"Saint Martin’s University prepared me for my internship by teaching me to provoke thoughtful and meaningful discussion."
Zakeel Gordon ’17 graduated from Saint Martin’s University with a degree in business administration, but spent his final semester as a manufacturing engineering intern with electric car manufacturer Tesla, in Fremont, California. At Tesla, Gordon worked on different aspects of production for the Tesla Model 3, a smaller and more affordable electric car, with a design like the Model S sedan. Gordon answered a few questions about his experience at Tesla and how his time at Saint Martin's prepared him for success.
How did you find out about the internship at Tesla and what was the application process like?
As a business major at Saint Martin’s University, I knew that the best way to prepare for life after college was to combine the theoretical study taught in my program with an applicable internship experience in my field. I pursued this, and found a valuable opportunity at Tesla through networking with professional contacts. Networking is an important part of demonstrating initiative and determination and can provide you with valuable work experience. By building on this skill, I made connections through an internal employee referral, which allowed me to get my foot in the door. I spent my final semester, January through June 2017, working in Fremont, California, at the Tesla Factory. The application process was approximately two months long, during which I applied online, underwent two telephone interviews, submitted samples of my University projects, and then progressed to seven on-site 30-minute interviews.
How would you describe the working culture at Tesla?
The working culture at Tesla was very collaborative. My favorite lesson from my internship was to not be afraid of failing. We were encouraged to ask questions and speak during team meetings. Additionally, managers, directors and executives were always open to hear ideas. No one at any level was above another, which led to a very positive work environment.
How did your experience at Saint Martin’s prepare you for the internship?
Saint Martin’s University prepared me for my internship by teaching me to provoke thoughtful and meaningful discussion. I demonstrated skills with respect to communication, analytics, risk management, project management, and organization. This helped me in practical application of project assignments. During the internship, many of the interns came from Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and other top-tier schools; however, this did not intimidate me as I was confident in my own abilities, but more importantly I was willing to learn. What was a bit odd was that the internship for business interns was full, and I wasn’t sure if I would be placed, though after an extensive interview process, I was invited to be part of the team as my interview sessions impressed the HR and leadership team. They placed me in the field of manufacturing engineering. I demonstrated strength in communication by interacting with employees from several different departments. As a result, this helped me to gain the respect of my team and validate my presence and contributions as a Tesla intern.
What skill that you learned at Saint Martin’s was most useful for you during your internship?
I believe that understanding analytics was number one. Having a foundation of technical knowledge proved invaluable during that time and was probably the determining factor in my ability to perform my job. I had taken statistics with Dr. Nelson and learned how to use R (correlation coefficient). With some background in R, Python and Excel, I was able to convert the raw data into readable material for several departments. Those skills put me above many of the other non-traditional engineers. Communication was definitely second, but that skill is something that everyone regardless of age or position is continuing to work on.
What did you enjoy most about your internship?
Tesla treats its interns like normal employees. Tesla interns are granted all of the same privileges as permanent employees such as: meal benefits, gym access, stock opportunities and 401k benefits to name a few. With respect to my position, I was given the same amount of responsibility as fellow employees at my level regarding the projects assigned to me. This helped me understand how my contributions helped impact the overall outcome of the Tesla Model 3 that our teams were working on. The internship opportunity required me to step-up and personally lead meetings to meet our strict time restrictions and deadlines. The fast pace and high expectations brought me out of my comfort zone and developed my confidence as a working professional.
What was most challenging about the internship?
The most challenging aspect of my Tesla internship was the extensive educational background required to work in engineering and the time demands placed on employees to ensure they meet the project timelines. As a university student, you sometimes are granted extensions by professors for projects or assignments, however, it is important to understand that in the “real” world, extensions can impact the bottom-line profits and/or delivery deadlines of products. You must be ready, willing and able to work hard and deliver the outputs on your projects. Manufacturing engineering is a mechanical engineering department. During my internship, I learned and became proficient in CATIA (computer-aided design software) and continued to develop my Microsoft Excel VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) skills through practical execution. Many of the projects assigned to me required longer time commitments and attention to detail, which resulted in several 75-hour work weeks. With a background in business, I was able to learn many of the technical engineering elements on the job. This made the work that much more rewarding!
Is there any advice that you would like to share with Saint Martin’s students?
A piece of advice I would like to share with other undergraduate students looking to enter the professional work environment would be to learn to strengthen your communication skills, oral and written; organize your work; and continue to develop your skills in Excel. Excel is a critical analytical program that helped me to be successful in my internship at Tesla. Learn to be comfortable enough with Excel that you can use it without a mouse. That level of technical obsession is necessary in the professional world. My greatest take-away from this experience is very clichéd: You can accomplish anything and everything you put your mind to.