Julia Taylor runs GeekPack®, which helps women learn coding and work online in their own businesses. In this interview she talks about entrepreneurship as a learned skill, what it’s like to live/work from an RV, her program that helps underprivileged women around the world, and much more!
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Introducing Julia Taylor
Julia Taylor is a self-taught web-developer and online business owner who founded GeekPack® in 2018. She is passionate about empowering women and girls everywhere to create better lives for themselves by teaching them how to code and subsequently manage their own businesses in the digital realm.
Her own journey into the world of coding began in 2008, for reasons we get into in this interview. She ran her own business location-independently as a WP developer including living and working from an RV for two years.
Eventually she transitioned into teaching others how to code and develop their own online businesses, and since founding GeekPack, Julia has empowered over 2,400 women to learn coding and work on their own terms as virtual business owners
In this interview, we discuss:
- Why it’s important to take imperfect action.
- How entrepreneurship is a learned skill, and how Julia made the transition from freelancer to running an agency to having a full online business.
- What it was like for Julia to live and work full-time in an RV for two years (spoiler alert: it’s not all it’s cracked up to be).
- The GeekForGeek program, and how Julia is teaching underprivileged women around the world to code and earn money online.
Watch our interview here, or if you prefer to read, check out the transcript below.
Interview Transcript with Julia Taylor of GeekPack
Julia: Hi, thank you so much for having me. I am so excited to be here.
Nora: Excellent. The enthusiasm is mutual. Now, before I dive into some of the more specific questions I have about what you do and why you do it, I’d like to take everybody back to 2008 when you were a military spouse.
How Julia’s online career got started
Nora: My understanding of anyone who is a military spouse is it’s a very transient lifestyle. It can be very difficult to manage a career. How were you managing your own career in this time and what was your lifestyle?
Julia: I’ll take you back to 2008. I actually didn’t become a military spouse until– gosh, I had to think about it, 2011– but in 2008 is when my journey began. I used to work for the U.S. Intelligence community. In 2008, I was deployed to Afghanistan. That was my first deployment. I did six months there. While I was there, not long after arriving, I met and fell in love with a guy. He happens to be British, and that’s the plot twist there.
We dated, in so much as you can in Afghanistan. Of course, I then– I know it was, it was bizarre and thinking back to that time– and I did six months there. He was doing a lot of time there. I came home and we decided to stay together, and we did long distance for about a year and a half.
I deployed again. He deployed multiple times. It was a lot of just going back and forth. Professionally, I loved what I did. But personally, it was not working. I decided to leave my job with the government and moved to the UK to get married. In 2011, I did officially become a military spouse.
As you mentioned, we moved a lot. Here I’d gone from having a fantastic career with the U.S. Government. My career projection was just going up and up. I left that to follow my heart, as cliche as that sounds. We’re still married to this day. We just celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary a few weeks ago.
I moved across. We got married. I found myself moving every couple of years with his job. I realized very early on that if I wanted to have any kind of career again, I needed to find something that meant I could be location independent. Because of his job, we were very location dependent.
Earning money online and starting an online business
Julia: I was desperately looking for something and I didn’t even know where to start. I didn’t know that online businesses were real. Of course, I thought everything was a scam. I didn’t have any education in anything techie. I’d never coded before. Nothing like that.
I randomly came across coding, kind of forced into it, by a boss at one of my nine-to-fives. That’s when it clicked. It was just completely magical for me. My boss asked me to do something. I Googled what he asked me to do, because I didn’t know what he was talking about. I found this line of code and I figured out how to put it into the backend of the website.
Again, Google. It was my best friend back then. Sure enough, it worked, and all the light bulbs just went off. I thought, “If I could figure this out in five minutes, what if I were to learn this as a skill? Then surely companies would want to hire me and I could work remotely.” I had this dream idea that a real job would want to hire me. Of course, that didn’t work out. But, yeah, that’s my story and how I got started.
Nora: For anyone who is watching this, it’s very important to remind you that this is 2011. This is when words like ‘location independent‘ didn’t even exist. The idea of a remote career– like you said, you look at these websites on the internet and they look more like scams than real deals or possibilities.
