Daniel Samper Martínez, MEng ’22 (ME): “It is high time I stopped being afraid and pursued my dreams.”
On uncovering nature’s secrets, eliminating single-use plastics, and living life without regretEver since he was little, Daniel Samper Martínez had been fascinated by nature, how it works, and what kind of impact he can make on it. First as a student in the Berkeley MEng program, then as an Engineering Project Manager for the company that has held the top spot of the Fortune 500 for a decade, he is able to do just that. This is his story.
Would you mind telling us a bit about yourself and why you applied to the Berkeley MEng program?I grew up in Madrid, Spain, in a modest family of five. It did not take me long to realize I was more of a science boy, always asking questions about everything, playing with F1 remote control cars, Scalextric, partaking in science fairs, and even conducting research in hydrophobic materials at a National Laboratory at the age of 14. I knew I wanted to study for an engineering degree, but I did not want to specialize; thus, I got a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Industrial Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Madrid. This education gave me greater insights into all engineering fields. Furthermore, I was enrolled for three years in UPMRacing, a Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE), where I had the chance to design and manufacture an electric race car. This experience taught me the importance of having economic, financial, and management skills to be successful in any project. I applied to the Berkeley MEng program to expand my education in these fields. On March 24, 2020, I was accepted. However, that same day, I started a lockdown in my city due to COVID-19.
The global pandemic blew my dream of attending the master’s program.I deferred one year and got experience working a few months as a battery engineer and another few months developing renewable energy projects in Spain and Poland. Then, luckily, I could get my Visa on time and graduate from UC Berkeley in 2022. Afterward, I restarted my working life as an Engineering Project Manager for Walmart’s Advanced Engineering and Emerging Technology team.
Why did you choose to study mechanical engineering (ME), and what was the most valuable thing you learned?Since I was young, I have been overcome by curiosity to know the secrets of nature. I really think the Earth is like an “escape room” where science and engineering are the means to figure out esoteric characteristics. Living like this, as if life were a game, is a huge motivation to learn every day. This is why I first studied industrial engineering in Spain and later on mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley. Even though I zeroed in on scientific subjects such as physics, thermodynamics, composite materials, etc. the most valuable thing I have learned throughout this memorable learning journey was to accept who I am as a person. Not only does the planet have hidden secrets, but I also do. I need to discover, know, and accept myself to keep growing.
I realized that the biggest enemy I had to deal with was myself, always constrained by what others may think or say. Not anymore. It is high time I stopped being afraid and pursued my dreams by believing in myself.
What have you learned working as an engineering project manager at Walmart?Since the first day I started working for Walmart, I have been a sponge, absorbing knowledge from every project and team I have worked with. Leading engineering projects takes work. Not only are we creating cutting-edge technology, but also its implementation requires alignment with many different teams, such as the legal team, procurement, operations, vendors, etc. Therefore, communication with stakeholders is imperative. This is the most significant learning experience so far. I have learned how to communicate different messages based on the team I am talking to, how to empower associates to speak up, engage everyone to give their best, keep their motivation and commitment to the project, and make them feel valued and appreciated. I have also learned how to provide constructive feedback, keep everyone up to date, and negotiate with the vendors to attain the company’s interest. Clearly, the course E295:Communication for Engineering Leaders at UC Berkeley, helped me set the foundations of a great storyteller, give persuasive speeches, and, more importantly, well-designed business-focused presentations. In addition, I successfully enticed Walmart’s VPs about the impact and need of funding the Package-less Initiative by applying the learnings from E295. All in all, communication has been a challenge but key to the success of the projects. I am so grateful the Master of Engineering at UC Berkeley zeroes in on this critical skill for us.
Would you mind telling us a bit about your project to eliminate Walmart’s use of single-use plastics?Aligning with my personal and professional goal of having a strong positive impact on both society and the Earth, I was given a chance at Walmart to lead the Package-less initiative. The projects underneath aim to help Walmart become a regenerative organization and the customer’s most earth-centric company in the world. The foremost goal is to replace single-use plastic across the whole supply chain of Walmart with environmentally friendly materials by 2025. Because of Walmart’s scale, small changes make a big difference. For example, one of the projects within this initiative got outstanding and promising results during the pilot of a new tailored 100% curbside recyclable suite of paper mailers. It enhances associates’ and customers’ experience while providing extra protection to the shipped items, maintaining the same productivity levels, and being more cost-effective. Hence, starting next year, Walmart intends to roll out this paper mailer suite across its eCommerce Network. Another example is the current integration of automated packaging machines. These machines can make right size paper bags at a stunning rate of up to 500 bags per hour. They also eliminate the use of plastic and drastically reduce the overage of material. All in all, this technology is helping my team positively impact the planet and allowing our customers to save money so that they can live better.
What are your professional goals?Financial crisis? Inequality? Climate change? Humankind has attained numerous milestones throughout its history; however, convoluted challenges still need to be tackled. I want to participate and help achieve the feat that would define my generation, but to accomplish this, I must first carve out a niche for myself in this world by taking risks and not being afraid of failure. I can summarize everything by stating that my professional goal is not to have regrets. This mentality will help me take risks confidently, embrace failure and believe in myself. Of course, it is easier said than done; nevertheless, I am already taking steps toward this objective by partaking in The Big Ideas Contest at UC Berkeley, bringing a potential solution to reduce street harassment and enhance people’s life.
What are some of your non-academic hobbies/passions, and how, if at all, have they inspired your professional goals?I have played the piano since I was five years old, and although I do not have any music qualifications, I have put on some concerts and even composed a piece for the piano. Music has made me a good listener, and I am leveraging this skill at Walmart by empowering associates to speak up. They all feel they have a say, they suggest ideas, they share opinions, and I just take notes of their feedback, which is a source of knowledge for any engineer willing to design the best piece of automation. Another favorite hobby would be sports, especially soccer and “padel.” I played in the beginner’s Real Madrid football club team until I broke my anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus at the age of 12. This experience taught me how to work in a team and, most importantly, to never give up. By that time, soccer was my life, my dream, my passion. All of a sudden, I couldn’t play it anymore. I felt empty and destroyed. However, I was not going to throw in the towel that easily. I knew I couldn’t be operated on; thus, I asked the doctor what alternatives I had. He said, “If you exercise and grow your leg muscles, they may hold your knee enough to continue playing.” From that day on, I strived to strengthen my muscles and worked on gaining confidence in my knee again day after day until I made it. I was able to keep playing though non-professionally. This achievement proved to me that everything is achievable with hard work, perseverance, and commitment, a lesson I apply in my day-to-day life. Fun fact or favorite quote (or both): Fun fact: I can make a three-leaf clover with my tongue.
“It is not about wealth, fame, and power. It is all about how many shining eyes are around you.”Connect with Daniel Samper Martínez. Edited by Veronica Roseborough.
Daniel Samper Martínez, MEng ’22 (ME): “It is high time I stopped being afraid and pursued my… was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.