In this series, Tech Better takes a look at the innovative work and passion projects of Walmart Technology associates.
Jonathan Irvin talks a lot about irony. Although his official title at Walmart Technology is “programmer,” his duties span application development, release management and a few things in between. In his day-to-day role, he works with the global license management team, helping to ensure that every Walmart store that sells liquor or tobacco — from Houston to Shanghai — is operating in compliance with local laws. Like many developers, he plays multiple roles, yet Irvin didn’t initially set out to become a developer.
At the age of 19, he enlisted in the Air Force, hoping to see the world and forge new experiences. But instead of being shipped off to some faraway destination like Germany or Japan, Irvin was stationed at Minot Air Force base in North Dakota. There, he served as a flight line electrician working on B-52 bombers. Though the experience wasn’t exactly what he had in mind, he looks back fondly on his time in the military.
“There was a point in basic training where I had a master sergeant tell me, ‘The best way to be prepared is to stay prepared.’ I’ve said it ever since then, and I don’t think I’ll ever lose it,” he said.
After a medical discharge cut short his time in the Air Force, Irvin attended Southwestern Oklahoma State University. He considered two paths: programming and IT administration. He chose the latter, a choice that would lead to further irony.
“I always thought of programming more as a hobby, which is kind of funny since I ended up getting hired as a programmer for Walmart,” he said.
Irvin’s first encounter with Walmart Technology occurred at a college career fair. He’d done his homework and readied thoughtful questions for all the companies slated to be there. But at the last minute, Walmart was added to the list and Irvin ended up with an interview. Shortly thereafter, he had a job offer and an allocation to relocate to Bentonville, Arkansas.
Irvin and his wife were so excited they set out on a spontaneous trip to Bentonville the following weekend. En route, irony struck yet again in the form of a blizzard. But like his posting in North Dakota and the unexpected interview at the career fair, this was the happy sort of irony. Everything in town was closed that weekend due to the snowfall, but the couple fell in love with Bentonville anyway — a big city compared to Weatherford.
Now at Walmart for more than a year, Irvin comes to work with an ironclad sense of discipline instilled in him by the military. One of his first major achievements was creating an internal Git system to manage releases across U.S. and international development, and making sure his colleagues stuck to it. He’s since become an unofficial Git master of sorts.
“When I first came to Walmart, I immediately gained the respect of my team with my knowledge of Git, which felt good because I immediately had something to contribute, despite being a junior programmer,” he said. “I love the people here, and the freedom of being able to learn from so many colleagues who are smarter than me, and also being considered on the same level. It’s been very humbling, and an honor, really. I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities here.”
Irvin continues to approach programming with the same tenacity that got him through basic training. He says he’s on a quest to become the best programmer he can be, but it’s a quest without an ending.
“There’s no point at which you can say, ‘I know everything.’ The more that I learn, the better I will be,” he said. “I know it sounds a little silly to use this word, but it’s a little spiritual. Not spiritual in a religious sense, but you’re working toward a programmer’s nirvana, if you will. It’s kind of weird.”
Feel free to reach out to him on Twitter @sublimegeek or email email@example.com.