Tekedra Mawakana, 49
Location: Mountain View, Calif.
Education: B.A., political science, Trinity College; J.D., Columbia University
What drew you to the auto industry? When I came to interview for Waymo’s global policy role, at first I thought it sounded terrifying. Because if the technology works, then the next biggest question was whether or not the regulatory landscape will allow this technology to be commercialized. Ultimately, I ended up joining the company because I felt like the moonshot origins created this actual sky-is-the-limit opportunity to really figure this out.
First automotive job: Waymo, 2017.
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Big break: I had been at AOL for 13 years and had worked to launch the Internet Association. In the process of doing all that, my peers unanimously voted for me to be the chairman. I realized I had actually developed something quite valuable at the intersection of industry and policy. The opportunities started to come after that, and it was a big break and a validation of a lot of hard work.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? Figuring out how to responsibly introduce autonomous vehicle technology into the real world. It is the challenge of a lifetime.
You’ve been in the industry three years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? It has to do with perceptions. I can remember in the early days, some people saying to me, “I know you’re going to Waymo to take my car away from me.” And I was like, “Wait, is that what I’m going to do? Because I like my car.” So I realized everyone has those perceptions, and the reality is quite different. There’s just room for all of it to exist together in many ways, hopefully in a safer road space.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? As an operational function, we had thought about, “How would you bring the operations down if you had to?” We have 100 scenarios we’d thought through, and a pandemic was not one of them. However, the pandemic actually gave us the chance to run the water through the pipes of those same systems. Do they work? Do they not work? I’m very glad to see the operations team was able to bring everything down safely. It sounds very straightforward, but the reality is that’s not the way the service works, not even at shift changes.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? We just launched this self-driving initiative at Waymo, where we’re building this community of women who are very interested in mobility. Our first event had 250 participants, which was amazing. Seven years ago, I made this commitment called “my givebacks.” And I stick to three a quarter, where I’ll have coffee with a younger woman or person from an underrepresented group. What I learned is, you’re demystifying things for them. You just spend 30 minutes with them, and all of the sudden, that big brand they know that they can’t figure out how to break into? You become the door.
Tell us about your family. I’m married, and I have an 11-year-old son. He loves video games, and he’s finding shelter-in-place life to be really fun with Mommy and Daddy. It’s going to be really hard when we break it to him that he will, at some point, go back to a school building.
Are you able to achieve work-life balance? I work really hard, and then I unplug. Pre-COVID, I take trips and have experiences; those experiences bring me a lot of rejuvenation and happiness. I’ve let go of the idea that every single day or week has this balance. I build in these larger moments to unplug and expose my son to other cultures and places.
Are you able to maintain friendships? I have a dear group of core girlfriends and a couple really close guy friends, and my son calls them his aunts and uncles. I feel very, very fortunate.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year, and what did you get out of it? It’s this book about acceptance. It’s called When You’re Falling, Dive. We all have these patterns of resistance. For me, I lost my mom last year pretty suddenly, and I felt like giving myself more strategies around acceptance would be pretty important. She was young, and it was sudden. I just found myself being like, “I just want some guideposts.”
— Pete Bigelow