In the automotive industry, engineering and design are two core components. But, many companies prioritize one (read: engineering) over the other. That's for a reason — cars are about functionality and safety as well as durability and cost-effectiveness.
However, design is also about functionality. For instance, interior design solutions must ensure comfort and practicality. Therefore, the intersection of engineering and design is key to the success of a car giant such as Tesla.
That's also the topic of this episode of Thanks for Making It. Our guest is Meg Liotta, the Senior Recruiter at Tesla. Meg and host Beth Altringer Eagle discuss the synergy between design and engineering, what it takes to work in a design engineering role, and what soft skills are required for working at Tesla.
Meg shares her career path and a piece of valuable advice for students entering the job market. Meg and Beth also discuss diversity in the business world and emphasize the significance of diversity of thought and experience.
[00:00:00] Beth Altringer Eagle: So here I am with Meg Liotta,
[00:00:03] the Senior Recruiter for Tesla. And we're so happy to have you with us today. I'm super excited to be here. I love doing stuff with RISD and Brown.
[00:00:14] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:00:15] Beth Altringer Eagle: So we saw each other last, when you came to campus, you gave a great talk at RISD and then came over and spent some time with the made students, that's the Master of Arts in, um, Design Engineering. That's a joint program with RISD and Brown and you get, I know that your audience was the students, but I was so inspired that I really wanted you to come and, and, and talk to us and maybe we can help, you know, kind of spread that message a little bit.
[00:00:44] But the show that we're, that we're starting is on design engineering, and what we're interested in doing is inviting people to come talk to us about products that combine design and engineering in such a beautiful way, that it creates something that's almost a magical experience. And so that's how, that's the umbrella of the show.
[00:01:10] Beth Altringer Eagle: And so I loved your visit, maybe we'll just start with a little bit about you. So where, where are you from?
[00:01:17] Meg Liotta: Uh, so I'm from Boston, so I'm very close by, uh, to these schools. And actually I, my family has a business in Westport, Massachusetts, so I grew up very close to Providence and going to Providence a lot. I have like, I even have, I think five of my tattoos are from a shop in Providence, so that's really funny. But yeah, from Boston, I live in LA now. I've lived in a bunch of different places. I've lived in,
[00:01:48] this is my second time living in LA, I went to college in LA. Um, I've lived in Dallas. I've lived in the Bay Area when I first started at Tesla, and now I recently just moved back to LA, uh, about six months ago.
[00:02:01] Beth Altringer Eagle: Great. So, um, LA or Boston. Okay.
[00:02:05] Meg Liotta: LA and so...
[00:02:08] I don't know how I grew up with like 18 winters in a row. I could never go back to it now.
[00:02:16] Beth Altringer Eagle: Uh, it's fun. I mean, I lived in England for four years, so then I moved to Boston.
[00:02:20] Meg Liotta: Oh my gosh.
[00:02:22] Beth Altringer Eagle: The weather seems nice to me.
[00:02:24] Meg Liotta: True. Yeah.
[00:02:25] Beth Altringer Eagle: So, um, just for our listeners, tell us a little bit about your role at Tesla.
[00:02:30] Meg Liotta: Yeah. So, um, I'm a Senior Recruiter at Tesla. I, I hire for, uh, sort of three different parts of the business. I hire for vehicle engineering internships, battery engineering internships, and I hire for our design studio, which is a combination of different types of disciplines. There are engineering roles, there are transportation design based roles,
[00:02:56] there are more graphic design roles, a couple couple of teams that focus on like product design and industrial design, but even like down to there is a copywriting role. There's a videography and photography role, um, it's kind of like a mix of things, but all under the umbrella of design.
[00:03:14] Beth Altringer Eagle: That's great. And how did you, it's it's such a specific role that you're in and also you're recruiting for so many different units. So tell us a little bit
[00:03:23] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:03:23] Beth Altringer Eagle: about your career path and how you found your way to this role.
[00:03:28] Meg Liotta: Yeah, I got an undergrad degree in Communications from Loyola Marymount University, and I, as most recruiters do, I fell into recruiting. That's kind of like how it happens, um. I didn't have any specific career aspirations when I was graduating college, I more had companies that I wanted to work for. And I, I think that I still function that way now.
[00:03:52] But I knew I wanted to work for an airline, um, because I really wanted flight benefits, that was the goal for me. And I started working, I, um, in airline called Envoy Air, right when I graduated. It's a regional carrier for American airlines and you get all of the American airlines flight benefits.
[00:04:11] Meg Liotta: So I was like, "I'm in." And I started there just as sort of like a general talent acquisition assistant. And they were talking about different roles that were opening up internally and one was in pilot recruitment and I kind of didn't even know that pilot recruitment existed. So I was like, "That sounds really interesting."
[00:04:31] And I interviewed for the role and they loved it, ended up working as a pilot recruiter there, um, for just under three years. And then, uh, the pandemic hit and that wasn't very good for pilot recruiting. And we got offered, um, separation packages where you got to keep your flight benefits for 10 years and you would agree to leave.
[00:04:53] And I was like, "Well, I'm in this job for the flight benefits, and so I think this sounds like a good deal to me." So I did the same thing I did when I was first graduating college. I made my list of companies I would want to work for. Um, and I do really enjoy recruiting, so I knew I didn't want to leave that space.
[00:05:10] So I just started looking for recruiting positions in the companies that were on my list and like the top two on my list were Tesla and SpaceX. And Tesla happened to post a university recruiting position, and I was doing a lot of collegiate recruiting in the pilot space. I was working with flight schools a lot, so I applied. No connections at Tesla or anything.
[00:05:30] I just wrote my resume well, interviewed well and got the job offer. And then since I started, I've had vehicle engineering and design studio, um, kind of just got randomly assigned to me. And again, like totally fell into my lap and I fell in love with it. Vehicle engineering and the design at Tesla are such like cutting edge areas to be in. And it's a really exciting job every day,
[00:05:55] 'cause there's just always like really creative, new stuff going on. Yeah, so I've been here for a little over a year and a half and I love it so much.
[00:06:04] Beth Altringer Eagle: That is so cool. And then, and you still get your flight benefits.
