Innovation

Inside Our New Tech Incubator in Austin, Texas

When Rachel Brynsvold wakes up every morning, she’s excited to see what she can learn and achieve.

That’s because Rachel is a data scientist, and her job at Walmart’s new technology incubator in Austin, Texas, is allowing her to invent the future of shopping.

“Effective use of technology is an absolute competitive necessity today, but even the most sophisticated technology can end up being a hindrance when built without first considering the users,” Rachel said. “We must develop best-in-class technology and deliver it with a focus on what the business and the users need.”

Rachel, along with her peers of engineers, developers and scientists, get to do that on a daily basis. They’re hyperfocused on emerging technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence and natural language processing to make Walmart more efficient – all aimed at empowering Walmart associates with the right tools to better serve customers.

“The work we’re doing is ultimately about enabling our coworkers to be even more impactful in their jobs, which is something that always gets me excited. I also see lots of opportunities to make financial impact for the company, which contributes to Walmart’s mission to help people save money and live better,” said Rachel.

Austin was picked as the location of the company’s first technology incubator because it’s one of the top cities in the world for tech. The building first opened in December 2017 to prepare for the official grand opening Feb. 22, and features a startup-like working environment to encourage collaboration and innovative thinking. This open, old warehouse environment in the heart of downtown is particularly appealing to the generation of technologists just entering the workforce.

“The coolest and most exciting thing to me so far has been the sheer scale of the data that we have to work with and the compute resources (infrastructure resources used for cloud processing) that we have available. I am routinely encountering data sets that are measured in terabytes – it is difficult to comprehend that amount of information! The combination of that amount of data and the availability of powerful compute resources means tremendous opportunity for me to do some truly cutting-edge data science work,” Rachel said.

The Austin incubator team will be partnering closely with our technology teams in Bentonville, Arkansas, at our Jet headquarters in Hoboken, New Jersey, and at our Walmart.com headquarters in San Bruno, California. As the teams design the future, the technology will be used to compete with companies beyond the retail landscape, but the associates who are empowered to deliver the future of shopping will set the company apart.

“Every day has its own excitements, challenges and things that pop up,” Rachel said. For me, the variety keeps it interesting and fun.”

Looking for tech jobs like these? Check out our careers site to see what positions are currently available.

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Innovation

My Journey From EE to IoT at Walmart’s DFW Tech Hub

Before I joined the team here, I had no idea how innovative a 50-year-old retail company could be.

Like most people, I had interacted with Walmart as a customer in stores and online but had never really thought about the systems and technology functioning behind the scenes to make the whole thing work.

As we officially open our new Walmart Technology satellite HQ in Plano, Texas, this week, I’m reflecting on my evolving, 20-year journey in tech — from building circuit boards to developing software to, now, exploring ways to apply advances in the internet of things (IoT), machine learning, object detection and other emerging technologies in the increasingly blended world of physical-digital retail.

Here’s a great example:

It might seem like a small thing, but spills are a big deal on the sales floor. So we developed a concept to help stores quickly detect spills, building a quick alert system that linked a camera with a Raspberry Pi and sensors that sent photos and data from the sales floor to the cloud. There, we deployed learning algorithms to analyze and build models that helped identify spills.

It wasn’t perfect – but it worked! And even though we won’t bring our prototype to life in stores at scale, we’re able to learn fast and apply those learnings to other projects — like using machine learning and IoT similar to our Raspberry Pi-based sensory concept to cut energy use and cost, all while keeping the temperature comfortable for associates and customers in our stores.

I’ve only been at Walmart four months, but it’s been a blast. I’m still blown away by the many different applications of emerging technology in something as simple as a retail store. But really, retail isn’t simple. It’s complex, the scale is insane and the industry is rapidly transforming. What an awesome time and place to experiment, innovate, fail fast and learn quickly.

It makes my brain happy, and I’m glad it’s happening here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

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Innovation

Profiles in Innovation: Making Great Ideas Come to Life

Being named one of the top 50 most innovative companies by Fast Company is a recognition that everyone who works at Walmart owns a piece of. I’m incredibly proud to work alongside so many associates who wake up every morning thinking about how to innovate for our company, our customers and our communities.

We are working together like never before, empowering associates with the technology and tools they need to deliver for our customers, grow in their jobs and have the opportunity for advancement and success. And, everyone at Walmart has the opportunity to do that at a scale that drives significant change and impact.

There are many stories that highlight the great ideas coming to life at Walmart, and I want to share just a few of those with you. These talented associates are passionate about their work and show there’s simply no better time to be a part of Walmart.

Shirpaa Manoharan, personalization engineer, Walmart Labs

Whether shopping online or in stores, our customers expect highly personalized experiences – essentially custom-tailored service just right for them. Shirpaa tackles the challenge using machine learning techniques to understand shopping behaviors and deliver customized experiences based on shoppers’ preferences. The work she does incorporates a variety of data points including weather, location, local events, and previous shopping history to show unique products and relevant content. “One size does not fit all. Knowing what customers want and need helps keep them happy and engaged, and it’s a challenge I love working on every day,” says Shirpaa.

Archana Sristy, director of engineering, Digital Solutions

Archana and a team of Walmart technologists are partnering with our food safety teams to use blockchain technology to track food products through the supply chain and improve the traceability of the food items from farm-to-fork. “We started with small team and a pack of mangos,” says Archana. “After several weeks of rapid prototyping, we had a proof of concept that reduced the time it took to trace the origin of the mangos from about six days to 2.2 seconds.” She credits the ongoing success of the program to the team’s focus on bringing value to our customers and always thinking three steps ahead.

Todd Phillips, senior project specialist, Associate Digital Experience

Todd is working to save millions of sheets of paper each year by digitizing the associate onboarding process in our stores and clubs. Currently a pilot program at Sam’s Club, Paperless Onboarding not only helps to save trees, it’s made the whole process more efficient and saves hours of unnecessary “paper work” in the hiring process. “At the onset, we used design interviews and process mapping to help identify gaps that weren’t initially obvious. It’s really helped to streamline the process for the associate and the company” says Todd. “I’ve been with Walmart nearly 20 years and this is truly the most exciting time I’ve experienced. It feels great to grow my skills and make a difference while helping transform how we operate.”

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