Academy Xi Blog

Tribe Spotlight: Marina Chelak

By Academy Xi

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter

Our Community Programs Manager, Marina, is celebrating her 3 year anniversary working at Academy Xi. We chatted about her journey so far (and discovered she’d quite like to give diamond mining a whirl…). 

Tribe Spotlight: Marina Chelak

Hi Marina! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. 

First up, can you describe your role in three words?

Creator of opportunities.

Casting your mind back…do you remember your first day at Xi?

I do, actually! I especially remember my second day because it was a colleague’s birthday. The Melbourne team were discussing how to surprise him; so I decided to get some helium birthday balloons. Later that day I discovered that you have to order them in advance – I had no idea as it was my second week in Melbourne and Australia in general. I’d recently moved after living in Europe for five years.

Anyway, I spent the whole night googling and I managed to get the balloons. I was glad I could add some brightness and contribute to his birthday. On that day, I also realised how cool and caring the whole team in Melbourne was.

I remember from my first day being really impressed with the onboarding process. It was on Trello back then. It seemed so organised and fun at the same time and it made me look forward to everything else that was going to follow.

How has your job at Xi changed over the years?

This is the part I like the most about my work as my role has changed a few times. This has given me the chance to explore different areas of the business.

When I first joined Xi, I started as a Campus and Events Coordinator. I was the sidekick to our Events Manager by day and a “Campus Director” by night when we had our evening courses going on after hours.

I loved how dynamic my work was, how many interesting people I was meeting and how much I was learning from them all on a daily basis. During that role I learnt how to own whatever I was doing and to never diminish the value of even the smallest tasks, because it’s all those small details which make great experiences.

I am grateful for my team making me think about my work this way back then. I’ve lived and breathed that insight throughout my work since.

A few months into the Campus and Events role, I transitioned over to being the Events Producer after the opportunity to step up became available. It was hard farewelling my Manager, as I felt like I still had so much to learn from him, but this was also when the Melbourne team came to support me the most. Thanks to them, I was able to continue growing our community through a variety of multiple events and meetups, bringing together people willing to share and learn from each other. 

After a year and half working with events, I had a big change and moved over to our (then) newly established B2B team. I was working with an audience that was new to me – corporate. 

Always open to a new challenge and adventure, I happily jumped into it and I’ve learnt heaps of new skills including business development and how to run online events.

Despite having a great team and manager, I realised how much I was missing the presence of community in my life and that it was in fact what I’ve been so passionate about all this time.

Luckily at Xi people usually get recognised for their interests and they end up where they truly belong. That’s how I made the move into my current role as Community Programs Manager, where I run our community-based In-Residence mentoring program, connecting our students with experts. This supports them to a faster transition into their new industry.

You’ve had quite the journey so far! How did you first learn about Academy Xi?

I started looking for a job in Australia when I was still in Europe. I applied for a role at Academy Xi before even moving here. At the time I’d never heard about Xi – I just found the job ad quite catchy! 

Back then I was looking for work in both tourism and event industries, but I was very keen to work in a start-up.

Two days after arriving in Melbourne from Europe, I had my interview with Academy Xi. I remember I was very jet-lagged but it was the best job interview I’d ever had.

How do you balance your career at Xi and your personal life?

There were times when my work at Xi was my focus – but I loved it because I was in a stage of accelerated growth and learning. I was very excited about having what I had professionally. 

With time, as my priorities in life started changing, I felt more work-life balance in my day to day. I’ve felt that there has always been an option for having that balance – it’s really about how you choose to approach it, how you want that work-life ratio to be.

However, I’ve been so lucky to work with people who I consider my friends that at the end, the border between personal life and work becomes blurred anyway.

How has Xi helped you in your career development?

Xi has always been a place where I could experiment – where I could try without being too afraid to fail. The experiences I’ve had have helped me to discover where I stand in terms of my skills, passion and capabilities. 

Since the first day I’ve had the freedom to do the work my way and when needed, I’ve always had the support of my team. Having such great conditions for applying my creativity, while at the same time having the feeling of safety and support, has definitely been a catalyst for my career growth and development at Academy Xi.

It’s important to emphasise that when I say Academy Xi, I mean people who I’ve worked with in the company. You know the saying that you’re the average of people who you’re surrounded with. Well, my average has grown tremendously after I joined the team and I continue to learn from them every single day.  

If you could job swap with anyone else within Academy Xi, whose role would you want?

If you’d asked me this question a year ago, I could’ve given you a more interesting answer, but at the moment, I am very much in the place I want to be.

However, our Product team does some fascinating things, the way they build our courses. I believe my curiosity would like to explore what it’s like to be a Learning Designer for a day.

What is your proudest accomplishment or moment here at Academy Xi? Or favourite project?

All smiles at the International Women's Day Event in Melbourne, hosted by Stone and Chalk
All smiles at the International Women's Day Event in Melbourne, hosted by Stone and Chalk

Throughout the last three years, I’ve had a few projects and accomplishments that I am proud of. 

