When you’re trying to build anything new, the hardest part is often getting started. In this episode of Career Relaunch®, Julia Taylor, a former US government defense intelligence officer turned web developer and founder shares her thoughts on building a helpful community, thinking outside of the box, and creating your first website. I also share some thoughts on the importance of being okay with taking imperfect actions and my own challenges I faced building my first website.
Key Career Takeaways
- Just because you’ve never done something doesn’t mean you can’t do it in the future
- When it comes to community-building, there are no shortcuts around the blood, sweat, tears, and time required to fully engage with people
- Thinking outside the box of what you’ve assumed your career should look like can really open up new possibilities for your career and life
- It’s very easy to focus on what doesn’t go well, so it’s important to take a moment to be proud of the work you’re doing and progress you’re making
- How to Set Up Your First Website in 7 Steps– Joseph’s blog
- 8 Reasons I Left Rainmaker Platform for WordPress– that blog post I mentioned during the episode that I wrote about why I shifted to WordPress
During this episode’s Mental Fuel® segment, I challenged you to think about something you’ve been trying to perfect before putting it out into the world–whether it’s your CV, social media profile, product, service, or website. Focus on getting a version out there that’s good enough.
Sometimes referred to as a minimum viable product (or MVP), this can be something you feel may still need some work, but certainly won’t embarrass you. Try to just get the ball rolling on the idea, knowing that you’ll improve, refine, and rework it as you go. Instead of trying to start in the perfect place, in the perfect way, or on the perfect day, focus on just starting somewhere.
I’m actually going to try and do this myself with a bit of a social media refresh I’m planning to tinker with in the upcoming months ahead.
About Julia Taylor, found of Geeksquad
Julia Taylor was an intelligence officer for the US Department of Defense with assignments in places including Kabul and Kandahar, Afghanistan. She eventually met her husband during one of her deployments, moved to the UK, and went through a transitional period where she bounced around a bit with some 9-5 jobs, before eventually moving to North Carolina where she began building websites.
She’s now the CEO & Founder of GeekPack®, focused on empowering women & girls to change their lives for the better through the power of code, community & confidence. As a (former) military wife, self-taught web developer, and lover of location independence, Julia has taught over 2,500 women to not only master WordPress but also take control of their lives and live by their own terms. Learn more about her GeekForGeek Grant Program providing women access to the WP Rockstar Program and 6 months membership in her private GeekPack® community.
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Interview Segment Music Credits
- Hazy – Dreamer
- Ever So Blue – Calme
- Podington Bear – Sidecar
- Ecovillage – Unending Love
- Lama House – Sola Ventus
- Infraction – Last Hope
Episode Interview Transcript
Teaser (first ~15s): I wish that I had given myself a little bit more credit and thought outside the box. I didn’t really know anything different at the time. It was just one of those experiences that I needed to go through. That was part of my journey to get to where I am now.
Joseph: Let’s start by talking a little bit about what you have been focused on recently in your career and your life, and then we’re going to go back in time and talk about your very interesting career trajectory. What has been keeping you busy lately?
Julia: [02:38] I love this time of year because I get to reflect on what I’ve done and my team, what we’ve accomplished. Also, look forward to what we want to do in the future. I’m doing a lot of that right now, and it’s really exciting. It starts out being a bit overwhelming, and then as I start to dig in and chat with different team members and some coaches and kind of identify next steps, it does get really exciting. That’s really where I am now. I got a couple priorities that I’m focused on. Professionally, my big priority is focusing on my team.
I’m a big believer that if I can build a solid, supported, and encouraged team of folks who love what they do and believe in the mission and vision of my company, GeekPack, that will trickle down to my community. That’s been working for the last couple of years, so I spend a lot of time and energy focused on my team, empowering them, making sure that they’re happy and they feel supported. That’s my big focus, professionally.
Personally, I’m in a really fortunate position to be able to — I don’t want to say “step back,” but because I can empower my team so much and give them more responsibility, I’m actually able to have a much better work-life balance than I’ve ever had before. That’s been a big priority this past year and will continue to be, so I can really be the visionary and not so much in the weeds and move the business forward and reach our vision. That’s been what I’ve been working on.
