General Assembly LA

Hello everyone!
I was hoping someone may have some helpful input on my situation. I don’t know anyone in the UX field personally so I’m here hoping to get some advice from people who are.

First of all, a little bit of background about me: I graduated with a BS in psychology about a year and a half ago. I started to become interested in UX about eight or so months ago and I’m not quite sure how to proceed in order to get into the field.

I was recently accepted into a master’s program for Interactive Design and Media at Philadelphia University, which teaches user experience as part of its curriculum. Here is the link to that program:

After applying to this program I was turned onto a place called General Assembly in Los Angeles. They offer an immersive 12 week course in user experience design.

I have talked to a few people who have heard good things about GA’s program and say that it is beneficial because they are so well-connected within the LA area that I may have some luck networking my way to a job once I finish the program. My main concern, of course, is being able to get a job after I finish whichever course I choose. Both the master’s program and General Assembly’s program have gotten good reviews and seem like quality programs. However, though the quality of General Assembly has not been disputed, I still can’t find much information on how many people actually get jobs upon completion of this program.

Of course both programs have their pros and cons (GA costs significantly less BUT is not a master’s program. I have heard, however, that the degree does not matter in this field so much as the portfolio. Is this true? I am convinced that both programs will lead me to create a great portfolio.)

I am at the point where I need to decide between these two options (or figure out another one). What are your thoughts on both of these options? [B]If you were a hiring manager at a tech company, would you hire a person whose only formal experience with UX is General Assembly’s immersive program?[/B]

I appreciate any and all input. Thanks for your time and help! :slight_smile:


This is tricky - I can’t tell you what you should do. I can only tell you what I would do in your situation based on the experiences I’ve had. Here’s my experience - feel free to ignore me:

I finished a Bachelor of Industrial Design in 2011 from the University of Canberra, Australia. Around that time, my university started to offer a Masters in Industrial Design. There was a lot of pressure from the lecturers to enroll they even tried to convince us that “Master’s is the new Bachelor”. I did not agree. At least four people from my class of thirteen people remained at university to complete this course.

That was their choice and I respect that everyone has their own path to follow but while they were studying for their masters I; networked, got a paid internship in a sales and marketing environment, worked in a call centre that was connected to an organization I wanted to work for and 18 months ago I joined that organization through their graduate development program as a designer. Now I work as a UX Designer (still with that organization) doing both detailed design and user research/testing. As for my classmates who completed their master’s degree - one of them is currently a graduate at my organization in the same program I went through last year. That second piece of paper and two extra years of study has landed this person exactly where I was a year ago. It didn’t change a thing.

That is the experience here in Canberra, Australia. Where you are it may be a very different story.

I would be talking to both schools and tracking down their recent graduates through LinkedIn and twitter to see where they’ve ended up and what advice they could offer.Try not to focus on the piece of paper, choose the course that best suits your needs and aspirations.

At the end of the day when you’re sitting in that interview room; experience, a positive attitude and a willingness to try new things is all you need :slight_smile:

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Hey December2012, it’s great to have you on board. Hang fire and I’ll rustle up some experts to add to the great advice from ASHM.

Having a degree in psychology is already an advantage! Getting some more experience should be the next thing on your list.

The current state of UX (from my perspective) still allows people with initiative and the right connections to easily get great jobs. Arguably that will always be somewhat true, but the vibe today is that more opportunities are opening up and there aren’t enough good UXers to fill them. So getting out there to gain experience and find a UX-related job is more possible now than it ever has been.

There is still a bit of me (the bit that likes formal design skills) that hasn’t given up on the value of tertiary education at a Masters level. I have pals that I went through school and university with who stuck with the study while I left to start my own business as a 21 year-old. Five years later, sure I had my own business, but I was also envious of the more matured formal design skills they’d developed and broader ideas and reading they’d been exposed to while I had been distracted by delivering commercial projects. And, now, another 10 years on there probably isn’t a lot of difference between us; I’ve intentionally invested time and money in broadening my industry-specific reading (Matt will vouch for my bookshelf!) and I still have more fun than them by running my own businesses. They’re in well-paid and well-respected positions.

A lot of people go back and do postgrad study but I think it’s harder than if you followed on soon after from your undergrad degree. I doubt I’ll have the time, money or energy to do it anytime soon with all my existing commitments. The other two caveats are; 1) the uni degree needs to be good (UX and interaction design are emerging, and some providers are way out of date), and 2) your own personal gut feel will have a large say in how satisfied you’ll be with either decision.

So, in summary, I’d suggest that there isn’t a lot of difference in the long run, but the openness and hunger for UX at the moment means you can get into the game quicker than usual. It’d be a pity to not take advantage of that.

If I was a hiring manager at a tech company I’d be looking more at the applicant’s personal drive and their role-specific experience.

I’m going to side with ASHM and suggest that, if it was me doing the hiring, I’d take someone with relevant experience over someone who has completed a relevant degree. There’s a period of learning about how to deliver on real commercial projects, within budget, navigating complex organisational politics and difficult clients and ambitious timeframes that you just don’t get from time in academia. It’s not always true, but there are individuals I’ve met who have mostly stayed in academia and developed an idealistic view of how things [I]should[/I] be done that is frighteningly disconnected from the real world. I’m wary of that. But like Luke says, it often comes down to the individual: their cultural fit and how they stack up.

