From Student to Staff: Gabriel Gonzalez

September 22, 2023

“Student-to-Staff” is a series featuring stories from Cal alumni who are now career employees in One IT. This series was created to show the importance of investing in our student staff, and how vital their work is to the university and its mission.

Gabriel Gonzalez is a true student-to-staff success story. A former UC Berkeley student, who now serves as interim Chief Information Officer for the entire campus. Read about his journey and lessons learned along the way. 

What led you to apply for your first student position at UC Berkeley? What was the title of the position, and what was the application process like? 

When I was a student at UC Berkeley, in the late 90’s - early 2000s, I was working at an internship in San Francisco. It ended because of the first dot com bubble burst back in 2001. So I was looking for another job and I knew I wanted to keep working in IT, then I heard about an open position in the law library on campus. It was a student work-study position. I believe the title was Student Lab Technician, and they still have them at the law library today! 

I sent in my resume and got called in for an interview. My interview took place in the law library and two people interviewed me. There weren’t too many questions, but this was 20 years ago - the process has definitely changed since then. I ended up getting the job, as a Student Lab Tech working the computer desk, supporting people in the law library (mostly law students). 

Did you stay in that position for a while, or did you move to other positions on campus during your time as a student?

I started the Student Tech position in the law library during the second half of my undergrad career. I continued there but changed positions. I did software development work for the law library as a student, under a full-time employee. 

After about a year I moved into another position, still in the law library and IT. I was also really active in the open computing facility on campus. I was the general manager there for one or two semesters (I don’t remember). So I was doing other things that weren’t directly related to my student work jobs but gave me extra responsibilities outside of classes. 

Do you have any tips for how students can balance the time and energy demands of balancing school and a job?

Two things. You have to really be honest with yourself about what you can accomplish in a given period of time, and be honest about your own habits. Whether you’re a night person or a day person, or you procrastinate - play to your strengths. If you’re someone who works from 12 - 3 a.m. really well, then don’t try to study at 8 a.m. And find a job that meets your strengths. If you try to go against that, you’re going to be woeful. You’re going to miss your deadlines and be stressed. 

Also, a lot of people who work on campus were once students at universities (some were even at Berkeley). They’re often very flexible and understanding. So ask for help if you need it, especially from your manager or supervisor. I’ve found that they’re very supportive and willing to help if you let them.

Did you transition from a student worker to a full-time campus employee? What was that like? Was it a big adjustment? 

Yes, I did. During my last semester, I was taking one or two classes and still working about 20 hours per week at the law library, consistently. When I graduated I was offered a full-time position as an IT person in the law library, doing a lot of what I’d been doing previously - so it wasn’t a huge shift. 

One day I was a student, the next day I was a full-time employee. It was in the same group, with the same people, doing most of the same work. My transition was easy but that’s because the group I worked with was very welcoming, supportive, and fun. That sense of community definitely made a difference. 

CIOs at UC Tech 2023

Do you feel your time as a student worker prepared you for full-time employment? If so, how? 

Yes, in some ways it did. I definitely learned a lot about being professional, specifically in the university context. Early on as a student, you have a student mindset (schedule, priorities, etc.). My worker experience helped me see what an employee, day-to-day, was all about, and my student experience helped me do the work in supporting students. Since I was recently in their shoes I knew what they were going through. I knew what they were feeling during finals, or when things didn’t work, or when they needed IT support. It gave me a good perspective to understand the work and the people, and it helped me a lot -  being able to draw upon some of my experiences as a student. 

Since then, what positions have you held at UC Berkeley? 

Quite a few! I started at the law library as a student, then I became full-time at the law library. For a while, I had some interest in becoming a librarian, but that was short-lived. My next job was a programmer/analyst which took me out of the law library. I was still part of the law school, but I moved into the law school's main IT group.

I moved up, literally and figuratively, a few floors. The law school’s IT department is on the 3rd floor, and the law library’s IT group was in a space that no longer exists! We built a new building and ended up putting a steel I-beam through what used to be our office.

From programmer/analyst, I moved up to a supervisor in the law school group. After that, I had the title of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) but it was basically a deputy Chief Information Officer (CIO) role. Then I became CIO of the law school and now I’m interim CIO for the campus. So I’ve sort of run the gamut at this point. In between I’ve worked on a lot of projects for the campus that I’m pretty proud of, including the CalTime project and the Google migration project (when the campus moved to Google apps). I wore a lot of hats! 

Gabriel Gonzalez

What do you enjoy the most about working at UC Berkeley? 

I think day to day it’s really the people you work with here. It’s a good group of folks, and a lot of the people you meet are really interested in the mission of this school. They’re excited to be here, for really idealistic and positive reasons, and working on one of our pillars (whether it’s research, public service, or teaching). 

Another layer on that is just this amazing engine that UC Berkeley and the UC system are, and just being part of this program generates a ton of new knowledge, ideas, thinking, and scholarship. Being so casual in an environment where major breakthroughs are happening in science, art, and research - it’s mind-boggling. After spending time as a student and staff member, running into former students and finding out they’re doing amazing, ground-breaking things - I think that’s also pretty great, and it doesn’t exist everywhere. 

What advice do you have for students who are considering a career with UC Berkeley? 

Berkeley is a very diverse place and there’s a lot of amazing things happening on campus. It’s easy to have a narrow focus on what you want to do, but you’ll miss out on opportunities that exist outside of your preconceived notions. If you’re considering a career with UC Berkeley, be broad in what you will consider starting out as, or moving into. There are a lot of places here to engage and do interesting work, whether it’s in central IT, departments, academic units, or the research world. Don’t go in with a limited view of what you need to do. Be open to possibilities.