Joseph: Is your team based where you are, physically and geographically, or are they spread out everywhere?
Julia: [04:18] All over the world. I’m in Colorado. I’ve got a team member in Florida. We’ve got one in Canada. We’ve got one in the UK, and we’ve got two in Australia. I’ve got another one on the East Coast. Someone in Texas. Literally, all over the world.
Joseph: I know that one of the things that you’re really passionate about is the independence of working wherever you want to. I think you refer to as “location independent.” We’re going to come back to that and talk about how you’ve done that in your own life. It sounds like you’re bringing that to life with your team. too. That’s really cool. Also, GeekPack, can you just give us a snapshot of what exactly you do as the CEO and founder of GeekPack? What do you do for your clients?
Julia: [05:00] The mission of GeekPack is we empower women in tech to get into tech. Anyone who has ever dabbled in anything kind of techy in the past, or maybe they didn’t get into anything techy because maybe they weren’t very good at math when they were a kid, and someone said to them, “You’re never going to be good at tech,” that sort of thing. Anyone who wants to give tech a go. We primarily focus on coding. We teach web development. We teach coding languages. We just empower women to learn these hard skills that they can then use whether it’s in a 9-to-5 job, or they want to start their own online business, and they learn these skills with a community around them. That’s what GeekPack is.
It’s a community where people can ask the “silly questions” that normally they might be terrified to ask because someone might be rude, or they might laugh at them. There’s none of that allowed in my community. We support one another, we encourage each other. We’re there when there’s wins and when there’s lows, answering questions, and all that goes along with learning these skills, but also finding clients and finding work. That’s what GeekPack is.
Joseph: Very cool. What a great mission that you’ve got out there. I think that that’s especially important these days, just empowering people to be able to have the tools to create their own websites and to learn how to code. It seems like it’s a very current necessary skill these days that pretty much I guess all of us need to have. I have zero of those skills. Now, you haven’t always been the founder of GeekPack, Julia. I would love to go back in time and talk about your chapter in your career when you are actually a defense intelligence officer. Let’s talk about that and then we can move forward from there. What exactly were you doing as a defense intelligence officer?
Julia: [06:57] Back in about 2006, when I joined the U.S. government and joined the Department of Defense as an intelligence officer. It was an amazing job. I got to travel all over the world. I actually deployed to Afghanistan twice, which was a real honor to get to go there and work with everyone there and the mission that we were doing. This was back in 2008, ’09, and 2010. Kind of at the height of when stuff was going on in Afghanistan.
I was an intelligence officer, so I worked with lots of different intelligence agencies. We collected as much information as possible to put together packages that we would then pass on to a military unit that would then go in and action that intelligence. That’s probably the best way to explain what I did. I did a lot of high-level briefings. I would brief generals and go to the Pentagon and things like that. From very high-level strategic stuff, all the way down to tactical kind of stuff that was going on the ground when I was in-country. A very wide range of stuff that I got to do. Very, very privileged position.
Joseph: How did you get into that line of work? Is that something that you had thought you wanted to do when you grew up or were you thinking about this in university or college?
Julia: [08:30] When I was growing up, my mom was a flight attendant for Delta. She flew my whole life as I was growing up. My dad, he was a stay-at-home dad with me and my brother. And because she was a flight attendant, we got to fly for free. All growing up, I have always traveled. I have been incredibly fortunate to get to travel all over the world. I think I always had that kind of interest and that bug in me to travel. When I was in college, I decided to study Russian. The only reason I did is I looked into it and it had a very high percentage of people getting As, and I feel terrible admitting that. But I thought, “Oh, that would be a cool thing to do.”
For some reason, I always thought I would work for the foreign service, that I would work for the state department and travel. I was lucky enough to get an internship with the state department back when I was in college, and I lived in Armenia. For a summer and did that, and I very quickly realized I did not want to do that job. I thought, “Oh, maybe something in the intelligence community would be cool.”
I learned Russian, and I got a government grant. They sent me to Russia to live there for a year to learn the language. That kind of led me into working for the government. It all worked out well and I was just in the right place at the right time. I got a great position with the Department of Defense, and I got to do that for a handful of years and travel and deploy. It was a fantastic opportunity.
