As a one-time English PhD student, Janis Machala didn’t always know her career would lead her down a business path. But now she helps other people pursue their passions and get the education they need to achieve their dreams, as the Executive Dean of Continuing Education at Bellevue College. On this edition of Nextcast, I interviewed Machala and learned how technology is changing education and why working at a big company might be a better first job for recent graduates. Plus, Machala shares her tips for creating an amazing startup culture.

“I never thought of myself as a business person,” Machala says. But when a friend referred her to her school’s business school as a possible avenue for jobs, she found herself enrolling in an MBA program, eventually specializing in marketing. “I loved the complexities you get in the marketing field.” (2:00)

Once she entered the workforce, Machala began working in textbook publishing -- an industry which, at the time, was struggling with how to integrate software and CD-ROMs into their products. “Nobody knew what to do with software,” Machala explains. A natural risk-taker, Machala volunteered for every opportunity to experiment with the new technology. “I found that making things up where there hasn’t been a hundred year history...is much more my style, she said, adding, “I realized the technology field was probably a great place for me.” (4:00)

Machala has worked at companies big and small across many industries, and has learned the importance of culture -- and why it’s more than ping pong tables and beer fridges. “So few people take a job for salary. Most people take a job because they believe in what that company’s doing,” she says. “Founders need to understand that they need to market to their talent.” And it’s not all about money. She notes, “Amazon is pretty frugal. It doesn’t stop them from recruiting talent.” (7:50)

“I think technology is going to radically change education,” Machala says. “Not only are we going to have this integrated offline-online world, but there’s going to be some fundamental analytics and big data elements” which will allow teachers to have early warning for students who are falling behind. She is curious to see how online education solves its current culture problem: students don’t form the same friendships and teams they do in in-person classes. “People have to know themselves,” she says, before trying a course online. (9:00)

Her advice to young founders and businesspeople is simple: “be willing to take calculated risks.” She adds that much of her success is due to being “willing to jump in and learn about something and not accept the status quo.” She adds that listening is just as important as talking. “You learn more by hearing what the needs are than by assuming what the needs are.” (13:35)

Machala says she advises students who are considering startups for their first jobs to first spend some time at a big company. A big company is “a great learning environment”. When you are just starting out, you have no sense for what is a good company, a good financial model, a good marketing strategy. Get your baseline education at a big company, and the innovate when you’ve got the necessary basics down. (20:00)

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