Success doesn’t come easy, but if you have the strength, willpower, dedication, passion, and hustle to overcome the obstacles that life throws at you, then things will eventually fall into place. Insert David C. Williams, an engineer, best-selling author, inventor, and philanthropist, who currently holds the position of Asst VP of Robotics Process Automation/Emerging Tech for AT&T Business Solutions.
Hailing from the poorest corner in South Dallas, David states, “I lived as I climbed. I believe that one and one makes 11. I bring my best self, you bring your best self, we can do something exponential together. I believe culture trumps strategy. All too often, people from underserved communities have a lot to offer. We discount and discredit our own ingenuity and innovation because we don’t know how valuable it is, so I spend a lot of time in the communities doing it.”
Losing your father at eight years old to suicide will impact any child in their upbringing, but David is walking proof that you don’t have to be a product of your environment, and it’s possible to turn your trials and tribulations into success. His desire to help others and give back to the community is admirable in itself, and his expertise in technology has allowed him to travel the world, speaking and conducting robotics workshops at various schools.
AllHipHop spoke with David C Williams to discuss his roots in Dallas, biggest influences, how he landed at AT&T, using Competitive Intelligence, love for Hip-Hop, the premise of his book, and more!
AllHipHop: Talk about growing up on the poorest corner in Dallas, what was your upbringing like?
David C. Williams: If you were in Dallas and asked someone from a bad neighborhood, “what’s a bad part of town?” They’d all say “South Dallas,” and “don’t go there.” So Marcy projects, Watts of LA, it was that. Seriously as a kid, if I was in North Dallas, they’d ask me, “what’re you doing here?” Honestly, it was a lot. I had a lot of aunts and uncles that lived in the neighborhood, a lot of ramen noodles. It was probably where my business mind came to fruition, or the beginning of it.
After my father committed suicide, my mother wanted me to do better. She had me in a private school. It was a really poor private school in South Dallas, it’s funny it’s even there. But I’d catch the city bus to go to school. One day, I got tired of it because I was living on a budget every day. I went to catch the bus, I took my school money and bought candy. Went to school and sold candy to the teachers and the students. That worked out well so Friday, I was able to buy pizza, which is what I was really trying to do as a kid. I wanted to buy more pizza.
That was the beginning of me putting in the ideas together to turn into some kind of outcome. I never gave up on that creativity. I never gave up on doing crazy things, trying something new, and giving it my all. When you come from the hood, you have a lot of grit that’s built into you. We’re not usually taught that’s a transferable skill. If you look at CEOs or billionaires, it’s the grit that made them the best. It wasn’t the college, it wasn’t the neighborhoods. They figured out how to overcome it and they never stopped.
AllHipHop: Who were your biggest influences growing up?
David C. Williams: Oh wow, Colin Powell was a very big influence. He was an idol to me. I was very involved in ROTC in high school. I led a ROTC team that won a bunch of championships, and a lot of the guys were hood dudes on my team. Another influence was my big brother, Kenneth Gwyn. After my fathers suicide, my mom got me a big brother from Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. He and I are still brothers. His son is my little brother, so it’s a beautiful continuum of mentorship.
And my mom, my mom’s my inspiration. That’s probably it. Unfortunately at the time, there weren’t a lot of those kinds of examples. If you were to ask me when I was 12 years old, who’s my idol? I might have said Ice Cube. [laughs] Here’s a guy who’s on TV, doing well, expressing himself. I’m 12 man, rap was new at the time.
AllHipHop: What did you want to be growing up?
David C. Williams: A leader and someone who could help others.
AllHipHop: You studied Marketing at Dallas Baptist University?
David C. Williams: I went to school for Marketing, which is crazy. I’m into so much technology. At the time, the way I was thinking about it was that I was working in these operational roles. Well if I get a Marketing degree, that’ll set me up differently because I have marketing plus operation experience. I found myself into all these different technology roles. I started to figure out a way to market myself, or to market the things that I was doing. Today, I lead a really large automation team. We do a lot of bots, and all our bots are names. There’s the cancel come find me bot, the Alohomora bot, there’s all these different things.
