NB: I was provided with access to this course so that I could review it but I’m under no obligation to say anything nice about it! The below is my honest thoughts.

2018 has now well and truly begun, and like me, you might’ve started to think about your career development goals for the coming year. One of my goals for 2018 was to understand which complementary skills I should learn more about that can enhance my core design toolkit.

CareerFoundry, a leading online course provider for UX, has recently launched a set of courses aimed at upskilling complementary skills for UX designers, rather than focusing specifically on teaching core UX skills. I was very excited about this as it can be really difficult to find learning materials that are written for designers who want to get a working knowledge on a subject but don’t necessarily want to become completely proficient.

Frontend development for designers is one of the first of these courses that CF has launched, for good reason. An understanding and working knowledge of frontend development is incredibly important for a designer to have, but is often only something that we pick up on the job or by reading things specifically targeted towards people learning to become frontend developers.

So after spending a few weeks test-driving the content and exercises, in this post I’ll be reviewing the course so that if you’re looking to upskill your frontend development knowledge in 2018, you’ll know if this course might be helpful for you! Lets dive in.

Initial expectations

The course description on the CareerFoundry website states:

This 8-week, part-time course covers the most important frontend development skills in a no-nonsense, streamlined approach. By the end of the course, you’ll have built your own fully tested and personalized website to host your design portfolio, and you’ll be able to effectively communicate the technical requirements of design.

Based on this, I was expecting that through this course, I’d be able to:

  • Learn the theory of key frontend development concepts
  • Put the theory to use in a set of practical exercises which will help you incrementally build and test a simple portfolio website
  • Apply this knowledge to realistic scenarios where you as a designer would need to understand and communicate technical requirements to a developer

That sounded very comprehensive and I liked the mix of theory and practise that was promised.

Course structure

The course is split into four different areas:

  • HTML and the web
  • CSS foundations
  • Javascript foundations
  • Testing and debugging

Career Foundry Frontend course overviewEach area includes a number of lessons, and each lesson is comprised of different things to read and digest, with a task at the end of each lesson. One thing I particularly liked is that you are able to review the entirety of the course content at once, rather than each section only unlocking once you’ve completed each task. This flexibility allows for a variety of learning styles.

Tasks

The tasks vary in expected length, with the recommended timeframe for completion ranging from 3-5 hours. Each task is also accompanied by a guide to what success looks like for completing it. This handy guide, called the Rubric, is developed based on the Growth Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck, and really helps you understand what you need to include to get your completed task approved by your mentor. This means that expectations between mentors and mentees will be completely aligned for each task, and because you only have limited direct Skype time with your mentor, anything that eases this communication is really useful.

Another helpful touch is that you are able to look at previously approved, anonymised submissions from other students to see real-life examples of how other people have approached it. I think this works really well to help inspire and guide your own efforts, as well as giving mentors something to point towards to their mentees as examples.

Timings

The recommended time for the course is 15 hours a week over 8 weeks. There are 14 lessons, so if you want to go at a steady pace with a little leeway, you need to be consistently completing 2 lessons a week – meaning 7.5 hours for each lesson. Going by the recommended time-frames from CareerFoundry (1-2 hours for reading and 3-5 hours for the task), this is more than enough time for you to complete each lesson.

CareerFoundry example taskHowever, I’d be wary of relying on the estimated timings provided by CF too much. For example, one of the Javascript lessons, one of the most technical and complex, has an estimated reading time of 50 minutes and task time of 3 hours. But for me to fully complete, it took me closer to 7 hours.

If I could start again, I’d rely less on the estimating my time commitment using the provided CareerFoundry time estimates per lesson, and I’d instead aim to achieve two 7.5 hour lessons a week so that I’d be on track with my 15 hours a week and manage to keep up with somewhat relentless course pace! Carving out more time rather than an optimistic shorter amount of time will ensure you’re less likely to fall behind.

But, the real question is more about what time commitment is achievable for you. If you start to fall behind on the pace of completing 2 lessons a week, the time starts to mount up very quickly to a potentially unmanageable situation, especially if you’re working full-time whilst also doing this course. Luckily, CF say that they can be flexible if you need an extension, but it’s important to be aware of what you can conceivably commit to for your own goals.

A final thought on time commitment. Particularly for this course, I feel like the content necessitates uninterrupted time of concentration. For example, I found it difficult to learn the lesson content on a weekday evening and then try to start the lesson task on the weekend, because I needed to have the knowledge fresh in my brain. So, I had to spend more time going back and reviewing the content again before starting. Similarly, stopping the task midway on a Sunday and trying to pick it up again on a weekday evening was a lot harder than when I could polish off an entire task in one weekend sitting.