Coding as well was certainly not in its infancy, but it was certainly in the process of being developed. Really 2011, in my opinion, was really when the move to online e-commerce and entrepreneurship and businesses was really getting going. That’s when the demand for coders was really getting rolling.
Because you were starting this location independent business and developing this new skill in the very early days, you, like me, probably stumbled your way up the learning curve. I made a lot of mistakes. I’m sure you did as well. I’m curious what it was like for you in those early days and what you learned and how that has evolved?
Julia: It was really hard. I try not to say the word ‘mistakes’ too often because I made a lot of them, but I learned a lot of lessons. I try very hard. Now, I have the absolute honor and joy to teach other women how to code.
I kind of fell into it. 2011, 2012. But I didn’t actually start my online business until 2016. That is a huge gap. I don’t want my students to have to do that. I learned a lot of lessons in that time. I had imposter syndrome like no one’s business. I tried to get a real job. No one would consider me at all.
It wasn’t even something that anyone would even look at a resume, because I didn’t go and get a fancy degree, or I didn’t have 82 years of experience, or whatever. I was really, really discouraged. Even though I taught myself and I was super passionate about it and I loved it and I was pretty good at it. No one would still ever look at me.
A friend of mine, he was actually a friend of my husband’s, who was retiring from the military and starting his own business. He said, “Do you know how to build websites? Can you build me a website? I need one for my business.” And I was like, “That’s silly. Who does that?”
Sure enough, he convinced me and I did. I built him his website and he loved it. He’s like, “This is it. This is what you should do. You should start your own business and build websites for small businesses.”
I was like, “That’s not a real thing.” I was so against– no one in my family was an entrepreneur. I didn’t really know what that meant. All I ever knew was having a real job. It really took a lot of time for me to get over those hurdles. I finally thought, “Okay. Well, I’m not getting a real job. No one’s considering me. This is what I love and what I want to do. So, why not? I’ll give it a go.”
So I did. I started a business. Even once I technically started it, it still took me about a year and a half before I found clients, because I didn’t know I could find clients on Facebook. I didn’t know– and of course I wasn’t that savvy with social media back then because of my last job.
It took me a little bit longer to get into the social media realm of working online and things like that. It all started to pick up and late 2016, early 2017. I found a community of other women in a Facebook group and they all had their own online businesses.
I thought, “Oh my gosh. There’s other people that I can talk to about this, and we could share experiences.” That really opened my eyes to, “Okay, this is not a scam. This is a real thing. I have a real, tangible skill that I can offer. I can help people with all sorts of stuff in the tech side of their business. Their website, hosting, domains, all the stuff that goes along with it.” I did client work. Working with clients. I ran an agency. For a couple of years, really.
While I was running my agency, my husband decided to retire from the military. He did 21 years. We thought, “Well, what’s next? Is he going to get the Real Job?” He was looking at places in Silicon Valley. We thought, “Why don’t we–” We love to travel. We didn’t know where we wanted to settle in the U.S. We thought, “Well, why don’t we just sell everything and live in an RV and just travel around the U.S.?” So we did. It was the most freeing experience.
We sold everything. Vehicles. Furniture. Everything. Moved into an RV. For two years we traveled around the U.S. I was working. He was working, starting his own business. It was while I was traveling and I’m sharing my experience on Instagram and people were saying, “How are you able to travel full time? Are you independently wealthy? Are your parents paying for it?” All these things. Which, of course, none of those things were real.
Learning to be an online entrepreneur
Julia: I said, “No. I taught myself how to code and I build websites. I have my own business.” Everyone was like, “I want to learn how to do that. You know, that sounds like a real legit thing to do.” So I thought, “Okay. I’ll give it a go.” I’d never taught anything before, but I had a lot of experience learning. Being self-taught, I knew what worked for me when I was going through the learning process. I thought, “I’m just going to teach it the way that I wish I’d been taught.” It’s the only thing I knew how to do.
Sure enough, people enjoyed it and they wanted to learn more. That’s where the education piece came in. Now, full time, I get to teach women how to code and build online businesses and work from anywhere and have the location independent lifestyle that they want and need. I’ve been doing that since 2018.
Nora: You pretty much answered every question I have prepared for you. Thank you very much, everybody, and goodnight!
Julia: Oh, I’m sorry.
