Soon after graduating from UCLA Samueli in 2014 with a degree in mechanical engineering, Matt Kurihara joined Tesla as an intern. Six years later, he’s a senior mechanical design engineer at the company’s Palo Alto office. We caught up with him and see how he’s doing.
Q: What’s it like to work for a cutting-edge car company?
A: It’s amazing. It’s a lot of fun. It’s an engineer’s dream. Tesla works on a lot of cool things, and I personally like to build and create things from scratch. That’s what we do here. We take a concept to production, and I get to create things from literally nothing. We start with basic engineering principles, and then Tesla gives us the freedom to exercise our engineering skills. I have nothing but good things to say.
Q: What was the hiring process like?
A: The hiring process I went through definitely looked for people who are passionate about Tesla’s mission. They are looking for individuals who truly understand what a fast-paced environment is. Hiring is geared towards finding people with the right technical skills and who align with the company’s goals. You have to be motivated to work at Tesla.
Q: You started off as an intern, then advanced to a mechanical design engineer, and are now senior mechanical design engineer. What was the upward climb like?
A: It was straight-forward since I was recognized and rewarded for my hard work. When I first joined Tesla, I was extremely excited and hungry for more work. Anytime I got a project, I completed it to the best of my ability, and moved on to the next project. Working at Tesla is a great opportunity to learn and grow as an engineer.
The company is really good at recognizing people who put in hard work and who perform. I did not have to actively seek out any of my promotions. In general, individuals who are doing great work get recognized, and promotions come very naturally.
Q: With Tesla’s incredible growth, are you and your team working around the clock?
A: We put in a decent amount of time at Tesla. It’s also motivation-based. It’s a great time for the energy products I am working on so that keeps me going. Often, we’re so wrapped up in what we’re doing that we don’t even notice the time. I have come in when it was dark, and left when it was dark. If we’re here that long, it’s because we’re getting things done.
Q: What skills do you think are important for engineering student to know right now?
A: The best advice I can give students is to pay attention to what is going on and have at least a baseline knowledge of current engineering trends. As students, there are many instances where we don’t quite understand what we’ll get from studying certain topics. Don’t ever underestimate the knowledge you gain from a class you may think is insignificant. There have been times when I have had to refresh a few skills on the job. There is an underlying purpose to all engineering classes you’re taking right now.
Q: Was there a difference between what you learned in school versus what you learned on the job?
A: One thing I learned very quickly is that I wish there was more emphasis on group work and group projects in school. At Tesla, the people sitting next to you are your team mates. It was very different in school where you are competing against others to get the best grade in class.
Everything at work is team-based, and it’s critical to know how to work well in a group environment. You need to have really good communications skills. You need to learn to rely on the people around you. If you can’t, the product or program will suffer. In the real world, success hinges on how well or how poorly your team works together. School is different because you can isolate yourself.
Q: Are you able to share what you’re working on?
A: Sure. I’m working on the Tesla Megapack. It’s essentially a shipping container-sized battery storage product. I am working on industrial-scale applications.
Q: Do you own a Tesla?
A: Not yet! I definitely want to get the Model Y. It’s the crossover SUV. I would love to go up in the mountains with it.
Q: What about Tesla stock?
A: Yep. The company gives stock grants. It’s been cool to see it rise. It’s been a testament to our hard work. It’s good to have equity in the company you work for.
Q: Have you ever met Elon Musk or, these days, been at a 6-foot distance from the legend?
A: I have not personally met him. We do see him around the office from time to time, and he’s a pretty impressive figure. He really cares about all the work we’re doing and he is very involved. The team always enjoys reading his tweets!