[00:06:08] Meg Liotta: Yeah. I'm actually right now, I'm in Austin, 'cause I flew here last night. So yeah. So I'm here for like a long weekend and it should be really fun.
[00:06:19] Beth Altringer Eagle: O, that’s great. Did you go to
[00:06:19] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:06:19] Beth Altringer Eagle: South or Southwest or is that not really..?
[00:06:22] Meg Liotta: Uh, not this year, but I have been there before. Yeah.
[00:06:26] Beth Altringer Eagle: It was fun, we went this year.
[00:06:28] Meg Liotta: Oh nice. Yeah.
[00:06:29] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah. And so let's see. So one of the things I like to ask people is how they see the difference between good and great design. So I'm curious how you would answer that?
[00:06:41] Meg Liotta: Yeah, I should say too. Something I forgot to mention just in my personal life that informs a lot of my recruiting work is that, um, I'm in a graphic design program at UC Berkeley. So that's been really fun is like, in the past year I've been learning so much more about design, which has been great recruiting for design studio.
[00:07:00] I should say that, so that's a little bit more contextual, um, but yeah. Okay. So I thought about this a lot and to me, I think that, um, good design is something that is both sort of undeniably beautiful and like attractive to the eye and serves the function it's supposed to serve, um, but I think great design,
[00:07:26] um, and this is the first photo I sent you it's of the Cybertruck. Um, the great, great design is visually interesting, it's not necessarily undeniably beautiful, and it's functional in a surprising way. Um, so I think that our Cybertruck is like, for example, like the Model S is one of those designs
[00:07:47] that's like undeniably beautiful. Um, but the Cybertruck, there people like hate it. They think it's so ugly and it's like, maybe they're right. Um, but there are also people that are like, "This is the most interesting truck I've ever seen in my life." And I think that that's what makes a design so cool is that there are people that hate it,
[00:08:09] but there are people that are so passionate about it because it's not just something cut from a mold to look nice. It's something that makes you question, um, sort of like, "Why did the designer want to do it that way?" 'Cause it kind of tells you that there was a designer who was really passionate about how it was designed and was like, "No, we need to put this out in the world."
[00:08:28] And I think that anything that obviously was made with love, um, and designed with love to me makes it greater.
[00:08:37] Beth Altringer Eagle: I love that as a way of thinking about it.
[00:08:40] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:08:40] Beth Altringer Eagle: And I’ve heard other people describe it that way a little bit too. I wonder as you immerse yourself more in graphic design, is the way that you think about that difference between good and great design changing at all?
[00:08:56] Meg Liotta: Yes. I think that being in this program has formed that opinion to me.
[00:09:00] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:09:00] Meg Liotta: ‘Cause I would have thought in the past that something has to be beautiful to be good. Um, and it almost has to be beautiful to me all the time, and I think something that has come about in my designs is that I have a very, like, I have a preference for neutral colors just in my life,
[00:09:20] but I I've tried to play around more with loud colors in my designs, even though I don't necessarily think of them as beautiful. But there's a place, there's like sometimes where colors and something being significantly more colorful than I would normally be attracted to has made the design better in my opinion, because it just fits the mood of that design more,
[00:09:44] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:09:45] Meg Liotta: even though I'm not looking at it and immediately being like, "I love this, this is beautiful."
[00:09:50] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah. It's so contextual. And even a lot of statues that people think are white, you know, originally were very colorful in their day. So it's kind of interesting how color or lack of color changes the way that we think about something.
[00:10:07] Meg Liotta: Uh, absolutely. Yeah. Even, I mean, if you think about Tesla cars, there's a huge difference between a red Model 3 and a black Model 3.
[00:10:16] Yeah, yeah.
[00:10:18] Beth Altringer Eagle: And I like what you're saying is almost like you, part of your definition of great design involves some kind of controversy. Or I think with my students, I often call that like a strong design point of view that's expressed. So that's very cool. Thanks for sharing that. So let's, let's dive into a little bit of what you talked about, um, at RISD.
[00:10:41] Meg Liotta: Sure.
[00:10:42] Beth Altringer Eagle: That tended to be a little bit more about the, you know, the types of people that you're hoping to bring in to Tesla.
[00:10:51] I think before we get into that, let's, let's, talk a little bit about the intersection of design and engineering and how you see those coming together, whether you see those growing in generally, and then maybe specifically at Tesla.
[00:11:08] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:11:09] So in general, I think that it's here at Tesla. Um, I don't think it's, you know, I don't think every company combines them yet, they will have to eventually. Um, but I think because Tesla kind of exists a little bit in the future, um, this already exists for us. Um, and so I think that it, the example that I really wanted to show, um, the, that photo I have that is of the interior of the car, the black interior, I wanted to use this as an example because it is the perfect example of like how many different design and engineering teams come together to create
[00:11:51] some an interior engineered by design. So really common thing in the automotive world is especially if your goals are sustainability and cost effectiveness, existing materials don't often work, and you have to create your own materials. And obviously that's not something that you can do in like Adobe Illustrator.
[00:12:13] It requires some engineering behind it, um, and fabrication. So very early on in this photo, you have materials science, materials engineering, and CMF or Color Material Finishes teams immediately working together. Um, because they have a couple of considerations when they are designing this interior in the photo. Because, okay, one, you decide we want a black interior.
[00:12:38] That's great. However, you have to consider one that the black of every material on the interior is going to match. And you also have to consider that the finishes of all of those materials are going to look harmonious. Because naturally our full leather seats are going to be a little bit more shiny than the soft trim that's on the back of the seats.
[00:13:02] So you have to consider like when we design these, how high is the pile of that trim and how high can it be for comfort before it starts directly arguing with the material of the full leather. Um, so not only do you have the CMF team saying, "This is the point where they stop looking harmonious," um, but you also have the materials engineering team saying, "Okay, this might be the point where they start looking harmonious, but we're going to save a significant amount of money if we do this."
[00:13:33] Um, so very early on in just the design of the materials, you have those two worlds coming together. And then further along, you're getting into the phase of iteration, where I think I'm going to talk about this more later, I'll just naturally, but iteration is the true like marriage of engineering and design, because you're going back and forth and you're saying what works, what doesn't work, what works, what doesn't work over and over again.
