Bouncing Back: This Walmart Labs Leader Uses Adversity to Build Opportunities in Tech
Photo Credit: Walmart
Claude Jones hasn’t always had it easy, but he’s using his success to help others achieve things they never thought were possible.
Growing up, Jones faced a lot of challenges. His stepfather was abusive, and the middle-class neighborhood he grew up in was not accepting to Black people.
“My life was a battlefield where I was always defending myself,” Jones said.
That was until his seventh-grade guidance counselor told Jones that he believed in him. The moment was a springboard for increasing his confidence, and Jones later grew into a leader. Today, he is the head of the Walmart Labs office in Carlsbad, California, which is part of the greater San Diego area.
His team uses technology to empower associates and make Walmart’s business more efficient around the world. From using machine learning to optimize online grocery order picking by associates in stores to using in-store robotics that make stocking products on the shelf easier, the Walmart Labs team is creating the shopping experience of the future.
Jones started his career as a self-taught software developer. When he was young, his school didn’t have computer language coding classes. So he was forced to look for other resources, like the public library, to learn how to code.
“I saw someone coding and thought ‘I’d like to do that,’ so I went and got a book,” Jones said.
His programming ability gave him opportunities, but Jones’ overall knowledge didn’t match some of the conventional expectations of the industry. In his first interview with a startup, he remembers thinking he missed the mark, because every question was based on information a formal college education would have provided.
Fortunately, he got the job. When Jones asked how that was possible, the hiring manager said he believed if Jones were put in a positive environment with a good support network, he would go far.
“That’s stuck with me my entire life,” Jones said.
Jones vowed that if he were ever in the position to help develop others, he would include candidates with great potential instead of relying solely on a candidate’s education or accomplishments.
“I have a duty to pay it forward,” Jones said. “I want others like me to have the opportunity to explore and to have the opportunity to have a professional career in software or whatever they want to do.”
To bring this passion to life, Jones has founded several organizations like The Practical Leadership Guy, which provides free life coaching and The Elevate Foundation that focuses on rebuilding communities by inspiring its inhabitants through mutual support and encouragement.
More recently, Jones started the San Diego Tech Hub to build a sense of community for tech professionals. What originally started as a recruiting tool to discover talent has quickly grown into a vast support network for area tech professionals.
“Every job I’ve received was through some personal connection. We all need a break like that,” Jones said.
At Walmart, he’s helped to create job opportunities in many different disciplines like engineering, product management, programing, user experience and data science. Since the Carlsbad Walmart Labs office opened in 2012, the team has grown from 13 to 170 associates. His office is growing so rapidly that it recently expanded to a 30,000-square-foot space.
Even though Jones’ positive attitude and passion to help others succeed is evident, he still finds value in analyzing difficult situations and learning from them. In an article from December 2018, Jones outlines a near failure that led to his team’s success. He says bouncing back is the most valuable piece of advice he can give.
“Be resilient in the things that you do,” Jones said. “You might surprise yourself at what you can accomplish.”
This piece is brought to you in partnership with Walmart.