What did David C. Williams want to be growing up? “A leader and someone who could help others.”
And that’s exactly what he’s doing. Williams went from growing up in the poorest corner in Dallas to now holding the Asst VP of Robotics Process Automation/Emerging Tech position for AT&T Business Solutions, releasing a best-selling book, being awarded Black Engineer of the Year, speaking and giving robotics workshops at schools all around the country, and so much more.
Coming from true humble beginnings, the South Dallas native lost his father to suicide at just eight years old, but that didn’t stop him from finding his footing as a black man navigating life. From selling candy as a little boy at school to studying Marketing in college to working operational roles, David never wanted to settle for anything less.
His secret to success? Finding something broken and fixing it. Beyond that, he was big on being a team player, allowing his peers to also bask in his discoveries gave him the confidence to take on larger tasks. His career path has been detailed in his Best-Selling book called Business Model, which focuses on combining your profession with your passion, in turn creating your own unique business model for success.
DCW’s journey within the Network Technology Organization at AT&T alone consisted of Chief of Staff, Data Center management, Social Media & Chat Director, and Director of Customer Experience. His ability to create deep-link HTML marketing initiatives garnered 90 million monthly impressions, while implementing Competitive Intelligence which helped shape AT&T’s Mobile First strategy.
Sheen caught up with David C Williams virtually to discuss his speaking engagements, involvement in the community, how he landed in the tech space, doing robotics workshops and winning the kids over with his swag, his newest passion project, and more!
For those who don’t know, who is David C. Williams?
David C. Williams is a kid from South Dallas, a rough part of town. I’ve been
somewhat successful in technology. I lived as I climbed, I try to continue to work with children. And 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. The other stuff on top of that — the awards, the book, all that’s cool — but that’s who I am at my core.
Talk about your speaking engagements, you’re currently on the road. Are you on a mini-tour?
It feels like it. [laughs] It’s steady growing like Khaled, another one! I’m going to Canada with the Customer Experience Strategies Summit in Toronto at the end of May. I’ll leave there and go to Atlanta. Georgia PTA has a very big conference, so I’ll be there with a couple of thousand folks. That’s early June. Mid-June, I’m a Juneteeth birthday boy. Juneteeth is my birthday. And I’m from Texas, so Juneteenth all the way. Juneteenth, there’s a conference in Dubai that I’ll be speaking at. On a panel?, very cool. In July, I’ll be at MIT having a robotics workshop and competition.
What does it mean to be able to speak at these places? It’s inspirational for sure.
Absolutely, there’s a couple of things to it. Our culture, there’s so many things we have to improve on. One of those things, unfortunately in our community too often, our leaders are afraid of their own shadow. We’re not really paying it back or helping the next generation move forward as much as we should. Look, if you’ve been mentoring with somebody for a year or some long period of time, and they’re not willing to go through the Rolodex and connect you to some folks, they build an entourage and not a legacy. There’s a hell of a lot, there’s way too much of that going on in our communities. Especially in corporate America, which is why people opt out of corporate America, because they don’t want to deal with that BS. It doesn’t make sense.
I’m vocal about it. The glass ceiling for black people is often tinted. It ain’t white people holding us back, it’s us holding ourselves back. We gotta get away from that. We don’t have enough wealth as a community to be acting like we can tell you you can, and you you can’t. We gotta start being more collaborative with each other. Also, there are a lot of underrepresented children in the tech space, that need to be in the tech space because the problems that we’re dealing with today are too big for any one group to solve. All men can’t solve it, all white people can’t solve it. All rich people can’t solve it. We need ideas from all the way around the table.
For those two things, that drives me. I want to help the young folks have a chance to do more than myself. I gotta speak out on this stuff because if we don’t, it’s gonna keep happening. Pick whatever leader you want, but if you keep putting somebody in a leadership position, and they’re a good accountant but they don’t want to help the next level of accountants, or they’re a good marketier but they don’t want to help the next level of marketiers, we never get to grow the pie. We will never have more than one seat at the table, because whoever has that seat is afraid to share it with somebody else. Or think if they give another woman a chance, that they won’t have a chance. Come on, we can’t act like that. There’s too much going on, the world is too big for us to think that small.