[00:14:02] And so it kind of transfers from the materials engineering team and the CMF team, and it moves on to our interior engineering team. It moves on to our craftsmanship team, um, and our seat design team. So you have interior engineering, seat design and craftsmanship sort of like validating that everything is, it works and it's safe,
[00:14:24] Meg Liotta: um, and it's ergonomic, but it also still looks good.
[00:14:30] Beth Altringer Eagle: And how do they pass that off? Is it kind of like this team finishes their bit and then it goes to the next team or is it
[00:14:37] a little more fluid than that?
[00:14:39] Meg Liotta: It’s constant cycle. There isn't really a point where it gets passed off until the very end, uh, our design quality team, which is a design team more on the industrial design time. They are the, the final stamp of approval. So you have like five or six teams that are carrying this from concept to manufacturing and they are all like, that
[00:15:02] CMF team, materials engineering, interiors, craftsmanship, they have their hands on it for that entire time. And then design quality comes in sort of at the last stage and says, "Okay, this looks good and we can produce a million of these in a year." That's sort of like the final stamp and then it moves to manufacturing.
[00:15:22] But something interesting about specifically materials is that they follow the car even past production, because when there are innovations that come out and the science behind materials, there is nothing stopping them from changing the car. Obviously they can't change the cars that are already out on the road, but if there's something that comes out that's significantly more sustainable or significantly more cost-effective without sacrificing sustainability, they can change that in an existing car.
[00:15:52] Beth Altringer Eagle: Wow. Just kind of, you know, mid production. That's exciting.
[00:15:56] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:15:57] Beth Altringer Eagle: Cool. Well, so that's, that's an example of how they kind of all many different teams come together to, and we're just looking at like one little slice of the intersection of their work, right? Like how the seat comes together, right, but that's going to play out kind of for every major feature of the car.
[00:16:22] Meg Liotta: Yeah. I mean that, that's why it's interesting because the CMF team is going to carry all of that with them, right? But when you get more on the engineering side, there are a lot more separations between the teams, because you have interior engineering validating stuff like the seats, but then you have, you know, the exteriors team that's validating the door handle and you have the body structures team
[00:16:48] that's validating like the overall skeleton of the car. And then you have the chassis engineering team that could be validating the brakes or the wheel design, anything like that. Um, but our design teams, because they're there from concept on cover a wider range, whereas the engineering teams really zone in on specific things because they're doing a lot of that validation work to make sure that something is like functional, usable and scalable.
[00:17:18] Beth Altringer Eagle: And so when we think about, you know, I mean, I'm here primarily as an educator, you know, in this and our program is educating design engineers. Uh, but you're also, you know, in the business of training to some degree, right? And so how, um, how do you think about the best way to train people for the kind of role roles that you are filling like? And maybe, maybe it's worth differentiating a little bit between what's possible now and what you're kind of wish for a training might be like?
[00:17:55] Meg Liotta: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think that there, it's hard to train a design eye for sure. There, you, they're things that are important at a company that aren't as important when you're freelancing. Like you have to be able to adhere, to like, company's design story and our brand standards. Um, but it is very hard to train somebody to be a good designer.
[00:18:24] So I think that the training portion comes more into play with soft skills in general, and just the type of things that tend to happen at a company like Tesla. Um, and so being highly collaborative is important, and so I think that, a way to train students in that is to have them in group projects all the time.
[00:18:45] Meg Liotta: Um, and especially when students are given opportunities to learn from other students and then also like become trainers their self, like in makerspaces and stuff like that. I think that that's an important opportunity. And especially, I think makerspaces give students such hands-on capability. They get, they get more hours designing things like industrial design wise than they would in a classroom, because in a classroom they have to share with everybody.
[00:19:14] And you have a finite amount of time in a course, you know, the, the course starts and then three months later it ends. Whereas if you're working on a project in a makerspace you have like longer term capability. But also something that is like hard to train too, but I think is really important is just teaching somebody to question everything.
[00:19:35] Um, I think this, so there's, this is actually an engineering concept that we use all of the time at Tesla, it's called the first principles thinking. And I think that training designers to think that way as well is very useful, especially when you're trying to encourage people to combine more into design engineering.
[00:19:54] I think having the engineering train of thought is very effective, but first principles thinking it's not a Tesla concept, it's just one that we adopt often, is that you take a problem down to its smallest, like first concept of it, you know? And then from there you work up to your solution. So if I, let's see, let me find something here.
[00:20:22] If I have this water bottle here and I think to myself, "Hmm, this was like really hard for me to open. I wonder what the problem was here." Uh, non first principles thinker is probably immediately going to jump to, "Hmm. Was it just, the cap was like stuck? Was there too much glue on the caps and thing like that?" First principles thinker is going to think, "Okay.
[00:20:46] It was either the cap, something about the shape of the bottle or what was it user error." Then from there, they're going to say, "Okay, user error could be strength of the hand. It could be slipperiness of the fingers. It could be, um, impatience from the mental state of the user. Um, if it's the shape of the bottle, is it too hard to grip?
[00:21:08] Is the bottle itself too slippery? If it was the problem with the cap, is it that the inside had too much glue in it? Is it that it's too short of a cap to grip onto?" Then they're going to try to figure out a solution for those seven things, as opposed to just writing it off as one, because if you miss the mark on the one, you're not going to solve anything.
[00:21:30] Whereas if you're looking at sort of like seven smaller pieces and working your way up from there, you're more likely to find a solution. And whether you are a designer and engineer or a design engineer at Tesla, your ultimate goal is the sell of things, um, and to figure out the base of a problem, because if you question why all of the time, even if something appears to be working great, you do find better things.
[00:21:54] It's, it's like the same concept of when you are a designer, how you should always be sketching before you move something to a computer is because when you don't limit yourself, you are more likely to come up with a solution.
