“My Transition” Story #11: Joe Cardenas — Navy Vet to Google
Joe went from US Navy to UC Berkeley graduate and on to work at Google. His story shows how military skills and training can open the door to incredible careers.
I think the most important thing that the military helps define is grit. Grit is imperative to persevering through tough situations in order to succeed.
San Francisco, CA — Joe Cardenas grew up in a small town in Southern California and joined the Navy after high school. The skills and values that he learned as an Information Systems Technician set him up for success in life. He graduated from UC Berkeley and landed a job at Google where he now works as a Customer Engineer for Google Cloud. His lessons are worth a read:
DJS: Why did you join the military?
I joined the military because of multiple reasons. The first being I wanted to do something that I would be proud of for the rest of my life. The Navy definitely fulfilled that craving of mine and I’m proud of my service to this day. I also grew up with a working class background and would have had to take immense loans in order to go to college. The military helped me become an adult, travel, and hone a strong work ethic.
I wanted to do something that I would be proud of for the rest of my life.
DJS: What were the most important skills or lessons that you learned?
The military helped defined the person I am today. There are many lessons and skills the military teaches you that are hard to learn in a traditional academic or work setting. One of those skills is to remain calm under pressure. This skill has benefitted me in countless situations in work and outside of it. However, I think the most important thing that the military helps define is grit. Grit is imperative to persevering through tough situations in order to succeed.
DJS: Did you know what you were going to do when you got out?
Kind of, but to be honest not really. I knew I loved computers, geopolitics, and law. I started with a path towards software engineering but after spending all night coding a complex java application with “Interview with a Vampire” playing in the background on repeat I realized this wasn’t that wasn’t the life for me. I ended up getting my degree in Political Science taking my LSAT and then ending up in tech. Life is funny that way.
DJS: When did you start applying to colleges and how did you find all the resources/choose/etc?
I found it daunting to apply to college after being out of school for so long. I studied for the SAT and took it in order to apply to UCSD. I was calling admissions departments until a kind soul at UCSD let me know that I was a nontraditional student and had missed the application deadline. After her help and advice I ended up going to a community college until I transferred to UC Berkeley.
I found it daunting to apply to college after being out of school for so long.
DJS: Tell me about your initial job search?
I worked with a computer repair company while going to school and also served in the Navy Reserve. While the pay wasn’t great the health insurance through the Navy Reserve helped me have a safety net if I broke my leg or some other limb doing what young 20 something year olds do. Once I graduated from UC Berkeley I applied fervently and went to all the career fairs to try and land a job. While it was disheartening to get rejections, or even worse not getting a response at all, I remained focused and knew that if I persisted I would land a job somewhere.
DJS: How did you find your current job at Google?
I actually applied a few times to Google and didn’t receive a response. It was actually through a UC Berkeley Veteran’s event that I applied again to a cloud computing related role. I was contacted by a recruiter over the phone and after a somewhat protracted application process received a role with Google Cloud.
I actually applied a few times to Google and didn’t receive a response. It was actually through a UC Berkeley Veteran’s event that I applied again to a cloud computing related role.
DJS: Did you use any veteran networking to land your current position?
Inadvertently. The application was after a UC Berkeley Veteran’s event and also the recruiter was a former Navy Corpsman. He and I remain friends and I always wondered if he took a second look at my resume because of my military experience.
DJS: What was your initial training and experience like?
The transition from military to college and then from college to the private sector was interesting to say the least. When I started at Google I was extremely happy to learn that they had a veterans group there, VetNet. I immediately joined and was warmly welcomed by the group. The training for Google Cloud was great. It helped me come up to speed and identify where I could have impact for Google.
DJS: What skills from the military translated into your job and made you successful in your current role?
I was an Information Systems Technician while in the Navy. That training and experience was immensely useful. I was the system administrator for a 370+ unit and that meant dealing with servers, switches, routers, databases, backups, etc. When I came to Google I saw the transformation that was happening with cloud computing. I immediately took to it and was excited to learn more and more as the industry matured.
DJS: Are there other veterans in your workplace? If so, how is that dynamic?
There are tons of other veterans at Google and plenty in Google Cloud. It’s been great to be able to have lunches with them, see them around the buildings, and share stories with them. It’s an instant bond when you learn that someone else is a veteran.
There are tons of other veterans at Google and plenty in Google Cloud. It’s an instant bond when you learn that someone else is a veteran.
DJS: If you knew one thing before the transition process that would have made your experience easier, what would that be?
Work hard to clearly translate your military experience to the private sector. There were things that I was doing in the military (e.g. Communications Watch Officer, Inserve) that are useful for a company to know about when you are sharing your resume. You have to work to translate those experiences into clear terms that a private sector company would understand.
Work hard to clearly translate your military experience to the private sector.
DJS: What was the hardest piece of the transition?
The camaraderie the military gives you is hard to find. Work life is great and I have no complaints but it’s not the same as eating, sleeping, working, and working out with your team. That sort of proximity builds very strong social bonds that help in everything the team does.
DJS: What is one piece of advice that you have for anyone reading this?
The military is an amazing experience but also a difficult one to transition from. Use the community to your benefit. There are tons of veterans that would like nothing more than to lend a helping hand. If you ever need help in anything never hesitate to reach out to the veteran network.
There are tons of veterans that would like nothing more than to lend a helping hand… never hesitate to reach out to the veteran network.
Joe Cardenas served in the US Navy from 2005–2009 as an Information Systems Technician. He served aboard the USS McCampbell from 2005–2007 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and the USS Gary from 2007–2009 during Operation Valiant Shield and counter-narcotics operations. He is a 2013 graduate of UC Berkeley and has worked for Google since 2013, with both Google Enterprise and Google Cloud.
Google Veteran Careers — There are many ways to put your military skills and experience to work at Google. To help you get started, here are just a few of the many diverse career paths where veterans are having a tremendous impact.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America — IAVA is the leading post-9/11 veteran empowerment organization (VEO) with the most diverse and rapidly growing membership in America.
Post 9/11 GI Bill — The VA’s education website provides all of the information you need to transition from the military and make use of your GI Bill benefits at an accredited academic institution or technical school.
VA Health Care — Everything you need to know about your VA healthcare benefits, including: eligibility, prescriptions, applications, and coverage.
Military One Source — A confidential Department of Defense-funded program providing comprehensive information on every aspect of military life at no cost to active duty, Guard and Reserve Component members, and their families.
Are you interested in sharing your story of transition? Or are you a military transition specialist who would like to share some tips? Send me an email at MilitaryTransitionStories@gmail.com
The goal of this series is to bridge the military-civilian divide in three ways: 1) Highlight the incredible skills and value that military veterans of all generations and backgrounds bring into the workplace. 2) Help transitioning veterans understand their true value and therefore aim as high as possible in their employment and educational goals. 3) Discuss the common struggles, pitfalls and indicators of success in veteran transition, in order to provide better transition assistance from both military and civilian sides.