Nora: No! That was absolutely perfect! You’re obviously a very accomplished guest because you know how to create the story arc and to really lay the foundation for what it is, this career progression. You did so many things, you’ve experienced things. You were self-taught. Then you were looking for jobs, traditional jobs, with that skill. Realized that those weren’t really available to you. So you went out, and you did it yourself as a freelancer, and then you turned that freelance work into an agency. Where I’m assuming you employed other people in addition to doing your own client work.
Then, as you continued to network and your business continued to evolve, you saw a new need, very entrepreneurial you, in realizing that there were other people who wanted to learn the skills that you had already developed by yourself, with the learning experiences along the way. That’s an amazing story.
Now, prior to this, did you have any entrepreneurial experience or did you just feel your way into this whole thing?
Julia: I didn’t. No. None. I felt my way into it. Now that being said, I do have a business coach who I actually met back in 2017. I’ve been working with her ever since. I was just at a live event with her and all the other people she coaches last week.
I do things pretty slowly. I like to watch, and watch other entrepreneurs and I see what they do. Then I go, “Ooh, I like that idea, but I’m going to tweak it this way.” Or, “I like that idea. I’m going to tweak it that way.” There’s not a lot of things that I do that’s like, no one’s ever done before, but I don’t want to reinvent the wheel.
I do things pretty slowly and in my time. Which has worked very well for me. There’s times to move quick, and there’s times to move slow. The growth of my business has– I have just taken a lot of advice from a lot of other people, very successful entrepreneurs, because I don’t really have that bone in my body.
It’s a learned skill. Growing my team, running my team, is something that I absolutely love and adore. That, again, is a learned skill. I’ve had a lot of people help me, give me ideas and things. I’m very, very good at taking advice, and running with people that give me good advice, and just going for it. That’s really how I’ve built the business and grown the business.
Nora: I so appreciate the fact that you’re saying that this was a learned skill for you. I think that there’s a school of thought out there that entrepreneurial-ism, or someone who is an entrepreneur, is a born entrepreneur. They’ve got that magical DNA that makes them a good entrepreneur.
The fact that you can say, “No, no, no. It’s learned.” The fact that you didn’t try to reinvent the wheel. You learn from the people who were doing things and doing them well. You got the coach. You invested in yourself as well as in your business and your skills. And you applied everything that you were learning into your business.
That’s entrepreneurial-ism at its finest. You have done an exemplary job of that. Good for you. What are some of the key differences that you experienced between when you first started freelancing and then– What was the inspiration, and the differences, between when you went from freelancing on your own, to running an agency, to then running GeekPack? What was your inspiration to scale in that way? What changed for you in terms of how you managed your business and your daily operations?
Going from freelancing to running an agency to having a full business
Julia: When I was freelancing I loved it, because I was doing the thing that I loved. I got to code. I got to build websites. I got to get in and do all the dirty work. And I loved it. When I was freelancing, I thought, “Why would I ever do anything different? I don’t have to manage anyone. It’s just me. I do what I want.” And this and that.
I very quickly got way too busy. I said, “Yes” to way too many jobs. It got to a point to where I was literally working nonstop. That was not all that much fun. Here I’d tried to create a business and lifestyle for myself where I was location independent, but I was working all the time. It didn’t really matter where I was working. I was just working all the time. I thought, “Okay, I’ll bring in some help. Then I can start to outsource some projects, and manage it, rather than being the one that was doing it.” Surprisingly, I really enjoyed having other people doing things. I enjoyed that aspect.
But that was probably my least favourite phase in the business because they weren’t employees. They weren’t on the team. They were subcontractors. They were doing other things and my business was not the focus. I didn’t feel like we were a team. I wasn’t doing the thing that I loved. I was making more money and I had more clients, but it wasn’t as fulfilling. I felt kind of lost in that stage.
When we started traveling and had people ask me to teach, the next phase that I went into, that I absolutely loved, was seeing other women who had never, ever coded before– nothing, they never thought they could do it– their reaction when they did something that they’ve never done before. When you hear “learning to code”, immediately, people think, “Oh, that’s going to be hard.” Because Hollywood makes you think it’s harder.