[00:22:06] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:22:07] Yeah. You can end up kind of in a sort of templatized way of thinking, just because of the way that,
[00:22:13] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:22:14] Beth Altringer Eagle: you know, the things that the software makes easy versus what is true to your idea. I like that answer too, because it, it kind of dovetails with your definition of good versus great design is that, you know, first principles is going to help you get to something that is more original, potentially,
[00:22:35] that is a stronger point of view. One of the things I often think about is that there, there seems to be a new field that's kind of emerging between these two sort of fields that all already have lots of fields within that, right? There are many types of engineering, there are many types of design. And for, I don't know, the last 10 years or so, UX has certainly began been combining them, but for a very specific purpose, right,
[00:23:09] kind of like a digital, um, app, uh, and mobile app and desktop app. But I think what's happening is that lots of other types of design and engineering are bleeding together as well. That something is growing there, but it's hard to define what it is. So I wonder what would you think about that and how you might define it from your perspective?
[00:23:36] Meg Liotta: Yeah. So I think that the concept of design engineering and with more of a focus on aesthetic design is becoming more prevalent because it's just, it's the preference of the consumer, for sure. Um, I think that visuals and haptics are so much more important to us than they were like, I don't know, even 10 years ago.
[00:24:01] I mean, I think about like, even something like cookware those care way, um, like pots and pans that are functional and they work well and they're non-stick, but they're more popular than other brands because they're visually appealing. I think that the younger generation cares more about visuals. Um, and a lot of times like, visuals get you there get you to buy it, but what gets you to like keep buying it or recommending it to others
[00:24:29] is the function being really effective. Um, and sort of talking about the difference between good and great design and the function being accurate versus surprising is that a lot of things that take something from being sort of just good design to that magical design is actually science, um, like magic ultimately is science.
[00:24:51] That's why engineering is so cool is because you can do something with science that makes something magical. So I think that, you know, things that are engineered need designed to look good and things that are well-designed need engineering to make it like magic.
[00:25:08] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:25:09] Meg Liotta: And so that combination is what's causing the overlap, because these teams already work so closely together and they have to work closely together that why wouldn't you just cross-train.
[00:25:19] Um, the same way, a lot of mechanical engineers now know how to code. Um, you have to cross-train and I think that's Tesla's mission is such a good example of what I think a lot of companies will have to do in the future, because there's a lot of function that's becoming a requirement. For us, it's electric vehicles,
[00:25:40] absolutely. I mean, especially in the last two months we've seen why electric vehicles are more self-sustaining. But Tesla's goal to put more electric vehicles on the road is not enough for most consumers. Um, there's a very small faction of consumers that will do anything to buy an electric vehicle.
[00:26:00] So you have to, and this has been our plan from the start since like 2003, um, is that you have to make it cool car in order for somebody to want to buy it. Um, and especially, I know I see this in my own family, my dad, I never thought he'd buy an electric vehicle. He bought a Model 3 last year. But I don't think he bought it because it was an electric vehicle.
[00:26:21] I think he bought it because Tesla's are cool. But a lot of the things that make Tesla as cool, um, are both design and engineering things like, you know, the, the yoke steering wheel on the Model S and X plan, that was the car design team, but it also was the chassis engineering team. Um, and our, you know, the fact that most of our cars can go zero to 60 in under two seconds,
[00:26:45] that was the motor design team, but it was also the aerodynamics team. Um, so you, you, to make something cool to make something visually beautiful, to make something functional in a way that is interesting and useful and gives it an edge, you do need both worlds. So why not cross-train people to be proficient in both of those worlds?
[00:27:07] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:27:08] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:27:09] Beth Altringer Eagle: So when you have, so for example, the steering wheel design,
[00:27:13] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:27:13] Beth Altringer Eagle: you have multiple teams that are kind of responsible for that idea coming about and getting at, and maturing within the company.
[00:27:23] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:27:24] Beth Altringer Eagle: Does that direct, does the idea for that kind of come from the top and then the teams flesh it out or do they kind of independently have a conversation?
[00:27:33] I just wonder organizationally how you facilitate the integration, ‘cause it doesn't happen on its own, you know?
[00:27:40] Meg Liotta: Yeah. Well, most ideas don't necessarily come from the top. The design briefs come from the top, for sure. But the, the ideas that are more singular and individual to parts of the car usually come from research or just especially the teams look outside the auto industry all the time to see like, what's cool, what's going on.
[00:28:03] I don't know how the yoke came about exactly, but I imagine it was somebody saying, "Hey, have you ever thought about how on a plane they steer this way? What if we tried that in the car?" Um, and so that usually comes from the design team. And then what happens is that the design team will make a mock-up of it,
[00:28:20] Meg Liotta: and they're like, "Okay, this could work." Because obviously the yoke, there's a huge solve to be made there. Is that, "What happens when you're turning like this?" Um, and so that, that has to go through, the ergonomics team has to like validate that that can still exist. The chassis, the like the steering sub team of chassis engineering has to validate that you can actually physically turn the wheel,
[00:28:45] and even if you're not holding it at the top, it won't snap back and make you immediately start turning the other way. Um, and then the safety team has to analyze that too. And then you even get the like, uh, computational analysis team is analysis team is going in there to test it before you even like physically test it and build a physical prototype.
[00:29:04] And it's, it starts with somebody's idea. And that's, what's cool is that everybody does have a seat at the opinion table. So you can bring that up and say, "What if we did a yoke instead of a wheel?" Um, but it requires so many different things that go into it and teams that are going to essentially validate that it still works in their given portion of work scope.
[00:29:32] Um, but yeah, no, it's, it comes from one person and then everybody else kind of falls into it and they're like, "Yeah, that is," and you know, there are definitely ideas that one person will bring up and then either, nobody else is on board at the start, or it fails through some sort of validation and testing and you can't pursue it, but
[00:29:51] some make it all the way through.
[00:29:53] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah. And you, when you were on campus, you mentioned like an integrated design unit or something?
[00:30:00] Meg Liotta: We have an integration team.
[00:30:02] Beth Altringer Eagle: Can you tell me a little bit more about how that works?
[00:30:04] Meg Liotta: Yeah. Yeah. So the integration team is like, uh, they are the person building the puzzle, I would say. 'Cause there's all these puzzle pieces, they are an engineering team. Um, but the, I guess overall product design integration is three parts, actually. The integration team makes sure that everything works, that all the wheels are turning, the motors running, everything works when you put it all together,
[00:30:30] um, both the design and the engineering. The dimensional part of product design integration, make sure everything fits. So, not only does the size of everything fit together, but, you know, there are materials that expand and retract and heat. There are materials that when pressed will compress, um, so they have to make sure that not only does everything fit together, but what is the sort of like, no-go or go, no-go on either side of like where that is going to expand too much where it no longer fits or it causes friction.
