How Honeybees Landed Me a Career in Online Grocery

By Heather Gamper
July 11, 2016
Heather Gamper is holding up a beehive full og bees

For a lot of people, there’s nothing like getting lost in a good book. Personally, I’ve always had a thing for maps.

There’s something about being able to see specific locations and everything in between, mapped out across a landscape. Ever since I was a little girl, that’s been my happy place. As the years passed, that fascination led me to Puerto Rico, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, where I studied – and mapped – the patterns of migratory birds and foraging dynamics of honeybee colonies.

The one thing I’d never mapped out was the correlation between movements of non-human species and my ability to play an instrumental role in Walmart’s growing online grocery business. But it happened.

In addition to growing a network of honeybee hives and bee enthusiasts in the Bay Area for the past three years, I’ve begun using my doctorate in geographic information systems to help Walmart map its online grocery footprint. Whether it’s bees foraging for nectar, or humans trying to get their groceries, the bottom line is migratory patterns are influenced by geographic spaces. As a geospatial analyst, I plot data on a series of very detailed maps, rather than into spreadsheets. That’s always helped me visualize the whole story – and it’s helping Walmart see the bigger picture today.

I’m studying and plotting the similarities and differences in each of the markets we serve. I’m interested in how topography, density and other factors determine how we can serve customers in each market. I look at geographic trends to help make informed decisions on where we’ve launched the service, and how our presence will impact patterns over time.

The whole process is very scientific – and what’s especially exciting to me is the access to data. While conducting ecological studies on the migratory and foraging patterns of birds, I had to gather every ounce of data on my own. Sometimes, that meant spending an entire year to gather a few specific pieces of information. Here, I have access to a mix of data that’s already there. My job is to put it into a framework and come up with a conclusion. It's unlike anything I’ve been a part of before.

As Walmart continues to expand its online grocery service – and as we experiment with new capabilities – geospatial mapping will continue to play a prominent role. And that’s my happy place.

Editor’s Note: You can read more about Associate Heather Gamper in this recent article, “7 Fortune 500 Jobs That Seem Too Good to Be True.”