My Design Apprentice Experience

Lisa Sy

As the middle of September approaches, I am about to finish the last week of my three-month Design Apprenticeship at thoughtbot in their San Francisco office. It has been a summer of ample personal and professional growth.

Before I joined the apprenticeship in June, I had just finished my last semester in college. Because my American Studies major was perfectly unrelated to design or engineering, I had prepared myself for this apprenticeship by bootstrapping my own design education during my free time in school: I made Wordpress websites for my friends’ clubs, created logos for student and campus organizations, and led a student-run design consultancy. Despite these experiences, I knew that there was only so much that I could learn on my own before I needed to gain true professional experience to further my career. The next sensible step was to participate in


The apprenticeship focuses on training people in the skills required to become a full-time developer or designer on the team. thoughtbot developers and designers not only possess technical expertise to create products, but they must understand how to meet client needs as well. After all, there are no project managers, so the developers and designers are the consultants.

Given the structure of the company, I was placed in a professional learning environment where I was expected to acquire the technical prowess needed to implement my designs, interact with clients, understand their needs, and work collaboratively with other developers and designers while directing my own work.

I’ve learned a lot through my mentors, the open-source projects that I’ve contributed to, and self-guided learning. Today, I collaborate with a team of developers and designers using a formulated Git flow, write HAML and SCSS using best practices, prefer Vim as my go-to text editor, and much more. Aside from developing my technical abilities, I’ve also gained product skills from real-life and hands-on exposure to client work. I co-led five-day ideation-based product design sprints, conducted user interviews and user testing, and learned how products and businesses grow.


It has been an incredibly rewarding three-month intensive learning period. Given the intensive nature of it, I would primarily recommend the design apprenticeship only to those who are 100% certain that they want to become a product designer in the technology field. We encourage that our design apprentice applicants to have designed and coded HTML/CSS websites before, have a portfolio showcasing a solid grasp of visual design principles, and understand why it is that they are interested in designing products and experiences for people.

If you do not feel ready to apply for the apprenticeship, thoughtbot’s Upcase program is a great resource for those getting started. Also, some of the designers here are available via email if you have questions about design, need learning resources, or want to know how to get started on jumpstarting your design career.

  • Lisa (me):
  • Alex:
  • General email:

However, if you feel ready to take the next step to launch your design career in tech, then apply for the apprenticeship!