Mento Design Academy Alumni Spotlights

By The SwitchUp Team | Updated 11/27/2023

SwitchUp and Mento Design Academy are partnering to provide alumni insights through sharing experience of recent bootcamp graduates in our Alumni Spotlight series. Continue reading to learn what alumni took away from their time at Mento Design Academy. 

Note: The interviews below are individual contributions and have been edited for grammar and clarity. They do not reflect the views of SwitchUp or Mento Design Academy.

Learn more about Mento Design Academy bootcamps and their wide range of program offerings. 

Brooke Jurdak

Current Role: Product Designer

Program Focus: Product Design

Program Format: Self-paced

Program Environment: Online

Graduated: October 2023

What Made You Decide To Pursue a Bootcamp?

I decided to change careers because I wanted more opportunities to grow professionally, to do something intellectually stimulating, and to be in an evolving industry. While researching UX/UI design, I realized that a lot of my interests,such as psychology, business, behavioral science, and visual design, converged with UX design. Not long after discovering this, I quickly began researching bootcamps and never looked back.

What Made You Choose Mento Design Academy?

I almost didn't go with Mento Design Academy. I discovered it at the last minute when I was close to enrolling in a different school. I was a bit unsure whether I should go with a well-established school that's been around for 10-15 years or a fresh, innovative school like Mento. It really came down to comparing the portfolios and talking to alumni. Mento's student case studies left me in awe. It wasn't just the sleek UI designs; it was the way they clearly articulated their design choices and the real-world impact of their work. The level of professionalism in their portfolio was unmatched. It's evident that Mento places a strong emphasis on practical, real-world skills, and that's exactly what I was looking for.

Another unique feature that sets Mento apart is the direct access to the founder of the school, Radu Vucea. The fact that the founder is actively engaged with students on Slack is a testament to the school's commitment to its students. This level of interaction and mentorship is invaluable and ensures that we are supported every step of the way. 

Mento understands that everyone has their own pace of learning. The approach of letting students progress at their own pace resonated with my learning style, making it a perfect fit for me. 

Mento was the most affordable option I saw on the market and had the highest value. If you think you can finish earlier than six months, you can choose a different plan to save money. If you need a little more time after six months, you can pay month-to-month after the six months are over. 

What Was Your Experience Like?

It was great to work on a real-world project. This means you are solving a real-world problem with constraints, encountering real-world scenarios, and receiving feedback from the target audience. The only difference is there's no LLC behind it. Is a project more meaningful simply because it has an LLC? I don't think so. The reason why companies want to see commercial projects is because most novice designers with no experience only have concept projects in their portfolio. Mento Design Academy addresses this gap by giving students the opportunity to work on projects that are just as meaningful as commercial ones. This sets Mento apart as a trailblazer in the world of UX bootcamps. With Mento, I know I'm not just learning theory but gaining practical, hands-on experience that will set me up for success in the UX design field.

Anyone can learn UX at Mento, whether you're coming from a tech background or not. That said, you must be aware of your learning style and pace. The work is there to help push you and grow. Personally, I'm very thorough, so I redid a few assignments by choice to make sure I understood them. 

Mento is a small-knit community, and I think that's one of the advantages. A cohort is around 10 people. I've been in large online groups before where your questions never get addressed due to all the noise. At Mento, you actually get to know each other. Attending the live community meetings is a big reason for that.

The type of students at Mento are ambitious, hard working, and intelligent. Everyone is very down-to-earth, inclusive, and helpful. They're open to sharing tips and tools in the Slack community, which has helped me a lot. Doing 1:1 coffee chats together has also created some friendships.

How Did Mento Design Academy Prepare You for a Career?

Early in the program, Mento provides time management advice as well as an assignment to figure out what industry and type of work (freelance, agency, or large company) you want. You'll also learn how to make early connections with experts in the field.

Throughout the journey, a dedicated mentor will meet with you once a week. Just like in professional meetings, you'll have to have an agenda prepared on what you want to discuss. If, for any reason, you'd like to change mentors, it's possible. Additionally, if you're struggling with something and need extra face time, Mento is flexible and accommodating.

As a Mento student, you'll be using industry-standard software tools. Moreover, Mento is always establishing new partnerships with select companies, granting you free access to valuable resources.

Additionally, writing is something most students don't realize is an important designer skill. At Mento, you'll be asked to write reflections on the work you completed. This not only fosters self-awareness but also enhances your ability to articulate your design choices, which is an effective way of creating compelling case studies.

Our live community sessions offer a platform to present your project research and case studies, where you can receive constructive feedback from both peers and mentors. You'll also have the opportunity to fine-tune your presentation skills, like storytelling, which is an essential element of a designer's toolkit.

