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