Tesla engineer Julian Minuzzo

Sonoma Valley High graduate Julian Minuzzo (’09) may not yet be old enough to rent a car, but at 22, he is helping to design perhaps the most buzz-worthy cars in the world.

Immediately after graduation from college last spring, Minuzzo started at electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors in its huge U.S. headquarters in Palo Alto.

As a freshman at top-rated Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., Minuzzo knew that he wanted to study some field related to energy. “Based on what I was good at throughout high school, I was drawn to engineering and the chance to study how we produce, store and use energy,” he said.

At Tesla, Minuzzo is a battery engineer. “There definitely is never a typical day at work here,” he said. “That’s something I like a lot about Tesla. One day I might be running tests on different types of batteries, some days I do data analysis or build something in the lab. A few times, we have even blown up a cell (on purpose) to study battery safety!”

Thinking back to college, Minuzzo acknowledges that not many Sonoma Valley High graduates choose the Midwest but he loved Northwestern precisely because it was such a different location. “Moving halfway across the country was appealing to me, as I wanted to experience how life and people are different outside of California.”

While at Northwestern, Minuzzo spent one summer at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and one summer at NASA Ames, both in the Bay Area. “These internships and my studies at Northwestern helped me realize that I’m passionate about changing the way we produce, store, and use energy so it is more efficient and better for the planet, “ he said. “My focus is on the energy technology that can make that goal a reality.”

For students still in high school, that sense of knowing what to study and what careers are out there can be daunting.

Minuzzo suggested, “Don’t worry about joining every club or playing every sport. Do well in school and focus on one or a few things that you actually care about, and become the best at that one thing. Genuine passion and knowledge is way more impressive to colleges and employers.”

Minuzzo said that the coolest part of his job is that he loves it and feels like he is helping to make the world a better place. “I enjoy what I do because I know that I’m part of a movement to make the world greener, more efficient  and better for all.”

Minuzzo lives in Palo Alto with one of his best friends from Sonoma, Andrew McGunagle (also Sonoma Valley High ’09) who is working to launch a gym in the South Bay. Outside of work, Minuzzo loves sports and being outdoors, traveling and trying new things. He recently started rock climbing and said he is now addicted to it. But he also enjoys basketball, weight lifting, running, backpacking, camping, hiking, fly-fishing and hunting.

His goal, within the next 10 years, is to take a couple months or even a year to travel the world with just a backpack, starting in Australia and making his way up to Asia, through Europe and Africa. Meanwhile, he makes it back home to Sonoma about once a month.

Minuzzo wakes up every morning excited to go to work. “I’ve worked hard in order to get to do something I care about and enjoy. I think most will agree that doing work you enjoy is one of the best ways to live, and it has nothing to do with money. It’s not worth a life spent any other way.”