How I got a job as a university lecturer without having a degree

I teach as a lecturer at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. I teach science students entrepreneurship, and it’s the first ‘job’ I’ve had in over a decade. I love it.

For the last ten years prior to this I’ve been my own boss. I also run an online education company.

How was your University time?

I never went to university as a student. I was a crappy student at high school: constantly distracted by music, learning to code, and honestly lots of partying and skateboarding. I was lucky to be naturally pretty smart, but not smart enough to apply myself to my studies.

For years I was proud that I had a reasonably successful career despite my credentials, but in retrospect that arrogance may just be a defensive and a self-conscious attempt to portray weakness as strength. I wonder how much farther I could have gone in the same time if I had been more disciplined.

Why did you seek out a career in this field?

I didn’t. I was actually a vocal critic of institutional education for many years, which led to starting my own alternative school. This business eventually turned into an online school, which led to me becoming more interested in teaching, generally. I’ve learnt a lot about the complexity of education in the last 4 to 5 years, and I feel I’m barely scratching the surface.

I landed my teaching position only because a colleague was struggling to find a good teacher for a course she coordinated, and asked me if I could help her out. I thought it might be fun, and it was only after teaching for the first semester that I realised I enjoyed the job.

Perhaps the career found me? Teaching and learning has always been a big part of my life, but it took some time before things calmed down enough to settle into place.

What was your first job or nuggets from jobs you had that helped you to get to where you are today?

My very first jobs as a teenager were washing dishes at a bakery, flipping burgers at McDonalds, and outbound telesales. These were all terrible jobs, and I often worked 15-16 hours a day for 6 days a week, for less than minimum wage. Not as bad as many others have experienced, but I hated it.

If anything, these jobs taught me to stick with things that I didn’t like doing without complaining, and made every job after that seem easy by comparison. They also taught me how important it is to have a personal connection to what you’re doing for work, which made me a better leader and employer.

How did you prepare for an interview?

I don’t. I have a bad habit of being unprepared for almost everything I do, which is a weakness I’m working on. I usually go on instinct. Sometimes it doesn’t work, sometimes it does.

Books that helped you?

From an entrepreneurship point of view, The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Horowitz was really helpful for me when I was halfway through running my first serious business: the struggles with cash-flow, firing employees, dealing with sticky legal issues. It’s always nice to know that someone else has dealt with harder stuff than you!

Things are changing very fast in the industry, how do you keep yourself updated. Please list techniques or newsletter, podcasts, events etc.

I quite deliberately don’t keep myself ‘updated’, I feel it’s dangerous to get distracted. I feel it’s also too easy to burn lots of energy trying to chase someone else’s idea of success.

I don’t read newsletters or go to events, if at all possible. I use to keep my inbox free of newsletters and I try to limit my social media use to perhaps 20-30 minutes per week.

For podcasts, I listen purely for pleasure and learning. I adore Radiolab; Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich are two of my personal heroes for their nuanced, caring insights into complex issues. Anything by NPR  is great, especially More Perfect and my new favourite, Rough Translation.

Recently I’ve also been enjoying Julia’s Rationally Speaking podcast, and Concerning AI.

What can you recommend on CV?

I don’t use them. When hiring people I prefer to know what interesting projects or experiences that person has been a part of. Mutual connections and interests are more important than achievements.

Advice for someone looking for a university lecturer job?

Don’t look for a job! Look for an interesting field that keeps you interested. Being interested in things makes you interesting, and interesting people are fun to be around.

Why do you think you were selected among other candidates?

This sounds terribly arrogant, but with my teaching position there wasn’t a selection process – I was picked by the person in charge because she believed I was the best available person for the university lecturer job.

In some ways, the person who hired me took a gamble in choosing an under qualified candidate, and I consider it my responsibility to do my best each day to prove their instincts right. I also take great joy in being committed to my students, and their unique, personal definitions of success.

It’s a constant challenge. I don’t think I’m yet a particularly good teacher, but I’m enjoying learning to get better each week. 🙂

Will Dayble is a teacher. He’s consistently failed to get a real job, instead working in tech companies for most of his debatably professional career. He learnt to code in primary school, and has since founded and sold multiple companies, is an award winning lecturer and speaker, and sits on the board of a handful of businesses and non-profits. He lives in Melbourne, with a neuroscientist and two cats, and plans to retire on Mars. In his spare time, Will doesn’t have any.

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