[00:31:04] And then the craftsmanship team makes sure that everything looks good when you engineer it together. So the product design integration team overall, they are like taking all of these puzzle pieces and confirming that the puzzle looks the way it does in the picture when you actually put it together.
[00:31:22] Beth Altringer Eagle: That's
[00:31:22] so cool.
[00:31:23] Meg Liotta: Like, you have to be able to look at things from a very pullback point of view for that team.
[00:31:28] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:31:29] And so how do you, you know, w w where would, how would you find people for that? Like, what's the profile, what’s the training of
[00:31:36] Meg Liotta: Such a good question.
[00:31:37] Beth Altringer Eagle: that type of person?
[00:31:38] Meg Liotta: Yeah. We usually look for people, well, there's two things that we look for. We look for experience in leadership, whether that is, it doesn't necessarily have to be leadership like directly connected to designer engineering. It could be leading a club at school is usually a good indicator because it means that you know how to convey things to multiple people.
[00:32:01] And especially even indicators, like being a tutor, being a, uh, like student teacher, just having the ability to corral and get people behind a singular idea is really helpful. And then just the level of, I guess, the way to see somebody as a designer or an engineer that would be a fit for that is, um, there are people that think in components and there are people that think in systems, and we naturally fall into one category whether we realize it or not.
[00:32:32] And so when looking at somebody's work experiences or their portfolio, I'm sort of figuring out are they highlighting components or systems. Like if you're, for example, something we look at a lot are these like competition racing teams. Um, formula one racing has like this entire collegiate system called Formula SAE and they're collegiate groups at schools that build a race car every year.
[00:33:00] Meg Liotta: Um, so if I'm looking at a student that is in Formula SAE at their school, are they working on the structure sub team or are they the lead on the break pads. Because somebody that's the lead on the brake pads is a component thinker. Um, but somebody that's building the, like the skeleton of the car is a systems thinker.
[00:33:21] So you have to be able to be for that type of role, you have to be able to be a systems thinker because you have to see, however, you have to like, be able to visualize like how everything comes together. And there are plenty of roles for component thinkers, because that's a huge part of building a car too.
[00:33:38] But if you are naturally a component thinker, it's going to be really hard for you to zoom out for a role like that.
[00:33:45] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:33:45] And to, yeah, to be able to see sort of the, the intelligences that are needed for, uh, uh, a part that's not quite up to par yet. That's great. Um, you, I remember you using this word craft when you came to RISD as well. And I love that. I mean, as, as, as a designer by training, like I, I sometimes feel like craft doesn't get the attention that it deserves in terms of its contribution to design.
[00:34:15] So I think that's really cool that as a company, you use this term, and I don't know if you could share a little bit more about how that conversation hap happens internally about craft.
[00:34:30] Meg Liotta: Yeah. So I think at Tesla we call it craftsmanship, which is totally a design word, 100%. And it's, it's usually more associated with like furniture, like.
[00:34:42] Um, yeah. Craftsmanship for us is what a lot of other car companies would call perceived quality.
[00:34:50] Beth Altringer Eagle: Interesting.
[00:34:51] Meg Liotta: So, which if you think about like the craftsmanship of a piece of furniture, it is the perceived quality of it.
[00:34:57] It's how do you make something look and feel and smell like high quality, um, while making your targets, right? 'Cause especially, so the Model S and X have a completely different craftsmanship plan than the Model 3 and Y do, because the Model S and X are not as constrained by cost, and then also at the same time, the Model 3 has a different, has different targets than all of the cars,
[00:35:28] 'cause it's significantly smaller then the other cars. And in the future, when we get to build an even smaller car to make our eventual goal of having a cheaper car, it's going to be even more rigorous. Um, so I think even though, um, we design for manufacturability and we design for scale, it is still really important,
[00:35:49] 'cause crafts craftsmanship implies like one item. Because it's something that it implies that you're taking your time on it, um, and that you are really making sure that every single decision you made, like creates this beautiful product. And that's, I think what's really cool about craft at Tesla is that the craftsmanship team is like six people.
[00:36:09] We have like 90,000 employees and it's six people. Um, and because they are, they really are focused on making that like perfect car. And that's why they need the support of all the other teams too, because they need somebody to come in and say, "That's not manufacturable at scale. You can't, you can't make that a million times in one year."
[00:36:32] So they, they get to, they get to have the fun of like the craft, the crafter and they do have support when if somebody's like to come in and say, "That's not possible," but a lot of times it is possible. And that's the beauty of Tesla is anytime somebody says, "Oh, that's not possible," you can be like, "Are you sure?
[00:36:50] Meg Liotta: What if I prove that it is?" Um, so you, you get to have like something where the production numbers are so high, but there was that small team that really dedicated their entire job to making an effort that it did have that like level of craftsmanship. And it had that perceived quality. So 9 times out of 10 that actually follows through to production.
[00:37:12] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah, that is so cool. I, I remember you also talking about a team that was like, I think the question that came up was about design thinking and you know, whether you use that. And I remember your answer being something along the lines of there's like a skeptic team.
[00:37:29] Meg Liotta: Skeptic team. I mean, there's a lot of skeptics.
[00:37:32] Beth Altringer Eagle: There's something like there's a team that their job, I might be misremembering this, but their job is to like embody the point of view of the most skeptical consumer.
[00:37:47] Meg Liotta: Well, that's, I mean, that would be the test team, 'cause they break everything. That's that's their point is everything you send to them they're like, "Let me prove how this could go wrong." Because that's what they have to do, 'cause if you, if you think about so many ways a consumer can ruin a car they have to think about that,
[00:38:05] right? So.
[00:38:06] Beth Altringer Eagle: That seems like a really fun team to be on.
[00:38:08] Meg Liotta: Yeah. Oh it is. And they're really fun group of people too, um, there, a such a good example for example. That I, what, I was at an event like a couple months ago at UC Santa Barbara, and I had taken this woman with me that's on the test team. And she is on a portion of it called the reliability team, which is basically life cycle testing.