I’ve spoken to staff from GA and students who have graduated from the Sydney UX intensive, and they’ve said good things. I haven’t gone through the course myself, so I don’t know for certain, but it certainly sounds like they’re doing some things right in terms of providing a mix of theory, mentorship, and project opportunities that are for real clients. If you have the cash and the time to devote to it, it could be a good option. In this fast-moving field, the piece of paper doesn’t count for anything. Experience is the trump card, so you should be looking at the quickest way to get that experience under your belt.

Lots of good advice here!
I did a Masters in Human Interface Technology - as a way to move towards UX. I would agree with the above advice from everyone. The trump that I got from completing the masters was the experience that I gained from working with a real business, and from networking. I heard about my current internship through my network, and got the job because of the examples I was able to talk about, and my passion towards UX.

So although it is a great feeling completing a masters, finding something that allows you to build up that portfolio, or get an internship that allows you to be mentored (and build a portfolio from that work), seems to be the best way to start.


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While I certainly agree a Masters is the best way to go; I can tell you that at my company we hired someone as an intern from the GA Immersive program and after her internship she got a full time job offer. The immersive program has you work with a real company (non-profit) for one of your projects and you get some good portfolio pieces out of the program. You have to go out there and sell yourself for sure, and really be passionate. Hope that helps! :slight_smile:

Great thinking, stories and advice!

[B]Full Disclaimer: [/B]I am a former General Assembly UX immersive instructor. Long reply ahead!

[B]From a Hiring Perspective:[/B] I absolutely agree with @Lukcha that an applicant’s personal drive and role-specific experience is first on the list. My current and former colleagues on UX teams have come from all manners of background (e.g. Human Factors Engineering, Psychology, Graphics Design, Fine Arts, Sociology, Computer Science, English, etc) and yet we’re all on the same team, working in the same office along side each other. Sure, there’s some differences in how we look at design problems and what we have expertise in, but we’re all UX practitioners.

That said, when hiring managers interview someone, they’re first looking for a few general things:

  • [B]Motivation and excitement [/B]for the role and the field of UX[I] (e.g. reading books and blogs, going to industry events, networking, working on side projects for fun)[/I]
  • [B]A history of self-starting and learning[/B]
  • [B]Interest in people and a good degree of empathy[/B] + social/emotional intelligence [I](if you’re going to design for people, gotta love and get along with 'em)[/I]
  • [B]Parallel, translatable or related experiences[/B] [I](e.g. worked in market research and tried out A/B or usability testing for a digital campaign, worked as a graphic designer and took time to learn cognitive psychology to understand how to design easier to understand icons, worked as a social science researcher and learn how to use wireframing and prototyping tools to visually communicate ideas)[/I]

As for UX-specific knowledge, it depends on the company and the role. Companies may have large UX teams with specialized roles, or they may have a small team with 1-2 generalists. On that note, there are a lot of different UX roles that span the spectrum and therefore a lot of variation in what skills one may need. So, the practical first step is to determine what skills you currently have, what types of UX roles you’d like to be in, and what skills you’re missing (and how you can get them).

[B]Masters vs. Immersive Program: [/B]In terms of a dedicated 1-2 year Masters program vs. a 10-12 week immersive, it really depends on what you want to get out of the experience. Both will give you a structured learning environment, both will provide access to like-minded people.

Masters programs are great if you love the academic environment, deep dives into topics, and understanding the theory behind the design. However, it does require more time, money and if you’re not doing internships along the way - you’ll have to find a way to bolster your portfolio. Knowledge on how to translate academic learning to practical experience happens in actual practice (internships, co-ops, apprenticeships), and is the common challenge for graduates of Masters programs. However, this is also the common challenge or any beginning UX professional.

The Immersive is good if you want something fast, high-level, practical and want to walk away with a few basic projects in tow (note, portfolio projects alone will not make a UX professional - that requires getting out there, meeting people, working hard and trying new things). The opportunities to leverage the GA name and network are incredible - a lot of great guest speakers, partner organizations, and at least one real-world client project (likely a non-profit, but still very valuable experience). Think of it like a bootcamp or primer to the field. It won’t explain everything in detail (and you’ll have to be very dedicated to learning things on your own), but it’ll give you a good starting place.

[B]Practical Next Steps:[/B] Previous posters are right on the mark. There are things you can do now to help move you in the right direction for you:

  • Agreed with @ASHM - find graduates from both programs, see where they’ve ended up, and ask them to share their experiences during and after the programs
  • Leverage your background and experience - as someone who has a degree in psychology, you understand people and their behavior in a unique light. Find ways to leverage that knowledge and fill in the gaps where you think you need more skills or insights.
  • Network - Go to events, hackathons, professional associations like IxDA or UPA, get to know people in the field
  • Build knowledge and experience - Read books and blogs, try out new techniques and methods for UX in your current role (perhaps even translate your current role gradually into a more UX-focused one), work on side projects and have fun :slight_smile:
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There are a lot of good responses here, so I will try not to repeat the great advice on here.

I know some of the folks at GA LA, and have been to their faciltiies. Overall I would say they are a very friendly and connected bunch, if you can afford to take courses I don’t think it would hurt. Surely you would meet some great people who could help you find work after you graduate from the course.

Otherwise, my advice is to put yourself in the shoes of a Product Director and imagine what you’d look for in the ideal hire. What type of portfolio work would you want to see in someone who you’d hire? If you’re having trouble coming up with a concrete list, ask people on here and listen for feedback. Then take that list and run with it – go out and get the experience you would want to hire for yourself.

Hope this helps. Best of luck and don’t hesitate to ping me if you have any questions.


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