Silke English studied Media and Communications at the University of Klagenfurt. Shortly after graduating, she joined a start-up which later relocated to Silicon Valley, taking her along. Today, she still has a wide range of responsibilities there, and in this interview she tells us how she manages to juggle all of these projects, how much her university degree helped her to start her career and what she still associates with the university today.
What initially drew you to the University of Klagenfurt?
At the time, I had to choose between the University of Applied Sciences in Villach and the University of Klagenfurt. I chose the university because it allowed me to work while I studied and gave me a lot more flexibility.
What was a memorable experience for you during your time as a student?
I suppose there were quite a few, since I really enjoyed studying at AAU and made a lot of friends. I have very fond memories of the best and funniest moments.
If I were to study again, I would…
…spend a semester abroad. Because I commuted between California and Carinthia, I didn’t make use of this opportunity during my time at university.
Were there any defining moments or people during your time at university?
Towards the end of my studies, Ms. Jost from the university’s career service was a great help and support. Günther Stotz definitely left an impression on me during my studies, but so did all the female professors at the Department of Media and Communications Studies, who showed me that women can achieve anything if they set their minds to it. It was amazing to be taught by so many successful female professors.
Did you spend time abroad during your studies? What experiences did you gain?
Unfortunately, I didn’t do a semester abroad, but I did spend several months each year in California during my time at university.
After graduating, you quickly relocated to the USA. How did that come about?
I met my husband during my time in California. My degree gave me excellent opportunities to get a job in the marketing field here in Silicon Valley, so we decided to settle here in California.
How has your career developed since you took that leap?
I was lucky enough to work for a start-up in Austria that was planning to move to the US. I was tasked with setting up the company here in Silicon Valley. This was also the time when I met my current business partner. He came up with the idea of an international co-working and event space for companies that want to move to Silicon Valley or companies from the USA that want to expand their market in Europe, South America or Africa. I was instantly excited by the idea and we set it up together.
To what extent has your new independence shaped you?
It was an exciting and instructive time for me, as I really had to push myself hard and was not allowed to be afraid of meeting new obstacles. There were many of those. I started in marketing with Growth Hacking and was quickly appointed Head of Operations. Later, I launched the Government Roundtable and an accelerator. To exchange ideas with and be friends with people from all countries, international VCs and C-levels from Amazon, Google, Paypal, Netflix, etc. still feels like a dream come true!
Has the pandemic changed anything?
Yes, when the pandemic hit us, we were forced to close the Space, unfortunately. I helped more than 100 start-ups to switch their thinking (pivot as they call it here). Based on this and my experiences in the last few years, I founded my own company and supported entrepreneurs and especially women entrepreneurs from all over the world in setting up and expanding their companies or entering Silicon Valley and the US market.
Then you founded a new company?
Yes, I started my own company “Paistetta Consulting” and I am a co-founder of “Vordermann US”. It’s a ‘manager in residence’ company that works with clients in a hands-on capacity, mainly in marketing and sales but also as they expand. For some time now, I have also been a partner in another company that supports women who are either in the process of setting up a company or who have an idea and need support in implementing it. We help them with our knowledge, but also financially with investments or by providing the right contacts through our network. Since November 2020, I have been on the board of a Santa Clara County project (Covid-19 Bridge to Recovery Program). Our aim is to help people who have been disproportionately affected by terminations and business closures due to Corona. The focus is on helping immigrants and minorities in the population to re-enter the job market and supporting existing companies by acting as advisors and mentors. It is great to work hand in hand with big companies from Silicon Valley (LinkedIn, state institutions, …) and to help a lot of people.
How do you manage to reconcile all these projects and activities?
Ever since I started working, I have always worked on lots of projects or several jobs at the same time. Even in my student days, I worked one or two jobs in addition to my studies in order to finance my trips to America. The work I have now created for myself with my companies has a common denominator for me, as every project is about the success of the clients and their companies.
I also love the variety you find in the projects and being able to find creative solutions to the unexpected issues that pop up. Of course, it’s not always easy and it’s not a conventional job, but I work with so many great people from every field, whether it’s the Covid Relief Programme, in retail for pet supplies, cryptocurrency, e-commerce, or software as a service.
What advice would you give to students today who want to work abroad after their studies?
It is not always an easy path to walk. It also depends on whether we are talking about an internship for a limited period of time or whether you are shifting the centre of your life to another country.
For those who are unsure, find out about opportunities and funding beforehand, as well as what visas are required, what part of town you want to live in and what the cost of living will be. Once that’s settled, then just go for it. I’m certainly not an adventurer, but I was so keen to see more of the world that I had the courage to do so.
What fascinates you most about your job?
I’m fascinated by the people I meet and I like the fact that no two days are the same. Also, I don’t have to twiddle my thumbs for eight hours a day. I’ve had those jobs in the past, and I’m glad it’s not like that any more.
What still connects you to the university today?
The friendships I formed. On the first day of the admission exam, I met someone who is still one of my best friends. I’m still in touch with her, even after all these years. I also like to keep in touch with other fellow students. It’s great to see how everyone has turned out, what we’re all doing and where we’ve ended up. Every time I visit home, I drive past the university and wave.