Joseph: Before we talk about your transition, I just got to ask you because I know very little about the military or even the intelligence community. Aside from the kind of stuff I see on like TV, or I’m thinking of “Jack Ryan,” are there any sort of misconceptions that exist about what any intelligence officer does?
Julia: [10:24] 100%. Every misconception you can imagine. Everything you see in Hollywood, I would say 90% of that is not possible. But they sure make it look good. Nothing kind of moves as quickly as it does in Hollywood. And you’re right, “Jack Ryan” and “24” and “Homeland,” all those. They’re amazing TV shows. I would watch them, and I would think to myself, “Why didn’t we have that asset? Why didn’t it move that quick?” But it’s just not feasible. I mean, at the end of the day, working for the government, it is a huge machine, working for the military. Things take time, decisions take time.
The only time when anything ever moved quickly and was anything remotely similar to what you see in Hollywood was when I was deployed. Even then, it was probably just kind of 10% similar, but still very cool to kind of know how it happens. We’ve got a lot of pretty incredible gadgets and tech stuff that can happen that the government can use. But it’s nothing like what you see in Hollywood. I wish it was. Maybe we’re getting closer, but Hollywood has a good way of exaggerating all that.
Joseph: Can you also just give a glimpse into what your setup was. Were you on the field? Were you in an office? Were you in a tent? What was your physical setup when you were deployed?
Julia: [11:51] My first deployment was in Kabul, in the capital. We were on a base, and I was in a building. From the inside, you would never know the difference. It was kind of technically within something called a “skiff” for years. I probably couldn’t tell you what that stands for, but it was a secure compartmented environment. But, apart from that, it just looked like any other open floor plan, office space with lots of computers. Occasionally, when I was deployed both times, I would get to go out and go to different FOBs, Forward Operating Bases, places that had tents. That’s where they kind of operated out of, and I would spend a couple days here and there. But, for the most part, I was in like an office building.
In my second deployment, I was down in Kandahar in the south. That was a much, much bigger, huge, base. It was a town, pretty much. I mean there was a Pizza Hut. There was a coffee shop. There were all the western amenities you could think of. You could get there on base, but yet you were in the middle of the desert in Afghanistan. Two different experiences, but both times, it’s a pretty much just an office setup. Lots of TVs, big screens all around where you can kind of watch things that were going on the ground. But, for the most part, pretty much just an office.
Joseph: At what point did you start to think about doing something differently? I understand you were doing this for a few years, but you eventually went through a bit of a transition.
Julia: [13:26] While I was deployed my first time in 2008 in Kabul, I met a guy who is now my husband. We just celebrated 10 years of marriage.
Julia: [13:37] Thank you. We met. He’s British. That’s kind of where the story takes a bit of a turn. Of course, he was in the military. He has since retired. Him being British, and both of us being in jobs that traveled a lot and deployed a lot, it didn’t work very well, personally. We had great professional careers, but personally, it was tough, the long-distance and everything else. I made the decision to leave my job with the government and move to the UK, and we got married. I became a military wife which is one of the things I’m most proud of. But my career progression took a real nosedive. As anyone who is familiar with what it’s like being in the military, you move a lot. We did. We moved a lot.
I found myself jumping from one kind of 9-to-5 to another with zero career progression. That took a real toll, and we did that for a few years. That was kind of my in-between time of “what am I going to do” and “how do I have career progression for myself” while we move all the time. Because remote work wasn’t a big thing back then. I was really kind of lost on the professional side.
Joseph: Can you remember the moment when you decided that, “Hey, I got to do something about this. I can’t keep bouncing from one job to another.” Is there a particular moment that stands out in your mind?
Julia: [15:13] Yes. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I wish it was one of these moments where the heavens opened, and doves came flying in. It was definitely an a-ha moment, but things didn’t change immediately. It still took time, but gosh, this must have been 2014 and I was in one of these 9-to-5s. I was in the job.
