A career without boundaries

Julie Trell is relatively new to Australia. In March, she moved from San Francisco to become head of muru-D, Telstra’s startup accelerator. It’s arguably one of the most exciting roles in the country. 

So how did she get here? At AGSM’s Future of Work forum, Julie reflected on her unconventional career path and how it’s provided her with the soft skills to underpin her career trajectory.

After graduating as a psychology major and French minor from Emory University, Georgia, Julie kick-started her career in Atlanta – as a waitress. 

‘Waitressing was a really good choice,’ says Julie. ‘I developed skills that were very transferable – marketing, customer service, multi-tasking and sales.’

She also volunteered as an assistant teacher at a primary school and this was when she had her first ‘aha’ career moment – discovering a love for teaching. She decided to study a Masters in Education. As a teacher in the late 90s, she began working with computers, an emerging classroom tool at the time, and developed her passion for the power of technology in education. 

‘I got really excited – teaching teachers, using technology and sharing my interest to the right people at the right time,’ says Julie. 

One happened to be a school principal who needed a technology specialist. ‘With no formal training, I talked my way into a job helping teachers integrate technology into the classroom.’

For four years she developed her computing skills, essentially working as the school’s in-house expert and troubleshooter. Then one summer she met Marc Benioff, at the time a senior executive at Oracle. 

‘He told me he was ready to leave Oracle to start selling software over the web,’ says Julie. ‘And as he felt a responsibility to impact education, he wanted to start a foundation when he started his company.’

At the time such a model was unheard of. But Julie shared her own invaluable insight with Mark. ‘If you want to deal with kids and technology, then you need to hire teachers. Don’t just be a company that just gives away money.’ Marc offered her a job with Salesforce, and she moved to San Francisco in 2000. 

For 12 years at the Salesforce Foundation, ending up as Vice President of All Things Fun, Meaningful and Rewarding, Julie worked on building a platform to help not-for-profits flourish and help for-profits find meaning in their work. 

Since then, she’s been a consultant helping businesses integrate philanthropy into their operations, and as an activator, helped launch  SheEO in the US, a global community of women supporting women in innovation – something she hopes to bring to Australia. 

Throughout her career, Julie has learnt that following her passion and listening to her gut is vital. ‘What excites me is purpose-driven companies, diversity, growth and new technology,’ she says. ‘I really want to work with people who are changing the world and finding solutions to social inequalities’

And founders in the muru-D program are doing exactly that. Julie’s role is to create the right space, a classroom, for these emerging founders to play, explore and learn from one another, while connecting them with the right mentors to help pave the way to success. 

‘Play is one of my values,’ she says. ‘It’s not the opposite of work – it’s how we get work done, through problem solving, creating and learning to fail.’

This is a value she has carried with her from primary school classrooms through to working with Australia’s most promising tech startups. 

So what has she learnt from this unusual but inspiring career path? 

‘Follow your instincts. Break your routine and do things differently – attend events and talk to people you wouldn’t ordinarily speak to. Finally, soften your focus and sharpen your periphery – be more aware of the value in opportunities that may seem left of centre.’

To hear Julie’s keynote speech in its entirety, click here. 
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