I enjoyed the UI and LinkedIn challenges! Participating in these extra activities will accelerate your learning. Sharing your work also means receiving valuable feedback and learning from one another.

The difference between learning by yourself on YouTube and joining the right school is that you'll learn best practices and not solidify bad habits. Instead, at Mento, you'll learn:

  • Prioritization techniques for studying
  • How to define your career path and build your network
  • How to work in Agile sprints
  • How to create a burner project and up to 3 polished projects
  • Interview preparation
  • From your mentor's personal experience

As I begin the early stages of job hunting, I owe a significant part of my progress to Mento Design Academy. The guidance and support I received were instrumental in creating the impressive case study that I now have in my portfolio.

One of the key benefits of Mento is the accessibility to career support and lifetime access to the vibrant Slack community and curriculum. It's a reassuring resource, knowing that I can tap into this network for guidance and opportunities. There are alumni active on Slack to answer questions or provide design feedback. Moreover, your mentor can provide you with a LinkedIn recommendation, enhancing your professional profile and credibility in the industry. The Slack channel regularly posts valuable internship and job opportunities, making the job search process more manageable.

Just like your mentor sessions, you'll have to know your questions and guide career support meetings, which is good practice for working at a company. However, depending on availability, you may get a different person, which offers a variety of insights. I recommend keeping a document of what was last discussed so you can fill in the next person you speak with. So far, I've found the support to be invaluable and something to take advantage of. After a session, I feel energized to take action and know what my next steps are. You get six months of support after graduation. 

Mento Design Academy has undeniably elevated my skills and knowledge in the tech industry. I'm now well-prepared and confident about taking the next step in my career.

What Did You Enjoy About Your Experience at Mento Design Academy?

I enjoyed:

  • The opportunity to recruit and interview mom entrepreneurs for my project! This part took me out of my comfort zone, but getting the chance to know these amazing women and craft a product around that was a rewarding experience. Doing this made me realize I loved UX research the most, which came as a surprise. 
  • Mentorship was a very important factor when choosing a school. I appreciated my mentor's patience and guidance throughout all the ups and downs. 
  • The international community! Attending the live community sessions was an essential way to socialize and feel like we were all in this together. Participating in a UI challenge, my team and I won first place, and each received a design book of our choice!

Are You Satisfied With Your Bootcamp Experience?

100%. I feel lucky to have found this school and would do it again if I had to. 

Would You Recommend Mento Design Academy to Others?

Yes, Mento Design Academy is one of the best ways to stand out from the cookie-cutter mold. The content is broken down step by step in a comprehensive and manageable way. I also feel like everyone's heart is in the right place. It's an inclusive and encouraging environment. The tech industry is constantly evolving so learning from designers who are currently in the field is essential. Mentors are patient and knowledgeable. 

What Advice Do You Have for Others Who Are Considering a Bootcamp?

  1. Time management will become very important. Everyone's learning pace is different ,so having a true sense of how long things take you matters.
  2. Have a growth mindset, not a fixed one. Changing careers or simply beginning your first means you'll be taken out of your comfort zone. You'll need to be okay with adapting to change. 
  3. Create yearly, monthly, and weekly goals and discuss them with your mentor.
  4. Stay consistent long term, no matter the setbacks ,and you'll see progress.
  5. Be active within the community. Show up to the live sessions (if possible) and participate in challenges.

Annie Kuo

Current Role: UX Designer

Program Focus: Product Design

Program Format: Self-paced

Program Environment: Online

Graduated: September 2023

What Made You Decide To Pursue a Bootcamp?

My name is Annie, and I'm from Taiwan. I majored in English and have worked in various roles in different fields over the past few years. When it came to a career change, I initially wasn't familiar with the term 'bootcamp' because it's not a common educational system in Taiwan. However, as I became aware of how prevalent it is in other countries, I couldn't stop wondering how it actually works. 

I hesitated for a long time when comparing the cost of pursuing a Master's degree with the option of joining a bootcamp. It wasn't solely about affordability; I also wanted to finance my career transition without relying on financial assistance from my family. It was during this contemplation that I learned about Mento Design Academy (Mento).

What Made You Choose Mento Design Academy?

Last year, I joined a community called 'Taiwan UI/UX Designers' on Facebook, and I met an alumna from Mento. After a conversation with her, I was impressed and encouraged by how she managed the course, as well as the self-paced learning program, with a more comprehensive curriculum at Mento. Moreover, from the way she described Mento, I could tell that Mento genuinely cares about each student, and they are proactive in providing practical experience. I realized it was something that suited my needs at the time. 

What Was Your Experience Like?

My goal for the program was to have a personalized portfolio ready and to land a job after graduating. 