You do a lot of community work. What’s your involvement in the community?
This is a super passionate thing to me, I love this. I just got back from New Jersey with 60 little girls, we had a robotics workshop. They’re about two or three hours long. We break out into groups, the kids build the robots. We talk about all the theory of it, how photovoltaic (Photo + Voltz -It’s the process of creating electricity from a light source) cells work, all that kind of stuff. But we have this moment where not only do they race building the robots, they race the robots against each other. Then, they go back and start to innovate and take things off the robot. Figure out how to make one robot faster than the other.
That’s when I start to drop on the kids: look, small ideas are still bright ideas. You can’t discount your ingenuity, call it Jerry-rigging and hooking it up. You gotta realize this ingenuity turns into innovation and turns into invention. I give examples, Apple and Samsung got in a $2 or $3 billion dollar lawsuit, patent fight over swipe to unlock. I stopped with the kids: you’re telling me none of y’all in here are creative enough to come up with swipe to unlock? Sure you are.
Would you have thought this swipe to unlock was worth two or $3 billion dollars? No, probably not. How many other ideas do you have floating in your head, that you think is a good idea that you never do anything with? Those that worth money too. You could change your whole family situation. STEM and technology doesn’t have a draft? If you want to go into the NFL, NBA, you gotta get through the draft. With STEM, there’s no draft, so your bright idea can just run. But you gotta be gritty about it to make it run.
How did you learn all the tech stuff? How did you become this engineer?
Grit. I’ll tell you how. In our community, there’s often a phrase that says “make $1 out of 15 cents.” That’s literally a 600% ROI. If a CFO could do that, he’d be CEO. I never stopped being creative, or being audacious enough to go try something. How did I get into it? I started working a low level job, I got pretty good at it. I started figuring out, what could I do to make the job easier? I did, the job was easier for me. I shared it with some folks I work with, and I haven’t stopped doing it.
Everywhere I go, every job I’ve gotten into is the same thing. I learned the job, I figured out how to make the job better, I go do it. Most people do, I don’t care where they work at. It could be McDonald’s, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan, everybody who’s got a job. When you work that job, over time, you get to a place where you can do the job with one hand. Most people do it with one hand and they opt out with the rest. They check out. Me, with the other hand, I’m gonna make the job better. Every time I’d do that, it’d turn into something positive and I never gave up on it.
For me, one of my career goals is two things. One is to mentor and two, to go have a societal impact on something. That’s why I’ve been writing patents and all that, I’m never going to give up on it. The opportunities for us to change the world are as relevant or or at our fingertips as they’ve ever been. Right now you have so much technology where young kids are making millions of dollars from the things that folks wouldn’t even imagine 10 years ago. In every new industry, every new innovation comes with more innovations that people need, that’s exciting for me. It’s like a runway that never ends. It’s a journey with no stop to it. Just keep speeding up, I love that.
Talk about getting Black Engineer of the Year. What was that from?
Oh man. During the pandemic, everybody was forced to shelter from home. But the federal government says look, for telecom operators, we regulate you. Your folks can’t see certain information, like a social, date of birth, those kinds of things. I worked with some companies, we innovated real quick. I helped come up with this idea, we put it into effect. It took us five weeks, normally would have been six months. 40,000 people able to use this service. They can work from home, they can do their jobs. It’s a million calls a day.
When I got the news that I won the award, it was incredible. Tears, like wow. Again, I worked operational. My degree’s in Marketing. I come from South Dallas, I’m not supposed to win stuff like this. Let them tell it, I was supposed to be dead at 18 and 21.
Were you in the streets?
