What Does Success Look Like to You? – David Estrada 

What Does Success Look Like to You? – David Estrada 

David Estrada, born on March 28, 1968, in Vallejo, California, has served a variety of major players in the intersections of technology and law, notably recognized for his pioneering work in autonomous vehicles and emerging tech sectors. With an educational foundation from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Juris Doctor from the UC Berkeley School of Law (class of 1993), Estrada has significantly influenced the regulatory frameworks within the tech industry.

Estrada’s professional journey includes notable roles at leading companies, beginning as the second attorney at YouTube in 2006, where he facilitated the platform’s integration with Apple. This partnership positioned YouTube as the sole non-Apple app on the original iPhone, marking a pivotal moment in digital media consumption. His tenure at Google X is known for his role in facilitating the inaugural state-level autonomous vehicle regulations across Nevada, Florida, and California, laying the groundwork for the future of autonomous transportation.

As the Chief Legal and Policy Officer at Nuro Inc., Estrada served at the forefront of advocating for autonomous delivery vehicles, emphasizing their distinct safety and design requirements. His legal acumen was also pivotal at Lyft in 2014, where he led the government relations team and played a critical role in sculpting state laws for the burgeoning rideshare industry. Estrada’s work extended to innovative transportation with Kitty Hawk Corporation, where he, alongside Sebastian Thrun, launched Flyer, a pioneering VTOL aircraft, and contributed to Bird Rides Inc., facilitating the global expansion of e-scooter sharing. He joined the AV company Cruise in late 2023, but departed several months later after an unfortunate road incident involving one of the vehicles.

Estrada’s impact transcends professional achievements; his philanthropic engagements, particularly with the Berkeley Law Opportunity Program, and personal interests in mountain biking and international travel, particularly to Spanish-speaking countries, reflect a multifaceted personality committed to societal advancement and personal growth. Married to Gina, and a father to three children, Estrada’s life philosophy centers around leveraging technology for societal betterment, navigating the complexities of change, and valuing human connections and community engagement.

Q&A with David, Navigating the Pathways of A Positive Career

David, you’ve had a remarkable journey in the tech and legal fields. What does a positive career mean to you, and how has your definition evolved over the years?

To me, it is about trying to make a meaningful impact. You won’t always succeed, but this is the guiding principle. Initially for me, this started with addressing complex legal challenges and helping enable new web services and technologies to come to life. I’ve always wanted to see things improve for people’s lives and in our world broadly, and I would hope that some of the things I’ve been able to work on in my career helped to serve those goals.  

Throughout your career, you’ve been involved in some groundbreaking projects. What do you consider your most significant professional contribution, and why?

When I started working in the area of autonomous vehicles, there were no laws anywhere in the world that specifically applied to the technology.  It was unclear if cars could legally drive themselves without a driver in the seat in any state in the US or abroad. Believing that AVs could positively contribute to the world, I was excited to get involved early in helping to consider what the laws and regulations for AVs should be. It started with envisioning a future where AV technology could significantly reduce accidents, improve efficiency, and transform how we think about transportation. I had the opportunity to work with legislators and regulators in states like Nevada, California, and Florida to craft the very first rules for AVs, and that was rewarding.

Achievement often comes with its share of challenges. Can you share a time when you faced a significant obstacle, and how you overcame it?

One of the biggest challenges was during my time at the company Bird, which was the first to create a service of rentable electric scooters. While everyday customers were happy using the service, there was some intense backlash in cities about where the scooters should be parked and ridden. New rules were being proposed that could have ended the service or limited it to the degree that its promise of creating a viable form of micro electric transportation wouldn’t be realized.  This was an extremely challenging period that we worked to overcome by cooperating closely with cities on creating appropriate rules for these new kinds of services.  Many of the largest cities around the world ultimately embraced shared electric scooter systems as part of their transportation mix, and for that I’m gratified that I had the chance to work on helping to create a useful service in cooperation with city leaders.

In your opinion, what are the key attributes or skills that someone needs to be successful in the tech and legal industries?

Curiosity, adaptability, cooperation, and resilience are crucial. The tech landscape is constantly evolving, so a genuine passion for learning, the ability to adapt to new challenges, and cooperate both inside companies and with external stakeholders are vital. Legal professionals, particularly in tech, need to not only understand the law but also the technology they’re dealing with. Resilience is key because the path to innovation is often fraught with setbacks and failures, and the ability to persevere is what ultimately leads to breakthroughs.

Finally, what advice would you give to young professionals aspiring to make a mark in their fields?

Be passionate about what you do and always look for ways to contribute positively to the world around you. Don’t be afraid to take risks and embrace failure as part of the learning process. Surround yourself with people who challenge and inspire you, and never stop learning. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Impact Over Achievement: David Estrada emphasizes that a positive career is measured not just by professional achievements but by the ability to drive positive societal changes. His journey highlights the importance of using one’s skills and expertise to contribute to the greater good, suggesting that positivity should be viewed through the lens of impact rather than personal accolades.
  2. Resilience and Adaptability: Estrada’s experiences underline the necessity of resilience and adaptability in navigating the challenges of the tech and legal industries. His ability to overcome skepticism around autonomous vehicles and to shape new regulatory landscapes showcases the importance of perseverance, flexibility, and a willingness to engage in constructive dialogues to achieve breakthroughs.
  3. Balanced Life Philosophy: Despite the demands of a high-profile career, Estrada advocates for a balanced approach to life, where personal well-being and fulfillment are given equal importance as professional success. His dedication to family, hobbies, and personal interests serves as a reminder that true satisfaction stems from a harmonious balance between work and life, reinforcing the idea that success is holistic and multifaceted.