INTERVIEW   San Francisco Technology Energy

Rishi Simha on Being Patient and Saving the World


Editor's Key Takeaways

  1. Don't be afraid to talk about your career interests with friends and even strangers. You never know who is happy to help.
  2. Be patient. Recruitment can get nerve-wracking, but if you stay true to what you aspire to do, the wait will be worth it.
  3. The friends made and communities joined in college are what's remembered the fondest.

Rishi graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business in 2015. SolarCity is a solar energy services company founded in 2006 that was recently acquired by Tesla.

Editor: I met Rishi in the fall of 2016 when I was on the cusp of entering Wharton's hyper-competitive On Campus Recruitment (OCR) season. After being introduced by a good friend of mine, Rishi made sure to share his unique career path to me to assuage my false fears of inadequacy and resignation to a career I never really wanted. Though he doesn't mention it in this interview, one thing I'll never forget from the first time we talked was his decision to forego a full-time offer from a spectacular financial institution for his dream career, even if that meant being unemployed until quite literally, ####the day of graduation. Don't settle for less than what you deserve.

What motivated you to choose the renewables industry? What about SolarCity specifically drew you in?

The course PHYS 016: Energy, Oil, and Global Warming taught by Gary Bernstein made the following clear:

  1. Humans cause climate change.
  2. The technology exists to forestall severe consequences of climate change.
  3. Addressing climate change presents a meaningful business opportunity.

SolarCity was specifically mentioned in this course, and after following the renewable energy news for a while, it became clear that SolarCity was a market leader.

Tell me about your background leading up to your first job. How were you able to land it?

I studied OPIM (Operations & Information Management) at Wharton and was involved in several extracurricular organizations on campus, mainly Mask & Wig and Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault (MARS). I interned at BlackRock during my junior summer. Editor's note: Mask & Wig is a Philadelphia-based collegiate comedy troupe established in the 1800s.

I knew I wanted to work at SolarCity, so I reached out to every second and third degree connection on LinkedIn for a variety of informational interviews throughout my senior year. After some time, a few positions opened up throughout the company, and I was encouraged to apply by various hiring managers.

What soft and technical skills did you find most useful in your role?

Soft skills: reading the news and understanding what is going on in the broader scope of the industry; being able to organize data in tables, charts, and graphs and present the main takeaways.

Technical skills: Microsoft Excel and SQL; I learned both on the job, but it would have been nice to formally learn them while at Penn through a course like Computer Business Languages.
Editor's note: Penn courses that teach SQL and advanced Excel are OIDD311 and OIDD105.

What has been your favorite part about working at SolarCity?

My favorite part about working for SolarCity is the sense of pride it generates within me when someone asks what I do.

Every day, I help contribute to a company whose vision is to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy. That sense of purpose motivates me to work hard every day.

What’s a reality about your job that students should be aware of before seriously considering it?

The compensation — at least at this stage in the industry — is not particularly competitive with entry-level roles in financial services, management consulting, and big tech firms.

If your life so far was made into a movie, what would be some key scenes that have defined who you are today?

1) Conversation with my mom over a holiday My first couple semesters at Penn, I was on a bit of a high horse. I thought I was smart and didn't do much homework or reading and was getting mediocre grades. My mom asked me what was going on. She wasn't disappointed but she was surprised with my grades because she thought I could do better. That conversation lit a fire in me. With the incredible work habits of my close friends as a guide, I got my academic act together for the rest of college. These strong work ethic habits have carried with me to my professional career as well.

2) Reading "Give and Take" There are a variety of great points throughout. The overall takeaway for me was that you can be a helpful, kind person without sacrificing success. I think I knew that all along, but I am hyper-competitive and always worried about helping others and then getting burned.

Having someone as respected as Adam Grant illustrate how to be a helpful person helped me overcome my zero-sum game mentality and instead focus on growing the pie.

Editor's note: Adam Grant is a management professor at Wharton and is considered one of the top 25 managerial thinkers in the world. His book, "Give and Take", was published in 2013.

3) Montage from my extracurricular activities and internships Mask and Wig, One in Four, RA in Fisher-Hassenfeld, Skulls, Wharton Council, Wharton Ambassadors, Oracle, Sphinx, BlackRock internship, LBW RTA, NC Governor's School internship, Group Gordon Internship, etc. Every experience at Penn — even my coursework — shaped the perspective I have today.

Is there anyone at Penn who shaped you or influenced you the most?

I hate to name names because it always leaves people out. Still, I hate dodging questions even more:

  1. Professor Gary Bernstein taught the class that put the energy industry and its externalities and opportunities into perspective for me.

  2. My close friends James, Matt, and Taylor, along with my entire class of Mask and Wig seniors, all helped me figure out my values and provided role model examples of work ethic, humility, and ambition.

What advice would you give to young Penn students currently looking into a career like this? What’s something they can do either at Penn or outside to get more exposure?

  1. Read industry news regularly to see if the big picture truly interests you.
  2. Take a relevant course (Physics, Engineering, Energy Public Policy, Energy Finance, etc.) with a great professor and go above and beyond.
  3. Use Penn's resources like the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy (didn't exist when I was there) or join an energy club or start your own club or venture.
  4. Read academic articles that you have access to as an undergraduate.
  5. Talk to your friends about your career interests. Conversations with them will help you gauge if the interest is genuine. Do you get excited enough to share information about it? Do your confidantes encourage your passion?

Bonus: Reach out to me! I'm happy to set up a phone call or meeting and chat whenever. Editor's note: For contact info, please send an email via button below.

Disclaimers: The views presented here are solely those of the interviewee. They do not represent SolarCity, Tesla, or any of the other individuals or institutions named above.


Laura Gao
Aspiring designer, entrepreneur, writer and everything in between.


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