Williams earned an A.B. with high distinction from the University of California at Berkeley in 1984; a Master's of Science with distinction in economics from the London School of Economics in 1989, and completed a Ph.D. in Economics at Stanford University. His research focuses are monetary policy under uncertainty; innovation; productivity, and business cycles.
He began his career in 1994 as an economist at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. He joined the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in 2002. Prior to becoming the president, he was the executive vice president and director of research for the San Francisco bank. He took office as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco on March 1, 2011.
Williams currently serves as the managing editor of the International Journal of Central Banking. Previously, he served as associate editor of The American Economic Review. Additionally, he served as senior economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers and as a lecturer at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.