Now, granted I had no tech background. When I worked for the government, I didn’t do anything techy. I didn’t do anything with code. When I went to college, I didn’t have anything. I’d never looked at or done anything with any code, or websites, or anything like that. That was all completely new to me. I was working away and my boss walks in. He says that he wanted his business’s website to have this functionality. He told me to do it. I knew what he was asking for, but I had no idea how to achieve it.
Joseph: What was your actual role at the time when he asked?
Julia: [16:20] I was a business analyst. Nothing techy at all. We would go out and work with local businesses and get them involved with what we were doing in the unit as part of the university. Nothing to do with websites or anything techy. And, why he thought I would know how to do this, I have no idea. But it was a gift. He asked me to do this thing and it worked out. I remember thinking, “What do I do now?” I look to my colleague who sat next to me, and he is a bit more techy than I was. He said, “Don’t worry. Let’s google it and we’ll figure it out.” Sure enough, I know how to google. I googled exactly what my boss had asked me to do. What it was when you’re on a website and there’s like an FAQ and there’s the kind of drop-down, like the plus/minus. That sort of thing. That’s what he asked for.
I googled that and I found this line of code, and I took this. I copied it and I pasted it into the back end of the website, and I hit “save.” Then I refreshed the website and it worked. That was the moment where I had this like, “Oh, my gosh! I just googled something that created this thing, that someone asked for.” I had no idea what I was doing, but I was able to google it and problem solved and figured it out. The result was right there in front of me, and it was a magical moment.
That was when I thought to myself, “Wow! If I can learn more about this, maybe this is a skill that I could then use to get a remote job to where I could work from anywhere.” It was that moment of, “Okay. This could be the thing.” Of course, what my current career has turned into is very different than what I thought it would back then. But that was the moment when I realized that I just did something based on what I learned on Google, created a result, and I saw the results right there on the screen. And I thought maybe this could be something.
Joseph: At that moment, you’re realizing that, “Okay. I’ve got the ability to figure this stuff out. I can start to tweak code on a website.” What happened next for you in terms of your actual career track, and what you did about this once you figured this out?
Julia: [18:44] I learned as much as I could. I took all the free coding classes I could find, all the resources, and I built websites from the ground up. I did all the things that I thought I needed to do to know enough to get a job. In my head, this whole time I’m thinking to myself, “I will get a job. I will be an employee. I will work in a 9-to-5 but I will be remote.”
There was nothing in me that thought I could be an entrepreneur. There was nothing in me that thought I could have an online business that I ran. That never was that something I considered because I don’t know anyone that did that. Of course, you hear “online business,” I’m like, “Oh, that’s a total scam!” All those things. That was not an option for me. I learned as much as I could. And then, I started applying for jobs. I probably applied for like 200 jobs, and I didn’t hear back from any.
Joseph: Okay. This is all in the UK?
Julia: [19:41] This was partly in the UK, and then we moved. My husband’s last job in the military before I retired was in the U.S. We were in North Carolina, so it was kind of overlapping that time. We moved to the U.S., and I’m still looking for remote work. Where we ended up in North Carolina, the closest place where I could have worked in an office doing anything tech-related was about an hour away. I didn’t want to commute that long, so I’m still applying for remote jobs and nothing’s coming through. It was really, really discouraging as you can imagine. Here, I’d learned all these skills and I thought I was doing all the right things, and no one would even glance at my resume.
It was only when a colleague of my husband’s, retired from the military, and he was starting his own business. He said to me, “You know, I know you know how to build websites. Will you build mine?” I said to him, “That’s not a real thing.” I said, “You know I can’t do that.” I had every excuse possible, and he convinced me. Sure enough, I did. I built his website and he loved it. He said, “Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you start your own business? Working with other business owners who need websites, and need tech help, and all that?” I pushed back, but I finally gave it a go. That was the start of me building my agency which then led into me transitioning into education.
Now, I teach women how to do exactly what I did build an online business. They can do from anywhere. They can work as much as they want, as little as they want, building websites, learning to code, troubleshooting, problem-solving. Anything tech-related, they can do because they know how to code. They know how to problem-solve. They have the confidence, and that’s what I get to do now every day.
Joseph: You’re actually coaching these women on the actual services that you were once providing to your clients, like building websites and helping them with the technical side of things. Is that right?
