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Q&A with Alumni: David Medina

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Dec 18, 2018

David Medina | Photo courtesy

Meet David Medina, an MS&E alum and intellectual property lawyer at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and currently on secondment at Panasonic's headquarters in Osaka, Japan.

David graduated with a bachelor's degree in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford and received his law degree at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law from Arizona State University.

"One thing that set me apart in life was learning how to interact with people who could be my mentors and essentially learning how to reach out and grab the mentorship and resources I needed to succeed."

Why did you choose MS&E?

I was the first in my family to move away and go to college and had no clue what I was doing. When I showed up at orientation, I was given a giant book detailing every possible major. I remember thumbing through the pages and thinking everything sounds great, but MS&E was one of the majors that stood out to me. I wanted to build skills in entrepreneurship, so the MS&E coursework in that area appealed to me at the time. I also remember asking my freshman roommate what his major was. He replied, "MS&E" and I responded, "Sounds great, I'll do that." Thinking back, that probably wasn't the most thoughtful approach, but with a bit of blind luck and serendipity, I chose MS&E and my choice worked out well.

What does it mean to be an MS&E alum?

MS&E is a program I'm proud of. It may have started as a concentration that many people did not have on the top of their list, but now it is well-recognized in areas of cybersecurity, supply chain, computational science, healthcare, government and other areas impacting policy. Being an MS&E alum means being at the forefront of important issues that are really pressing in today's world. It was unexpectedly valuable for my current position as a lawyer, which sometimes involves navigating tricky issues and counseling people who are facing tough decisions.

How has your time at Stanford impacted your life?

My time at Stanford was insightful and helped me understand the world around me. I did not come from a background with a built-in network—I had no mentorship or guidance within my immediate networks; especially those that could help me navigate the professional world. Stanford is a wonderful university that generally can take raw talent and propel it to the top of the universe, but at the time I didn't understand how to fully take advantage of what the university had to offer. Still, I grew and transformed during my time there, and I would not have traded it for anything.

Stanford opened my eyes and gave me real-world experiences, it provided me with a razors-edge understanding of areas in which I needed to improve and the types of changes I would need to make in order to be successful in grad school. I don't think I would have done as well in law school if I hadn't learned to overcome certain obstacles that I experienced as an undergrad at Stanford.

Do you relate your experience with being one of the first in your family to go to college?

I definitely think so. My parents and immediate network could not give me a clear sense of what I needed to know in order to be successful at a university, and as a result, could not provide the same type of guidance that many of my peers received. Further, complicating things was the fact that I initially didn't have a clear understanding of how to reach out to people. Although it was Stanford—with every possible resource on the planet—I didn't know how to engage with the university to make the most of my time there.

My experience growing up and going to public school in the East Los Angeles area was completely different. To be sure, I had some fantastic teachers in high school who helped keep us in line and pushed us along, but the resources, and more importantly the skills I developed to maximize my opportunities, were not the same. At Stanford, the reality was that resources existed, but I essentially went through college as if they didn't. I later learned that I had to adapt my learning style to my environment, and you have to do that if you expect to succeed. But I had to learn that valuable lesson the hard way—by not necessarily thriving academically or socially during my undergrad—to really take that lesson to heart and apply it during grad school.

Was there a particular class or professor that really stuck with you?

Yes! Professor Sheri Sheppard (of Mechanical Engineering) stood out in my mind as someone who really cared about me. I had a multidisciplinary approach when it came to classes and I liked dabbling in a number of areas, so I initially met Prof. Sheppard through one of my electives during my fourth year at Stanford. Prof. Sheppard was the kind of person who expressed an interest in my development, and she struck me as a professor who truly cared. I distinctly recall one meeting with her after class where she asked me how I was doing at Stanford in general. By that point, I had been there four years, and I recall sharing a bit more of my perspective than I previously had. Prof. Sheppard listened. After our conversation, I was left with the feeling that I had missed an opportunity to really learn from her. She just stood out as a wonderful human being to me.

I also thought, if I had met her as a freshman I'd be on a totally different trajectory. I might have gone on to be more of an engineer and not a lawyer because I respected and appreciated her and because I thought she was a fantastic teacher. Luckily for me, the trajectory I am on is also a great one, and I have been able to use my experiences to grow into the person I am today.

What inspires you most about your work and company?

My current work is fantastic and I really enjoy what I do. I'm an intellectual property lawyer, which means I fight in court over issues that come up with patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. I work at a large law firm and we have a number of huge institutional clients. The cases I work on usually involve high-profile clients and often are in the news.

It's pretty exciting to dive into that work. It's also exciting to be at the cutting edge of a legal issue, and it's fun and intense when both sides dig in on a case, which requires a lot of teamwork to succeed. I love working with brilliant people, in an environment where people are pushing you intellectually every day and it's very demanding overall.

As an added perk, I am currently on secondment (i.e., loaned out to a client) to work and support Panasonic at their headquarters in Osaka, Japan. As a Panasonic lawyer, I work on a variety of intellectual property and licensing matters. The work here has been tremendously rewarding, and I am certain it is helping me grow as a lawyer.

What are one or two things that have made you successful in your career?

Being a good mentee and good learner. Everywhere I've gone throughout my academic career and personal life, I have found great people. I had great teachers in high school, at Stanford, in law school, and during my career. The one thing that set me apart was learning how to interact with people who could be my mentors and essentially learning how to reach out and grab the mentorship and resources I needed to succeed.

What advice would you give to a new Stanford student in MS&E?

I would tell an incoming student to build relationships with the professors and peers around you. And also to ask yourself, what do you like? What would make you happy? What challenges you? It is okay if you don't have an answer, but by asking yourself those questions and reflecting critically on your experiences, you can start to narrow down the almost limitless resources within the university and focus on the people and experiences that matter to you. I think the best thing a new student could do is to start building relationships with professors—who, by the way, are world-renowned, and who often have the keys to opportunities that you can't even imagine—and to use those relationships to grow as a person.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Yes, I would like to speak to the kid coming in with a similar background as my own, who doesn't have a full understanding of the university or its resources—the kid that may have screwed up a semester, a year, or his entire undergrad—and relate the message that it's not over till it's over.

I had a really tough time. Shortly after I graduated from Stanford, the economy crashed and jobs were scarce. I moved back to LA and took a job as a box boy at a local retailer, which was one of the bigger slices of humble pie I've ever had to eat because I was working at a level under kids from my high school, who had gone straight to work at 18 years old and were supervisors and managers by then. I was heavily in debt with an entry-level job, and that was not a lot of fun. I wasn't sure kind of what path my future would hold.

But a year later I moved back to the Bay Area with my brother to restart. I had no job, but I bumped into one of my close friends from Stanford who was looking for somebody to be a junior product manager at a startup. I went from making 12 bucks an hour as a box boy to almost four times that in one step. That foothold was all I needed to turn things around. At the time I took that job I had already committed to going to law school the next year. When I went through with my plan and walked away from that job to attend law school, I was so embarrassed for how I had performed as an undergrad and humbled by my box boy job that I came in with an edge to excel in my studies, and frankly to crush the competition. And with the support of my family and girlfriend at the time (now wife), I did.

The moral of the story is that even if you totally mess up, in my case academically and financially, what matters most is what you can learn from your experiences and how you can use that to propel yourself forward.