It’s been a while since I have updated. A new gig, an upcoming wedding, and all sorts of other hoo-ha. I recently did an interview with Comet.is – a career-focused site on how I got my start and what challenges I’ve encountered. I really got a kick out of the discussion and made me realise that I’ve matured a fair bit since my call centre days. Enjoy.
Between two degrees, two continents, and two tech giants, Luke Marshall’s career has taken him all over the world and challenged him in ways he had never imagined. After working at Google and Facebook, he’s now returned home to Melbourne to help startups grow as Head of Spotfires (www.spotfires.com) at CHE Proximity. We spoke to him about his journey overseas, his experiences working with companies big and small, and what he’s learnt along the way.
Q: What did you study at University?
A: I went to the University of Melbourne and studied Media & Communications, doing Journalism. I was lucky enough to do an internship at the Herald Sun, but through that I realised that journalism wasn’t for me.
I sat across a lot of sections like mX, the Sunday paper, and also the sports section and I got to talk a lot about football with some of the best minds in the AFL – it was really good fun. I even did a bit of writing, but a lot of it was tagging along with other writers and it was incredibly hard to get published. I think you need a massive amount of passion for journalism itself and it just wasn’t there in me, so I looked elsewhere.
Q: What moved you away from journalism?
A: I’ve always had a love of law, and I narrowly missed out on getting into a law program the first time. After I had finished my Media & Communications degree I went back and reapplied at the University of Western Australia and ended up starting a law degree in Perth. After six months however, I was having a few issues and ended up coming back to Melbourne. I bided my time for a while, tried law again at Monash but again found it just wasn’t the right fit for me. That was it for law.
Q: You must’ve felt quite lost, what kept you going?
A: I was doing data entry and call centre work around that time and I was looking for things related to a media degree. After a lot of time on Google searching ‘media jobs’ and things like that, I came across a media agency offering a role in digital media. I missed out, but was given some temp work by the agency for eight weeks, which gave me a real flavour for what the role was like. I had finally found something that was a bit more rewarding and something I could see myself doing. I spent the next year trying to get into media agencies in Melbourne and it wasn’t until I applied for a role here and was offered a job in Sydney that I made the move and really started my career.
Q: You went from Sydney to Singapore rather quickly, how did that come about?
A: During my first stint, I was there for four years working my way up through media agencies. I started off as an account coordinator, then an account executive, then became an account manager during my time there. It was a pretty rapid rise! One day, the agency I was with lost an account and I had a number of directions I could go in after that – one of them being a new job opportunity based in Singapore, which I decided to take. It was my first time overseas and it was incredible. It took some getting used to and took time to adjust but Singapore is very ex-pat friendly, so for my first international experience it wasn’t bad.
Q: Were there any interesting moments when you were learning the ropes of working internationally?
A: In Singapore you don’t just throw your business card at someone, you hand it to them with both hands. You read their title and their name to acknowledge it then place it on the table next to you, so it’s very different to how it’s done in the western world. The other thing that caught me off guard in Southeast Asia was that it was rare to include any questions during presentations because it looks like you’re questioning authority if there’s different levels of seniority present. You’ve got to think of different ways to elicit a crowd response, either by getting volunteers or simply smiling and cajoling more. It was definitely a learning curve. I was a big, blustery, loud Australian telling people in Thailand how to get on YouTube and it was probably a bit bullheaded for some of them. As long as you have an open mind though there’s not much you can’t overcome.
Q: You’ve worked for Google and Facebook, how did you make that transition out of the world of agencies?
A: I was working for the same agency over there for six months and then got approached by Google in Singapore. I went through their interview process which was very intense – I’m talking five or six interviews, rigorous background checks, very detailed resume required, reference checking, the whole kit and caboodle.
The person actually reached out to me on Facebook Messenger, and because it was from someone I didn’t know it went in my ‘Other’ folder and I didn’t see it for nine days. As soon as I realised I replied, ‘yes, yes of course I’m interested’ and that’s how it kicked off. They’re very resourceful.
