A Students’ First Week of UX Design Bootcamp: Tara Mah

What brought you to BCA’s UX Design Bootcamp?

For the last year, I began to clearly feel that I did not want to get a graduate degree in my field. It felt discouraging, because I’ve invested years in building a career in mental health; I have a degree in psychology, and I’ve done a variety of work, including assisting with cognitive research on pigeons, creating informational content for a nonprofit, and connecting folks in crisis with resources. Most recently, I worked at a residential treatment center for adolescents experiencing a mental health crisis. If there’s anything in my career I feel I have a firm grip on, it’s empathy, listening, and problem-solving. And I love using these skills, but I had been wondering where they could intersect with other sectors besides social work and direct services.

In the interest of casting a wide net, I entertained doing a u-turn and learning skills that are completely new to me, and I actually came across BCA’s programming bootcamp. But I suppose I couldn’t completely leave behind human services, because when I learned about UX Design, I felt the subject struck a perfect balance; I was comfortable in its human focus- especially the emphasis on empathy- but it also offered skills in design, product development, and business, interests of mine that have so far been untapped. It poked at concepts I had always been intrigued by, such as how to design information or products for real people, rather than an image of whom we expect others to be. And ultimately I felt excited to blend my skills in empathy with something more creative and tangible. So I decided to fully commit to this new track, and enroll in the bootcamp. It’s been an intense and risky transition but I’m really glad I made this decision.

What is one thing you wish you knew before your first week of bootcamp?

I think my only wish so far is that I had had more time to carve out for pre-coursework prior the start of the class. I kept working full-time for most of the month before, I would have liked to churn a bit more through some of the concepts.

What is one thing you’ve learned so far or a piece of advice you will carry with you throughout your bootcamp experience?

I’m not sure if this is exactly what you mean, but there is a piece of advice I carry with me throughout most of my life experiences. I have a friend/mentor who is a children’s book illustrator. She’s highly skilled across many disciplines; not only is she a professional artist (and watercolor artist at that, a difficult medium), but she plays jazz guitar, classical piano, she figure skates, dives, and she has a beautiful garden. While helping her in her garden one day, I flippantly mentioned, “Jackie, you’re good at everything. How.” She said something like, “it’s simple. You have to willing to suck at something. Everybody sucks when they’re learning. But if you’re okay with that, then you can still enjoy learning, and practice enough until you slowly get better.” It has definitely stayed with me, this concept that we sometimes find motivation from being “good” at things, and struggle to accept the vulnerability that comes with learning something new. But overcoming that initial shyness helps us continue working at things until we get results.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

To a similar point as above, it has been vulnerable to leave a field where I feel highly skilled and knowledgeable, and enter territory that’s widely unknown. I feel a bit like a hermit crab without a shell. But on the same metaphor, I’m reminding myself that I was looking for something to grow into, and as I mentioned above, it’s okay to not be great in the beginning. I like to think it’s valuable for me to venture into spaces that are brand new, and see what I can learn from it. Rick has also been extremely encouraging of all of us without design backgrounds, reminding us of how we will use our past experiences as a foundation. I’m definitely grateful I chose a program where my circumstances are similar to those around me, and are acknowledged, accepted, and built upon.

What has been your greatest success so far? We encourage a little humble bragging…

This one is tough! This early on, I’d say my biggest success is abstract- that I feel simultaneously confident, excited, and open. This field seems like a great fit. I feel confident in my foundation of empathy and research, excited to learn design concepts, and open to the new challenges and opportunities.

What are you most looking forward to when it comes to your bootcamp experience?

I look forward to many things, but especially to learning more about local VT agencies and the people they serve. I’ve gotten to view many aspects of our community through mental health, and am excited to see through a new lens of agencies, product, and design.

If you want to learn more about our UX Design Bootcamp, check out our course offerings here or schedule a time to talk with our admissions team!