No, not like that. I’m from South Dallas, so you’re not going to evade everything. I got aunts that were prostitutes and cousins that were gang leaders. You’re not oblivious to any of it, I don’t care who you are. But man, to win something like that is so validating. The thing I felt was most important is: yeah it’s cool for me, but it’s a bunch of other kids in South Dallas that need to see this too. Because I didn’t even know this was possible. They need to know what’s possible. When I was in their shoes, when I was 10,12 years old living in South Dallas, I didn’t have these options. I even know this part of the word existed. You couldn’t explain any of this to me, there was no examples. A blue collar job was about as good as it got. I want kids to see this, and it’s beautiful.
I remember this one time, I was with this 11-year-old girl. She would not give up. We buy lunch for these kids. Not only do they build their robots, but I gift a robot to every student. Every child. Last year, I gave out a thousand robots. It gets expensive too. She’s 45 minutes in. There’s lunch, there’s pizza, sodas. She doesn’t want to do any of that, she wants to sit there and keep working on her robot. Well damn, now y’all talking about kids don’t have a good attention span. I guess if you find something that’s interesting, it’s a little different. I’ve been to India, Israel, New Jersey, Magnolia housing, South Dallas, I’ve been all over doing this. Everywhere I go, it’s the same thing. These kids don’t have an attention span problem, you gotta know how to address them. You gotta respect where they come from and how they think, then give it to them in a way that they can digest it. And that’s what these workshops have been. Small ideas, bright ideas.
Are you actively doing the robotics workshops?
Oh yeah, absolutely. At least once a month. I try not to go too far, do too much without coming back and doing something. Because it’s needed, there are so many kids. Kids can get on the internet and see everything they want, but it’s not real to them because they’ve been marketed to since they were babies. They got to see it, touch it to even believe it’s real. A lot of times at these schools, I’m in there with kids that’s too cool for school.
But every time I show up, my swag is on a trillion. My shoes are crazy. I got Giuseppe’s, Alexander McQueen’s, Louboutin’s, Balmain. I got the whole nine. When we get together, it’s “oh damn, what’s dope? Now I got your attention. Now we’re going to talk about robots, but I first had to get your attention. It’s cool. I want you to know, you can keep your swag when you go STEM. You don’t have to be corny and wack. You can be cool, still be in STEM and doing what you’re doing.
What’s next for the David C. Williams brand?
More speaking engagements. 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. It’s a very big project I’m working on, we’re reinventing customer service. It’s already started a little bit in Houston, we’re soon to be scaling it out. I’m very excited about it.
Anything else you want to let the people know?
Yes, all Rudolph was needed was one foggy night, and Christmas would never be the same. Bad shit happens to people, bad things happen. When those things happen, you gotta realize those are opportunities. You cannot climb a mountain without rough parts, those rough parts give you leverage to climb above them. That’s what that means. One foggy night for Rudolph, Christmas will never be the same for the rest of us. They’ve been singing that song since then. The same thing for us. Something bad — my father died. God, I lost the blueprint in my life. Who knew that would build so much grit in me, that I’m doing all the things that I’m doing now?
How old were you when he passed?
Eight years old, it happened at the house.
I’m so sorry.
To really give you a quick summary of it, he came over. My sister was there. She’s 13, I’m eight. He’s arguing with my mom. He goes, she’s trying to talk him out of it. My sister leaves me out of the house to call the authorities. She’s 13, how is she smart enough to think about all that? He pulls the trigger, kills himself. It’s very, very rough. When I get back in the house with my sister, my mom’s crying. I’m like man mom, I’ll be the man.
That’s the only thing I knew to say, but my sister has been my hero. From that day forward, she really looked out for me. Again, it makes me look back: a 13-year-old girl, who would know to leave the house right now and take your little brother with you? Go call the authorities, not here but at the next house over. Even when the gunshot happened, she never stopped. She kept going. “Let’s go, come on Chris.” She calls me by my middle name. My sister’s everything to me.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of David C. Williams