It makes you think that only men can do it, that have 82 years of experience, or whatever. There’s all these misconceptions. When I was able to come start from the very, very beginning and show them these cool tricks, and see it happen on the screen, and their reaction, “Oh my gosh. Me. I can do this.”
That was what I kept hearing. It was incredibly fulfilling to think that I could share that magical moment with other women. I get, at the end of the day, I teach a skill. However, when women learn that skill, it’s their confidence that skyrockets, and that is what we teach. That is what we empower women through learning this “hard skill”. When you see the confidence just skyrocket, that is absolutely amazing. That was the next phase that I loved.
As GeekPack really started to grow, I thought, “Okay. I need a team. I need employees. I need people who are working in my team and just on my team.” That’s where I am now. It is, I struggled not to get choked up, but it is the most incredible and rewarding experience, that I get to work with women on my team who love my mission, the GeekPack vision, the core values. They live it and breathe it and they believe in it.
Everyone that’s on my team came through my program. They learned how to do all the things. They project the same love and care and support and encouragement to my community that I used to. Now I get to empower my team so that they know that they can then go and empower all the women in my community.
That’s where I am now. I don’t think I’ve ever actually said all that out loud before. Being able to go back and watch the growth and the change, I’m just so incredibly fortunate that I get to. As I said at the beginning, running a team and all of the things that come with that, that is a learned skill.
I didn’t know how to do that. I’d never managed anyone before. I read a lot of books. I listened to a lot of experts. I take what works for me personally. I just try to make sure that my love and passion for GeekPack and the community of women that we have, that goes to my team. They take that and they push that down to the community as well. That’s been the progression throughout my career so far.
Nora: One of the things that occasionally happens for entrepreneurs when they evolve from working in their business to working on their business, is they find that they’re no longer doing the tasks that they trained themselves to do, and that were really the impetus for starting the business to begin with. It sounds from your own progression, that’s exactly what happened. Your daily tasks now are completely different from what they once were. You’re definitely working on the business and you’re managing empowering a team to do it. You’re speaking about it with great passion and enthusiasm. I feel like you’ve made that transition well. For someone who might feel that they’re not, that they’ve maybe lost sight of the ball, would you have any advice for them?
Julia: Lost sight of the ball in the sense of the thing that they started to do, that they loved initially?
Nora: And suddenly they’re now lost in the weeds of working on the business as opposed to in it and doing the tasks that they initially enjoyed doing.
Julia: Sure. I still struggle with this. I’m not so sure that it’s something that I’ll ever get over. I love to code and I still love all the nitty gritty. However, what I love more is growing my team. Growing my community. Empowering more women. Impacting more women.
That’s more of a longer-term result. It’s almost like when you’re a little kid and you want some candy and you don’t want to wait until dinner. What immediately gives me pleasure is coding. However, long-term, that’s not getting me, my business, my team, my community, where I want to be.
I have to keep sight of that. I constantly remind myself of my vision. It is reach. It is impact. It is “how can we empower as many women and girls all around the world as possible?” I have to keep that long view because short-term, I absolutely just want to do the things, but the long view.
I do things like this. I am being on shows and podcasts. I will network. I build relationships. Those are the things that will take GeekPack to the next level. Which means I can grow my team. I can grow my community. I can impact and empower more women.
I have to constantly keep reminding myself of my vision in order to keep moving the needle forward. I would say that’s probably the most important thing that I’ve done in my business. I spent a good amount of time figuring out, “What is the GeekPack mission, our core values, and our vision?” I remind myself of those things every single day.
Every decision I make in the business, “Is it in line with our mission, core values, and vision?” If it’s not, I don’t do it. If it is, then I do it, and I figure out the timeline. Figuring out those things was so impactful that now, not only for myself, but for my team and my community, we know where we’re going and we’re all on the same path together. That’s probably the best way to keep the eye on the ball.
Nora: You found the entrepreneurial secret sauce, which is the vision, the mission, and the goals. Absolutely. The overarching vision is what keeps you really getting out of bed every day and doing the thing and moving towards something else. And like you say, also inspiring your team members. Brilliant.
Living and working in an RV full-time
Nora: I want to pivot, and I want to go over to your experience of living and working from an RV full-time for two years. I had a very short dally with camper van life. At which point I realized that that was probably not my thing. But I’m also well aware that van life and RV life are two different things, and they come with a different set of lifestyle, and equipment, and all that sort of stuff.