Julia: [21:44] Exactly. What I’m a big believer in now is it took me years to learn the skills to have the confidence and the gumption to put myself out there and to find clients and build a business, years. What I’m trying to do for them is cut that time way down to months. One thing that I did not have when I was learning and building the business was a community. Everything took me so much longer because I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of, or ask questions, or get support, or just get another set of eyes on some code that wasn’t working.
You know you can go cross-eyed looking at it. Someone else can go, “Oh, it’s just this small thing here.” When I wanted to do something and educate and get into the kind of teaching realm, my priority, my main thing was creating a community. The program, teaching them the skills, WordPress development specifically, and all the tech that goes along with that, was secondary to the community. It was pretty much everything that I wish that I had when I was going through the process is what I’ve created.
Joseph: This is a good segue into the next topic I was hoping to cover with you, Julia, which is how you built up your business. What I’d like to focus on is how you built up your community. Because it sounds like you did go through that whole process of and I guess struggling through the process of trying to find your clients, build up your business. How exactly did you build the community?
Julia: [23:20] It goes back to October of 2018. We just hit three years of the community. To be honest, it was a lot of my time. As I mentioned at the beginning, something that I’ve been working on a lot recently is a better work-life balance because I didn’t have that when I first started the community. It’s a Facebook group, it’s a private Facebook group for members who joined the program, and it worked great. I mean, thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, for being able to use that platform. Because people are already there. It’s a great platform to be able to use that.
Honestly, the first year and a half, I was in there every single day as often as possible answering questions, supporting people, going live, providing as much value as possible. I think that’s one of the lessons that I learned early on when I got into setting up an online business. Whether I was trying to find my own clients or working with students is adding value. Coming to the table with value first rather than asking for something. I have a coach who I learned from and that’s what she always did, was lead with value. I’ve followed that, and every single thing that I do, I try my hardest to lead value because I want people to see that there is real value.
We’re not we’re not just asking for money or whatever. Look at this value that we will provide for no cost. If it’s something that you think you might enjoy and get a kick out of and want to learn more, great! We have those opportunities. But any opportunity to lead with value — and that’s what I’ve always done in the community is try and be as valuable as possible.
Any experience that I’ve had in the past that I can share with them, and my community members, like I am very honest and transparent with them. The number of times that I will cry when I’m on a live telling them about something that didn’t work or did work, or wins and things, lessons learned. I’ve had a lot of amazing wins, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons over the years, and I share all of that with my community. I try and be as transparent and authentic as possible, and just lead with value. Those are the things that I’ve done, and it’s worked.
Now, as I said at the beginning, I’m able to focus on my team because they then pour all their value into the community. I now have that barrier where I can focus on my team and then they focus on the community so that we kind of have a triangle effect. That’s worked well. Leading with value is probably the best thing I’ve ever done.
Joseph: I’ve gone through a bit of a journey myself with this whole community idea. I love the idea of building a community of followers and engaged people who are sharing ideas, and asking questions, and having this community forum. I attempted this myself a few years ago, and I found it very challenging, Julia. I remember when I even explored some plug-ins on my site. I think there are a couple like Memberships Pro, and there’s another one called I think BuddyPress, and like MemberPress on my WordPress site. What did you find to be the most challenging part of building up a community?
Julia: [26:52] I honestly think it was just the amount of time that I spent in there personally. There is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that goes into it initially to get it working well. Once that was working, I could bring in other team members who felt as strongly about the community, the mission, our core values, and our vision as I did, to take my place so that I could focus on other things. There’s a lot of sweat equity that went into that community. I believe that if you want a solid community like that, you got to be willing to put in that time or pay someone else to put in the time. But if you want to be the face, a face for people to kind of rally around, then it is a lot of time to put in.
Joseph: Helpful to know. It’s become very clear to me why my community didn’t get built up online because I guess those couple things you mentioned is just like another platform. I was on a platform I think called “Rainmaker,” which I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. It was very complicated to use, and I did not have much luck attracting people into that community of users. Also, just the time of just monitoring it and managing it, and I just didn’t have the bandwidth to do it. It sounds like there’s really no replacement for hard work and getting in there every day and engaging with people. That’s a good tip. Okay.
