Wayne Jones Biography
Taught to Reach for His Goals, Began Career at Boeing, Advanced Through Education and Experience
National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) 2004 Golden Torch for Lifetime Achievement in Government recipient Wayne Jones attended college during a period of enormous growth and development in the computer sciences. Deeply interested and excited by the possibilities of this new technology, he specialized in computer systems engineering and worked for several major corporations in the field. However, it was not only his expertise as a systems engineer that would influence his career choices, but also his affection for his home and family. He eventually applied for an engineering job at Oklahoma's Tinker Air Force Base to please his father, and took the job because it would allow him to live closer to his parents. His own skill, combined with the determination and confidence he had first learned from his mother and father, helped him to rise to increasingly responsible positions on the job and to achieve his personal goal of earning his doctoral degree in industrial engineering.
Taught to Reach for His Goals
Jones was born in Oklahoma City on July 29, 1952. His father, Booker T. Jones worked for many years as a civilian machinist for the United States Air Force at Tinker Air Force Base on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. His mother, Louise Jones worked in the home caring for her husband and their eleven children. The Joneses were a close family, and young Wayne grew to admire both of his parents for their hard work and devotion to their children. From his father, who worked long hours without complaint, Jones learned persistence. His mother's unfailing optimism encouraged him to reach for his goals. "It doesn't hurt to ask," she often told her children. "All they can do is say no."
Young Wayne was unhappy at first about leaving home to go to school, but by junior high school he began to enjoy his classes, especially math and science. He played basketball, ran track, and played tenor saxophone in the band. Weekends and summers were spent working with his father, who ran a side business taking care of lawns in addition to his full time machinist job. Booker T. Jones maintained this second business largely to teach his sons about the value of work. Working alongside their father, the Jones boys stayed out of trouble and earned their own spending money.
The Joneses assumed their children would attend college. Wayne Jones' uncle had been one of the first blacks to receive a Ph.D. in biological sciences from the University of Oklahoma, and his success inspired young Wayne to work toward a higher education. In 1969, he entered Oklahoma's Langston University, an historically black college that had been established as the Colored Agricultural and Normal University in 1897, when Oklahoma was still a territory.
It was in college that Jones first became interested in computers. An older student who had gone to high school with Jones had specialized in computer science and encouraged Jones to enter the field. Jones immediately became fascinated with the new machines. In 1973, he received his bachelor's degree in mathematics, with a minor in computer science.
Began Career at Boeing
The friend who had sparked Jones' interest in computers had gone to work for Boeing, a manufacturer of aircraft and related products. He recommended Jones for a job, and by January 1974, Jones had moved to Wichita, Kansas, to work as a systems analyst for Boeing.
Working for Boeing in Wichita was not a good experience for Jones. Though he had grown up during the segregation of the 1950s and the civil rights activism of the 1960s, Jones had remained fairly sheltered, living in a large, secure family in a black neighborhood. His parents had been protective, keeping their children close to home. He had attended a black high school and a black college. Jones and his friends were aware of injustice around them. They noticed, for example, that black schools often received inferior books and equipment. However, Jones was an adult before he lived in an integrated environment, and Boeing's Wichita plant was a culture shock.
For the first time in his life, he worked with people who disliked him simply because he was black. Unused to rude and unfair treatment, Jones reacted angrily. He was determined to get the recognition and opportunity that he felt his hard work deserved. When one of his supervisors asked him, "Why can't you be more like JJ?" Jones was deeply offended. JJ was the name of a character on the 1974-79 CBS comedy Good Times. He was a clownish black teenager with many stereotypical characteristics, and many black viewers of the program found his portrayal to be insulting. As a serious computer engineer, Jones did not want to be expected to behave like a comedian. He began to look for a new job.
Advanced Through Education and Experience
When he heard of a job available with a Phoenix aerospace company called Honeywell, Jones wrote them a letter, outlining his qualifications for the job and adding that he would not change jobs if he could expect the same racist experience that he had had at Boeing. His honesty and directness appealed to the Honeywell management, and they invited Jones for an interview. Jones was pleased to be treated respectfully and agreed to take the job. His work at Honeywell involved developing computer operating systems and designing tests for the company's giant supercomputers.
Jones found his work at Honeywell interesting and challenging. The company encouraged him to continue his education, so he returned to school and earned a masters degree in systems engineering at Arizona State University. His new degree made him even more valuable to employers, and in 1979 a small subsidiary of Motorola called Codex offered Jones a higher-paying job.
Though he only worked at Codex for a year, Jones learned a lot about the way a business operates. Because Codex was a smaller company than either Boeing or Honeywell, employing only about seventy people, Jones had more direct experience with more aspects of the business. However, the small size of the company also meant it was less stable and Jones did not feel secure about his job.
On one of Jones' visits to his parents' home in Oklahoma City, his father suggested he apply for an engineering job at Tinker Air Force Base. Though he had not intended to look for a job, he took his father's suggestion. To his surprise, the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker Air Force Base offered him a job. The chance to move closer to his parents appealed to him and he took a job as project engineer for cruise missile software.
Jones' first work at Tinker AFB involved designing embedded flight computer systems, that is, built-in systems with specific functions, such as guidance systems. In 1985, Jones was promoted to a management position, and he rose quickly to become a senior manager by 1991. That year, he became the chief engineer for the B1 bomber aircraft. Also in 1991, he became the Center Chief Systems Engineer. In this position, he supervised twelve hundred engineers and scientists, as well as helping to set policy and coordinate support for engineers working in all areas of the base. Jones became the representative for these engineers on Tinker's corporate board.
Earned His Doctorate
In 1995 Jones began the venture that he would consider the biggest accomplishment of his career. He decided to return to school at the University of Oklahoma. Though he had only intended to take a few refresher courses, he quickly became immersed in the subjects he studied. What had started as a brief project quickly became a long-term goal: Jones decided to pursue a Ph.D. in industrial engineering. Engineers apply the principles of science for practical purposes, and industrial engineers learn about all aspects of industry in order to make the manufacturing process work better. As usual, Jones was especially interested in the ways that innovative computer systems, such as artificial intelligence and computer simulation, could be used in industry.
Nothing in Jones' work required him to obtain his doctorate; he did not expect to earn a higher salary as a result. He was motivated by his interest in the field and by the challenge of achieving his goal and becoming the second member of his family to earn his doctorate at the University of Oklahoma. Though it required years of hard work, attending classes while working full time, Jones felt supported by his religious faith and the values of persistence and optimism he had learned from his parents. In 2001 he proudly received his doctorate.
As often happens, accomplishing one goal created other goals. For Wayne Jones, this new goal became giving something back to the black community and the historically black colleges that nurtured and helped him during his youth. He actively encourages African-American students to pursue careers in technological fields, and would like to return to the academic world as a teacher and researcher in order to give direct support to the new generation of black engineers.
National Society of Black Engineers Website. "Lifetime Achievement In Government: Wayne Jones, Ph.D." www.nsbe.org/publicrelations/winner_bios.php (May 12, 2005).
University of Oklahoma College of Engineering Website. "Board of Advisors: Wayne Jones, PhD." www.coe.ou.edu/ie/alumni/advisory/jones.htm (May 12, 2005).
Information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Dr. Wayne Jones on June 3, 2005.
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