HNC Mafia Part 4: Walmart Labs & San Diego Tech Hub

HNC Mafia Part 4: Walmart Labs & San Diego Tech Hub

By Andrea Siedsma

This series is dedicated to late HNC co-founders Robert Hecht-Nielsen and Todd Gutschow, who set the stage for San Diego’s vibrant analytics and data science community. 

To Claude Jones, the tech scene in the early 2000’s presented opportunities for anyone who knew how to program. His “big” opportunity came in 2001 when he was recruited for a software engineering job for a then hot predictive analytics company in San Diego called HNC Software

In his new role, Jones was a front-end developer building an internal web application for financial institutions to detect credit card fraud. 

“I was excited about the opportunity as HNC was the first big company I had worked for,” said Jones, who had been a web developer at Solar Turbines and Cayenta. “I was not a software engineer by trade, so at HNC, I was in an environment that allowed me to learn the fundamentals of programming, had the opportunity to be the lead for the UI project, and was responsible for integrating backend service with the web application. This job gave me the confidence and experience that I would be able to make software development a career.” 

That career path led Jones to other big name companies in San Diego, including Yahoo! and Walmart Labs. Along the way, he also co-founded San Diego Tech Hub with the goal of boosting the region’s tech status, as well as a foundation to foster community development. 

Below he talks about his post-HNC work life and the impact he hopes to make on the local ecosystem and surrounding communities.  

Yahoo!: Yahoo! once had a decent presence in San Diego, including the acquisition of Carlsbad-based Overture. After spending about a year at HNC, Jones landed at Yahoo! in 2003 when he applied for a job at Overture. “This was Yahoo’s attempt to take on Google, MSN and other search engine competitors in the search advertising space,” he said. 

Jones spent nearly nine years at Yahoo!’s Carlsbad office, first as Engineering Manager, Search Marketing and then as Senior Engineering Manager, Display Advertising. 

“This job opened up my career. I was getting paid to code, something I enjoyed, and I worked for a big name company, which helped give me street credibility, I hope, and the opportunity to grow from team lead to manager. It was a blast learning and growing and seeing Yahoo! and the search marketing space evolve.”

Walmart Labs: In 2012, Jones’ workload at Yahoo! was slowing down so he started to explore other opportunities. At that time, Walmart was looking to invest in technology as part of revamping its eCommerce platform.

“The Bay Area talent pool was saturated and the Walmart leadership was looking for technology talent in other locations,” Jones said. “I was interested in starting a career with Walmart, but was not willing to move to the Bay Area. A deal was made that if I could get eight people to join me, they would open an office here in Carlsbad.

“Not only did I get eight, but another leader from Yahoo!, Robert Lowell, brought a team of five and the Walmart Labs Carlsbad office was born.  It’s been the best decision of my life.”

Since it’s opening, Jones has helped catapult Walmart Lab’s growth.

“Over that time period, we have moved from a 1,000 square-foot building to our new building at the Make campus, which is 30,000 square feet.  From a talent perspective, we started with 13 employees and we now have over 180 people focused on engineering, product, program, UX, data science, and recruiting.  We have truly become a center of excellence for Walmart in SoCal.”

There are a few other HNC/FICO alumni who are also now at Walmart Labs, including Zakaria Aboumoudriq, Sergei Mouravyov, Justin Rubin, and Shujuan Zhang.

“SoCal has a tight-knit networking community, so the ability for Walmart Labs to be in town has created job opportunities for everyone without having to move to the Bay Area,” Jones said. 

“I feel Walmart Labs has contributed to the growing tech scene here in SoCal,” he added. “The goal was to bring opportunities here, help build the Walmart Labs brand, and bring the tech community together.”

San Diego Tech Hub: In late 2018, Jones met with a group of like-minded passionate tech leaders and ended up creating the San Diego Tech Hub with the goal of strengthening San Diego’s ecosystem.

“The group all agreed that San Diego is an innovative city, and with 3.3 million people across the region, we have the talent and resources to be one of the top tech cities on the map,” Jones said. “However, the perception of San Diego as a ‘tech hub’ was not resonating with the outside world or even some people who live in our own hometown. And worse, we were constantly being compared to the Bay Area or cities like Dallas and Seattle.”

“After some discussion, it turned out San Diego had some challenges with how we collaborated as a city and this was preventing us from reaching our full potential.”

And so, San Diego Tech Hub set out on a mission to start a grassroots effort to solve the following pain points, as described by Jones: 

  • Siloed environments: Are businesses, organizations, and individuals truly collaborating together towards a common goal or are we duplicating efforts working independently?

 

  • Biased opinions: As a city, are we conscious of our biases? Or do we sometimes make decisions based on familiarity, where people are more accepted if they fall into the “like me” bucket.

 

  • The Status Quo: Are some of the business, hiring, or even our learning practices a bit outdated? Are we only following them because it’s just always been that way?

“We asked ourselves, ‘What opportunities are we missing out on for not taking a stand to address these challenges?’” Jones said. “That question sparked a movement, and as of now, our small organization of 38 has grown to over 1,800 members in just 10 short months where we are now united with a clear mission, vision, and set of values.”

The San Diego Tech Hub community.

One of SD Tech Hub’s biggest milestones, Jones said, is providing a consistent forum for tech professionals to come together.  

 “We have started passion projects that serve the under represented, and have created a platform for individuals and companies to help build relationships for the betterment for San Diego.”

Jones added that there are big plans for the San Diego Tech Hub in 2020.

“The heart of San Diego Tech Hub is it’s network.  Our goal for this year is to pull that together to connect the dots to create opportunities across jobs, and socially, via partnerships, and providing resources for those in need.”

San Diego Ecosystem: When asked if San Diego has enough resources to support a growing tech community, Jones, a San Diego State University graduate, said, “Yes. San Diego has the innovation, the talent pool, the culture, and quality of life, and the drive to be a thriving tech community.” 

He added that he has stayed in San Diego throughout his career because of the region’s “Culture of life, opportunity for growth, and my passion to see San Diego thrive.”

Claude Jones

Pay It Forward: Besides supporting the local tech ecosystem, Jones also has a zest for elevating his surrounding communities. That’s why, in 2016, he and his wife started the Elevate Foundation, which partners with nonprofits to create and donate to small volunteer events or initiatives. So far, the Foundation has raised money and scholarships for a variety of local nonprofits, including Girls Rising STEAM, Girls on the Run, Feeding San Diego, Face Foundation, Computers to Kids, Just in Time Foster Youth, Humble Design and Ronald McDonald House Charities.

“Both my wife and I came from troubling backgrounds and opportunities were slim.  We were fortunate enough to have people in our lives that believed in us and opened the door to opportunity.  As part of this, we wanted to pay it forward and do our part to give back to our community. So four years ago, we made a pact that we would donate $20,000 of our own funds to give back to the community.  Now, each year we identify a group of nonprofits, ranging from helping underrepresented youth to food insecurity, homelessness, pets, education, and illiteracy, just to name a few. Our mission and goal is to help rebuild communities, uplift individuals, and inspire others to do the same.”

Editor’s note: This is part 3 of a multi-part series that spotlights several HNC alumni and serial entrepreneurs that still call San Diego home today and their impact on the ecosystem and our daily lives. Read part 1 and part 2 & part 3

Andrea Siedsma

Andrea Siedsma

I've had a flair for tech, science and business writing for more than 25 years. Surfing keeps my creative juices flowing. I also get an adrenaline rush by hunting for sea glass. Flip flops and fish tacos are my jam. Drop me a line at andrea@freshbrewedtech.com.

Leave a Reply