Before I talk about some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way of your career journey, Julia, I can’t let you go without asking you a few questions about websites. Because we do have listeners here who listen to the show, and they’re thinking about making a change. I just read an article in the Wallstreet Journal about record numbers of people leaving the corporate world to run their own businesses, or to work for themselves, or to become their own bosses. Part of that is having your own website.
I remember when I first started my business as a career coach, a lot of other coaches at the time — this was around 2013, I said I didn’t have to have a website which I thought as someone myself who focuses on personal branding, I thought that was poor advice. I feel like if you’re running your own business, you absolutely have to have a website. What would you say to someone who’s thinking about building a website and wrestling with whether they should do it themselves or whether they should hire someone else to do it for them? I ask this as someone myself who has done both.
Julia: [29:29] I would say it comes down to time and budget. If you have the time and you do not have the budget to get someone else to do it — I say budget and that’s very broad. The prices range from $500 to $50 grand. People always ask me, “How much does it cost to build a website?” Well, it depends on the functionality and what you’re trying to get out of it, and then experience level and all that. Time and budget are what it comes down to.
If you don’t have the time and you have budget, then hire it out because it can be super frustrating. I mean the amount of times I do this for a living, and the amount of times that I want to pull my hair out is remarkable. I can only imagine other people trying to build their own website. Regardless of platform, it can be incredibly frustrating. I would just say time and budget really depends.
Joseph: Have you noticed any common pitfalls that people tend to make when they are creating their first website?
Julia: [30:35] Updating, not maintaining the website after it is up and running. Particularly with WordPress. Because WordPress is a free platform which is awesome. It’s opensource, it’s free. Now, I say that lightly because if you want a website on the internet, you do have to rent space on the internet through a hosting provider and you have to have a domain name, www.geekpack.co, for example, that you also pay for. It can be super low cost. But with WordPress, because it is opensource, it’s constantly being updated. There are plugins, there’s themes, there’s core files, there’s PHP. There are so many things that have to be updated.
WordPress gets hacked all the time. It is the most popular website building platform, period. Like 45% of all websites in the world are built with WordPress. It’s only growing. It’s only becoming more and more popular. But because it’s so popular, hackers are constantly trying to put malware into different applications. All of that can be avoided so long as you just do some simple things like updating everything that needs to be updated with the WordPress site: the plugins, the themes, all the core files, a way of having security. Whether that’s with your hosting provider or a free security plugin. My favorite is called “Wordfence.”
Joseph: That’s what I use. Good.
Julia: [32:02] Yes. It’s a good one.
Joseph: It’s the right one. Good.
Julia: [32:05] And having backups regular backups. Again, some hosting providers do those, but there’s also a free plug-in called UpdraftPlus, which does backups. You’re set. Those are the amount of times I would clean up hacked websites was ridiculous. I teach my students how to do that because it’s a lucrative thing to know because it happens so often, but it doesn’t have to. It’s 10 minutes a month sort of job to not have to deal with all the headaches.
Joseph: I can vouch for that, Julia. Because my web guys are constantly trying to remind me that we need to go in and just make sure everything’s updated on my site. I always ask them, “Do we really have to do this on a monthly basis?” They said, “Yeah, you really should.” And then, I don’t listen to them and then something breaks my website, and this is happening repeatedly.
Last question about websites, and I do want to get back to your career and what you’ve learned along the way. You mentioned “website building platforms.” Now, the way I think about this as a layperson is you’ve got these out-of-the-box solutions like Squarespace or Wix. And then, you’ve got I don’t even know what you call it, but you’ve got more of the WordPress platform which is as you mentioned opensource. Probably takes a little bit more work if you don’t have any knowledge of coding or HTML. Do you have any perspectives or opinions on if somebody’s doing their first site whether they should be on something like a Squarespace or Wix, or if they should be on WordPress?
Julia: [33:31] Shy away from Wix. Squarespace is a fantastic platform. It serves a great purpose. It is user-friendly. It’s easy. You pay a certain amount. It is more expensive than WordPress. You pay a certain amount and just drag and drop, and everything is done, and the setup and everything. However, I love WordPress. As I said, the popularity of WordPress is only growing. I do have some gripes with it. It is not user-friendly. I don’t know why they make it so complicated.
