Remember that fairly bad movie a few years ago, Failure to Launch? Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Bates were in it, and it was about a 30-something year old who was still living with his parents and a plot to hook him up with a nice girl to get him to leave.
Yeah, well that’s not happening at my house, at least in the case of our oldest son, Joel. What a crazy week or so he’s had – and in keeping with the idea that “The Universe Works for Joel” (he’s just one of those folks where things continuously work out in his favor, for the most part), he received two job offers this week – one from Tesla Motors, the other from Ford Motor Company.
A brief backstory, in case you’re a WordPress reader not familiar with the goings on in my family – I have three sons, ages 23, 19 and 19. The younger twin sons, Alex and Brian, are sophomores in college – Alex at Northern Illinois University and Brian at College of Lake County IL. Our oldest, Joel, is completing his final/third semester of his senior year at University of Illinois.
Coming back to the story now – Joel started his college career in mechanical engineering – his GPA and ACT performance scores coming out of Stevenson High School won him direct admission into the MechE program at Illinois, a very tough thing to get into, and directly into their honors program. That said, after being in the program for nearly two years, it became clear to him that a) being a mechanical engineer wasn’t what he wanted, and b) he would be a better educational and career fit into a program called Technology Systems Management at Illinois. Given through the “ACES” department at Illinois, otherwise known as the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, he would be able to pursue a career in applied engineering – working on things that do things, versus designing things. Making a major change like that, however, could have derailed his career plans to work for a car company, something he’s always wanted to do since he was a little kid.
What delivered Joel to this past week is very simple – a combination of hard work, his personality/leadership abilities, and his four years of engineering team work on the University of Illinois Formula SAE team – aka Illini Motorsports. For those not familiar, Formula SAE is sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers, and is part of the SAE’s Collegiate Design Series – a program designed to give engineering students around the world the opportunity to work as engineering teams and gain real-world experience. The Formula SAE team at Illinois creates and builds a “formula style” (think Grand Prix/IndyCar on a small scale) race car from scratch every year – they do things like use “out of the box” engines and other items, but the frame, bodywork, wiring, etc., plus key engine components like intake, exhaust, etc. are all designed and built by the team. Once they design it, they must fabricate/manufacture it, source non-fabricated components like brakes, shocks, engine computers, etc., arrange sponsorships and everything else.
The competitions are amazing – in addition to actually driving and racing the car (the sexy part) there’s also design competition, business case competition (how can you manufacture this in volume), etc. The “formula” is that you’re building a club-level race car that could be purchased by someone like me who is interesting in doing weekend amateur racing and wants to drive something more than a street car. Here’s Joel at the wheel of the 2013 season car in a test session at the former air force base in Rantoul IL.
Going into Joel’s freshman year at Illinois, he also had come out of the band program at Stevenson as a pretty accomplished trombone player, and enjoyed marching band. He tried out for the Illini Marching Band program and got in, much to my pride and excitement. We also knew that he wanted to be in the Formula SAE program but we didn’t realize the time that might take. To his credit, Joel did some research about the program, realized that a) it was his ticket to the career he wanted and b) that it takes a significant amount of time and decided to not go into the band, even though he made it. We had quite an argument about it, but he played the “Dad this is my life and career we’re talking about here.” Once he played that card, I was out of the argument.
As it turned out, best card he ever played. The Formula SAE program at Illinois has an amazing track record of getting kids employed in all sorts of areas. As the team has engineers of every stripe, plus non-engineers, the real-world work experience they get in the program is truly amazing. Joel has friends from his program now working in places like Boeing, SpaceX, Scaled Composites, Ford, GM, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Tesla, Grumman Aerospace, plus engineering firms, other tech firms like Google, Microsoft, etc. and more. It truly boasts a 100% “employed by graduation” rate.
Joel was able to leverage his FSAE experience first into an internship at Nissan the summer before his senior year, and then into an internship at Tesla this past summer (before his final “senior semester”). These companies value people from this program in a way that his mom and I never imagined.
And so to this week – Joel came out of the Tesla internship with the promise of a job upon graduation. He kept in touch through the fall, and in the last few weeks, things accelerated – he had a phone interview or two with them, took a trip to San Francisco/San Jose to meet in person with them again. He got Tesla’s formal offer at the end of last week – and it’s amazing. I won’t quote numbers, but suffice to say, took me quite a few years in my career to hit the number he’s starting at. Plus additional benefits and bits like stock options, etc. Truly a stunning offer. In a parallel path, he also interviewed with Ford both on the phone and in person, and like things always seem to work out for him, he got their offer just literally moments before he was going to call Tesla to accept theirs. And Ford’s offer, while structured differently was equally lucrative. Talk about choices!
So, he had a huge decision to make – there’s lifestyle issues like being in the midwest and closer to family, job issues like the job at Tesla being more to his liking, and the known quantities of working on the same team where he was this past summer. Ford’s offer put him on a track to potentially have a 40-year career there – he could easily drop into their programs, and be there until retirement. Tesla’s at the bleeding edge of the tip of the spear and their growth rate is going straight up.
At the end of the week, after much wrangling, many conversations with us and his girlfriend, etc. – he knew what he had to do – he’s going to Tesla. The job is just too exciting, the growth opportunity too great, etc. He got great advice from a bunch of folks, even including a gent who was the head of Volvo Cars North America for a lot of years. All of them said “gotta go to Tesla – you just have to”. In the end for Joel, though, it was the combination of the job, the boss, and the team that he went for. Yes, Tesla is on the road to amazing things, but Joel being Joel – he wanted to rejoin his team.
Obviously, we’re as proud as we can be of him. While we always joke that “the universe works for Joel” I would also say that Joel works the universe harder than anyone else I know, and that when he puts his eye on the prize, he will not be denied in the least.
Are we proud of this kid?
Yeah. We’re proud.
As you were,