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Julia Dallos is a decade out of her master’s degree at Harvard’s Kennedy School. As a midcareer ed-tech professional, Julia has both some hard-earned experience and decades of career growth ahead. Julia graciously agreed to answer my questions about this stage in her career journey.

Q: Tell us about your job at Coursera. What does an associate director of university partnerships do all day?

Julia Dallos, a light-skinned woman with wavy brown hair longer than shoulder length, wearing a black crew-neck top.

A: Thanks for inviting me to connect, Josh! I always appreciate your questions and candor. At the highest level, as an associate director of university partnerships, I have the privilege of working with our university partners, including Dartmouth, Georgetown, Northeastern and others, to make high-quality education accessible to learners all over the world. For a bit of background, I got into the field of education 15 years ago because I truly believe it has the power to create freedom and change a person’s life trajectory—and as I know we’ve had many conversations about, too often, access to it is limited to the lucky few. For many years, I saw this in person, every day, while working directly with students and teachers in K-12 classrooms and schools. Now I get to work with our university partners to harness technology to make an impact on educational outcomes at scale.

A big part of my job involves supporting our university partners in developing online strategies that leverage the power of Coursera’s stackable model and 100-plus million users. We know the majority of our learners come to us looking to upskill, reskill and advance in their careers. We talk a lot about the power of pathways to meet this need. These are flexible ways for learners to gain skills and credentials over time—a learner might, say, start with Google’s Data Analytics Professional Certificate and then use that towards credit in one of Coursera’s degree programs. Universities are the linchpin of this work. In my role, I get to work directly with our partners to curate this diverse ecosystem of content—from one-hour “just-in-time” learning courses to full degree programs.

Now, when it comes to what I actually do on a daily basis, it’s quite diverse. On any given day, I might be reviewing market research with a university’s provost’s office, or working with the University of Virginia to develop content for our growing generative AI catalog, or strategizing with Northeastern about how to make their degrees even more accessible to learners by streamlining the admissions process.

I realized pretty early into my career that I love people. I love digging into ideas. And I love to connect the dots between teams to make these ideas come to life. This job is a nice mix of those three things. I really get to flex my relationship building, cross-functional collaboration and strategic thinking skills. Plus, I get to learn from and trade ideas with some of the most insightful leaders in the field.

Q: If you were to give career advice to your 2014 freshly minted graduate degree self, what would you say? How might your advice apply to recent graduates looking to build a career in ed tech?

A: Oh, where to start? The main takeaway is to stay flexible, lean on relationships and pursue work that holds meaning for you. More concretely, I would offer a few specific pieces of advice:

First, never underestimate the power of your network. Build your network, nurture it and ask for help when you need it. I graduated from college in 2009, during the Great Recession, not exactly the best job market to start a career. I had to get comfortable putting myself out there in ways that didn’t come naturally to me, which often meant asking for help from strangers. We’re talking pre-LinkedIn—cold phone calls, some light internet stalking and many informational interviews. Ultimately, I gained information and practice in every conversation, and more times than not, people were happy to engage. And with those that weren’t, I learned not to take a no too personally. I ultimately landed my first job through one of those cold emails, to an alumna of my university that I reached out to because she had a career I was interested in—and it was for a role that wasn’t posted publicly!

That experience has really shaped my approach at every step in my career. The power of your network goes beyond just the job search. I intentionally build networking, which I know sometimes sounds like a scary word, into my schedule. That could be reaching out to a cold contact or a close colleague for an informal coffee chat or attending a local (or virtual) meet-up, or even building a presence on LinkedIn by commenting or sharing an interesting article. One of my close career advisers is someone I met via LinkedIn, who is based in the U.K.—and [we’ve] never actually met in person.

Second, give yourself the space to pursue diverse experiences. Careers rarely take a straight line. Embrace the detours—it’s where some of the most growth happens. Personally, that once meant leaving a job without another one lined up when I felt like I was plateauing and, frankly, burned out. That detour actually led to my pivot into higher education. Today, my diverse experiences are one of my biggest assets. Now that I work in tech, where specialists are abundant, I often find myself drawing on examples from the broader perspective I bring having worked across the education sector. I get to share my experiences at the federal government, on the ground at a K-12 charter school or within a university. It’s also helped me be comfortable and nimble operating in different types of organizations.

Q: Let’s look ahead. Where would you like to be career-wise a decade from now? What do you need from your friends and colleagues to reach your goals?

A: If I’ve learned anything from the last 10 years of my career, it’s hard to know exactly where I’ll be a decade from now, but I hope to be in a role that allows me to do meaningful work. Whether it be in the education and workforce development space or another sector, I hope to be making an impact. As an undergrad, my alma mater, Boston College, really instilled in me the idea of going to “set the world aflame.” This notion, to take what we have been given and go out in the world to return it, has been a compass at many inflection points in my career and continues to guide the types of opportunities I tend to pursue.

As far as how my network can help me get there, I’ve recently been taking the Dartmouth course Superbosses, taught by Syd Finkelstein, on Coursera (which I highly recommend!). Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the mentor/mentee relationship. Syd discusses the idea that the best mentors are “opportunity generators,” meaning they give their mentees an opportunity to rebrand themselves and see potential beyond what they inherently see in themselves. This really resonates with me. The mentors and colleagues that have had the greatest impact on my career are the ones that allowed—and sometimes dragged me towards—opportunities to stretch.

For example, I was once working in a role that focused more on tactical elements of partnerships. My manager saw my potential and interest in strategy, so she handed me the reins to manage our regional strategic growth plan, which was very scary! To be honest, I didn’t feel ready, but she believed in me. She was there to advise, provide input and serve as a safety net. I can’t tell you how invaluable the opportunity to stretch and sometimes fail, within that safe environment, was. When I was ultimately successful, it really built my confidence.

Finally, looking towards my broader community, I guess this is the moment for me to practice what I preach in asking for help, huh? So, to your readers, if anything I said in this conversation resonates, then drop me a note or a message. I would love to chat!

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