What was it like for you living and working from an RV for two years?
Julia: It was nowhere near as glamorous as Instagram influencers make it seem. It was not. As I’ve mentioned before, that was probably right in the period of my business when I was working the most. I was still running my agency and starting up the education side at the same time. I was constantly having to find an internet connection. That was just a nightmare. It really limited us as to where we could go. Running an agency and building an education piece to your business. It was hard, hard work. It’s only now this year where I’m starting to reap the rewards of all of that hard work. It was. We were constantly chasing an internet signal. It was not the glamorous sunsets and hikes. We did. We still did all those things, but nowhere near what we expected.
My husband was starting his own business while we were traveling, as well. It was amazing to get to travel around. We traveled through the town that I live in now and we fell in love with it. We’re like, “This is it. This is where we want to settle, in as much as we can settle.” It was a fantastic experience, but it was not so much the glamorous lifestyle that I think we expected.
Nora: I’m really glad that you shared the reality versus the Instagram version of the lifestyle. Is that why you ultimately came off the road? Did you come off the road because you found the place at the town, and the place that you wanted to live? Or did you come off the road because you just found that it was not a complimentary lifestyle to the work that you were looking to do it?
Julia: The second one. We were not enjoying the travel because we were working so much. It didn’t quite fit with where we were in our work, where we were professionally, and where we wanted to be personally. Honestly, we got very lucky with the house and the area that we settled in.
But now, my husband has a truck with a rooftop tent on it. We still go and travel and camp. We’re three hours from Moab. National Parks at our doorstep. We still absolutely do the travel. We’ve gone down to Baja, Mexico. Anywhere we can go in the truck with a rooftop tent.
That’s really, at our core, what we love. Now that I have a team, I’d still take my laptop everywhere I go. If I have a connection, I will check and see how things are going, and this and that. Now, when I travel I try very, very hard to be in the moment. To be intentional about my time, and not try to take all the Instagram pictures to show off.
I got to do that, and it didn’t feel honest and genuine and authentic. Whereas now, because I have built the business and I have the team, I know that everything is going fine with the business. When I get to travel, I can check in, but I really try to just be in the moment and be present. We still get to have amazing travel experiences, but I don’t feel the need to show it off as much as I used to.
Nora: I’m glad that you’re not glorifying the lifestyle. Thank you for that. Thank you for your honesty around that. I did an interview with Gary Arndt a few moons ago, and he said it very well.
He said “You can travel. And you can work online. But you cannot do them simultaneously.” You can work online while you’re on the road. But the time and energy required to work online, it doesn’t really matter where you are in the world, in that time, all you need is the internet connection. So the lifestyle of travel is often dictated by your work.
While you were in the RV, you were also in a transitional phase of your business. I’m sure that even more of your time, and energy, and really just psychic mind space, was in your business to the point where you weren’t really able to appreciate the wonders that were around you in the travel experience.
For you to now separate out the travel experience from the work. You’re still working on the road, but you’re able to even just mentally say, “Okay, I’m having a travel experience right now. I’m going to throw myself into this. Then, when I get back at the end of the day, I’m going to throw myself into work.”
I think that is really a necessary thing for anyone who is looking at working abroad. That’s also a skill that is learned. One of the things that I really like about GeekPack’s vision is that you are empowering women, and women around the world, to learn to code and develop these online businesses.
Empowering women around the world with coding skills to make money online
Nora: How is it that you are reaching some of the women? Some of the people whose lives you can really change in effect would be women who are in developing countries. With this skill, they can then develop businesses that would really give them new opportunities, and new ways to provide for themselves and their families. How is it that you reach women around the world with GeekPack?
Julia: We just started, literally a couple of weeks ago, a brand new program to do exactly that. Because it’s hard. I guess my first question is, are you familiar with TOMS Shoes? The shoes. The shoe company. They have a one-for-one marketing model. Are you familiar with those?
Nora: Yep, absolutely. For every pair that somebody buys, they donate a pair to a homeless person.
Julia: Now, the extra pair of shoes goes around the world. But it started with kids in developing countries. But yes. One-for-one. Someone buys a pair of shoes, and then a pair of shoes is donated to someone who needs it.
