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Can a "Bootcamp" Really Help You Change Careers?

Scott Etkin '14
Scott Etkin '14

Changing careers can be overwhelming for anyone, but I suspect it’s especially so for liberal arts students. We choose to go to a school like Hamilton, in part, to explore different areas of interest. Naturally, this instinct to follow our curiosity would continue in our professional lives.

After graduating from Hamilton, my first job was at Finsbury Glover Hering, a public relations agency that specializes in crisis communications. There were great things about it––including opportunities to work in London and Tokyo––but I quickly realized it wasn’t the best fit for me long term. Despite the recurring thoughts to explore different types of jobs, I stayed there for more than six years. In fact, having so many divergent interests was probably the main reason I stayed. I was stuck in a never-ending loop of hypotheticals: Should I try to find a job in another area I’m passionate about, like environmental sustainability? What about healthcare? Or transportation? Or sports?

What ultimately helped me get unstuck and find a new career path was a technology “bootcamp.” During the pandemic, I decided to quit my job and do a full-time, three-month course in User Experience Design (UX) through General Assembly. UX appealed to me because it’s creative––designing websites and apps that are easy to use––and combines several fields, such as research, psychology, visual design, and communications into one discipline. 

While I was excited about UX, I didn’t take this decision lightly. I’m a risk-averse person, but the streamlined format of General Assembly’s program helped ease some of my concerns. Rather than committing years to a traditional graduate school program, General Assembly’s condensed schedule required significantly less time and money. The frequency with which they run bootcamps also meant I had a small gap between ending my job and starting the program. 

Beyond the practicality of bootcamp, another benefit was the focus on hands-on skills. Each day was structured so we learned a new concept in the morning and then applied it during a workshop in the afternoon. The course also arranges a project with a real-life client. I was part of a small team that worked with the City of Boston’s Economic Development division to redesign their website. Hearing about their challenges and constraints gave me a better sense of what it would be like to actually work in the field. The solution we proposed also gave me some material to incorporate into my portfolio.

The biggest risk, and biggest source of concern to me, comes when the program ends and the job search begins. There’s no way to become an expert in anything in three months, and I worried this would be obvious to potential employers. Fortunately, fields like UX are growing and there’s a need for candidates who don't necessarily know it all already, but have the mindset to continue to learn on the job. The bootcamp gives you a solid foundation, but much of the learning happens on your own. Similarly, during the job search, I found it useful to supplement the career resources provided by the bootcamp with reaching out to Hamilton’s network. Speaking with alumni who work in UX or had gone through a bootcamp themselves helped get me through the uncertainty of changing careers. Everyone I spoke with was responsive and supportive. Some even took the time out to review the shaky early versions of my portfolio. 

So while bootcamps aren’t for everyone––and I cringe when they use the names of big tech companies in their marketing materials to attract students––I’m grateful they exist for people like me who are looking for a practical way to move their career in a new direction. Now, I’m again working at a new agency, Avanade, where the creativity and collaboration of UX is a better fit for my personality and interests.

When I graduated from Hamilton, bootcamps were not on my radar at all. But it turns out they can be a strong complement to a liberal arts education. Maybe they can jumpstart you towards a new career too.

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