As it turns out, Elon Musk isn’t the only large brain at Tesla, or SpaceX.
Somehow, his presence is so big and looms over all others, so we don’t hear often about the incredible people he’s hired.
For that, we have to be grateful to Mekka Okereke, an engineering director at Google, for an enlightening tweetstorm this weekend.
Not many times you hear tweetstorm and enlightening in the same sentence.
But, Okereke wanted to tell us a story about Elon Musk, inclusion, rockets and a lumberjack.
“Talent is everywhere. Opportunity is not. Under-matching affects white folk too. Stanford research shows that with minor intervention, you can connect under-matched kids with the opportunities to reach their potential. A guidance counselor, college advisor, or mentor, can put a person on the right path.”
And – about the lumberjack, he explained:
“In Idaho, a lumberjack had a son, who he hoped would also become a lumberjack. But this kid liked rockets… He made rockets for fun in high school. He even made a rocket out of his dad’s acetylene welder. He went to college not at CalTech or MIT, but at the U. Of Idaho.”
The only person who encouraged him to propel beyond the immediate world was his geography teacher who, when he heard about how the lumberjack’s son wanted to become an aviation mechanic, told him:
“Do you want to be the guy who fixes the plane or the guy who designs the plane?”
The young rocket designer worked as a lumberjack to pay for school. He worked in some of the older companies in the space arena for 15 years.
Okereke continued with the story:
“But building rockets is expensive, and they don’t give kids from Idaho billions of dollars to start their own company, no matter what’s on their resume. So he built rockets at home, building the largest amateur liquid-fueled rocket in history. Elon Musk noticed…”
And you must have thought Elon Musk was some guy with a large ego in search for larger inflation.
The story ends amazingly for Mueller:
“He joined SpaceX as a ‘founding employee’. He designed the Merlin engine. He’s CTO of Propulsion. His name is Tom Mueller. Everyone knows Elon Musk. No one knows Tom Mueller, even though Tom is the one currently designing a rocket that will put humans on Mars.”
And that really sounds like a quite important job for both humanity and SpaceX.
According to Okereke, the lesson for all companies is one that a few can master:
“Talent is everywhere. Opportunity is not. The goal of inclusion work is not ‘More black folk!’ Or ‘More women!’ The lack of black folk and women is a symptom of the root cause: opportunity to succeed and thrive is not evenly distributed.”
So few people get the chance to show what they can really do.
More often than not, they end up in jobs that don’t suit them, working for people who don’t appreciate them. Their real talents are ignored as the vacuous keep exhorting them to sell yourself.
Tom Mueller got his chance before it was too late.
Maybe one day people will get more opportunities like this.
Perhaps that’ll happen when humans move to Mars. Or, hopefully, before.