How I left academia for a six-figure job at a climate tech startup


  • Ali Ahmadalipour works as a Chief Data Scientist at Climate Tech Catrisk.
  • He was on track to become an academic, but led the way in climate techniques for a better work-life balance.
  • Here’s how new skills and an online brand helped him make that leap, he told reporter Aaron Mock.

This article is based on a conversation with Ali Ahmadalipour, a 33-year-old data scientist from the San Francisco Bay Area at the Climate Tech Institute, Catrisk, about how to hack into climate technology. Edited for length and clarity.

I always thought I would be an earth science professor. But now I work in climate technology and I’ve never been happier.

Climate change was not on my mind when I started the master’s program. But during the two-year program, my interest grew. So, I moved from Iran to the US to pursue my PhD in climate change. I was on my way to becoming a professor, but I wasn’t very happy.

Like most postdoctoral fellows, I know academia is a broken system. There was no job security, the pay was low, the hours were long, and I didn’t want to live in some random small town in America.

I had no idea that I would be looking for jobs in climate technology. If I stay in academia and there are more opportunities in the tech industry, I think I will get a job at a top university.

A little more than six months after starting my search, I landed a job as director of climate science at ClimateAI, a green cloud company in the Bay Area. Now I am the Chief Data Scientist at Catrisk, a risk modeling firm that develops programs for insurance companies to predict and calculate natural disasters.

Although I tend to work longer hours than I expect, my current job is not as stressful as academia. Now I have more freedom and flexibility. My salary also jumped from $50,000 to over six figures.

Getting out of academia requires hours of learning new skills and a lot of rejection

Landing the first job was very difficult. I applied to more data science jobs at climate tech startups and got rejected more times than I can count.

From then on I spent hours every day teaching myself new skills. I learned to code in Python, became familiar with climate data libraries, and tried to learn new technologies such as the open source software TensorFlow and machine learning applications. I also improved my resume, practiced my interviewing skills, and built my online presence by sharing my projects on LinkedIn.

Still, the failures keep coming. I didn’t feel like I was good enough, and the stress of the daily grind fueled my self-doubt. But I will not 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 have been able to position myself as a climate technology thought leader by demonstrating my knowledge and technical skills to a wide audience.

On LinkedIn, I’ve shared my story, written a guide on how to get a job in geoscience, and created a free online tutorial on how to use Python to analyze climate data. I started a newsletter called Geospatial Jobs to advertise job openings in climate technology to thousands of subscribers.

I was able to connect that presence with others in the field. Now, many people meet to ask for career advice and to see their work experience.

Take advantage of the high demand for climate technology jobs today

Now is a great time to get into climate technology. Venture capitalists are pouring their money into climate technology startups, which means there is a huge demand for data scientists and programmers at these companies.

The pay is good too. The average salary for these positions is about $120,000 per year, with experience in the higher pay bracket.

To get in, my advice is to learn how to code in Python and analyze climate data, show your data visualization and code to employers, and network with people in the field. But most importantly, build your brand and craft a concise narrative for interviews.



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