One of them is Pitch X Night – a pitching competition for the startups, which was born before I stepped into the role, but I was able to revive it together with the other two amazing Melbourne communities: YBF Ventures and The Silicon Beach. This event involved way more stakeholders and elements than any other Xi event and it’s preparation took at least 2-3 months.

The complexity of it and the impact it had on the lives of the entrepreneurs who were just at the beginning of their start up journey at the time was what made it special to me. Among the winners were some startups that are still on the market now and some of them are quite successful. The ideas that the Pitch X Night and the prizes that the winners received played at least a small part in their success today makes me proud and happy!

Of course, I can’t stop myself from speaking about the current In-Residence Program that I run – this is my favourite project so far. It’s the program I’ve been involved in from the very beginning and I’d love to grow further. Working with incredible people, creating opportunities for their growth, development, showing them that they can make a huge impact on other people’s lives and in the industry they work in, is what gives purpose to my own work. 

Before working at Academy Xi, what was the most unusual or interesting job you ever had?

While studying at Uni in Russia, I had a part-time job as a Mechanical Computer Engineer. I was the only female in the team of men that built personal computer system units and tested them before sending them to the retail shop. 

Marina – you’re on the homestretch now. Some quickfire questions to end our time with you today!

Embarrassing work moments?

I have a really bad memory, but I believe that if I had a really embarrassing moment at work, my colleagues wouldn’t allow me to forget it!

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you like to see cast as you?

Helena Bonham Carter

If you could do another job for just one day, what would it be?

Diamond miner

Motto or personal mantra?

Work smart, not hard

Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.

I worked as an accountant for 4 years

You’re happiest when?

When I do what I like, be it traveling, enjoying delicious food together with friends, working on a project I’m passionate about or getting myself into another new hobby!

Photo of a person

Academy Xi Blog

Have you ever had a mentor?

By Academy Xi

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter

Whether it’s industry-related topics, career advice, job search, best work practices or leadership lessons, having the right mentor to bounce ideas around with can help a young professional break into a field and build a lifelong career. We chatted with Designers-in-Residence program mentor Daniel Foulds about his experience with our DiR Program and how it’s been so far. 

Photo of a person

Q: Hi Daniel! Tell us a bit about yourself and your design background?

I’m a UX-er currently working on Kmart Online’s new e-commerce experience. Like many of us in the field, I shifted my career trajectory from a different work stream a few years back. After formal qualifications in Graphic Art (print), I landed my first job working for a Swim/Sportswear wholesale company. From there, I held a number of product design and management roles working primarily in apparel within the street, surf & sportswear, and sporting hardgoods segments.

One of the speed humps I encountered in my professional career was being made redundant. It was a discussion with my brother-in-law who discussed with me the potential of a career switch to an emerging field with opportunities that are becoming more available. This is where the UX seed was planted. 

I got stuck into some initial thoughts and discovery about a career switch. I met and spoke with a few people. At that time, I had just gotten married and my wife and I were expecting our first child so there was a bit on my plate.  However, I fell back into what was easy and what I knew best and that was a design role at Kmart. 

Fast forward 8 years later, along with some pro-bono work, creating my own UX case studies, formal UX training, plenty of upskilling & reading, a couple of role changesplus a lot of grit and determinationI’m proud to be able to reflect on where I am today. 

Q: What made you want to become a DiR mentor at Academy Xi? 

When I first saw the post on LinkedIn relating to the DiR program, it piqued my interest. I thought, not only does it align with where I would like my professional career to be, but also an opportunity to help the next wave carve their path, which I know a little bit about. Also, one of the aspects of this industry that I’m in which I’ve always been impressed by is how giving people are with their time, knowledge, and experience. So I thought to myself, sure, I would love to throw my hat in the ring at this opportunity – an opportunity that aligns with my personal and professional values.

Q: How’s the whole mentoring experience going?

I am currently mentoring my second student! As a whole, it’s been ultra rewarding. The feeling of giving to someone to help guide them as they embark on a new professional experience is really fulfilling. 

To date I have experienced two contrasting individuals as my mentees which has kept me on my toes and given me the opportunity to think differently with how I handle our relationship, there’s definitely been some growth on a personal front. The one constant piece of advice that I would pass on is pretty simple: you really do get out what you put in and, ‘it takes two to tango’ if you will. 

This has rung true in my professional career as well. I encourage my mentees to come up with agenda points, send out the meeting invites and schedules and let me know how I can help them or ask them what is bothering them. 

I want them to know that I am here to help make a difference in their professional (and sometimes) personal journey in this industry.

Q: Any advice or anything else that you want to share to our community? 

As a mentor, an analogy I like to use is that I’m the guide rails on a bowling alley to stop the bowling ball from going down the gutter. If the ball happens to go in the gutter, that’s ok, we pick ourselves up, go again and learn from it. It might begin to sound a little cliche but I am a firm believer that persistence pays off when applied in the right manner.

