?
This is a six-month, flexible program with career support for up to six more months after graduating, or until you find a job. Since students are learning one-on-one with a mentor (instead of live instruction), we can keep our courses flexible and our students really appreciate that. If you’re working on the Career Track for 20 hours per week alongside another significant commitment, then we expect it will take six months. But if you want to dedicate more time to finish it quicker, then you can pay by the month.
What does the curriculum cover compared to the UX Design Skills Track?
The Career Track is a much more rigorous and intensive program than the Skills Track. There are four additional things that the Career Track offers:
We will also cover tools like Sketch, inVision, Figma, Zeplin and parts of the Adobe suite which are highly valued by employers.
Is there any coding in the UX Career Track curriculum? How technical do you think a UX designer should be?
That really depends on the particular demands of the company. More skills are always better than less, but there are plenty of companies which don’t require designers to code. However, coding skills really are handy in prototyping and testing your designs really quickly. If you can prototype yourself, then you're not dependent on a developer and can simplify the lean launch process.
Our core curriculum will not teach any coding, so it's not mandatory for students to learn it prior to the Career Track. But we are working on specializations, which our students can take if interested, to learn those prototyping and basic coding components to have an advantage.
There's a lot to cover in UX design – how did you narrow it down and design the curriculum?
At Springboard, we have a thoughtful process for identifying what topics to teach in our programs. Since, our education is career-focused, our model is very industry-first. We work with industry experts, even before we decide to launch a Career Track, and then very closely as we are building out the curriculum.
We talked to several UX hiring managers in different sized companies, stages and industries, and asked them what skills were important to them in new hires. Based on that, we came up with a list of both interesting backgrounds that students should have, but also skills they should learn through the program, and we built our curriculum to that. And because we already have the UX Design Skills Track, we have a large mentor community of experts in different fields who helped develop the Career Track, and provided feedback on which topics and tools to cover.
How do you teach something like UX design in an online environment?
Our pedagogical approach is project-first. We always start with what you’re building, why, and for who. We use that project to introduce the theory, the concept, the principles, even the tools that students need to reach that objective. We ensure that students really internalize the design thinking process through repetition of key skills and practice via multiple mini-projects.
The process for UX design is extremely collaborative – you have to do user research, talk to users who will be using the end product, etc. Sometimes this happens in an online environment, but likely it will happen in-person. Depending on the project that a student takes on, they may need to interact with users offline. Springboard gives you the infrastructure, tools, and principles to go out and do that.
As you go through a project, you’ll discuss it with your expert mentor and get feedback on different stages. If there are areas where you need to invest more time or iterate, then we provide you the resources and the guidance to do so. This is a great simulation of the real world of UX – it doesn’t happen in one shot. It's very iterative.
What are you looking for in the ideal student for Springboard’s UX Career Track? Is the admissions process selective or can anyone get in?
The admissions process is selective, and we’ve developed our admissions standards with the help of our hiring partners. There are a few backgrounds that are highly valued by UX hiring managers. Applicants from visual design backgrounds – graphic designers, visual designers, UI designers, interaction designers, or even some kinds of visual artists - are a great fit. People with a background in these fields bring an aesthetic and creativity that’s valuable in UX design.
Applicants who come from a research or psychology background also do well, especially from social sciences and ethnographic research because they bring strengths in user research: talking to users, identifying problems and solutions, and synthesizing it into insights.
Finally, applicants who come from development backgrounds – web development and front end development – have an advantage.
Of course, there are people outside of these backgrounds who can also do well in UX design! If somebody does not come from any of those three backgrounds, then we recommend they take the UX Design Skills Track and develop some of those skills.
Would you recommend taking a prep program before the UX Career Track? How should someone prepare before they apply?
Right now, we are really looking for aptitude rather than skills in our admissions process. We’re looking for problem solving and communication skills, so right now, we are not recommending that people take a particular prep course before they apply for the Career Track. That may change as we interview students though!
Springboard is offering a job guarantee for the UX Career Track – how will you help your students get those UX jobs?
The fundamental pillars are the same between our UX Design Career Track and Data Science Career Track: a career curriculum, one-on-one career coaching, and employer connections. From our Data Science Career Track, we’ve learned the most important elements of a career curriculum – how to present your background to an employer, how to write a resume or LinkedIn profile, how to write a cover letter and the importance of networking in job search. All of those are covered in our career curriculum.
Students get one-on-one coaching with our career services team members who help them craft a job search strategy that makes sense for their background. Then they work on mock interviews and portfolio presentations to give them the confidence they need to ace those interviews.
Finally, we’ve started building out our UX design employer network so we can connect our students with opportunities that will be a good fit and accelerate the job search process.
If somebody starts the UX Career Track as a beginner, do you anticipate that they'll be ready for a junior UX design job?
They’ll definitely be ready for entry-level jobs. Of course, if they have prior experience, for example, in visual design, they could get more advanced (and well-paying) jobs. But the course itself is covering skills that would be needed for an entry-level job.
You started Springboard five years ago – what's been the biggest lesson that your team has learned throughout the last five years of Springboard? How will you bring those lessons to this new UX Career Track?
We started Springboard as an aggregator for online courses with the thesis that people learn from great content. But our biggest learning has been that the importance of human contact and human mentorship is irreplaceable. You cannot automate or dehumanize education. That's why one-on-one mentorship is at the very core of our philosophy today.
Another thing that we’ve learned more recently is that it’s not just skills that get our students jobs. Students sign up for these Career Tracks because they want to advance their careers, and we have to support them in that process. We are a partner not only in your learning journey but also in their job search process.
What's your advice for students who are embarking on the UX Career Track?
We understand that changing careers is hard. We've seen it in other Career Tracks – students go through the ups and downs, imposter syndrome and all of that. But don't get discouraged!
If you are committed and ready to put in the work, it will be very rewarding. These six months of hard work will be worth it when you get the career that you aspired to have. We look forward to supporting you through the journey.