Blog > Shipping Software at Tesla
Shipping Software at Tesla
Working as a technical program manager intern on the software release team
854 words, ~ 4 min read
Last Friday marked the end of my internship as a Technical Program Manager Intern at Tesla on the Software Release Team, shipping software Over The Air.
legal note: all information in this is either public information (available to anyone online) or my personal opinion (not that of Tesla). there is nothing confidential or proprietary. I signed a variety of documents that prevent me from disclosing information, and I don't plan on violating those terms. images (other than the one of me) are available online, linked at the end.
Table of Contents
- What is Tesla?
- The Internship
What is Tesla?
Tesla, Inc. makes a variety of energy-related products, such as cars, charging infrastructure (superchargers), powerwalls, and more. Read more on their website.
Tesla is also known for being the world's most valuable automaker and for their massive charging network.
Car Software Matters
I've written previously about the power of software in reference to the Mac touchbar, specifically about the touchbar being adaptive hardware due to software in contrast to the other predefined keys.
The same applies to cars. Software empowers the experience of a car, from things like performance to autonomous driving and infotainment. Many of the largest car companies are now trying to transition towards being tech companies, but are finding it's harder than it seems.. The reasoning is simple: it's hard for hardware companies to figure out software, and it's hard for software companies to figure out hardware.
Tesla has been approaching this problem on both ends quite successfully. At the past investor day, it was announced that Tesla uses vehicle software to test components installed in cars to reduce production faults and that similar tests are run in service.
Over The Air Updates at Tesla
Similar to phones, Teslas can get software updates. This is the specific team that I was working on. Even though the car itself has hardware unchanged (unless changed/retrofitted by service), the car gets new functionality over time.
Tesla answers more questions on their support page for software updates: Software Updates
I've always found Tesla to be a fascinating company. Growing up, seeing one on the streets was a big deal, treated with a "whoa" and a "did you see that?" as it quietly drove. It also did something that was unprecedented; making electric cars work despite so many challenges for widespread adoption.
As I mentioned above, I see a lot of Tesla's strength coming from the software side. And as someone that has broken software before, I wanted to see how they manage not to break stuff given the high importance of ensuring their cars work.
I got to own a couple of software releases that went to our vehicles worldwide. I can't go into much detail, unfortunately, about the releases.
I also got to work a bit on our software infrastructure. Unfortunately, as above, I can't go into detail about what exactly I did.
I will say, though, that the work was fascinating. Making cars is not easy and comes with a set of complex challenges. Something cool was always happening. And seeing the cars being built in the factory had me in awe.
Working at Tesla was a blast. I worked out of the Page Mill office in Palo Alto, California, down the street from the newly announced engineering headquarters (the general headquarters are in Austin, Texas).
We shared the office with HP, and it meant we had access to the HP gym. It was a tradition to go to the gym every day after work, which was fantastic. At one point, we even put up some pilates videos on the screen followed along. A few of the interns and I went and visited a lot of places - LA, Yosemite, SF. We also played basketball and a lot of spikeball.
This was my second gap semester, but this time, I was no longer living in Berkeley. Palo Alto was a different environment, far more laid back. More importantly, it hit that I was going to be graduating soon as I saw my friends far less than usual.
My aim was to learn how Tesla can ship software so effectively to all of its vehicles, something I understand a lot more now. Release management is hard, but I have grown and changed a lot over the past few months.
The overarching goal remains the same, to learn what makes software successful. A question I'm getting closer to, as I find more pieces to complete the puzzle. I made a LinkedIn post as well about this, which you can find here.
Here's a final picture of me in front of Tesla's engineering headquarters:
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