You know Walmart as one of the largest grocers and retailers in the world.
But there’s another side to Walmart you don’t see: Walmart Labs—the tech arm of the company.
With major trends in retail, such as the decline of brick and mortar stores, and the massive increase in online retail shopping, Walmart Labs is ensuring that Walmart bridges the digital and physical experience. Walmart Labs in Carlsbad is driving many of the improvements on Walmart’s website that are making the online retail experience seamless for customers.
We had the chance to speak to Claude Jones, the senior director of engineering and site lead for Walmart Labs in Carlsbad, about what the company does and what precipitated their move to a new office.
Walmart Labs in Action
Jones said that while Walmart Labs continues to improve and re-envision the Walmart online user experience, a Walmart.com shopper would not notice his team’s work.
“We’re the system behind-the-scenes,” Jones said. “If you went on Walmart.com today and saw a banner that shows up – how did that banner get there? You might navigate through the home page to couches. Or maybe you’ve done a search – how do those items show up? My team makes sure those systems work.”
Claude is responsible for building Experience Tools and his organization into three main areas.
A/B testing deploys different online experiences to different groups of users and then analyzes which experience is more engaging and which results in actual purchases. Walmart Labs’ A/B testing platform processes between 11 million to 12 million desktop sessions and up to 22 million mobile sessions on Walmart.com per day. A/B testing is live so when you go to Walmart.com, you are helping the company improve their customer experience without even knowing it.
Second, the Walmart Labs team does quality automation. Bugs and error messages can ruin an online experience. The quality automation team now runs around 50,000 tests per day, doing the work of 1,000 engineers in under an hour, and speeding up the rate of product releases online from twice a month, to now daily.
Just as physical stores have staff determine the best way to lay out products and displays, site merchant tooling manages the virtual store and allows business teams to organize department and category pages. The Walmart Labs team processes half a billion site merchant tooling requests per day.
These seemingly invisible projects are contributing to major changes that customers can see online and in-store.
“However you can imagine tech being used to streamline shopping, that’s what Walmart Labs is aiming to do,” Claude said.
Walmart Labs Expands in Carlsbad
Although Walmart Labs has achieved a lot in its small office space in the middle of Carlsbad’s business park, the company has outgrown its existing location.
To say that there’s been buzz around Walmart Labs moving to a new office space would be an understatement. From being on the cover of the San Diego Union Tribune’s Sunday edition in August, to being featured on ABC 10 in September, Walmart Labs has generated a lot of publicity.
This publicity is more than justified. Walmart Labs is moving from a 9,000 square foot space to a 30,000 square foot office at the Make campus in Carlsbad and is hiring 120 new tech employees this fall.
Attracting Diverse Tech Talent at Walmart Labs
With this growth, Walmart Labs is putting themselves at the forefront of promoting diversity within the tech industry. Claude said he’s passionate about growing the number of women in the tech field.
“When we’re going through sourcing for interviews, we’re just not getting many women applicants,” he said.
To address the gender dynamics in the workplace, Walmart Labs is setting up a women in tech event at the start of 2019 to get women of all levels in the company to share their experiences within the workplace and figure out solutions to the challenges they face.
The office is also planning on helping high-risk youth, many of whom do not have the opportunity to see how they could turn their talents into a tech career. For Claude, this is personal. He would have been considered high-risk when he was young, on the verge of flunking out of school without any prospects for the future. A self-taught technologist, he never formally studied engineering or computer science.
“For me, it was people believing in me each step of the way that got me to where I am now.” Exposing youth to what it’s like to work in the tech field is a high priority for Jones.
“How can schools bring creativity to the tech field? That’s what’s missing,” Claude said. “We can show that you can program a way to make people’s lives better.”
These new initiatives demonstrate that Walmart is aiming to be a socially-conscious company who gives back to the community.
With the expanded office, Walmart Labs can be a space where community and technology meet. The move also indicates a broader strategy. “People want to join a company that is doing good things,” Claude said.
Growing the San Diego Regional Tech Profile
The San Diego region—and Carlsbad in particular—is gaining exposure as a vibrant tech community, so much so that Walmart Labs and other tech giants like Viasat are expanding here. Moving to a high-profile building like Make, with other tech tenants like Verve, GoPro and GoDaddy, indicates Walmart’s focus to expand its tech team and become competitive with entities like Amazon.
“One reason we’re expanding here is that there’s a hidden talent pool in San Diego.” Jones said. “The Bay area is saturated, but we can stimulate growth here, since it’s less expensive to live compared to other areas.”
Another reason Walmart is investing in Carlsbad is that Walmart can be branded as a tech leader in the San Diego region, Jones said. Being a regional leader allows them to build their brand as a major tech company and attract talent, which would be difficult in a saturated tech pool like the Bay area.
“The last reason we’re expanding here is that San Diego is awesome,” Jones said. “We have the culture of a tech startup, working for one of the nation’s largest retailers, in America’s finest city.”
With the beach not far, warm weather year-round, and a laid back culture, Jones is confident Walmart Labs can bring top tech talent to its Carlsbad location.
Claude said the new office will host support meetups, conferences and partner events with other local tech firms. You can also expect to see Walmart Labs host hack events to challenge the community to engage with Walmart’s open source software. Just as Walmart’s stores are a neighborhood name in communities across America, Walmart Labs is making sure the work they do is equally impactful to the Carlsbad community and the greater San Diego region.
By Emily Merz