Why I can't be a Mass Properties Engineer (for Elon Musk)

Why I can’t be a Mass Properties Engineer (for Elon Musk)

Yesterday I received an email from a recruiting director at Tesla Motors.  The Tesla Motors.  Now he just wanted to get together sometime and “talk” so it was no big deal.  But as a mechanical engineer, seeing the Tesla logo pop up in my email kind of feels like seeing a unicorn wander into your backyard.  It’s a beautiful and rare thing and my first inclination was to run out there and ride it.

It seems there is an immediate need for a mass properties engineer at Tesla and the director found my name on Linkedin.  Doing a quick search for “mass properties” and “mass properties engineer” quickly reveals one thing, I’m the only mass properties engineer in the world!  Well, at least the virtual world.  Across the entire Linkedin landscape, I am the only person to manage to put those two yawn inducing words, “mass” and “properties” together and list it as my occupation.  I haven’t decided what that says about me but it’s a pretty interesting result nonetheless.

I know a few things about playing poker.  I know that sometimes you have to put off the short term wins for the long term ones.  I’m in this life for the long term wins and every way I looked at this, I saw the opposite.

1) I’d work at a company that succeeds through innovation.  But I’d have to be a Mass Properties Engineer for at least another year before moving laterally in the company.  Innovation would not be in my job description.  In a mechanical engineering firm, it’s a difficult and long road to move into a role that I’d be happy with too (design and decision making positions).  I’m all for working hard and putting in my time to get to bigger and better things but would I be able to keep up my motivation to get there while in smaller roles for years?  My gut says no.  Unhappiness and tedium for another year then who knows what?  Writing code means that right off the bat, I’m creating solutions.

2) I’d work at a company with goals I believe in.  But Tesla has already IPO’d and has a responsibility to investors to provide positive margins.  Even the most magnanimous companies and their belief system and culture fall prey to the all-mighty earnings call (I’m looking at you Google).  In 5 or 10 years, the time it’d take me to work my way up through the company, would those goals be the same?  I’ve already worked for two years at a company that has a strong earnings sheet but does few innovations per product generation.  The culture feels stale.  The people, while overworked, seem a bit bored.  Short term win.

3) I’d probably be able to negotiate a larger salary.  But winning a small pot now doesn’t do anything for me 5 years from now when my skill set hasn’t expanded enough for me to go for the big pots.  As Jason Calacanis would put it, I can be comfortable and content as a rice picker or I can put in my 10,000 hours and become a ninja.  This is the strongest reason for not continuing on my mechanical engineering journey.  I’m just not gaining the skills I want.  It’s comfortable and I make money but I’d like to make an impact on the world in some form, and I just don’t see that happening with the path I’m on.  I feel like programming will help me get there, and you know what, even if it didn’t, I love doing it.  I’m motivated everyday to get better.  It’s a feeling I never had in college while studying mechanical engineering.  So larger salary, short term win.

That leads this post to the painful email I had to write the recruiter, declining the specific role of mass properties but trying to leave the door open a crack to anything else.  I’m not particularly interested in “anything else” right now since I’ve been working my butt off to become a Ruby developer and that decision is a firm one, but I just couldn’t completely shut the door on Tesla Motors.  (It’s Tesla Motors!)  Because I believe in the goals of the company and have had an admiration for Elon Musk for a few years now, I offered to help the recruiter find some other qualified mass properties engineers.  I know a few that would bend over backwards to work for Tony Sta… err, Elon Musk.