After a career as an educator and an entrepreneur, Nicky Freymond was still looking for something challenging and inspiring to do next. At the self-paced UI/UX design bootcamp at Mento Design Academy, Nicky learned UI/UX design as a complete beginner with no technical or art background! Having found a passion for UX research and writing, Nicky landed a job as a content writer at a sports publication and continues to hone her UX research skills. Nicky shares what it took to balance running her businesses while completing the Mento Design Academy bootcamp, and her tips for others interested in the self-directed program.
What inspired you to launch a career in UI/UX design?
My degree is in secondary education and I loved teaching but I resigned in 2016 when I was ready for something different. My husband and I started three different small businesses in coffee, food, and international tourism, which we currently run on our own and with the help of some managers. After all of that, I still wanted to pursue something else.
I was inspired to pursue UX design by my brother who is a Senior Designer in Denver and also has a diverse background. He understood that this career would utilize many of my strengths in one place and is a skillset that could open a lot of doors for me. After digging in, I realized I wanted to focus on the UX research component, and try to work for something in online education, writing, or curriculum-building.
When looking for a UI/UX design bootcamp, what stood out about Mento Design Academy?
I did a lot of research leading up to enrolling at a bootcamp. My brother went through a really intense, expensive program and I wasn’t sure if that was the route I wanted to take. I wanted to continue working and still be able to commit to a full-time program, but with flexible hours. Mento Design Academy shot to the top of the list in that aspect: I knew I could pace myself on my own schedule and still study it full-time if I wanted to.
I also loved that I would have a mentor and a study buddy. Coming into the field with absolutely no tech or art background, I knew I would need some personal support. The cost, the schedule, the autonomy I would have over my schedule, and the mentor and study buddy were what sold me on Mento Design Academy.
What was the Mento Design Academy application process like for you?
Mento really celebrates people coming from diverse backgrounds and welcomes anyone and everyone into the program. The application process included an initial call about my background, what I hoped to get out of the bootcamp, and then answer any questions I had. When they decided to move forward, they sent me an acceptance offer and held my place.
Did you feel like you had to know basic design principles in order to apply to Mento Design Academy?
No, nothing like that! Having gone through the program, I still trust that anyone could do it with no background in design. Since I was learning everything from scratch, some things took me longer to grasp that might not take as long if you had some experience with them already. My mentor helped me a lot in moments I needed clarity, and they also made adjustments to the curriculum to make it easier for students coming in with no experience.
What was a typical day or week like in the UI/UX design bootcamp?
It varied each day, but most of the modules included reading texts and watching videos. I would work at my own business until about 10 or 11am, then take a lunch break, then work on Mento from noon until dinnertime, seven days a week. I worked for about six hours a day, intermittently.
Once I finished the modules, the program moved into building three projects for a portfolio, which totally changed my schedule to conducting interviews with people, doing field research, and completing these projects. I wanted to do the bootcamp full-time and get through it as quickly as I could, so at that point I stopped working my other jobs and committed to Mento full-time.
What did you actually learn in the UI/UX design bootcamp?
Figma was the main tool we learned at the beginning. We were prompted to choose if we wanted to focus our time on Figma or Sketch. I chose Figma because my brother advised that it's much more commonly used. We shared our projects with our mentors through Confluence/Atlassian, so I learned that as well. We always had assignments to turn in with each module, which was a way to introduce us to a lot of different programs. We used Miro, Jira, and Adobe.
Are you able to apply your new design skills in your own businesses?
Yes! Learning Figma has been so beneficial. I've been able to use that for promotional materials and products I sell to our clients. Figma is so cool and you can use it for so many different things. I used it to make my resume that I'm continuing to hand out. Our businesses are very social media-heavy, so in that sense, I've been able to pull a lot of my design knowledge to make sure our social media looks how I want it to look. I feel like I've developed a different eye than I had when I first started. I think about things that I never thought about before.
Did you have an instructor for this bootcamp?
There weren’t any instructors — everything was online through text and videos. Instead, every student is assigned a mentor who is responsible for four or five students. I had the same mentor throughout the entire program, and we met once a week for a half hour every week.