Q: What was working for Google like?
A: I worked with Google in their creative team which was responsible for pitching big ideas to big clients. As an Accounts Solutions Manager, it was my role to facilitate those meetings and I also worked a lot with evangelisation. Basically that meant travelling around Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan) promoting Google and working with agencies. After a while, the team consolidated and moved us all from our international posts to Sydney as a lead team so I came back to Australia.
Q: What brought you back to Australia?
A: After two and a half years with Google, I felt like I’d done my dash. I’d just got a new manager and we had a few bad experiences. While I learned a lot from it, I realised I didn’t want to live in Sydney anymore and there wasn’t actually anything keeping me there anymore. I decided to make the move back home to Melbourne and start my own consultancy business, helping specifically startups. It was a lot of fun and I picked up three amazing clients but six months later I ran out of money and so had to turn to something else!
Conveniently, as my consultancy was winding down Facebook in Melbourne was hiring so I applied, went through a similar process to Google and got the job as a Client Partner. I worked there for two years in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) space, which is basically supermarket brands.
Q: You work with startups now at CHE Proximity as Head of Spotfires. How is it different from giants like Google and Facebook?
A: Working with big companies you’re usually working with marketing departments and agencies, whereas with startups you’re usually talking to founders and it’s a very different conversation. Because they’re fully invested in their product, they look at things through a different frame. There’s a lot more skin in the game for them because if it doesn’t work, they’re out of a job. It’s really refreshing and challenging working with these incredible people and trying to help them in a way that works for them.
Q: You spoke about a bad experience with a manager back in Sydney, what did you learn from that?
A: Navigating my way through that at the time, I sourced a lot of advice both internally and externally at work, and with friends and family. Ultimately what I realised, through a conversation with my sister, was that I was chasing happiness through my career and that a career isn’t the solution to everything. Once that penny dropped for me I was able to look at the situation a bit more objectively and take stock of what I really wanted.
Q: You mentioned going to outside sources for advice, where do you find them?
A: Particularly in our industry, networking is really important so I try and cultivate relationships wherever I can. I wouldn’t say I have official mentors but there’s definitely people I can go to for advice on particular things. Social media makes it pretty easy to maintain relationships with old colleagues and bosses, and I make a habit of setting up coffees, catch ups or even a phone call with people sporadically just to keep that relationship alive.
Q: How do you keep learning and growing?
A: Reading is a huge one. I was definitely guilty of not reading much until a few years ago. The internet has shot everyone’s attention spans. It took a while to get back into the habit of reading books but it’s been very helpful in my career since. Everything you need to know has already been written down so it’s really critical to absorb that and let it carry through to your professional life.
Networking gets thrown around loosely as a term but the actual application of reaching out to people for coffees and getting used to people not replying or saying no are great skills that help you get to where you want to be. I definitely wouldn’t have got my roles at Google, Facebook and here if there wasn’t some element of networking involved. You’re never going to get if you don’t ask, but you’re not always going to get what you ask for.
Q: Any tips you’d give to someone not sure of where they want to end up while they’re studying?
A: I really believe in tapping into networks and asking people who are further ahead how they got to where they are. That might be looking up job descriptions of jobs you like, or finding people at companies who are in that role and asking them about it. Get comfortable with not only cold-introducing yourself but asking for referrals within your network. Even if you don’t know anyone in a particular industry, asking your friends if they do could be your way in. I can only speak about the industries I know, but from my experience, no one is averse to having coffees if you’re polite and respectful of someone’s time and specific about what you’re after.
Q: Lastly, any tips for someone wanting to travel for work?
A: Going backpacking or working for an international company while you’re still young and haven’t put roots down is a really good idea. The experiences you get of being placed outside of your comfort zone will really help you even if you do eventually decide that home is for you!
Originally published on Comet.is.