I say it’s complicated. If someone who knows WordPress can show you around and explain it, you would have this light bulb moment of, “Oh! I got it. It’s not as hard as I thought,” sort of thing. But they don’t make it all that easy out of the box. People have, “You know I got so many Instagram followers!” If you rely on external platforms for clients, for students, for marketing, for whatever, you could lose that option at any given moment. Facebook can go down, Instagram, like all of those things can shut down.
The example is if you look at Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, those are external platforms where technically you own your website, but if you want to take your website and all your files and all your data kind of off of their platform, it is very, very complicated. Moving from one platform to another is time-consuming and complicated, and it’s not easy at all. But with WordPress, you can literally take your website, you can put in a suitcase, and you can walk over to another hosting platform, and you can put it there. You can have all of your website files on your desktop computer. You can have them all on your Google Drive as a backup. You own your data and you have it in a neat little suitcase that you can take anywhere.
Whereas, with the others, you could lose that at any moment. Just like with Facebook and it going down in the world, and the world stopping. That’s just a plug for it. On top of that, it is scalable. On WordPress, you could have a one-page website, or you could have a Fortune 500, billion-dollar company on there using it and it works. You can have eCommerce. You can sell products. Pretty much anything you can imagine. You can do on WordPress. And because the code is opensource, if you know how to code and you know the ins and outs of WordPress, you can customize it. That’s why I love it.
Joseph: Everything you just said, Julia, I wish I would have heard about seven years ago when I went with one of these platforms. I mentioned I was on Rainmaker and getting off that platform was a complete nightmare. It was the bane of my existence for a year, and it was very complicated. I went over to WordPress, and never again. I will always remain with WordPress from here on out. Very useful advice and I can personally vouch for everything you’ve just said. Very helpful.
The last thing I want to talk about with you, Julia, before we wrap up with one of the interesting initiatives you’ve got at GeekPack is just some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way of your very unique career journey, going from the military over to what you’re doing right now at GeekPack. You mentioned that when you were going through that process of applying to jobs, you said something like applying to 200 applications. Looking back on that experience, is there anything that you would have done differently?
Julia: [37:08] I think now it’s a lot more common, especially with COVID, to work remote or to start your own business. I wish that I had given myself a little bit more credit and thought outside the box. I didn’t really know anything different at the time. I don’t think that I could have done much different. I didn’t have a degree. Could I have gone back to school and got a computer science degree? I guess I could have, but I’m so glad I didn’t.
Other than just believing in myself a little bit more, it was just one of those experiences that I needed to go through. That was part of my journey to get to where I am now. To be able to tell that to my students that there is so much more, and they can do so much more than they ever thought. I didn’t think outside the box, so I try to help them think outside the box as much as possible.
Joseph: The other thing that you mentioned earlier was that, when we spoke before, we started recording. You mentioned that you had no idea that you could even run an online business. What surprised you the most about creating and running your own online business that is geographically agnostic and independent?
Julia: [38:27] I think the thing that surprised me the most was that there were actual real human people out there who would take a chance on me and pay me to do a service for them. That blew me away. I did I just didn’t think that would be a thing to know that someone else would say yes to me to do something for them that I’d taught myself to do. I’m still kind of like, “Oh, wow! Yeah, that really happened.”
Joseph: The last thing I want to wrap up with is just one of the very interesting initiatives that you’ve got going on at GeekPack. Can you tell me a little bit more about the “Geek for Geek Initiative”?
Julia: [39:07] This is the thing I’m so excited about. We just recently launched this. What it is I always thought that my dream for GeekPack would be to keep doing what we’re doing. But if I could eventually one day start a non-profit arm to GeekPack, that would just be dream come true. I spoke to a couple of people about setting up a non-profit and come to find out it’s a real pain to set up to run, to manage, all the bureaucracy and everything that goes along with it. I thought, “Oh, well, that’s a shame.” In any way that I could give back, I wanted to do, and I felt kind of deflated.
