ESnet's John Paul Jones Caps 33-Year Career at Labs

John Paul Jones in his signature blue beret.

June 29, 2017

Contact: Jon Bashor,, 510-486-5849

Soon after John Paul Jones moved from Idaho to California in 1983, he and his wife visited the Berkeley Hat Company, where he bought a royal blue beret. Since then, during his 33+ years at Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley national labs, the flat blue hat has become part of Jones’ persona.

But when he retires from ESnet at the end of June 2017, Jones said he may also think about hanging up that hat. Around the house, he said, he usually wears his blue and gold Golden State Warriors cap.

Jones was introduced to the national labs when he was studying electronics at Idaho State University, where he was born and raised.

“We had these microprocessor training kits that came from LLNL and had the Livermore logo all over them,” Jones said. “When I graduated, I sent my resumes to several places and Livermore invited me out for an interview.”

After being flown out to California and having long interviews with five lab staff members, Jones didn’t hear anything for several months. In the meantime he got married and bought a house in Idaho. When the job offer did come, it just wasn’t the right time. He told LLNL that he would be interested in making a move if the job was still open a year later.

It was, so Jones and his wife moved to California in 1983. He was hired as a member of the workstation support team, fixing desktop computers, printers and the like. He worked his way up to diagnosing, fixing and installing networks at Livermore, on both the classified and unclassified sides of the lab.

“I had a thriving cottage industry in lab networking,” he said. “I managed a couple of installation crews. Working on the classified networks was like a different world – we had mostly the same technology, but a lot more constraints.”

In 1995, the Department of Energy made the decision to move ESnet and NERSC from Livermore to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Jones knew people who were part of the ESnet team at Livermore and it piqued his interest when ESnet’s then-manager Jim Leighton called him in to talk about joining the group.

“He unrolled this big network map and showed it to me,” Jones recalled. “I said, ‘What!? Oh yeah – I am definitely in!’”

When ESnet made the move in 1996, Jones joined the group that configured, installed, maintained and did troubleshooting on the routers that powered the national network. But after two years, he was at a turning point. His wife wanted to return to Idaho to earn her master’s degree in physical therapy, which would take three years.

After some discussion with his managers and some rejiggering of his job dutiies, Jones became the first engineer to work remotely for ESnet, based in an office he negotiated for at the university in Pocatello. Three years later, he and his wife returned to the Bay Area.

“It’s just been a great experience being with ESnet,” he said. “It’s changed so many times as it has grown in both size and prominence.”

Growing up with diversity

For Jones, working at a high-tech institution like a national lab was a huge change from the closer-to-nature culture he grew up in as a member of the Shoshone Bannock tribe. In fact, Pocatello was named for a former chief of the tribe.

“We spent a lot of time on the reservation when I was a child and I remember my grandfather and my uncle dancing at festivals, doing the sunrise dance,” Jones said. “As a kid, I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on, but I knew it was very spiritual.”

Jones said he also inherently learned the value of diversity growing up. His father was black, and he also has some Irish blood in him.

“We looked at people for who they were, not for the color of their skin,” he recalls. “It was about who you are as a person and what you can do – it’s what is inside of you that makes you a success.”

After he retires, Jones said he wants to honor his roots by carving totems representing his family, as his uncle used to do. Jones remembers that his father was represented by a big, dark grizzly bear in his uncle’s carving, while the artist chose a thunderbird for himself, which was always at the top of the totem.

“I remember watching my uncle sketch and carve and paint figures to tell the story of a family,” Jones said. “Now I want to try it. I don’t know if I’ll be any good, but I’m going to do it.”

Back to the beret

Unbeknownst to Jones, when he picked out his first blue beret in Berkeley, he was also giving his ancestors a nod.

“I lost my dad when I was 10, so I didn’t really know him,” Jones said. “On one of my first visits back to Idaho, I was wearing my beret and my mom said, ‘Oh, you have a hat like your dad used to wear.’ I didn’t know that.”

He also did know then that his great-great grandfather was a French fur trapper.

“When I first saw the beret, I knew I just had to have that hat,” he said. “Now I realize I was genetically predisposed to buy it.”

He chose the color blue because it’s his favorite color, but later learned that the color also represents loyalty. “I think that fits – I’ve been married since 1982, worked for UC since ’83 and worn a blue beret since 1984,” he said.

Up next

At an ESnet event feting his retirement, Jones said he’s planning to spend his first day away from work with his grandchildren, perhaps taking them to Great America. After a bit, he’s also planning to work as a security escort at Lawrence Livermore, accompanying contractors as they work at the site.

But mainly, he’s going to unwind from the routine of going to work every day for the past 40 years.

“We really start to define ourselves by what we do in our careers and I think it will take awhile to pull out of that skin,” he said. “I’m pretty happy to have finally gotten to this point and I’m open to see what happens next.”