What should we do about UX bootcamps?
Boy, you’re going to carry that weight.
Boy, you’re going to carry that weight.
30 January 2023
Short crash-course bootcamps have drawn the ire of many in the research community. But is there a better way?
Let’s explore a pragmatic perspective on bootcamps:
Bootcamps are filling a gap in training requirements for UXRs. Until we have more robust and clear requirements for what “makes” a UXR, bootcamps have their place.
Did you gasp in shock or blink in surprise? I can believe it because what I hear more often is: 
“Bootcamps are destroying our profession!” 
For the past few months, I’ve read some version of that statement nearly every day on LinkedIn.
(Note: Most UX bootcamps are primarily design-focused and only contain basic research training. There are research-focused bootcamps as well, and although the vitriol I’ve read covers both types of bootcamps, I’m focusing on boot camps attracting UX researchers.)
Let’s look at this topic from a couple of different perspectives because the negative rhetoric goes further than critiquing the existence of boot camps themselves. It seems to take the following progression: Bootcamps are harmful to the profession, AND the people who attend bootcamps are unqualified to work as UX researchers. Let’s discuss each of these in turn. 
1. Bootcamps are harmful to the profession of UX research
The arguments are: The content of bootcamps does not address realistic scenarios to train researchers. The material is mainly theoretical and divorced from real-world scenarios that researchers would encounter in an in-house role. Plus: the bootcamps are marketing unrealistic expectations of graduates’ employability in the field.
2. The people who attend bootcamps are unqualified (and therefore harmful to the profession)
For some, a bootcamp on a resume is actually a detriment to their employability: Although this person is new to UX research, their naivete in choosing to invest in a bootcamp means they are also unfit for the profession.
Let’s take a pragmatic view of this topic and unpack the criticism. 
Bootcamps are harming the profession, yet…employers aren’t asking for bootcamp experience
Bootcamps are only harmful if people are hiring UX research bootcampers, right? People who hire UX researchers are often not familiar with the field as they are not researchers themselves. They might assume a bootcamp-prepared researcher is ready to hit the ground running.
Or, the harm is multi-generational: bootcamps create professionals who think bootcamps prepared them for the workplace; those people get promoted and are now hiring new bootcamp graduates to staff their teams. 
Is this really a widespread problem? The answer is, tentatively, no.
Lawton Pybus’s excellent newsletter, The ¼” Hole, published a newsletter last fall on What employers want from UXR candidates, where he dives into what’s explicitly stated in job descriptions and what isn’t. He tracked the UX researcher job market since July 2021, using search terms and filters, and analyzed 22,425 job descriptions.
What did he find? Most roles don’t require advanced degrees, and educational requirements have been trending downward since he first started his observations in July 2021.
Portfolio requirements are also down in the past one and a half years, with 22.5 percent of jobs requiring them. 
Knowledge of tech tools is often a requirement—he found the most commonly mentioned in UX researcher job descriptions were Figma, UserTesting, Qualtrics, UserZoom, and Miro.
What did he not find? A plethora of bootcamp requirements. 
I asked Lawton to comment on the presence of bootcamps in his data. His reply:
“Bootcamps didn’t show up reliably from month to month in my data, but I had a note somewhere to revisit this since I wonder if I’m just using the wrong keywords. For example, ‘bootcamp’ and ‘boot camp’ show few or no results, but ‘certification’ shows a few more (although that can appear for multiple reasons). My suspicion is employers don’t care about bootcamps, per se. They’re looking for experience with UX research methods on realistic projects, and bootcamps can be a path to that.”
As we all like to say, more research is needed! But we can say that a “bootcamp” is certainly not taking over other requirements deemed important to succeed in UX research.
What it’s like from the outside
Not that long ago, I was on the outside. I’m one of those career pivoters, coming into UXR after a long academic career. I had a LinkedIn confession a couple of months ago: When I was trying to land my first UX research job, I did a bootcamp.
I did a bootcamp because it seemed that recruiters and hiring managers could only see my PhD and 15 years of academic research experience as a liability. I could not find any formal educational path to “become” a UX researcher.
I did a bootcamp because no one would hire me without “experience.” And guess what? The person who hired me for my first UX research job said that the credential on my resume showed I was serious about the career pivot.
I shared this story in defense of my own insecurity. I tried many avenues to get into the world of UX research, one of which was participating in a bootcamp. Research bootcamps were practically non-existent back then. The one I chose was in UX Design, and it did give me an idea of the UX design process and, most importantly, how I would collaborate with others once I was in an in-house role.
Bootcamps undermine the hard work UXR professionals have done
Here’s the elephant in the room: at the end of the day, bootcamps undermine the hard work done by UXR professionals. People spent years building their careers, and now someone is telling aspiring UX researchers that it takes just a couple of months to be job ready. 
It took me a while to realize this. My past career was in academia, where the lines of qualification are very clearly drawn. To be an Assistant Professor, you have to have a PhD. There is no PhD bootcamp. 
The future of UX research education
Bootcamp hater or not, we all have to agree: Bootcamps are filling a gap in the profession.
And there’s a lot to choose from: I did a google search for “UX research bootcamp” (in quotes). My search returned 969 results. 
I also googled “UX research training” (8,070 results) and “UX research degree” (2,000 results). So, there are some options out there.
(quick question: If you were looking to enter a new profession and were still clueless about the lingo or culture of that profession, what would you google? How would you start your quest to get in?)
We will have this discussion until there are widespread UX research degrees and the industry agrees that such a degree prepares one to dive into professional life.
Or maybe it won’t be a university degree. Who, then, is offering the education? Is it a university, a private company, or a consultant? Does this matter to the legitimacy we grant the training? 
Bootcamps have their place. Let’s work together to find it
I’ll end with an example from my own career:
From 2004 to 2008, while doing my PhD research, I taught a bootcamp. A crash course, really. It was called “Crash Course—Introduction to Research Methodology.” The course was created because the university I taught at noticed that many of their master’s degree applicants had strong academic backgrounds save for one important thing: Their previous education hadn’t afforded them rigorous research design training.
Because the master’s degrees culminated in researching and writing a master’s thesis, students needed to have a basis for understanding how empirical research was conducted. Our three-week “bootcamp” course taught them:
  • To learn how to design research projects
  • To become acquainted with different methods of data collection, processing, and analysis
  • To be able to understand and critically assess the value, reliability, and meaning of published research
For three summer weeks before the academic year began, we welcomed a roomful of master’s students and attempted to get them up to speed so they could successfully complete their programs.
The course came into existence because the institution granting the degree realized there was a gap between their requirements and the skill set of the students they wanted to admit. 
And the class worked: Students were thrilled with what they learned. We’d hear year-round from former students about how our instruction helped them understand academic articles, join classroom discussions, and, most importantly, conduct empirical research for their master’s degrees.
Until a profession has a clear-cut path to legitimate training, these shades of gray will always exist. 

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