Overall, did the teaching/mentorship style match your learning style?
I'm very organized and self-disciplined, so for me it worked great! I never had to force myself to get back to work and stay focused — the program was really conducive to me. However, my study buddy and I spoke candidly and she struggled with the schedule and staying motivated. You really need to know yourself and what study environment is best for you and your learning style because you have to structure the program yourself, in a sense. If you need the accountability of checking in at 7am every day, then Mento is not the right option for you.
What kinds of projects did you work on in the bootcamp?
The three main projects that I produced for my portfolio were ones that I came up with on my own. I would check in with my mentor before I started and she'd give me feedback on whether or not she thought it was a good idea. The smaller projects we completed would take an hour or a few hours to complete.
How did Mento Design Academy prepare you for the tech job hunt?
After I turned in my portfolio projects and they were accepted by my mentor, I had a mock interview presentation to my mentor and then an official mock interview with a mentor I hadn’t met before, where they each offered feedback for things I could improve.
There were some career things in the modules before we graduated that encouraged us to organize an Excel sheet with all of the different companies we'd like to work for and their contact info. They also helped us set up a LinkedIn account and emphasized how important it is to make connections. Then for a few months after graduation, you can stay connected through the Slack channel and maintain a network.
Note: Mento Design Academy offers free career coaching for up to six months after graduation!
Which roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating?
I started by doing a lot of volunteer contract work that didn’t care if I lacked experience because it was free and they needed the help. It gave me practice to add to my portfolio. I was still applying for so many jobs that I didn’t feel qualified for because I had to just apply anyway! I focused on edtech jobs, leaning into being a junior designer with experience as a department head in education and being bilingual. I know I’m valuable in a way that someone with just a visual arts degree is not.
Do you have any tips for others on the UX design job hunt right now?
Utilize your expertise in other areas to break into new fields. Get creative in how to apply and draft a cover letter.
You’re now working at Morning Chalk Up as a Content Writer. How did you land this job?
I felt really confident in my research skills so I was looking for a job in User Research, but I had better success once I started veering more toward UX writing. When I made that change, recruiters started contacting me. Morning Chalk Up is an online sports publication that was looking for a journalist. I took a chance and applied, highlighting my background as a UX researcher and writer. I was shocked that they hired me but I’m grateful! It’s an interesting job — not UX, but it's good writing experience.
Even though it's not UX-focused, I would never have been looking for a job, sending out cover letters, and producing a beautiful resume if it hadn't been for Mento. I think my experience at Morning Chalk Up could be great for moving into the UX writing field. Now I'm building this huge portfolio of writing samples that will hopefully lead me to something else down the line.
Was Morning Chalk Up interested in your Mento Design Academy experience?
They weren't interested in my experience with Mento Design at all, but they were interested in my research skills because it was a journalist position which relies on research and interpersonal interviews. Learning how to conduct myself in an interview to ensure people feel comfortable was a huge component of UX research.
What kinds of projects are you working on?
I write articles related to CrossFit, conduct interviews with professional athletes, interface with them at events, and synthesize data by looking for patterns to put into articles and tables.
Are you using what you learned at the UI/UX bootcamp on the job?
If you look for UX, you see the research components everywhere. I'm using so much of the skills that I learned at Mento, like synthesizing qualitative and quantitative data, interfacing with people, making people feel comfortable, not jumping to conclusions, and not asking leading questions.
Even though my current job isn't UX-focused, I'm continuing to tweak and add to my portfolio and continue my own education. I'm constantly reading about UX research. Mento instilled a need to keep up with what’s being used in the field and keep learning.
At this point in your career, was Mento Design Academy worth it for you?
I feel like it's totally worth it. It took me so long to find this job after I applied for so many jobs and I can't even believe I have this job — it’s a popular career choice and the market is competitive.
I feel so prepared by Mento. Some days, I go back and forth between feeling unsure but Mento had a whole module on imposter syndrome and dealing with that insecurity because it's really common in the UX field. It's comforting to know that on days when I'm feeling really insecure about this amazing job I have that there are so many other people that feel exactly the same way.
Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps.
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