[00:38:30] So it's really long-term, high number count testings to make sure that over the life of a cars ownership, something won't get destroyed. And we were talking to the students about like a lot of the infotainment that's on the Tesla. Um, so a lot of times when you're parked a supercharger, you got nothing else to do,
[00:38:50] so we can watch Netflix in Tesla's and we can play games in the Tesla. And the favorite game of everybody is this Mario Kart style game. That's a driving game and you drive it like you do the course on the screen with your steering wheel. And she was talking about how that thing is a nightmare for the reliability team, because it's, it's your steering wheel,
[00:39:11] so it actually moves your wheels, like in moves your tires. So it can destroy your front tires if you're like always playing that
[00:39:20] game. Yeah. So th the test team is the team that comes in and says, "Wait a second." Like, "let's make sure that this is actually gonna work." 'Cause, 'cause that's obviously that turns into a safety issue.
[00:39:33] Then if you run down your tires in the front over time, if you're taking a turn, your front could spin out or especially if you're driving on ice. Doesn't really happen in California, but if you're in Providence and it's January 15th and you're driving on ice, you could like your front car could spin out and you could crash.
[00:39:48] So we do have like the test team has to come in and say 'no' to a lot of stuff.
[00:39:53] Beth Altringer Eagle: That's fun, 'cause I, I mean you on, on traditional metrics, you would still be fine. You know, you don't have a lot of miles on the car, but you have
[00:40:01] a lot of video game miles.
[00:40:02] Meg Liotta: Yeah. Well, and because the, and that's the reliability team coming in and saying, "Yeah, this might be fine at 10,000 miles, but Tesla's are not like normal cars. They are designed to last for miles. So the reliability come, engineer comes in, so it's, "Yeah, but what 600,000 miles, this isn't going to work."
[00:40:21] It doesn't matter how many times you rotate your tires, it's not going to work.
[00:40:25] Beth Altringer Eagle: Oh my gosh. Um, it's fun. Like I'm like, wanting
[00:40:28] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:40:29] Beth Altringer Eagle: to drive a Tesla.
[00:40:31] Meg Liotta: I know.
[00:40:32] Yeah. I want to be on the test team.
[00:40:36] What they do is so fun. Yeah. Oh.
[00:40:39] Beth Altringer Eagle: Do you, does Tesla have any design engineering hiring priorities that would be useful to share with our listeners?
[00:40:49] Meg Liotta: Yeah. I think, um, sort of, 'cause you wear a lot of hats for sure. 'Cause you you're, you have your design hat and your engineer hat, but you also have to be a consultant. So it kind of goes back to saying like that collaboration piece is so important to us and having really good communication skills and not just communication skills, but negotiation skills.
[00:41:10] I think that that is something that is really hard to learn in school, and a lot of times you have to be in some sort of more like formal setting to learn negotiation. I think that freelancing is a great opportunity to learn negotiation, um, and sort of like knowing when to stand up for yourself and when to admit that maybe you don't have the best perspective.
[00:41:31] I think that one of the most helpful things I've ever learned about negotiation is when you know you have to negotiate something, you should never going go in expecting your vision to be 100% adhered to. Because the point of negotiation is that two parties, sometimes more than two parties, each have their idea and they will have to compromise.
[00:41:53] Meg Liotta: So, I think it's easy to like be stubborn and get hurt if especially as a designer where your designs are so close to you emotionally, it's really hard to like get a critique and be like, "But I think this is perfect." Um, so I think that having that like learning that sense of humility of like, "It's okay if you're wrong about something," is really important,
[00:42:17] and like that also goes hand in hand with learning, you know, that at work, anything that happens at work is like not a reflection on your, your personal like attitudes. And if somebody doesn't like something you did at work, that doesn't mean that they don't like you, um.
[00:42:36] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:42:36] Meg Liotta: I think that’s something that's really, really tough for younger generations to understand.
[00:42:40] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:42:41] Meg Liotta: And I totally have been through that, like in my career is like learning that things at work, and even like your personality at work may end up being a lot more different than you are at home. I always say I'm so much more annoying at work than I am in my home life. Like, ‘cause that, but that's what you need because as a recruiter you
[00:43:00] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:43:00] Meg Liotta: have to be annoying.
[00:43:02] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:43:02] Meg Liotta: Like you have to like follow up with people consistently, um, and I'm so not like that in my personal life.
[00:43:07] Beth Altringer Eagle: That's fine.
[00:43:09] Meg Liotta: Especially, um, like female designers, if they're in a room with all male designers, they have to like, even if they don't want to be like this in their personal life, they have to learn to be a lot more forceful than you
[00:43:20] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:43:20] Meg Liotta: typically would be.
[00:43:22] So there's so many soft, like communication based skills that are really, really important. Um, because like I said earlier, like, it's, you can't teach somebody how to be a good designer. And, um, also in a way that you also can't teach somebody to be a designer that fits exactly what you need, because not everybody should come to Tesla.
[00:43:42] People that have like maximalist design preferences, they shouldn't come to Tesla because they're not going to be happy here. Um, so it, it's more about like finding somebody that has the design language that fits ours well, but then you have to look for like those core, like soft skills that are going to be useful at a company like Tesla. Because it's, it's very hard to teach somebody how to be a designer, but being an employee at a large tech based company,
[00:44:14] that's what you need to like seek out because you need to be able to be somebody that has new thoughts all of the time. You have to be somebody that doesn't need to wait for approval on things, we're very much not a chain of command based company. Um, so you have to be confident and you have to be able to speak up for yourself, but you have to know when somebody else is maybe presenting an idea
[00:44:38] Meg Liotta: that's going to work more than yours.
[00:44:41] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:44:41] There's this concept in the literature, I like the phrase it's it's um, constructive conflict.
[00:44:49] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:44:50] Love that.
[00:44:51] Beth Altringer Eagle: And so, it’s kind of broader than the word, I think. Like negotiation, a lot of people think that
[00:44:55] it's limited somehow to salary negotiation.