I always had a big dream for GeekPack that I would one day start a nonprofit. Nothing gets me more excited than thinking that I could have a nonprofit arm to GeekPack. When I started to look into it, come to find out, setting up a nonprofit, running a nonprofit, and all the stuff that goes along with it, is a real pain because there’s all the rules and the bureaucracy that goes along with it.
I thought, “It’s effectively starting another business. Why would I put myself through that? When I have the means now, with the success of my for-profit business, that I could do something like what TOMS Shoes has done.” I had this revelation. I thought, “Why don’t I create something?”
And I did. I’ve called it GeekForGeek. It’s exactly that. I say it’s exactly that; it is still very much in its infancy. This is a really, really good example of taking imperfect action when you’re very passionate about something. I tell my students all the time to take imperfect action, even if it’s not right, even if it’s scary, all these reasons.
I thought, “I better show up. If I’m telling them to do it, I better do it. I decided I’m just going to get it set up. I’m going to get it started and see how it goes. It will iterate and it will change. A year from now, GeekForGeek will probably look different than it is now. I just wanted to do something.
I reached out to an international nonprofit called Dress for Success. They work with women in rough financial situations to– The way it was started was to dress them in suits when they go into interviews. Their organization has morphed to really work with women, primarily single women, all around the world to make sure that they’re helped out in rough financial situations.
I partnered with Dress for Success, and they were able to identify 20 women who really could use my program. We brought them into the program. We have these 20 women who otherwise would not have been able to join the program and they get to be in the community, and learn the skills, and take that on. And either apply for that job, or they can start their own business, or they can get that raise. All the things that they could do now with these tangible skills. Like we talked about, that’s the beginning of GeekForGeek.
I am right now on the hunt, trying to find other non-profits all around the world to partner with who can say to me, “We have X amount of women who need your program.” So long as it’s the right fit, we will take them into our program. It’s just that. GeekForGeek. Ideally, one day, I would like it to be when someone joins my program and pays the amount that someone else is then able to join. That’s where I would like to get in the future.
For now, I am able to say my for-profit business can take X number of women and we will bring them through the program. I’m incredibly fortunate to be in the position to be able to offer this program. Like I said, it’s imperfect action combined with a passion that I have, and I don’t have to mess with the whole bureaucracy of a nonprofit. I just get to do it because I want to. Because I have an amazing team. Because I have an amazing community. And because I know it will impact so many women’s lives that wouldn’t otherwise be able to do something like this. That’s one of the ways that we are growing, and we’re trying to impact as many women as we can, regardless of their financial state.
Nora: Everybody who is watching or listening to this here, Julia, now. If you run or know somebody who runs a nonprofit who can identify women who can learn, who could use these skills and would like to learn to code and start a digital business and help themselves and their families have a new life together. Get a hold of Julia at GeekPack. Thank you for that. Julia, this is brilliant. It’s been fantastic and informative and inspirational. Where can people find you and connect with you?
Connect with Julia here!
Julia: The easiest place is probably just my website. It’s GeekPack.com. I do have an Instagram account and all the other social media. On social media, I’m typically Julia the Geek. But my website is GeekPack.com, and we’ve got lots of stuff on there. The charities that we support. I mentioned our mission. Our core values. Our vision. All of that is on there. And all the other things that we do in GeekPack. That’s probably the best place to go.
Nora: Excellent. I noticed that you have a very full YouTube channel. Full of all kinds of instructional and inspirational and fun videos as well. You’re very fun on the camera.
Julia: Well, thank you.
Thank you so much, Julia, for joining me today. It’s been a real pleasure.
Julia: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Nora: I’m Nora Dunn, and I’m otherwise known as The Professional Hobo. I will catch you next time.
While there are many self-taught coders working online today, very few have taken their hard-earned knowledge, their passion for coding, and their desire to help others make money online, and made the type of impact that Julia Taylor has.
Since founding GeekPack a few short years ago, she has empowered over 2,400 women to develop the skills and business knowledge to successfully create careers earning money online. Whether through freelance developer jobs, working for and creating their own agencies, or seeking employment as remote workers, these women now have the skills and confidence and support to create the lives they seek. Julia continues to grow GeekPack and increase her ability to positively influence even more women each year.