As commencement approaches, we’re interviewing students from different Haas programs about their experiences at Berkeley Haas and where they plan to go next.
Undergraduate Juan Alba, BS 21, is the star of the YouTube channel The Juan and Only, where he dishes about everything from how he got into Berkeley to his experiences interning at Warner Brothers in LA. He’ll start working at Google in July.
Tell us a bit about your background and your path to Berkeley?
I immigrated from Colombia to the United States when I was 10 years old with my mom. It was hard learning English and adjusting to this new culture since I didn’t have a community or a network of people to fall back on. There are few Colombians in the Sacramento area and that was something that motivated me to go above and beyond to make a difference in my community. I turned to food as a way for me to feel in touch with my culture and I came to Cal with the mistaken understanding that I could only enter the food industry through nutrition. So I was in the pre-med track my first year.
What made you decide to switch to business?
I became interested in business after realizing in my organic chemistry laboratory that I longed for a more collaborative environment where I could help people on a greater scale.
You’re a big supporter of mentorship, and you mentor students at Cal who are interested in Haas. You also launched your YouTube channel, where you talk about what it’s like at UC Berkeley for Latinos. Why is mentorship so important to you?
There are so many underrepresented minorities who come to Cal with dreams like mine.
I started my channel because when you look on YouTube for videos about UC Berkeley, you don’t see a lot of Latinos. I wanted to show a different face of diversity. I wanted to set an example that you can be successful, you can thrive, you can make friends, and that was the initial mission of my channel, The Juan and Only.
People mentored me when I was applying to Haas and I’ve helped over a dozen peers through the process since then. I am a teacher at heart and I find immense value in sharing my knowledge with peers, especially when they support others in the future. In the Becoming Business Leaders DeCal course that I co-teach at Haas, I make it my mission to get to know my students outside of lecture and share my insights to help propel their goals.
The question of identity is a struggle that a lot of people have, especially a lot of Latinos, and it’s hard to understand if you’re not from the culture. When I go to Colombia, I’m always a little different from everyone else because I do not live there. And here in the U.S., I’m from Colombia. But I’ve come to understand that I’m myself. I’m the Juan and Only, and I don’t have to be either Colombian or American. I can be both. That’s a lesson that I always share with my mentees—the importance of not comparing yourself with anyone else. And I really find that my work is valuable because I can connect with many people through my diverse perspectives.
What are some of the skills you learned at Haas that have made a difference in how you see the world?
For me, the most impactful classes were in leadership, personal development, and communications—the soft skills that really make you as a person stand out. My favorite class was Leadership and Personal Development with Cort Worthington. That class has been critical to my professional development. It really teaches you to dig deep into your past and understand yourself in order to move forward and be a better leader.
I want to emphasize how meaningful Haas has been for me. The ability to feel a personal connection with my professors is something that I could not have received anywhere else. I’m so incredibly thankful. I say I’m graduating from UC Berkeley Haas, not just UC Berkeley, because Haas has such a special place in my heart. I feel like Haas really helped empower me in finding my own voice.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I feel like I’m in a good place. I’m going to be working at Google as an associate account strategist. I want to learn more about the tech space in a big organization before I start my own social enterprise business in the future.
What I really love about this position at Google is that it’s about doing my best to help small businesses grow. Like these restaurants in Berkeley that have faced difficulties with COVID-19—in doing my job, I can help them boost their sales and support them to stay open. Having ideas that create a positive impact is very important to me, and that’s why I’m very excited for my future projects to come.