January 2023

“I’m a [software engineer, product manager, lawyer, analyst, so on] and I want to transition to climate work. Where should I look?”

I get a version of this question a lot. This note summarizes how I usually answer it in case it’s useful for folks asking a similar question.

Two approaches

In general, I’ve seen (and myself taken) two approaches to getting a job in climate. I’ll call them the ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ approach.

1: Bottom-up approach

This is the traditional way to find a job: you look for open positions at existing climate companies. When I decided I wanted to work on climate in 2012, I used the Kleiner Perkins portfolio page as a starting point to find promising, high-growth climate companies (at the time, Kleiner Perkins was one of the only VCs investing in climate). Opower and Nest were two of the companies that came out of that search, and I was lucky to eventually work at both.

If I were taking this approach today, here’s where I’d start (I’m sure there are other great resources out there, please send over and I’ll add them):

The bottom-up approach can certainly work—it’s a tried-and-tested approach to job hunting. However, it’s definitionally limited to companies / solutions / roles that already exist. Given how early we are with climate (in the grand scheme of things), I’d argue that right now the bottom-up approach will miss quite a bit. This brings us to the top-down approach.

2: Top-down approach

The second approach starts by understanding the contours of the climate problem, identifying one or a few chunks for which your skills might be particularly well suited, and going deep to identify a specific part of the problem you want to try and solve. Let’s call this the top-down approach. While this approach will almost certainly feel messier than the bottom-up approach, it can lead to more creative, unexpected or novel opportunities.

This was the approach that led me to work on carbon removal at Stripe. I’ll start by sharing my own story as one example of what this can look like in practice, and then try to generalize it.