- Ali Ahmadalipour works as a principal data scientist at the climate-tech firm KatRisk.
- He was on track to become an academic but pivoted to climate tech for a better work-life balance.
- Here’s how new skills and an online brand helped him make the jump, as told to Aaron Mok.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Ali Ahmadalipour, a 33-year-old data scientist at the climate tech firm KatRisk in the San Francisco Bay Area, about how he broke into climate tech. It’s been edited for length and clarity.
I always thought I would become an earth-science professor. But now I work in climate tech, and I’ve never been happier.
Climate change wasn’t top of mind when I started my master’s program, but my interest grew during the two-year program. So, I moved to the United States from Iran to pursue a doctorate in climate change. I was on track to become a professor, but I was deeply unhappy.
Like most postdoctoral students, I knew academia was a broken system. Job security was absent, pay was low, hours were long, and I didn’t want to live in a random small town in America.
It was a no-brainer that I should really be looking for jobs in climate tech. It was unlikely that I would land a job at a highly ranked university if I stayed in academia, and there were more opportunities in the tech industry.
More than six months after my search began, I landed a job as the director of climate science at the green cloud firm ClimateAI in the Bay Area. I’m now a principal data scientist at KatRisk, a catastrophe-modeling firm, where I develop programs to predict and calculate the costs of natural disasters for insurance companies.
While I tend to work longer hours than I’m expected, my current job is not nearly as stressful as academia. I now have more freedom and flexibility. My salary also jumped from $50,000 to six figures.
Getting out of academia required hours of studying new skills, and lots of rejection
Landing that first job was really difficult. I applied to numerous data-science jobs at climate-tech startups and received more rejections than I could count.
From then on, I spent hours every day teaching myself new skills. I learned to code in Python, familiarized myself with climate-data libraries, and scrambled to learn new tech like the open-source software TensorFlow and machine-learning applications. I also improved my résumé, practiced my interviewing skills, and built my online presence by sharing my projects on LinkedIn.
Still, the rejections kept coming. I didn’t feel as if I were good enough, and the stress of the daily grind only amplified my self-doubt. But I refused to give up.
Building an online presence helps candidates stand out in a competitive job market
Building my online presence really set me apart from the typical candidate. I was able to position myself as a climate-tech thought leader by showcasing my knowledge and technical skills to a wide audience.
On LinkedIn, I’ve shared my story, written a guide on how to land a job in geoscience, and created a free online tutorial on how to use Python to analyze climate data. I also launched a newsletter called Geospatial Jobs to compile open positions in climate tech for thousands of subscribers.
I’ve been able to use that presence to connect with others in the field. Now, lots of people reach out to ask for job advice and check their résumés.
Take advantage of the high demand for climate-tech jobs today
Now is the best time to break into climate tech. Venture capitalists are pouring funds into climate-tech startups, which means that there’s a high demand for data scientists and programmers at these companies.
And the pay is good. The average salary for these positions is roughly $120,000 a year with room for higher pay with experience.
To break in, my advice is to learn how to code in Python and analyze climate data, showcase your data visualizations and code to recruiters, and network with people in the field. But most important, build your brand and craft a concise narrative for interviews.