Being a design intern at Tesla isn’t what you might think.

“I wasn’t working on the car,” said Michelle Chan, a Summer User Interface and User Experience design intern at the Palo Alto-based company. “I think that’s what a lot of people think when they think of Tesla, but there are a lot of things beyond the car that people can work on.”

Instead, Michelle worked on internal and enterprise tools, including a wire harness for car seats. (Details on projects were kept hush-hush.)

A Cognitive Science major at UC Berkeley, Michelle is a self-taught UX/UI designer with full stack coding capabilities. As she continues her internship into the Fall semester, Michelle muses on work-life balance, having fun on the job and self-driving cars.

What’s it like interning at Tesla? What’s the culture like?

I actually love working for Tesla. It was the first time in my life that I was actually excited to wake up in the morning to go to work. At first, I had a hard time adjusting to the pace, because they do move really quickly, and they do work long hours. But after immersing myself in the work and really loving what I was doing the long hours didn’t seem long after all. Also, the vibe in the company, everyone is extremely motivated to do what they do. That also inspires and encourages me to keep moving forward with the work.

What did you learn?

My design skills shot up exponentially just being around amazing designers. I also learned how to better balance work and life. A lot of people, especially in Silicon Valley, all they do is work work work. I actually felt pretty horrible in the beginning when I didn’t have a good balance. But after realizing that, I was significantly happier.

How did your CogSci major help you in the internship?

It didn’t really help, to be honest. Unless you’re going to a design school, it’s difficult to learn what design is without doing it. There was one other design intern, and she went to school strictly for art or design related things. As someone who wasn’t, there’s more of a learning curve since you don’t have a teacher. You’re not learning from a particular someone, you’re learning it with yourself.

How did your coding experience help you?

It definitely helped me after I was done designing something. I actually got to work with a developer. It definitely helped sort of knowing a language, it helped to communicate to [the developer] about how to bring the idea to life. I could speak more technically with him.

What do you recommend for someone trying to intern?

Besides actually learning to do design, I think one of the most important things is socializing with other people, networking. I think meeting new people will go a long way for you. I think that’s how most people land jobs. Socializing organically, not necessarily assertively networking.

Have fun, don’t take it too seriously. Don’t be afraid to ask questions while you’re interning. A lot of people when they’re first-time interning […] they may be afraid to ask questions and think that [their mentor or manager] is so busy, but in reality their humans as well, they really don’t mind if you ask a question. That would probably help work a lot faster.

Finally, what’s your opinion on self-driving cars?

I think it’s the future. Either the future is in the long run completely [but] at least in the short run it’ll be a hybrid of self-driving.

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