Ideas don’t turn into realities overnight.

Just ask Jay Manley, who turned his $500 final year university project at Western Sydney University into a $300,000 race vehicle at the World Solar Car Challenge.

“Willpower is an important part of good execution,” he told the crowd at a Q&A with ACS President Yohan Ramasundara in Sydney.

“Starting up anything for the first time is hard; there’s a lot of inertia working against you, people are unconvinced you can do it.

“Whatever your motivation is, you’ve got to take rejection, deal with it, and just keep going.”

For Jay, it was the challenges he faced during the project, such as his requests for funding being initially rejected by the university, that prepared him for his current role – working with Tesla in Silicon Valley.

He has now spent a little under three years with Elon Musk’s team and has learnt the importance of perseverance.

“Good ideas are cheap, good execution is very expensive,” he said. “If you have a good idea and want to make it a reality, the rare thing is actually the willpower to get it off the ground and make it happen.”

Creating the right environment

When asked how Australia can begin to replicate Silicon Valley’s culture of innovation, he suggested we look at the way future employees get their first taste of the workforce.

“I definitely think the Australian education system, in terms of tertiary, could do a better job with encouraging good technical internship programs,” he said.

“You go talk to anyone from Facebook, Google and what not, interns are respected contributors to major projects, because there’s so much going on

“That would be the main thing I would tackle first, ensuring graduates get beneficial industrial experience, because it anchors the fundamentals that you learn at university.”

Manley discussed the value that the interns he works with bring to the company, and gave advice on how to make sure internships are beneficial for the student and employer.

“Give the interns a chance to actually work on something meaningful; don’t use them to go get coffee.”

“They’re there to learn, and they should have a rewarding experience that allows them to learn and create something themselves.”

However, he reminded the audience to keep things in perspective.

“Silicon Valley is an abnormality compared to the rest of the US,” he said. “It’s a very exceptional thing and it would be wrong to say the US education system is geared to creating that.”

Australia’s working culture

Beyond the education sector, Manley also discussed the importance of challenging existing beliefs in order to create a culture of innovation.

“We could be a little bit more open minded about what is possible,” he said about Australia.

“Common wisdom, not just in Australia but places outside Silicon Valley, of what is possible with technology, is about ten years out of date.”

He also urged Australia to place more trust in the potential of ideas, rather than always being outcome focused.

“Start-ups struggle to get started here because you have to demonstrate success before people will back you.

“Meanwhile in Silicon Valley, you will be judged on potential not just what you’ve achieved so far.”

Jay Manley is Senior Technical Program Manager at Tesla. He joined ACS on a three-city Q&A roadshow ‘On The Road with Jay Manley’ in Australia.