Maybe it's Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk's jaw-dropping ambitious goals, his vision to disrupt the entire automobile industry, Tesla's geeky vision of autos, or the company's Apple-like approach to retail stores. Whatever the reason, many of Silicon Valley's best, particularly employees from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), are leaving their high-paying jobs to join Tesla and its mission to bring electric cars to the masses.
Why Tesla likes Apple employees
It's no secret that Tesla has poached a number of high-profile employees from Apple.
In October 2013, Apple's vice president of Mac hardware engineering, Doug Field, a lead figure behind the development of the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and the iMac, left Apple for Tesla, where he is responsible for development of new vehicles. Last February, Apple's "hacker princess" Kristin Paget joined Tesla's fast-growing ranks. At Tesla, she's in charge of identifying and purging security bugs from Tesla's tech-savvy vehicles.
But Field and Paget are just a few among many of the employees who have left Apple for Tesla, according to a new report from Bloomberg.
"The company has hired at least 150 former Apple employees, more than from any other company, even carmakers," wrote Bloomberg's Tim Higgins and Dana Hull. "The former Apple staffers work in many areas of the 6,000-employee automaker, including engineering and law."
Musk clearly sees many of the skills required to work in departments at Tesla in Apple employees. "From a design philosophy, [Apple] is relatively closely aligned," Musk told Bloomberg.
Apple doesn't have the same luck hiring Tesla employees. Apple has only hired "very few people" from Tesla, Musk told Bloomberg -- even as the tech giant offers $250,000 signing bonuses and 60% salary increases.
Why Apple employees like Tesla
Apple employees appear to be just as attracted to Tesla as Musk is to Apple employees.
What would computer geeks find interesting about Tesla? Sit in Tesla's Model S and it's instantly clear the car isn't a product of Detroit -- far from it. Front and center in the interior of a Model S, a 17-inch touchscreen sits mounted with a slight tilt toward the driver. The display's user-friendly, Tesla-made software, which evolves over time as Tesla beams out over-the-air updates, screams Silicon Valley. It protests the motor's last plead to remain a car's cornerstone for another century.
"It's like looking at the components from the latest mobile device from an Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy product," said IHS Automotive's senior director for materials, Andrew Rassweiler, told the L.A. Times last year when the research firm dissected a Model S. "The cost structure of the electronics, the use of large displays in the cabin, the touch-screen-based controls, the mobile microchips -- everything in this design makes the Tesla experience more like a media tablet or high-end smartphone than a traditional automobile."
Tesla is extending the best of computing to an industry long overdue for better tech. The auto industry's digital invasion can't be stopped, and Silicon Valley talent wants in on it.
Perhaps Field's draw to Tesla, shared in a Tesla press release in 2013 announcing the hire, resonates with other Apple employees who are joining the company:
"Until Tesla came along, I had never seriously considered leaving Apple," said Field. "I started my career with the goal of creating incredible cars, but ultimately left the auto industry in search of fast-paced, exciting engineering challenges elsewhere. As the first high-tech auto company in modern history, Tesla is at last an opportunity for me and many others to pursue the dream of building the best cars in the world -- while being part of one of the most innovative companies in Silicon Valley."
Is the same sort of exciting innovation once conjured up by Steve Jobs at Apple now radiating from Elon Musk at Tesla?
If there's any doubt about the unstoppable collision between autos and computers, consider the Palo-Alto based electric-car maker's over-the-air update it is about to send to its Model S fleet: The inverter algorithm update will reduce the 3.2-second zero-to-60 mph timeof its flagship performance dual-motor version by about 0.1 seconds.