Peering into the Future of Work, with Hacker Exchange co-founder, Jeanette Cheah.

Hacker Exchange co-founder, Jeanette, recently spoke at the Universities Australia Higher Education Conference ‘Degrees of Change’ in Canberra, Australia. Here are some of her thoughts about the Future of Work and the role of education. 

“Startups and Seismic Change in The Future of Work”


On any given day, this would be an epic topic.

So when I was asked to speak on this concept at the Universities Australia Conference – with Vice-Chancellors, policy makers and revered Professors in the audience – the pressure was on!

Firstly – my panel. What an honour to be sitting alongside Michael Brennan, Chair of the Productivity Commission; Dr Kate Cornick, CEO of LaunchVic, Professor Dineli Mather, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Graduate Employability at Deakin. Not to mention, our amazing moderator, Professor Jane den Hollander, Vice-Chancellor of Deakin University.

I was asked to discuss my journey from a traditional university education to startup founder, and to share some themes that The Hacker Exchange is seeing as being important to the ‘Future of Work’.

Here’s just a few of the insights I shared on the panel:

The future of work requires fundamentally different types of leaders.
A NAB report found that 73% of Gen Zs expect ongoing learning will be part of their career. And we believe skills such as the ability to rapidly ‘unlearn’ something you know just last month, being highly collaborative, comfortable with uncertainty and action-orientated will help graduates and professionals become the kind of leaders who will thrive and help to create the culture of our future workplace.

Startup education is not only for people who want to be founders. 
We believe that learning ‘how to start a startup’ is a perfect vehicle to help build these next generation skills. Building a startup helps people build resilience, creativity, storytelling, confidence and idea validation. It also encourages students to see themselves as global citizens and to push the boundaries of the problem they are solving for real humans.

We also believe that startup skills – and more importantly, mindsets – are essential for all careers. I often say that I want to see HEXies (that’s what we call our Alumni) shaping the economy from all angles – working in politics, education, leading corporates, and creating new businesses. Startup education is relevant for every career path.

Mythbusting: The ‘single pathway to success’. 
Speaking of career paths – I shared my personal experience and the paralysing fear I had when I was choosing my school electives in Year 9. We are trained from a young age to follow a pre-defined pathway of school, uni, career, death. It’s linear, and it encourages us to chase perfection – HDs. 100% on exams. The best grad jobs.

Believing that there is just one version of ultimate success gives us massive FOMO and a real fear that we are going to make the wrong choice and derail our entire future. It’s up to educators and mentors to help next gen leaders realise that they have the power to shape their future in multiple different ways, to make intelligent pivots when they need to, and to define success on their own terms.

Mythbusting: All founders drop out of uni. 
We often hear the stories of Zuckerberg, Gates, Jobs – brilliant founders who dropped out of university to build businesses. But the reality is that 87% of Aussie founders have tertiary credentials (Startup Muster, 2018). We believe tertiary education will remain the backbone of knowledge acquisition, and flexible programs like The Hacker Exchange exist to help reimagine tertiary education for the future of work.

At the end of the day, we want to create a generation of leaders who see the world they want to create, and actually take action to make it a reality.

And as much as I love following the growth and development of new technology, I believe that the future of work is much less about the technology and much more about the people who will lead us there.


Jeanette Cheah is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of the Hacker Exchange, a company created to advance entrepreneurial education for tertiary students in Australia and beyond. The Hacker Exchange partners with leading universities to provide undergraduate and postgraduate students the opportunity to immerse themselves in world-class innovation ecosystems like Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv, Singapore and beyond. Jeanette has represented Australia at the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance, and is a Victorian Finalist for ‘Public Sector and Academia’ in the Telstra Business Women Awards, 2019.