Nick Bell

About Nick Bell

Nick Bell is a Melbourne based, serial entrepreneur and investor. He is the Founder and Managing Director of WME, Appscore and Hosting Australia. He debuted at No 38. on the 2016 BRW Young Rich List and was a regional finalist for 2016 EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

OP-ED: A degree of difficulty with digital careers

Approx Reading Time-11For the longest time, a university degree was the prerequisite for any sort of meaningful career in the digital sphere. However, I feel we’re moving past that school of thought.


What is the importance of a university degree for the digital industry? It’s no longer a magic key, in fact, it may not even be relevant at all. Its importance has been slowly diminishing – the startup boom killed much of it and technology has outpaced university course advancement extensively. A high school education is not irrelevant, but some students would be well advised to rethink their higher education plans for both personal and professional reasons.

There is a big problem few seem to be addressing specific to the technology industry – the majority of teachers in universities are not overly active in the professional world and the courses they are teaching are not keeping pace. This is a dangerous trend. It’s hard enough for active industry professionals to keep up with change, let alone those that are one step away from it. So are students really coming out of university with the skills they need to survive and thrive? I have seen some that do, but many that don’t.

What needs to be promoted is the idea that there are alternative paths for finding your dream career. University is not the only option. It may still be a good option for some, the only option for lawyers, doctors, etcetera, but for the future digital industry professionals, more and more relevant, alternative options are appearing that are being looked on favourably by employees. You will learn more in your first year on the job at a digital agency than you will in three years of university. Far more.

I work with incredible individuals who vouch that their university experiences helped shape them, mixed in with employees who have taken practical, alternative methods: training academies, long work placements.

I realised early on that a conventional approach to “success” wasn’t going to cut it for me. Just scraping into university, I lasted a total of six weeks. The longest six weeks of my life! I wanted to see and do things, and studying for another four years wasn’t part of that plan.

I’m not discrediting the hard work and dedication of those who choose to study. My criticism instead stems from the amount of pressure placed on young adults to automatically look for a university option no matter what their goal is. I have never understood what we’re trying to achieve by fear mongering them into an exam period-long state of anxiety, causing them to trade sleep for cramming, orange juice for coffee, and breakfast for energy drinks. In a digital age, there are much better ways.

Many professional industries have gone past an expectancy that a job candidate has a university background. In doing so, they are opening themselves up to talent that in the past would not have been found. But they are also, hopefully, setting an example that you need to find your own way of getting the career you want, not someone else’s.

It’s naive to presume that every student will thrive with their study and I passionately believe we need to be more proactive about the avenues at their disposal… You need to find your own way of getting the career you want, not someone else’s.

I experienced a number of “failures” before I started my current business. My VCE results weren’t great, I didn’t complete a degree and my first business failed. If I had let any of that deter me, the digital marketing agency I founded in 2008 would not exist. Neither would other business ventures that I have since started or invested in. Our head office now has 200 employees and we have grown to eight offices and 450 employees worldwide with an annual turnover of $57 million.

I work with some incredible individuals who vouch that their high school and university experiences helped shape them, professionally and otherwise, and I respect that. But they are mixed in with employees who have taken some very unconventional paths into the workforce as well as those who have found practical, alternative methods such as training academies or long work placements. I think it’s naive to presume that every student will thrive with their study and exams and I passionately believe that we need to be more proactive about the avenues at their disposal.

At the end of the day, support, mentoring and the mindset of the individual play a critical role in how things turn out. A university degree doesn’t dictate our future success. We do. As a business owner, a boss and a hiring manager, I am keeping a very open mind about who I hire. It’s paid off for me. How open is your mind?


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