I think this will depend on individual learning styles, but again, I’d encourage you to think about whether you’d be comfortable with something more stop/start or whether you’d need dedicated uninterrupted time, and then think about when you’d realistically be able to commit to working on the course.

Clarity of content

The estimated read time for each lesson ranges from 40 mins to an hour, but could easily take longer depending on how many notes you’re taking and how slowly you digest information. There is a lot of information in each lesson, particularly when the lessons move into more technical and unfamiliar territory.

The course relies solely on words and images to convey information. There is no shortage of screenshots and code examples to help you understand concepts in a step by step way, which I think is crucial when you’re learning about complex concepts like how to create a CSS column layout, for example. But I did find myself wishing at certain points for some video content to break it up a little (although on the plus side, words and images don’t necessitate any playing, pausing, rewinding on your behalf!)

The course is also formatted well to aid your readability as much as possible, which is something that other learning materials can fall down on. It is so much easier to read and digest information when bullet points have been employed liberally, and important things are emphasised in bold, for example.

CF also sprinkles ‘Tips’ throughout each lesson – these are specially picked nuggets of information that they’d like you to really pay attention to and are styled differently from the rest of the text. I appreciated having these called out.

CareerFoundry tip exampleExtra resources

Each lesson has a lot of links to other websites where you can read up on extra information.

This is really useful because you know that the course author has picked these resources on purpose and they must be of the right quality. It can often be difficult to google for advice because sometimes you’re not sure of the calibre of the content you get back. But I trusted that the links provided would be helpful.

There is also a Slack community that you can join as a student to connect with other people taking the course and share questions and help with each other (but I did not join this community as part of this review).

Mentorship

Paying for the course gives you access to a mentor, whose role is to help you get through the course successfully. They’ll review your tasks to make sure you’re on the right track and be available for 3 hour-long Skype calls as well as unlimited messages. I didn’t have access to a mentor whilst I was reviewing this course but you can read more about their mentors here.

What I will say is that I think having access to an expert mentor is a real differentiator of CareerFoundry. Whilst the course gives you tons of detailed information, access to other resources on the web, and ability to review past approved student work, sometimes self-learning just isn’t enough.

A tip from me would be to make sure you make the most of the mentor, rather than just struggling through on your own if you’re stuck. Remember, it’s what you’re paying for!

So, does the course meet its stated aims?

Let’s review that course description again:

This 8-week, part-time course covers the most important frontend development skills in a no-nonsense, streamlined approach. By the end of the course, you’ll have built your own fully tested and personalized website to host your design portfolio, and you’ll be able to effectively communicate the technical requirements of design.

This course certainly covers the most important frontend skills and you will definitely come away with a good understanding of HTML, CSS and Javascript basic principles. Not only will you get to learn about them theoretically but also by ‘doing’ – as the lessons progress, you build up your own portfolio website so that all that theory is transferred to practical knowledge. The course absolutely delivers on those fronts.

One thing that I wish there was more of in the course was more specialised sections in the course covering the part of the course description which says “You’ll be able to effectively communicate the technical requirements of design”.

I’d like even more information and detail from the course specifically talking to how UX designers should communicate with developers, for example:

  • Working through marking up an example design
  • Some information about latest designer/developer collaboration software like Zeplin
  • Considerations of working in an agile environment with developers and testers

NB. After reading this review, CareerFoundry have said:

Design hand-off is covered in the UX Immersion course and we are currently working on incorporating more technical elements of the hand-off – we’re very reactive to feedback and add further content when deemed useful and appropriate for our students.

Value for money

CareerFoundry expects that for this 8 week course, you’ll be able to dedicate 15 hours a week to the course, equalling 120 hours of dedicated time. For that, plus access to your own mentor with 3 skype calls over 8 weeks, the course costs $1500. This is not cheap but is certainly a personal choice as to whether you feel its a worthwhile investment for your career. It might also be something that an employer would be willing to cover for you as part of your training and development.

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed this course. I found that the breadth and depth of content was perfect for its intended audience – UX designers who want to up their working knowledge about frontend development. With this course, you know you’ll get resources and mentor expertise that you can trust and rely on, all in one place. I’d recommend it for anyone who has the self-discipline and passion to stick at a fairly rigorous self-directed pace. Sounds like you? Find out more here.

Author

Design lead, watermelon addict, Leuchtterm notebook obsessive. I just enjoy designing great experiences for people that just work, writing about my craft and connecting with designers everywhere. Find me on Instagram, Twitter and Google+.

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