Andrew grew up in Colorado and graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. At GT, he joined a new program in almost every semester. He was a Varsity Lacrosse player for all four years and joined Greek life during his Freshman Fall. In the Spring, he joined a research group focused on geo technology. This experience prompted him to research abroad in the summer.
He joined the robotics team during his sophomore fall, and started a sustainability club the next semester. He took off his sophomore summer and fall to work at NASA’s JPL. Junior year spring he joined another research group focused on Martian advancement and renewable energy. He spent his senior year finishing up his classes while working at Tesla.
The following describes how he chose what activities to pursue, and his advice for those going through the process now.
Andrew thinks through his decision making process using the general structure of asking the why, what, and how. Why am I doing what I’m doing? What is the most effective way of doing the ‘why’? How do I achieve or define success within the what?
Andrew knew he was particularly passionate about Climate Change, but his varied experiences were all attempts to figure out how to best attack the problem. NASA’s JPL program was a great first step, but he realized while working there he wasn’t passionate about proving the Climate Change existed – the science has already done that - rather he wanted to find a way to combat it. This is why he moved to Tesla as their sustainability mission really resonated with him, and it’s also why – for reasons we’ll discuss later – he moved to McKinsey.
While you’re in the ‘what’ stage, you’ll want to experiment with different methodologies to figure out what’s most effective for you in solving your ‘why’. It’s during the ‘how’ stage that you develop the industry-specific expertise you need to succeed in fulfilling both the ‘what’ and ‘why’.
For students who haven’t thought about their careers through this lens before, how should they go about it?
Finding work that’s fulfilling is a luxury that you can have only if you have the experience. Generally, when you apply to a company you are going to fall within two categories:
Usually, you won’t have luxury of being picky until you’re in the first section. Andrew was lucky to get the JPL offer because his research abroad happened to line up with the recruiters interest, but it was realistically a one in a million chance. Once he got the opportunity, however, he didn’t let it go to waste.
Students can apply the same philosophy to their recruiting processes – once you get the experience from your work or networking, you’ll want to take it horizontally and transfer it to another company.
At JPL Andrew worked on the Mars 2020 rover and did mechanical design for assembling the core. When he received his offer from Tesla, it was for a manufacturing position instead of a design position that he wanted, but took the opportunity and eventually was given the opportunity to move to the valley and work on their battery design team.
When he decided his goal was to work for Tesla, he approached it with a single-minded focus. He applied on three separate occasions and networked with over 10 engineers. He didn’t end up hearing back until the week after spring break and started 5 weeks after his interview. It would’ve been easy to quit during the process because he wasn’t getting the results he wanted, but he persevered because he had a real purpose driving him (his ‘what’).
What did he find was most effective while recruiting?
Being fully set on one company has its advantages and disadvantages, but for what it’s worth he took the same approach for McKinsey recruiting. Generally, Andrew thought there were two most effective approaches to recruiting.
For students who haven’t found their ‘why’ yet or a particular company they’re interested in, how should they go about searching for it?
There’s three main questions a student could ask themselves: what kind of impact could my work at __ have, who would it help, and is this something I care about? When you look around the world there’s a lot of injustice, and if there’s something in particular that makes you angry and no one is solving it, you should be the person who goes and does something about it.
For Andrew it was Climate Change. In Colorado they learned stop drop and roll at the same time as reuse and recycle. When he went to the South he was baffled that many people didn’t believe in climate change.
Practicing negotiating is uncomfortable but extremely useful for real life. It’s inherently uncomfortable because you’re trying to persuade someone to give you something they may not want to, but the more your practice it the more comfortable you’ll become. In consulting or other client-facing jobs, you’re going to have to hold your composure under tough situations and emotional composure doesn’t come naturally.
In Andrew’s advice blog (https://www.andrewyi.org/advice), he advocates for taking cold showers. They suck, but you get used to it over time as you practice mastering your emotional flinch.
You should be practicing all these things before you get into any interviews. Even with all his preparation, Andrew didn’t have any interviews where he felt he knew all the answers, but he had the emotional composure to handle that and it helped tremendously.
When Andrew thought about who he looked up to (Bill Gates, Elon Musk), he realize they’re all entrepreneurs. But has he talked to more entrepreneurs during a stint at a startup accelerator, he realized that to be successful you needed a blend of technical and business skills. The books Zero to One and Bold were both formative in his thinking.
He had a mentor that had a similar career path. He played football at Cornell, studied mechanical engineering, and went to Accenture for three years after college. He ended up starting a company at 25, sold it at 28, and had a life that many top managers couldn’t even dream of.
Working for McKinsey is a career accelerant of sorts for Andrew because he gets to keep his technical skills while learning about various businesses. When you have a project as a consultant, you get to present to senior management in a way that’s almost impossible within engineering tracks.
The more upfront and honest you can be in your interviews, the better. If you try to hide parts of your story, it won’t make as much sense and it’ll be harder for them to get to know and trust you. In all the places that Andrew worked, they were very supportive of him wanting to become an entrepreneur in the future and many had the same sentiments.