[00:44:58] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:44:58] Beth Altringer Eagle: but I think what I, what I'm hearing you say anyway, is something much broader is that
[00:45:04] Meg Liotta: Oh yeah.
[00:45:05] Beth Altringer Eagle: a company that has so much collaboration across different skill sets is also going to have a lot of conflict and you have to learn
[00:45:14] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:45:14] Beth Altringer Eagle: to be really constructive. And that means the responsibility of speaking up when you have
[00:45:20] Meg Liotta: Yup.
[00:45:20] Beth Altringer Eagle: a different point of view, but it also
[00:45:22] Meg Liotta: Yup.
[00:45:22] Beth Altringer Eagle: means the responsibility of being really respectful when you're disagreeing with someone else’s.
[00:45:27] Meg Liotta: Yes. And everybody at Tesla has to, I mean, everybody's job dropped description boiled down at Tesla's that you're a firefighter, but in my opinion, that's what I say. 'Cause even like in recruiting, I mean, I can think of in the last 24 hours, I can think of four different instances where I had to negotiate.
[00:45:45] Like what happens if two teams request to interview the same candidate? You know, what do you do? You're going to have to negotiate. You're going to have to tell them, "Hey, you both wanted to interview this candidate. This person requested at first. So we're going to waterfall." And this person's going to interview them first. And you have to there, this is just like a fact of life at a big company where you have a lot of different points of contact and you work with a lot of people.
[00:46:07] You have to become a very skilled negotiator.
[00:46:10] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah,
[00:46:11] Meg Liotta: Like a negotiator that has genuine like best interests at heart, like not somebody that's just trying to like, get a specific thing to happen. You have to like negotiate for the company that's behind you, not just you
[00:46:25] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:46:26] Meg Liotta: and your opinions.
[00:46:27] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah,
[00:46:27] like the greater, um, a better, for a better product rather than your, your personal way. Um, and another thing you said made me think of a really useful piece of advice I got early in my career, which I was, I was really shy. And, uh, this, superior of mine at the time took me aside after this meeting that I didn't speak a word. And she was like, "The price of admission when you're invited into the room is to speak your mind. Like you're, you were invited here for a reason.
[00:47:06] Meg Liotta: Yeah,
[00:47:07] Beth Altringer Eagle: And you did not pay the price of admission." And I was like, "Whoa, that's really intense." But also I think I get it now. That was really helpful.
[00:47:18] Meg Liotta: Yeah. It, yeah, definitely.
[00:47:21] Is there an example that we haven't covered of a design or a feature that came together really perfectly, that you think really kind of embodies what we've been talking about today?
[00:47:31] Meg Liotta: Yeah, definitely. One of the, one of those like magical things that excites me so much in a Tesla is, um, our, so our part of our UI package in the Model 3 and the Model Y is when you are driving, about two thirds of the screen is the map. And the other third of the screen that's closest to the driver is like a live view of what's going on around you.
[00:47:56] And that alone is some amazing engineering, because it's completely based on the sensors all around the car and then the camera that's in the back of the car. So just even before you even start there, you have some like amazing electromechanical engineering on the outside and then software engineering on the inside
[00:48:14] Meg Liotta: that's driving that. But where design comes in is how everything is displayed to you. Um, so your car is always in the center, um, and it's very detailed and in full color and it genuinely looks like your car. And then around you, everything else is greyed out. So you have, if you're at a crosswalk and somebody walks by you, a human walks by you, grayed out. If a cyclist comes up on your side, a cyclist will bike by you on the screen, grayed out.
[00:48:46] Um, and then all the other cars around you are grayed out and they're shaped based off of what type of car it is. So if there's a Sedan next to you, you will see a Sedan. If there is a semi-truck in front of you, you will see a semi-truck in front of you. If there's a pickup truck behind you, you'll see a pickup truck behind you.
[00:49:00] So that, that all is like beautiful design that looks so cool. And it looks so clean and everything, but then the thing that goes like, just beyond that, that I think makes it that like magical component is that there's humor behind it because all of that stuff around you is greyed out. However, if you drive by traffic cones, traffic cones are completely detailed, bright orange. Like, so yeah, so the, the amount of like different groups that go into first, even making that possible,
[00:49:33] so you can see that on your screen, and it's so effortless because, you know, for the first, like couple of weeks, you're in the car like, "This is so cool," but after a while, it just becomes so natural to look at, um, and you accept it so easily. So for all of those teams to just come together to make something that truly has so much like effort and work behind it, but it translates to you,
[00:49:59] mostly just like, "Yeah, this is what I need to drive." But then also like, "Oh, I just drove by a traffic cone and that was funny." Um, I think it's very impressive that that is something you accept so willingly, um, but there are so many different disciplines that like had to come together to just make it happen.
[00:50:18] And that's like that to me is just classic Tesla is like all of these people, electronic electric mechanical software, um, UI designers, graphic designers, they all had to decide like, "Okay, how are we going to all work together to like make this thing that is a passive thing for the customer, but it does bring them joy?" You know?
[00:50:40] It's so cool.
[00:50:43] Beth Altringer Eagle: And I love how there's kind of like a human perception, metaphor,
[00:50:47] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:50:48] Beth Altringer Eagle: built into that too, where like, of course you can only live your own life in full color, right, and then like everything about you or everything around you is like, you're going to know less
[00:50:59] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:51:00] Beth Altringer Eagle: about it. And so it's kind of like visually also represented
[00:51:03] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:51:04] Beth Altringer Eagle: that way. And then when you are
[00:51:05] ultra focused on something and it makes you laugh or whatever…
[00:51:07] Meg Liotta: Like a traffic cone.
[00:51:09] Beth Altringer Eagle: Like a traffic cone.
[00:51:10] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:51:11] Beth Altringer Eagle: Maybe this is like my traffic cone orange.
[00:51:12] Meg Liotta: Yeah. And like, to be fair, if you're in the car, you do need to pay attention to traffic cones, because if you're about to hit one, you're probably about to go into a lane that's close to, so,
[00:51:22] kind of useful.
[00:51:23] Beth Altringer Eagle: That's an, that's a great example.
[00:51:26] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:51:27] Beth Altringer Eagle: So maybe let's, um, well, let's wrap up with some takeaways
[00:51:31] Meg Liotta: Sure.