First, I thoroughly enjoyed the robust curriculum and the practical assignments at Mento. 

Enjoying it doesn't mean it was easy; instead, each assignment was quite challenging. However, it was incredibly rewarding to gain experience through these practical exercises. I appreciated how Mento's assignments challenged our thinking. 

Second, the Mento community is extremely caring. 

Many bootcamps are offered remotely or with hybrid options, which can often lead to isolation if designers don't collaborate and communicate. Since Mento was online, studying all by myself could be very lonely at times. As someone who enjoys interacting, I am grateful that Mento assigned me study buddies at the beginning. We had the opportunity to share our updates during our weekly calls. The more weeks we spent together, the stronger connections we built. (Thank you so much, Elisha, Hang, and Brooke!)

On the other hand, at Mento, we have design matches for coffee chats, UI challenges, biweekly student community calls, a student-lounge channel on Slack, workshops, and more. Sometimes, the student community call can include anyone who would like to share their work and receive invaluable feedback from others. Sometimes a workshop is organized for specific topics by our amazing student success managers. (Thank you so much, Raluca and Summer!) Because the community is international, I am very grateful that Mento was considerate enough to account for time zones. We have options for students who live in European/Asian countries and students who live in the US. An hour can fly by when we're engaging and sharing ideas. During the hour, I honestly don't feel alone because someone might share their feelings, and I can't agree with them more. While the community may not be large, I appreciate and love the culture and the sense of connection we share at Mento. (Thank you to everyone I've met along the journey! You all are amazing!) 

Thirdly, the mentorship at Mento was undoubtedly the highlight of my time here. 

I had the privilege of learning from my mentor, who also happens to be the founder of Mento. To be honest, I was nervous when I first met him, but as our course progressed, our conversations became more natural. He possesses an exceptional depth of knowledge and expertise in product design. During our mentor calls, he generously shared his knowledge and experience, guiding me in the right direction. I'm genuinely grateful for the fact that he didn't just provide answers; he encouraged critical thinking, fostered creativity, and helped me develop the most important mindset in product design. Throughout our mentorship, he served as a constant source of inspiration by providing examples and consistently demonstrating professionalism. Our time together was enjoyable because he is humorous and down-to-earth. Consequently, time often flew by too quickly, as I ensured I understood everything he mentioned. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to learn and cultivate the right mindset from him. (Thank you so much, Radu!) 

Overall, Mento is undoubtedly the best investment I've ever made. 

During my time in Mento, I've learned not only hard skills but also soft skills from the entire experience. Deciding to become a UX designer in the fast-paced tech field is surely not easy, and it requires a lot of effort, but I'm so glad I chose Mento as the beginning of my new chapter. 

How Did Mento Design Academy Prepare You for a Career?

Before graduating from Mento, we go through a mock interview, which includes a portfolio walkthrough and a design exercise. These experiences were incredibly valuable as they provided a clear picture of what a real interview might entail. 

Additionally, we receive six months of career support, which includes career coaching services to address any concerns we might have. This opportunity allows us to be well-prepared to receive insightful feedback from our incredible and professional mentors. 

What sets Mento apart from many UX bootcamps nowadays is its emphasis on uniqueness in the competitive market. Mento encourages us to create portfolio projects that we are passionate about, enabling them to effectively communicate our abilities to potential employers or HR representatives.

To me, instead of relying solely on the program for my career, I believe it's a personal responsibility to actively pursue any opportunities I desire. Having a career coach is certainly beneficial, but taking proactive steps to stand out is the key. 

What Did You Enjoy About Your Experience at Mento Design Academy?

What truly made my experience at Mento amazing was the culture. I appreciate how it provides resources/assistance in various ways to support us and values each student's work. 

At Mento, sharing work is not just encouraged; it's essential. It's also a fantastic opportunity to engage with other talented designers. I remember what my mentor said: "There is no right or wrong answer in design." I believe the beauty of my experience at Mento lies in our ability to share our work at Mento and receive insightful feedback. Thanks to my mentor, I've come to realize that there is no one-size-fits-all formula in design. This means we have the chance to express our ideas in any creative pattern in order to stand out. 

Would You Recommend Mento Design Academy to Others?

Absolutely, I highly recommend Mento to anyone seeking a UX bootcamp. It has truly changed my perspective on design in life. The flexible curriculum, combined with practical materials, makes it feel like a real-world experience. At times, I became so immersed in the material that I forgot I was in a bootcamp! 

What Advice Do You Have for Others Who Are Considering a Bootcamp?

I was initially hesitant about choosing between a bootcamp and pursuing a master's degree. Making a career change can be intimidating at any point in one's life. However, I would say that Mento is no less challenging than a master's diploma. In fact, I've learned a wealth of knowledge both within and beyond the curriculum during my time at Mento.