One of the topics we discussed with our DiR group is that we aren’t ‘know-it-alls’ and don’t have answers to everything in our chosen fields. What we do have is depth of experience in different scenarios (and that could sometimes intersect with other industries) that can help steer, provide feedback or pose thoughts for our mentees to approach a topic perhaps from a different angle. 

In the program we have access to a massive knowledge pool via our various Slack groups and regular lunch and learn discussions and the like. I feel more than confident that if I receive a curly question or something I haven’t experienced in the past, I have a group of team mates ready to help and assist me and ultimately my mentee, who is in a really fortunate position to be in.

Photo of a woman

Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Grace Mantilla

By Academy Xi

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter

Interior designer turned visual merchandiser Grace Mantilla is carving a new career in digital marketing. A creative at heart, she’s now helping a non-profit build their brand and online presence. 

Photo of a woman

Read our chat with her as she shares her story and journey in the digital marketing space.


Tell us about you Grace, your personal and professional career? How did you start? 

My first professional dream was to become an Interior Designer which I managed to achieve when I was living in the Philippines. When I migrated to Australia in 2010, I struggled getting in the same field. To gain work experience, I decided to apply for a role in retail. I became a sales associate and found myself getting naturally appointed to become the in-store Visual Merchandiser. I was blessed with a manager who recognised my skills and urged me to follow that path. Since then, I have been doing Visual Merchandising as a full-time role, as well as contracting individual projects as a freelancer.

What made you decide on upskilling?

I have always been a learner, a consistent student, as my friends would call me. I like to learn new things and challenge myself. Every time I feel that life gets boring, I entertain myself through education. Before the pandemic hit, I was already contemplating on upskilling and hoping to carve a new career path. When the world took a stand still in 2020, I took that as an opportunity to pick a course to study and enrol. I found myself getting immersed in Digital Marketing.

Why did you choose Xi and what made you choose your course?

I was initially interested in learning UX Design. I remember going to one of Academy Xi’s info nights in Sydney to dip my toe in the water. However, I found the learning curve steep, so I decided to switch to Digital Marketing. Plus, a friend of mine suggested it too. 

There were a lot of online courses offering Digital Marketing. I attended a few free intro courses with different organisations and read reviews about several institutions before deciding. I found myself genuinely interested in learning Strategies, Content and Social Media – three areas where I would like to focus my attention. 

To be honest, I cannot even remember why I chose Academy Xi. All I know is that it felt right and somehow the institution made me feel that I belong. I love how they have built a good community of learners and mentors.

The course was very extensive, and I learned more than I expected. It was exciting!

Tell us what you enjoyed most about the whole experience

I found myself looking forward to our Monday night sessions with my classmates and mentor. It was tough to understand the theories at first, but the activities and assessments helped in applying what we have learned so far. The part I enjoyed the most was  the team projects where we worked with real-life clients. I was excited to put my learnings into action! Whilst it was nerve wracking to speak and present to a client, it was rewarding at the same time. Those mini achievements meant so much to me and our team, as well as our mentor.

Were there any personal or professional obstacles that you had to overcome to complete your studies?

I was very blessed to have supportive family, friends, and teammates. Apart from a few concepts and theories that are harder to comprehend (I’m looking at you Programmatic Advertising and Finance Calculations), I feel all went well while I studied. Our mentor was approachable and always ready to give me a hand whenever I get stuck.

Tell us more about what you’re doing at the moment. 

While working part time, I am participating in Academy Xi’s Outcomes Program and hoping to land a role in Digital Marketing. I am starting to expand my network connections on LinkedIn and connect with like-minded people (If that is you, hit connect and send me a note! Here’s my LinkedIn profile!). Oh, and I do yoga daily. It is one of my new year’s resolutions to practice every day for a whole year. Wish me luck!

Has the content you have learnt been useful in your career? Could you give an example of how/where you used the knowledge learnt?

All the content that I have learnt is useful in building my career as a Digital Marketer. It has given me confidence to carve a new path and continue my journey. To keep myself busy and to continually apply my learnings, I am helping a non-profit start-up company build their website and brand awareness online through social media. If you are curious, follow Alt Coffee Beans on Instagram and Facebook to see our progress, although it is very much in its early stages. 

What are your plans for the future?

I am focusing most of my energy on landing a role in Digital Marketing and working on the non-profit project. Whilst my priority is to land a full-time role, I am also open to internships and expanding my experience in an office environment. Continually learning, getting better and sharpening my skills.

Any advice or tips you would like to pass on to our current and future students?

If I am to give any advice for future and current students, it would be to never give up. Yes, it is a cliché, yet one that is also true. Education is an achievement that cannot be taken from you and continuously learning is a gift. Every step you take towards your goal is worth it. Believe in yourself and soon you will find that you are a better person today than you were yesterday.  As for tips? Ask. Always!

Interested in any of our Digital Marketing courses? Whether you’re looking to upskill or completely change your career, we have the right course for you. Explore our Digital Marketing courses today.

Search our website

Find the right course