Googler Paul Jacobs: Applying the veteran perspective to tech
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles of U.S. Veterans who work at Google, many of whom are members of the VetNet employee resource group. Across Google, Veterans apply their unique skills, expertise, and perspectives to product development and product management–and many other areas across the company–to help us build for everyone, with everyone.
Paul Jacobs is a Product Manager working to provide users with a compelling, enterprise-grade onboarding experience to Google Cloud. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Paul participated in Air Force ROTC (The U.S. Air Force’s Reserve Officers Training Corps) as a student and was awarded a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering. Selected as an Astronautical Development Engineer upon his graduation, Paul spent time developing satellites for the Air Force, working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the Mars Curiosity Rover, developing IT systems for the F-35 at the Pentagon, and as Chief NATO Engineer at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan.
For his work facilitating the transition of Kandahar Air Field to the Afghan people, Paul was awarded the Bronze Star. Having completed a Masters of Science in Systems Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School, Paul attended Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business where he served as Student Body President. We caught up with Paul to discuss his accomplished military career and to recount his remarkable journey to Google.
First of all, thank you very much for your service. What compelled you to join the Air Force and serve the United States?
Thank you, it was my privilege to serve. Honestly it was a combination of different factors for me. As I was finishing up high school in St. Louis, I was deliberating about how I might go about paying for college. ROTC had never been on my radar, however, during my junior year of high school 9/11 happened and my perspective completely changed. I reflected on how I came from a family with a history of military service and that this may well be a calling that I ought to pursue.
Tell us more about your journey to Google.
After stints developing satellites for the Air Force, working on the Curiosity Rover at NASA, and serving in Afghanistan, I decided that it was time for a change. Quite frankly, I still “didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.” Through the GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program, I was able to attend Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business to study for my MBA. Before I started school, however, I was invited to attend the Google Student Veteran Summit along with forty-nine other veterans who were attending some of the nation’s top business schools.
How was your time at the Google Student Veteran Summit?
I felt incredibly blessed to be accepted to the Summit. Honestly, I was quite intimidated by Google before stepping onto campus. I knew that I wanted to return to California and work for a tech company, however, I was terrified that I was underqualified. That all changed when I came to Mountain View. From resume workshops to design thinking sprints, I discovered Google’s tremendous commitment to veterans who were now returning to business school. It was an amazing experience that demystified the application/recruiting process and gave me a huge confidence boost. The ability to speak with a Product Manager, who was also a former Airman, about how my experience in the Air Force would translate to my work in technology ignited my passion for Google.
Could you share advice on working as a veteran and for individuals wanting to support veterans in the workforce?
Veterans have a unique skill set that allows them to thrive under stressful, high pressure situations. The military trains soldiers, sailors, and airmen to execute when the stakes are exceedingly high. In technology, particularly the enterprise space, products and processes scale so quickly that oftentimes people can become frantic. Veterans have the ability to exhibit calm demeanors in these situations and can help the organization stay on track. In general, we are team players with an incredible work ethic and a high degree of integrity.
Can you share any context about your own experience that might help address any misconceptions about veterans?
In my opinion, I think that sometimes individuals might not understand the U.S. military or consider it an intimidating organization. In my personal experience, those who serve are patriots of the utmost character who want to do the best by their fellow countrymen and women. Like any group, it is important to consider veterans individually instead of lumping them together via a stereotype.
How does designing for a community facing specific challenges (e.g. veterans struggling to reacclimate to civilian life) benefit society as a whole?
I believe that stretching oneself to empathize with different users presents numerous benefits and opportunities. In life, we tend to stick with our routines, what we know. As a Product Manager at Google, my most important job is to empathize with and create for our users. By designing products for everyone, we can build a stronger community where each user feels empowered and included.
What inspires you most about your work at Google?
Without a doubt it’s the people I get to work alongside. Googlers rank among the most intelligent, talented, and driven individuals with whom I have interacted. Their incredible mission to do the right thing by our users in all cases is inspiring.
For me, that Google “magic moment” came when I was in college and I discovered Google Docs. Simultaneously collaborating on a document with a student in a dorm across campus made me appreciate Google and its amazingly designed products. I thought to myself, “Yes! Why haven’t I had this?!”
If you had told me when I was a student at Notre Dame that one day I would be working on that exact team helping people to be more productive and to better use these products, I would have called you crazy. It’s hard to believe that I really have come full circle. I still have to pinch myself sometimes.
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