By Brandon Gillet
Mechanical engineering student Justin McLeod has spent the past few weeks settling into a CO-OP placement at ground zero of the high-tech world. He began a four-month stint at the Tesla factory in California, just in time to be involved in the launch of the Model 3, the company’s bid to capture the electric car mass market.
McLeod’s latest CO-OP adventure began as a simple email of interest to uOttawa alum Anthony Bagnulo, a team lead at Tesla. In fact, the University has a surprisingly large presence at the company, McLeod says. On his 10-member team alone, Bagnulo and two other staff members are alumni, while three uOttawa CO-OP students are currently working at Tesla’s Palo Alto headquarters or its Fremont factory.
McLeod, who is in his fourth and final CO-OP term, enthuses about the “busy, fast-paced environment at Tesla, where everyone is really intelligent.”
“The knowledge I’m gaining is invaluable and will help me in any endeavour I take on,” he said. “Now I can confidently create mechanical drawings and efficiently complete tasks that before I was iffy about.”
His program’s CO-OP opportunities have provided a real-world introduction to different facets of mechanical engineering. In addition to his current placement, he has worked in the electronics industry and robotics, and has been involved with the RBC uOttawa CO-OP Entrepreneurship Program.
“Not returning to the same job for a second placement is actually a good idea, because you get to explore the field,” said McLeod, who believes he now has the experience to take his career in three or four different directions.
“I’ve had the chance to work in some really cool, ground-breaking environments,” he said. “And no classroom can teach the kind of experience you gain from a CO-OP program.”
For McLeod, the opportunity to work on sustainable transportation — in Silicon Valley — is hard to beat. “Google is here, and I pass the thumbs-up ‘like’ symbol in front of the Facebook campus every day on my way to work,” he said. The job is demanding, but he has also been able to get out and enjoy the area’s natural beauty through activities such as hiking.
Tesla founder Elon Musk, who also runs four other companies, makes an appearance at the factory about once a week, McLeod said. He has learned the unspoken rule: interns don’t disturb Musk.
“His time is said to be worth $1 million a minute,” McLeod said. “Working for someone with that kind of power is incredibly motivating.”