Alexa Bennett

Location: New York City
Age: 25
Occupation: Marketing manager

Fresh out of Texas A&M University, Alexa Bennett and her now-husband moved to New York in 2012 with big dreams of making it in the big city. Today, Alexa has certainly accomplished a great deal, but it’s not what she envisioned when she first arrived in town.

Alexa spent her first summer in New York searching for a job. Armed with a degree in art history and design, she imagined working at one of the city’s famous galleries buying and selling art, despite having no experience in the field. Unfortunately, hopes and dreams don’t pay the rent in New York, and Alexa was running out of options so she found a great headhunter and took a job as a receptionist with Insight Venture Partners, a $13 billion private equity and venture capital firm (and Udemy investor; but more about that in a moment).

As she settled into her new job, Alexa quickly noticed that Insight did not have a formal marketing department, even though the firm actively helped its portfolio companies with their marketing needs. Alexa made it her personal mission to create and be Insight’s marketing department herself, even if it seemed like “an uphill battle” to embark on from behind the reception desk. For starters, she took responsibility for managing the firm’s social media presence and dove into learning as much as possible about Insight Venture Partners.

That’s how she came across Udemy, one of Insight’s portfolio companies, and realized there were courses on all of the things she wanted to do as a marketing professional. She got approval from her boss, the firm’s CFO, and began taking courses on everything from Excel to PowerPoint to web design and Adobe Illustrator — all while she was sitting at reception. Within several months, word got around that Alexa knew how to do much more than greet guests and answer phones. Partners started giving her projects. One of the first big projects she tackled was organizing a large database and sharing the data analytics with the firm’s partners. At the time she felt a lot of pressure to get it right and impress the partners so they would trust her to do more. That led her to take “Microsoft Excel 2010: Advanced Training” on Udemy that helped her understand formulas and charts.

Needless to say, the partners were impressed. After about 18 months, Alexa was spending at least half her time at work doing marketing for the firm. She’d also started taking Udemy courses on her personal interests, like photography. She discovered that online learning was much more useful than what she’d done in college because “it was in real time and applicable to the work I was actually doing.”

From her prior school experiences, she’d considered herself the type of person who was really good at lectures and test-taking, but “that didn’t necessarily mean I knew the concept.” Now, with Udemy, she was getting actionable instruction that was making a huge impact on her daily life and career prospects.

It got to the point where it was hard to balance her presence at the reception desk with her marketing responsibilities. When Insight moved to a new office in October 2014, Alexa was told she’d be sitting in a cubicle as part of her promotion to the firm’s full-time marketing manager. On Insight’s website today, Alexa’s bio says she manages the firm’s marketing, public relations, events, design, and web presence. Not bad for a self-taught art history major with no previous experience!

To those who know her, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Alexa took the ball and ran with it once she found Udemy. She credits her parents in Texas with raising her to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps, eat what you kill, and cowgirl up.” There were times she got discouraged and wanted to quit and feared she’d be a receptionist forever, but Udemy “proved to me that I can do anything,” just like her mom and dad always told her.

Just like the song says about New York, New York, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Alexa’s story demonstrates that’s really true — as long as you also have access to quality instruction for developing critical skills.