AllHipHop: I’m trying to understand what that means, the bots to do what?
David C. Williams: Great question. In the general public, a bot is used for likes and views. We know on social media, people using bots for that. In corporate America, we use bots to move work around. Think about in a back office, if someone had to go deal with adding International to a thousand American Airlines’ flight attendants, we may not have enough elbow grease to get that done. Bots may go do that, and there’s a zillion other things like that. Let’s say device unlock, people like to unlock their phones right? There’s so much volume that we can’t hire enough people to do it, so you get bots to do it. Or even if you could hire the people, it’d take too long to get it done.
Or let’s say there’s something you wouldn’t want a person doing. We have bots that’ll go through our biller to look for customers who have really high charges. If we find that, we’ll reach out to them and say, “Hey, we noticed your bill has some really high charges. You may want to take a look at it before you get charged.” Well, to go through 30 million accounts every week to notify a handful of customers, you wouldn’t hire a bunch of people to do that. But we can have bots to do that. Every week, 5000 or 6000 customers don’t get a crazy ass bill. They get somebody saying, “oh man, my phone company was looking out for me. They didn’t just take me to the woodshed, they reached out to give me something to help.” We use bots to do those kinds of things. All in, last year we had 700 bots running. We closed 68 million transactions, and it was worth about a billion dollars. It’s serious.
AllHipHop: How did you land the job at A&T?
David C. Williams: I started very low, I started non-management like the regular average employee would. Not anything glorious, bad schedules, all of that. I kept finding something broken and would go fix it. Every time I would find something broken, I’d fix it. But I wouldn’t just do it for myself, I shared with the folks I work with. Instead of me being #1, the whole team’s #1. Or the whole department’s #1. I started real small and over time, I got more confident and started going for bigger things.
That’s what led me into automation. Everything that I’ve gained along the way, the experience, working with different people, different organizations, it all has built in enough insight into what it is that I’m doing. At this point, I understand the technology well enough. I understand the process well enough that there’s nothing I can’t automate. It’s been that way. It’s so exciting because I have a team of people, mostly women, densely people of color.
Most of them don’t have a traditional technology background, but we still win a technology industry award. How is that? Man we have a great culture, and the people I hired are gritty. They’re not the most technical. I can teach you technology, but I cannot teach you passion. The things we’re going to do, somebody’s gonna say “you can’t do that. That’s impossible.” Well, not necessarily. Not if you’re not passionate about it.
AllHipHop: Talk about Competitive Intelligence that you invented.
David C. Williams: I used to work in a group doing Competitive Intelligence. It’s very interesting because I’d have my competitors’ devices. I’d start up accounts with Verizon, T Mobile, all that. I’d go to Amazon, all sorts of things, just to understand how other people do things. I’ll give you one quick example, LinkedIn is very cool. Let’s say today, you want to endorse David for management. LinkedIn will send your email, it says, “hey Shirley, do you want to endorse David for management?” If you say “yes,” you click the link, it takes you directly to it.
I saw that and replicated a similar experience within AT&T. If you want to pay your bill, or set up an international plan, or change to unlimited, or buy a device, or find out your usage, there’s these smart links we use to go drive that type of behavior. I learned those things, working with different companies. Zappos, their customer service is top-notch. They’ll send you roses if you’re p##### off. Amazon’s a little different, different companies do things in different ways. I’d find out about those companies, then take the smartest thing I could from them to reuse it within AT&T.
AllHipHop: How do your robotics workshops tie in with Hip-Hop?
