Outing Myself as a Tesla Fan Girl

I slipped into the driver’s seat of a Tesla Roadster for the first time seven months ago. As the green technology reporter for Silicon Valley blog VentureBeat, I expected to drive it for a few hours before writing a basic review. What I didn’t expect is that a) I would fall in love with the car (and its rollercoaster acceleration), and that b) this one afternoon would set me on track to where I am now: starting as the newest member of Tesla Motors’ communications team.

For nearly two years, I wrote about every move that Tesla made -- and I wasn’t always so kind. Like many of my peers, I picked apart the company’s financials, scrutinized its deals with Toyota and Daimler, and questioned its future. The Tesla name alone drove traffic to the VentureBeat website, and critical stories attracted even more. The day before its IPO, I even posted 10 questions for the company, eliciting the comment: “Question for Camille: Why do you hate Tesla so much?”

Clearly, I don’t hate Tesla. Nothing could be further from the truth. After that pivotal test drive, I can honestly say I was transfixed by the technology -- and certain that the Roadster is the first in a line of cars that will fundamentally change transportation as we know it. After that, I made a point of learning more about the company’s strategy to drive down the costs of EVs for mass market consumers, the battery architecture underpinning its superior performance, and how electric cars truly are the ideal solution for the environment. The upshot : I came dangerously close to outing myself as a fan girl.

By the time Tesla’s recruiter emailed me about the communications manager opening (apparently motivated by my writing style and background), I was a convert. As the fast-driving daughter of a former race car driver (who couldn’t be more thrilled with my latest career move), the job seemed like a perfect fit. And if I was going to “go to the dark side,” as all my reporter friends suggested, at least it would be for a company I strongly believed in.

In fact, the jump from media to PR had long been on my mind. Reporting on green tech is a slippery task. On one hand, you have to apply a critical eye to every company and technology that you come across, on the other, you can’t help but root for them to win. Across the board, the entrepreneurs in the sector seem both inspired and wholly dedicated to improving the way we interact with the planet. I covered more than 100 companies that fit into this category, Tesla chief among them.

At a certain point, I got tired of watching world-changing feats from the sidelines. After two years at VentureBeat and a year at the Wall Street Journal, I was eager to actually help a company succeed. This is exactly the opportunity I saw in Tesla.

Since starting work here, some of my notions about the company have been confirmed and others have been completely upended. As suspected, everyone who works at Tesla is brilliant -- the equivalent of pro athletes in whatever area they work, be it engineering or sales. Only every day is the championship game. I knew going in that this would be the most challenging, outright difficult job of my career so far. When that’s actually a selling point for a job, you know you’re working somewhere special.

What I didn’t expect was the sheer depth of activity and innovation here. During the interview process, I was confident that I knew almost everything there was to know about Tesla -- the cars, the deals, the liabilities, everything. I was immediately proven wrong, of course. My first tour of Palo Alto headquarters led me into extensive battery R&D labs, across the manufacturing floor where teams are rapidly inventing custom equipment and operations from scratch, and through a maze of engineers using software to manipulate every square inch of future and present cars and powertrains.

Consistently, I have been floored by every division’s efficiency and speed. The lack of bureaucracy means everyone has a stake in weighty decisions. And at the end of the day, the Roadster is a tangible product to marvel at, and to share with customers who love it as much as Tesla employees love making it -- a completely unique concept in Silicon Valley.

As a former journalist, I can’t help but note the collective sense that we’re making history. In everything we do, there’s an awareness that in 20, 50 or 100 years, when electrified transport is the norm, Tesla will be recognized as the catalyst that made it happen.

It’s often said here that our mission is to build the automotive company of the 21st century. In the meantime, there will be a lot of stories to tell.