[00:51:31] Beth Altringer Eagle: that you might have
[00:51:33] Meg Liotta: Yep.
[00:51:33] Beth Altringer Eagle: in terms of we'll do a couple of, of them, and one will be advice for people who are on the job market looking
[00:51:42] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:51:42] Beth Altringer Eagle: for roles in that intersection of design and engineering. Um, and then another, uh, round of takeaways for leaders of any kind of business who are hoping to
[00:51:54] Meg Liotta: Yeah.
[00:51:55] Beth Altringer Eagle: kind of get better at design engineering in they're their own business.
[00:51:59] Meg Liotta: Yeah. Well, I think that my takeaways are definitely not based on hard skills, because I think that those are pretty straightforward, um, of like what you need to brush up on. But I think for, for students enter or like recent grads entering the field, there the advice I would have like pre selection for many companies,
[00:52:20] so before you get an interview, would be to honestly do what I did, make a list of companies that you really admire, in this perspective that you admire their design. Because it, like, I kind of mentioned earlier, it's going to be really hard. You could love a company, but it will be very hard to work for them,
[00:52:38] if your natural design instincts do not align with theirs. Um, so focusing on making a list of companies. Applying through their direct websites, it seems like such a simple thing, but applying to stuff through LinkedIn, just doesn't give you the same like feedback and connection with the company. And then if you are selected, something that is very helpful in the interview process, especially I think that designers are more prone to do this, engineering roles are less prone to do this.
[00:53:10] And I think if you are joining the field of design engineering, you have to combine this, is the concept of like providing context for things that you talk about in your interview. Um, and being able to like link to a website or show a picture on your screen, or even show a video of a design. The more context you can provide to your interviewer, the better your chances at actually landing the job, because it's the interviewer can most of the time only see the final product and who you are as a designer at your core, relies so much on your process.
[00:53:45] Like anybody can like, "Make something that looks nice at the end, but we have to see like what it took you to get there." Especially Tesla is so focused around the iterations that we have to know how you work when you're iterating something. And so taking, documenting everything along the way of a project and being able to showcase that in your interview is really important.
[00:54:07] And then for leaders. I mean the two, two things I think, um, that we think about at Tesla all of the time. The first is w obviously I'm biased 'cause I I'm working on our internship program, but I do firmly believe this. We rely so much on our interns and eventually converting our interns, because if you want to be an innovative company at all, the newbies will be the ones with the freshest thoughts,
[00:54:37] 100%, especially if they're new to the business and they haven't like fully learned the culture yet. Some of those things they come up with in those first six months are gonna be like the next best idea. And I think that like students and new grads are the champions of like new perspectives, especially,
[00:55:00] Meg Liotta: I mean, this generation is so cognizant of why designing for like a sustainable future is important, because they're, they're, you know, the generation that genuinely has to worry about it. Um, like, you know, people my parents' age don't have to worry about what happens when climate change advances to a point where it starts killing the earth.
[00:55:22] So these, these people do. And I think that because they have more of a drive to design that way, they think more about it and they can provide ideas that are sort of latent in the back of older designers' minds. Um, and then the other thing I would say is that, a lot of companies push for diversity and I think they don't know why they're pushing for it.
[00:55:46] They've been told, "We need to hire more women. We need to hire more Hispanic designers. We need to hire more black engineers." And they're just filling a quota. And I think that something that I love about Tesla, and I think a lot of other companies can benefit from this is that if in this world where we are a very global world, if you plan on making a global product, the design of that product really relies on having a global perspective on it.
[00:56:18] And not even just racial or gender biases can hurt that, hiring a team where everybody comes from the same school and learned from the same professors can hurt that.
[00:56:29] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:56:30] Meg Liotta: And hiring a team that everybody worked at BMW before they came to Tesla can hurt that, because you don't have enough diversity of thought there.
[00:56:38] Whereas like, if you're going to have somebody that, uh, you know, is driving the car in a different part of the world, and even some, for example, somebody in England, that's driving the car on the other side of the road. Um, there, you have to have somebody that has an experience in that, so they can speak to it at the design phase. This is how we can end, this is like the perfect story to end this on. Very early on, this is like a lovely story of why diversity is important. Very early on in the design of one of our cars, um, like in the prototyping phase, the steering wheel was not movable at all. And only men had worked on the car so far. And no issues arise. Right? You have your first female engineer that joins the team and she sits in the prototype one day and she's like, "This is very uncomfortable for me to hold." Um, and because the reason behind that is women have a, their arms are like shorter compared to the rest of their body than men's are typically.
[00:57:44] So this prototype had only ever been built for the ratio of a man's arm length to a man's body. And so the first time a woman sat in there, she was like, "This is uncomfortable." Why is, and so they had to first principles think. And think, "Why is this uncomfortable?"
[00:58:01] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:58:02] Meg Liotta: It comes about that it's because the ratio is different. So from then on, you can move your wheel in your Tesla to adjust it.
[00:58:09] Beth Altringer Eagle: Oh, cool. To be comfortable to everyone.
[00:58:12] Meg Liotta: And you can adjust a seat a lot more too, instead of just moving the seat forward and back, you can also move it up, and you can tilt the bottom of your seat too. There's just a lot more of like, it deeply affects the ergonomics team to have like diversity of engineers because mo, the most likely diverse user system of the car is like the physical bodies of the people, sitting in there. So it’s important, like there are a lot of things that get caught that if you, if everybody comes from the same life experience, you won't miss them. So I think that that's something leaders have to break from, um, especially it's very easy to be unconsciously biased towards people like you, because if you're concerned with like productivity and like somebody's intelligence, and you know that you're at a certain place, you're going to trust people that are like you. And that’s why a lot of times like school bias can be a huge issue too, because people are going to think, "Oh, well I know the quality of schooling I got." So, I trust everybody that comes from my school, but then everybody had the same schooling. And how do you get a new idea out of that? Just being aware that when you look around at your team, when it's time to hire somebody new, look around at your team and try to think what's missing here and focusing your recruiting strategy on that.
[00:59:42] Beth Altringer Eagle: That's so great, but it's a perfect story to end on. Then I want to thank you for joining me today.