David C. Williams: I love this because a lot of times, the kids feel like school or business or work is an identity, separate from the identity they’ve already created. Everybody likes to throw up a little something, whatever. These kids don’t even know what they’re doing half the time. They think they can’t have fun and still do technology. I give them all types of examples. I show them how I am at work. Everybody around me has a cool swaggy name, everybody can be themselves. I encourage everyone on my team to not bring your whole self to work. If you want to bring your whole self to work, you can go home and have a vacation day. I want you to bring your super self, because the problems I have need Superman or Black Panther, I can’t deal with Clark Kent, I need your super self.
With these kids, when we’re talking about how culture and Hip-Hop are connected to stem, I let them know straight up: you have the ideas. You’re already coming up with stuff, everything you come up with the rest of the world already wants to get onto anyhow. TikTok wouldn’t be TikTok without your swag on it. IG wouldn’t be IG without your swag on it. LinkedIn’s okay, but it’s not swaggy because you’re not it. It’s missing that component, and that component is what drives everything. You don’t have to give those things up.
If anything, if I could paraphrase it into one statement: culture trumps strategy. A lot of times people get very strategic on trying to pursue their careers and they avoid their own culture. When you’re true to who you are, you’re authentic about what it is that you do, you bring more today than anybody who’s trying to fake it and put on a show. Plus, I do rap. I got bars. Sometimes, the kids get to spitting and I’ll go with them. Depending on what it is, I might say something real clean. It depends on what we doing.
AllHipHop: Who are some of the artists you grew up on?
David C. Williams: N.W.A., Scarface, UGK. Don’t get me wrong, I was an early Jay-Z fan when folks from Texas wasn’t. In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 is still one of my favorites. “Friend Or Foe,” back on Reasonable Doubt, all of that. I’m a huge Hip-Hop fan. The Wu-Tang Clan, I’m all the way down. 36 Chambers. These days, [Lil] Wayne is my favorite. You can’t stop the Wayne train. I don’t understand how he does it, it’s ridiculous. That “Big Bad Wolf”? Oh my God. “Kan’t Nobody” mess with DMX? That dude is ridiculous.
AllHipHop: Talk about you writing a book, Business Model.
David C. Williams: That was great. I wrote this book to encapsulate a lot of lessons. The thesis is combining your profession with your passion creates your own unique business model for success. I was talking a lot about different things I was passionate about, different stories I went through learning different lessons, gritty things I had to go through. I was in a plane crash, I once met Prince. I was in a car crash, my father died. All these very interesting stories. But the golden thread to it all is the grit, my past, my profession, coming together creating a unique business model.
If you’re passionate about cosmetology and you’re from Tucson, Arizona. There may not be anybody from your corner that’s passionate about that specific thing, that makes a unique business model. You and I might be brothers and sisters, we might have lived in the same house. But whatever conversations: you were on one side of the table, I was on the other. We still have two unique experiences. When you combine your passion and my passion, it’s two unique business models and that’s our competitive advantage. That’s why I say you gotta lean into your culture. When you don’t is when you lose. The fact that I lost my father, I went through all this stuff selling candy in school, that gave me a totally different way of thinking about business.
Which today, is a totally different way about how I think about automation, which is why my automation team is so successful. I’m not trying to do it like somebody else, I’m doing it completely my way. If it fails, it’s gon’ fail my way. The business model proves your unique experiences, your professional passion creates a business model of success. That’s what the book is about. It starts at my father’s suicide, it ends at winning that Black Engineer of the Year.
We did a lot with it, it went Best-Seller on Amazon on September 11th last year. That was crazy. It went best seller in eight categories, the sales have been really nice and strong. Usually sales for a book run for three months and they drop off, but there’s been really good production out of the book. I’m really excited. I’m hoping I can get another book going. Right now, I’m working on something I believe is going to be able to help liberate the hood. I’m working on an opportunity that’s driving some jobs at $50 an hour, some digital work-from-home jobs. Folks with a diploma might enjoy this type of employment. Hopefully we can change some things for our society, our culture, our community.