Patrick Fisher

Current Role: Web Developer/Designer

Program Focus: Digital Product Design

Program Format: Self-paced

Program Environment: Online

Graduated: October 2023

What Made You Decide To Pursue a Bootcamp?

I've been working as a graphic designer for the past 12+ years. I love it, but I don't want to just make pretty things, like mostly preferential designs with no foundational elements for their decisions or solutions. Instead, I want to ask questions and conduct research so that I can put users first and effectively solve problems. 

I decided to pursue UX/UI to level up my skills as a designer so that I could remain relevant and competitive with my peers. It would have been a natural progression for me to explore motion design or 3D modeling, and both sound cool, but I was interested in studying something that involved more process and meaning. It's all about the “U” in UX. Keeping the user in mind throughout the design process makes the result much more meaningful and effective.

What Made You Choose Mento Design Academy?

There are a ton of ways to study Product Design. There isn't a one-size-fits-all educational process. I did a ton of research and landed on Mento for four main reasons: 

  1. Self-paced curriculum
  2. One-on-one mentorship
  3. Personalized portfolio 
  4. International approach

1. Self-paced curriculum
This was mandatory for me. I continued to work full-time during the program. It also allowed me to spend more time on the hard modules and speed through the modules that I found less challenging. 

2. One-on-one mentorship
Mento provides weekly calls with an industry expert. They're there to help guide you and keep you on track. I had an awesome mentor who encouraged me and pushed me to excel. Mentorship is often what separates a bootcamp from the do-it-yourself method. I believe having a dedicated mentor to help you stay on track is worth the cost. 

3. Personalized portfolio
This might be the most unique feature of Mento. Unlike other bootcamps, you get to choose your area of interest. This makes the entire process more enjoyable, and in the end, you have portfolio projects that directly reflect the industry that you're passionate about.

4. International approach
Mento's community is dynamic and diverse. It allowed me to stretch my creativity and expand my worldview. 

What Was Your Experience Like?

My goal for the program was to learn UX/UI. I understood that the result of a UX/UI project was usually a digital product (app, website, etc), but I didn't know where to begin or how to conduct the process along the way. Even though I was a graphic designer, I wasn't familiar with the tools and technology such as Figma, Miro, Confluence, Lookback, Overflow, Dovetail, etc.

Mento's curriculum is great! It met my academic goals and gave me the confidence I needed to take on UX projects from concept to completion. Mento allows you to choose your portfolio projects. They help guide you in the process, which ensures that the projects are practical and fit your area of interest. 

Some of the modules were more challenging than others. Having a graphic design background helped me with the UI modules. The assignments weren't easy, but if you put in the time and follow the instructions, you can do it! 

The program is online and self-paced, so there aren't instructors, but the curriculum is great! It's very detailed and thorough. And if I ran into any issues or questions, I just asked the Mento Slack community, which is always eager to help. The self-paced approach allowed me to move at my desired speed. If I needed help, the Slack community was always there. I never felt lost or unheard.

My classmates were located all around the world. They were always super nice and encouraging. I was never nervous to ask questions because it was a safe learning environment. I really love the Mento community. They are super friendly and helpful. I had a great experience and learned a lot. I now feel confident to take on UX projects from concept to completion. 

How Did Mento Design Academy Prepare You for a Career?

Mento provides Career Coaching, but I haven't taken advantage of it because I'm happily employed. I'm currently a Web Developer/Designer. I'm using my new knowledge and skills to better align user goals with the information architecture and navigation.

I'm able to network with alumni, as many are still connected and active in the Slack community. I feel that the gained knowledge and mentorship made Mento worth the cost. 

What Did You Enjoy About Your Experience at Mento Design Academy?

I greatly enjoyed the one-on-one mentorship, as well as the diverse community of experts and classmates. The international approach was great and allowed me to make friends all over the world. I also enjoyed the challenge. The bootcamp isn't easy, but if you put in the time and effort, it's a lot of fun! 

Would You Recommend Mento Design Academy to Others?

Yes, I would highly recommend Mento to anyone looking to level up their skills and learn UX/UI. 

What Advice Do You Have for Others Who Are Considering a Bootcamp?

There are a lot of choices, and they're not all created equal. I'd encourage you to schedule a few calls with the different bootcamp advisors. Ask all the questions so that you have adequate expectations and can compare the differences. In the end, choose the bootcamp that best fits your goals.

It's also extremely helpful to surround yourself with positive and supportive friends and family. You'll most likely need some motivation and encouragement along the way. Your support network is an often-overlooked element of your bootcamp journey, but it can prove to be invaluable. 

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