Tesla vs Apple: Talent war or sour grapes?

by Jack @ UNIXPlus October 09, 2015

Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during an event to launch the new Tesla Model X Crossover SUV on September 29, 2015 in Fremont, California.
Getty Images
Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during an event to launch the new Tesla Model X Crossover SUV on September 29, 2015 in Fremont, California.

Elon Musk, the brains behind carmaker Tesla, publicly traded barbs with Apple over the brands' long-running talent wars, according to reports in a German newspaper.

"They have hired people we've fired. We always jokingly call Apple the 'Tesla graveyard,'" Musk said.

But to Silicon Valley recruiters, engineers moving between Apple and Tesla is hardly news. Instead, it's symptomatic of the scarcity of top talent as the technology space expands.

While analysts speculate whether Apple or Tesla would win the market for something like a self-driving car, both companies have stellar reputations in the tech space. What makes a bigger difference for top engineers is what they can get out of the job and whether their talent will be valued there — and Musk's comments may not make him seem like a better boss.

"There is fierce competition. Period. Beyond Tesla and beyond Apple," said Lars Schmidt, founder of Amplify Talent, a consulting firm that helps companies optimize recruiting efforts. "You're starting to see technology in places you've never seen it before — cars, refrigerators, connected homes. It's the GE or the Amtrak, that five or 10 years ago, we didn't think about in the same breadth blue chip technology companies."

Musk said his former employees now at Apple were "not important" and were confined to those who couldn't hack it at Tesla.

That's after Bloomberg reported earlier this year that Tesla has hired more workers from Apple than from anyplace else.

But with the job market so hot, it's unlikely that being fired from Tesla, or Apple for that matter, would taint a talented developer, who would have to endure rounds of tests, challenges and interviews to be hired at either company, Schmidt said.

"Maybe they weren't right for Tesla, but that they might be great somewhere else," Schmidt said. "Individuals are assessed on their abilities, not where they've been.

You're going to look at the resume, contributions to open source projects and talking to people that have worked with that individual, among several other data points."

With top companies quick to match the salaries and benefits offered by competitors, a parting of ways in high-level positions is typically more nuanced than just ability, Schmidt said. He sees talent drawn to things like equity shares in private start-ups, challenging projects, or working on teams with well-known experts in their field.

While poaching talent takes place in every industry, Michael Solomon, co-founder of 10x Management, which represents technologists, said company culture tends to play a very important role in the technology space.


"People are making choices about where and how they work based on lifestyle," Solomon said.

He said for someone in their 20s, lavish meals and basketball courts might more than compensate for the stress of all-night hack-a-thons. But someone with kids, for instance, might prefer a flexible schedule instead.

Competing cultural values is an issue that's come to light among tech companies recently.

"The companies that get bad press about overworking people, there is no one lining up to work there," Solomon said.

But Musk's confidence in his ability to draw top talent may appeal to some potential hires, Robert W. Baird analyst Ben Kallo told CNBC on Friday.

"One of the things that's often overlooked is his ability to recruit and keep talent," Kallo said. "He says what he thinks. I think that's refreshing for people of the demographic who are going to work there."


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Jack @ UNIXPlus
Jack @ UNIXPlus