Big tech layoffs are a boon for climate change companies


Layoffs are ravaging Silicon Valley. Tech titans such as Twitter, Amazon and Facebook are shedding thousands of workers as job cuts and hiring freezes plague the industry.

Many software engineers, programmers, and data scientists are unemployed and pondering what’s next. But climate tech companies have a tantalizing message: Come work for us.

These companies offer a range of work. Some companies create software to better measure greenhouse gas emissions. Others create materials like cement and steel without using carbon.

Previous years’ record fundraising and renewed government support have put the climate tech sector in an enviable position to hire talent as high-profile Silicon Valley employers bleed.

Today, climate tech companies – who once struggled to compete with the lucrative compensation and stock options that social media companies could offer – are seeing their inboxes filled with pristine resumes once considered impossible. to poach.

Some climate leaders are skeptical, saying more chemical engineers and scientists are needed, not coders and project managers. But others say the influx of talent could help tech companies that have often struggled to achieve their lofty goals.

In many ways, other researchers added, this is simply history repeating itself, showing that innovation often occurs during or after a crisis.

“It’s really a major secular boost,” said Phil Budden, senior lecturer in innovation and entrepreneurship at MIT’s Sloan School. “Suddenly, engineers are available all over the world. … There is more hope that climate technology will take off.

The wave of layoffs in Silicon Valley signals the end of an era for Big Tech

Over the past week, tens of thousands of tech workers have lost their jobs. On Monday, Amazon announced that 10,000 people would be laid off. Days earlier, Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said 11,000 workers, or 13% of its workforce, would be laid off. Twitter has laid off more than 3,700 workers, with Elon Musk at the helm.

In the climate technology sector, things are different. Climate tech funding is cooling, but only after record highs. As of Wednesday, $16 billion has flowed into the sector this year, nearly double the $9.3 billion raised in 2019 but lower than the record $30.4 billion raised in 2021, according to PitchBook.

Climate Draft, a coalition of climate tech companies, has a job board displaying more than 4,000 available jobs across approximately 360 companies. Another job portal, Climatebase, has more than 6,000 current job vacancies.

Career fairs are being set up for next week and after the Thanksgiving holiday to promote climate tech openings. Many technicians working on messaging apps and community message boards are urging their laid-off colleagues to consider climate-related jobs. Laid-off workers get a 33% discount on 12-week climate change boot camp courses that normally cost around $1,499.

Apoorv Bhargava, chief executive of a climate-based artificial intelligence company WeaveGrid, said he noticed the difference. Normally, his company handles about 80 job applications a week. This week: 800, according to company statistics.

His company, which uses artificial intelligence to help electric vehicles charge without overloading the power grid, raised $35 million on Tuesday and needs to quickly double its workforce.

Previously, he coaxed the brightest software programmers and data scientists into giving up Big Tech salaries and stock options to work for his company. But now her inbox is filled with newly laid-off people looking for jobs. “My LinkedIn is a disaster,” he said.

Now that funding and staffing seem less of an issue, Bhargava feels more confident about rolling out his company’s products to more cities. He’s also considering how to expand his business into enterprise fleets such as Amazon’s delivery trucks, which require the analysis of large amounts of data.

“It’s going to be something that I think we can do in a way that we just couldn’t have done if that kind of talent pool wasn’t excited about moving to something like climate. “, did he declare.

Eugene Kirpichov, a former Google software engineer who spent more than two years helping build the nonprofit group Work on Climate, said the influx of talent driven by the layoffs could be a boon to the climate industry.

Many workers don’t realize that their skills are easily transferable to climate companies, Kirpichov said. The misconception, he said, is that workers need a doctorate in climate-related studies, when all they really need are the skills they already have. They just need to use them to solve different problems, he said.

Evan Hynes, co-founder and CEO of Climatebase, said the shift to climate tech partly reflects declining enthusiasm for Big Tech companies.

“A lot of people in the early days of Tech 2.0 – like back in the days of Facebook – felt like you could really change the world for the better,” he said. “But as these companies grew, it was more like a cog in a big machine.”

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Working in the field of climate change is no longer just for scientists or engineers, Hynes said. Historically, the three main types of job postings on Climatebase are business development and sales, communications, and software engineering.

Quinn Hawkins, who was vice president of product management at real estate technology broker Redfin, said her unit closed this month. As a result, Hawkins, who has also worked on new ventures at Microsoft, is looking for a project management role, preferably in climate tech.

He said his interest stems from an experience last September when he visited a friend in the Sierras near Los Angeles.

“The air was just smoky,” he said. “There were hand-painted signs on plywood in front of the farms that said, ‘Pray for rain’ or ‘God bless our firefighters’. It was apocalyptic.”

After 10 years in the real estate business, Hawkins hopes to spend the next decade helping with project management at a company trying to tackle the climate crisis and work towards a better future for her 8-year-old son.

“Even if everything I worked on didn’t work out,” he said, “I’d be really proud to tell him, ‘I’m sorry the planet is so messed up, but your dad tried. . He dedicated his time and passion to making the world a little better for you. ”

Not everyone agrees on the usefulness of this overabundance of workers.

Jonathan Strauss, managing director of Climate Draft, said that whatever climate companies do, software is crucial. “They need software to develop this product, bring it to market, make it work,” he said.

Cody Finke, chief executive of Brimstone, which makes low-carbon cement, disagrees. Companies that focus on hard science innovations, rather than pure software solutions, will make the biggest difference, he said. Chemical engineers and metallurgists would be more valuable to his company than coders and product managers, he said. “Fundamentally, software cannot solve the climate problem,” he said. “You need the hard sciences.”

Some tech workers who have already moved into the climate sector say it’s worth it. Yin Lu vividly remembers the day she decided to quit education technology and go into climate.

It was the summer of 2020 and the Northern California air was so thick with wildfire smoke that it had turned orange. Her daughter wanted to play outside, so Lu put a breathing mask on her and they went to the park.

Watching his daughter play, “I just thought, what am I doing with my career?” she says. “I had this ‘come to Jesus’ moment where I thought, ‘I have to stop working on anything that isn’t climate-related.’ ”

Lu quit her job and started reading all she could about climate change – looking for ways to leverage her experience growing early stage start-ups. Now she is a partner at My Climate Journey, a climate venture capital collective and firm.

“Now knowing that I wake up every day and spend time doing work that will make my daughter [life] better – there is no better antidote than this,” she said.

Teresa H. Sadler