After four months working at its own semi-private offices at Common Desk at Granite Park in Plano, Walmart’s internal innovation center, called Walmart Technology, is up to 18 engineers with the expectation that it will finish the year with at least 50.
The division works to create innovations and efficiencies within Walmart’s operations. Its office seats 45 people, all of whom have to have a security badge to access Walmart’s part of the co-working space. It features a co-working space complete with desks as well as diner-style booths, six private offices, and a conference room. It also has a mural with a quote from Walmart founder Sam Walton that reads, “I’m driven to buck the system.” In the next week or so, the space will also feature a mural showcasing the Dallas skyline.
The company had searched several different spaces in Dallas before choosing Common Desk in Plano. But Walmart representatives liked the idea of having access to all of Common Desk’s amenities while still operating its business behind the thick walls of its own offices. “Granite Park allows us to move around like it’s our campus, but it’s still secure for Walmart data,” says Carlos Riojas, director of engineering at Walmart Technology. “We wanted something secure, and some of these other spaces don’t offer that.”
The move is part of an expansion for the Walmart division, which established its Plano presence and a presence in Austin around the same time. The local division will be focused on innovation in the Internet of Things, technology that works with connected devices; computer vision, which is using existing camera technology to automatically solve issues for the retailer; and manufacturing.So the group in Plano has tested things like spill detection, which would use intelligent systems to automatically alert Walmart associates to product spills. The Plano division works on internal innovations while its counterpart Walmart Labs works on customer-facing technologies.
“It’s really working on technology to help Walmart customers have a better experience in store,” said Ana Keef, an Allen software engineer who joined Walmart four months ago. Keef has been developing software for 20 years and said the new Walmart division allows her to explore new innovations, like using IoT and AI to monitor and analyze store temperatures in order to optimize energy costs
“I just feel stretched and challenged every day,” said JR Smith, senior software developer at Walmart Technology, who enjoys working with artificial intelligence and machine learning. “They are a very large enterprise so they have a lot of cool problems to solve.”
Walmart Technology is also working with the University of Texas at Dallas, continuing a relationship it began about three years ago. Since then, the company has hired about 50 engineers for positions at its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. In Plano, it’s drawing students from the university as part of a UTD internship program, called Industrial Practice Programs, giving students the chance to solve real-life problems. The division is currently working with four interns, who work at an on-campus office at UTD as well as the Plano space at Common Desk.
“It’s really eye-opening,” said Kelly Hoang, a UTD junior majoring in software engineering. “The university only teaches us so much and so this is showing us what the real world is like in computer science.”
“It puts meaning into our studies,” said Anshul Pandey, a UTD junior majoring in computer science. “In our school work, it’s a lot about understanding programming. Here, we can actually come in and do the programming and work on real projects.”
The dedicated-suite concept at Common Desk has been attracting corporate tenants like Walmart since it opened in June.
Here’s a short video Walmart created about its new space in Plano.