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From the Army to Uber with Gabriela Fernandez

August 17, 2021 / Global

by Chelsea Kelly

Gabriela Fernandez is no stranger to firsts. She’s a first-generation Mexican American. The first person in her family to go to college. And at the age of 19 she was the first person in her family to join the Army, a path she would traverse for 4 years across multiple continents. With money tight and no clear career goal in mind, Gabriela, who goes by Gabby, made the decision to trade her rural town outside of Davis, California for basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. “That was the first time I had ever been on a flight,” she says, “so that’s a small glimpse into how my life completely changed.”

With a low female to male ratio, the army represented a huge shift. “I was thrown into a completely different culture, a very hyper masculine environment, and was solely responsible for my decisions.” Being only 19, there was also a lot to learn about who she was. “I was challenged to do things I never thought I could do, but I found that if I just put my mind to it, I could achieve.” She started gaining confidence and learning to work with people with different experiences, perspectives, and attitudes. Later, she moved to South Korea and then Kuwait, where she monitored the health and welfare of US satellites. Four years in, she planned on reenlisting until she realized that it was time to apply what she’d learned in the army to a new challenge.

Finding her niche

Gabby enrolled in community college and then transferred to UC Berkeley, where she studied American History. After spending years in the Army developing her skills as a leader, she knew she wanted to apply them in her next role. “When you go from the military to civilian life, you don’t really know where you fit in or what value you bring to companies, because even though the skills are often transferable, you don’t realize that. Then I realized I have the experience, I have the knowledge, I can do this.”

It was in a subsequent role at Target that the inspiration for Gabby’s future career path began to solidify. As an Executive Team Leader, she realized she liked helping and mentoring her peers. “They were curious about my background. I would talk about my personal journey and then give advice on transferring from community college and how to get into a four year university, or I would ask them ‘what’s your 5 year plan?,’ ‘what’s your 10 year plan?’ ‘what are you really passionate about?’ I learned that I was really interested in recruiting and onboarding and development, or more so talent acquisition or talent operations. At that time I didn’t even know that those roles or industry existed.”

Military foundations and grit

Gabby’s newfound interest in talent acquisition led her to join Uber as a Talent Coordinator in 2018; in this role she helped ensure that candidates have a great experience when they interview at Uber by anticipating and coordinating all interview logistics. She discovered the opportunity via a reach out on LinkedIn, and although she had never heard of the role, she figured it would be a great opportunity to learn more about the field. Gabby credits her military beginnings with laying the foundation of adaptability, grit, and a willingness to try tough new things in order to learn new skills. She also learned to reframe challenges not as problems but as opportunities to learn and to build a repertoire of skills that would inevitably help her in the future. “Something I was taught in basic training that I never forgot is to be the first to action, meaning don’t be afraid to dive in headfirst even if you don’t know or understand one hundred percent. I try to apply that in my career when new projects arise—rather than questioning if I’m the best person to volunteer, or thinking I need to be an expert, I just raise my hand to take it on.”

A breath of fresh air at Uber

Gabby found Uber’s culture to be quite welcoming: “I thought that it was the most diverse culture I had ever seen, especially in terms of the people that I worked with. It was like a breath of fresh air.” Gabby especially loved the Uber value of “we value ideas over hierarchy,” something that she has seen stay consistent in her nearly three years of tenure. “At Uber, you have the opportunity to make a difference regardless of what role you’re in or what your level is.”

One other notable difference between life in the military and life at Uber, Gabby says, is in the ability to be her authentic self. In the military I learned to keep my personal life and work life separate.” Now, she feels more of a flow between her long-term career goals and her personal life goals, which are supported by her manager and by Uber as a whole, where she doesn’t have to hide aspects of who she is. “I can chat with my coworkers about my personal life, I can be myself when talking with my manager about goals and deliverables, and I am able to do a better job and contribute more because of that level of acceptance.”

If you are a military veteran or partner looking for opportunities, Gabby advises, “take initiative and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to other veterans on LinkedIn, or Uber’s MVP Employee Resource Group (ERG), and grow your network. Most of the time people are willing to help if you are willing to ask.”

Visit Uber’s Military Veterans and Partners ERG page to learn more and explore opportunities on our Careers site →