I was listening to a podcast with Blake Mikowski. I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing his last name correctly. He’s the founder of TOM’s shoes. This is the company where they gave lots of shoes. If you buy a pair of shoes, they give a pair of shoes to children in need. This is a one-for-one model. Now, he didn’t create the one-for-one model, but he definitely popularized it. It became huge.
When I heard this interview with him, I thought to myself, “Well, hang on. Why would I create a non-profit that has all this extra bureaucracy when I’m in the very fortunate position to be able to have my for-profit business and give back in a social entrepreneur way? I don’t have to be governed. It’s my choice because I am able to and because I want to.” I took his idea, ran with it, and went with a program called “Geek for Geek.” It’s a real good example of taking imperfect action. I am a recovering perfectionist, and this is a good example of something that I’ve done.
Of course, I want the Geek for Geek program to be kind of set up exactly right and how it’s going to run forever. But I know that’s not realistic and I’ve learned that over the years. We recently had an event a couple months ago called “Geekapalooza.” We got to launch the Geek for Geek Initiative during this event. As you can tell, there’s a lot of “geeks” that goes into my brand. It’s a great thing to get behind.
I’m based in Colorado, and there’s an international non-profit called “Dress for Success.” They work with women in lower-income kind of situations and financial struggles. Initially, they started a non-profit to provide them with suits and kind of business attire to go in for interviews. They’ve expanded since then, and they support women who need support and help when it comes to finding work, or starting a business, and getting promotions, and things like that. I reached out to them in Denver. I just said, “Hey, you know I’d like to launch this program. Would you be willing to partner?” Sure enough, they said yes!
We got to take 20 women from Dress for Success, we got to invite them into my WordPress development program, teaching them how to build websites and start their own online business. We got to do that back in October. It was just such a joy to get to do that. They’re now learning these skills that they wouldn’t normally get to. We invited them in, free of charge. That’s an initiative that we plan on continuing on.
If I could plug anything, it would be if anyone knows many non-profits that work with women, to empower them, to women who are in tough financial situations that just need a bit of help and a bit of support, I would love to partner with them in the Geek for Geek Initiative.
Joseph: If they want to learn more about you or if we’ve got listeners who want to learn more about GeekPack or the Geek for Geek Initiative, where’s the best place that they can go?
Julia: [43:09] My website, geekpack.co, is the best place to go.
Joseph: I got one more question I’m going to sneak in here, Julia. Because I’m listening to you describe all these cool initiatives that you’ve created, not only creating GeekPack, but also this Geek for Geek initiative, I know earlier you mentioned that you never thought that you were going to become an entrepreneur. I’m just curious, what have you learned about yourself along the way of your very interesting and entrepreneurial journey?
Julia: [43:37] That I am a lot stronger and more resilient than I ever gave myself credit for. Even with the job that I did for the government and in all the things that I did after that. Running a business, and having a team, and having a brand that I’m incredibly proud of the brand and the people I get to work with, and the community that I get to have. As uncomfortable as it is to say, the lives that we get to change. I’m uncomfortable saying it because it feels a little big-headed, and that’s never at all what I want to sound. But that’s what I get to do all the time. I never, years ago, would have thought that I could do that, that I could empower women, but I am a lot stronger and a lot more resilient than I ever gave myself credit.
That’s something I have to remind myself of regularly. It’s very easy to focus on the negative or things that don’t go well. But I do try and reflect and think back and be proud of what I’ve built, and be proud of my team, and the community that we have, and the women that we get to teach and see their wins and the constant, “I just landed my biggest client!” Or “I now make more than I ever did in my day job!” Testimonials like that is because I took a chance on myself, and it’s worked out well.
Joseph: It does sound like you’re having a huge impact on a lot of people out there, Julia. I just got to commend you for all the work that you’re doing. I just wanted to thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to tell us more about your life as an intelligence officer formerly and the steps you took to pave a new path in your career, and how you went about building a community of engaged women empowered to code and help others create their own websites. Best of luck with GeekPack, and the Geek for Geek Initiative, and the continually growing community that you’ve built.
Julia: [45:41] Thank you very much. It’s been an absolute pleasure.