There are innumerable ways that we can work on climate, especially in our careers. One of these is the software field—by reducing or stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions, using software to adapt community lifestyles and societal responses to climate change or some combination of the two.

In today’s tech driven world, there are many ways software jobs can combat climate change; here’s our guide to getting started.

Where do Software Jobs fit into Climate Careers?

Those working in software are well-positioned to leverage their skills to create positive change.  Software can both be used to mitigate the worst effects of climate change and to help us adapt and build resilience in the face of climate consequences. As climate software is a relatively young industry, demand for software engineers who work on climate solutions is expected to continue to grow.  Additionally, software is one of the fields in which income levels are comparable to equivalent jobs outside of the climate space, meaning that you would not need to take a pay cut.

The breadth of roles software jobs play in climate change solutions means there are positions available for people with diverse software experience. In this way, software engineers of various backgrounds can continue to be employed in their chosen career path while working toward a more sustainable planet. For some, this could mean a complete career transition involving joining an existing climate company or starting one’s own climate software company. A partial transition might entail working as a freelancer who sometimes develops software for climate solutions, or could mean bringing climate consciousness to one’s current workplace.

When exploring software job opportunities in climate, consider what software engineering skills you can build upon, what motivates you to pursue this line of work, what opportunities there are in your subfield and geographical area and how you can use your knowledge to make an impact.  Be open to surprises— there are many unexpected ways software jobs can serve the climate!

Reframing Software Jobs as Climate Careers

As a software pro, your experience and technical skills can take you far in a climate career. In fact, when looking at today’s climate solutions through the eyes of a software engineer, some common trends might already stand out. And while finding one’s place in climate can be daunting (we’ll talk more about that later), some critical thinking can go a long way in unveiling the software jobs behind many of the climate solutions we’ve come to rely on. Take these examples on efficiency, consumer behavior, and climate science:

  • Many climate solutions involve optimizing efficiency, meaning they are supported by data science and machine learning algorithms particular to those problems; the need for data scientists and machine learning engineers is also backed by the software engineering roles needed taking such a system to production.
  • Some solutions have to do with behavioral change on the part of the public. That means these solutions can present an exciting set of product, UI, and UX challenges, making these sectors a good fit for full-stack engineers working in close collaboration with product and design practices.
  • Sensor data is critical to climate science and solutions, and this is where embedded engineers are key; working in tandem with hardware engineering teams to build specialized hardware and its firmware, solutions involving sensor networks or IoT devices  can be found in many aspects of climate work.

Software Skills in Climate Work

There are several career paths that can lead to a job in climate software. These include:

  • Machine learning- almost every climate software sector involves predictive analysis from large quantities of data
  • Geographic information system analysis- processing geographically-referenced information is especially important for developing local climate models, locating electric vehicle charging stations and planning routes for carbon capture
  • Data management- all sectors require expertise in secure and efficient data collection, storage and use
  • Frontend engineers- climate software that is used by both specialized companies and the general public requires engineers who focus on developing the user interface
  • Backend engineers- this software similarly requires engineers who develop the behind-the scenes features
  • Full stack engineers- almost every sector can benefit from engineers who work on both sides of software development
  • Embedded engineers- The development of sensor networks and IoT devices for buildings and transportation, manufacturing and supply chains and environment and ecosystems requires embedded engineers who can translate software beyond traditional computers

In addition to technical knowledge, those transitioning into climate software work will need to be able to navigate a vast and continuously-evolving career space.  They will have to be proactive in researching software jobs in a field where new opportunities are constantly emerging, identify specific entry points that are a good match for their skillset to explore more deeply and communicate and network with people who currently work in the industry.  

Using a “Sector First” Approach to Software Job Hunting

Because software jobs can be found in every sector of climate work, a good way to start exploring climate software careers is by looking at sectors that interest you. Given the ubiquity of software in modern society, this list of climate software sectors is by no means comprehensive. Some specific fields that often need software professionals include:

Climate modeling: Software engineers and developers take note: your expertise is needed by climate scientists in developing software packages that simulate the Earth’s climate under various climate conditions. Modeling helps us to understand how past events influenced our current climate and allows us to predict future climate scenarios, allowing a wide range of businesses and policymakers to develop tailored approaches to mitigating and adapting to climate change. For example, the company Cervest combines statistical climate modeling with machine learning to predict climate risk for individual assets.

Renewable energy: For data scientists and machine learning engineers, the development of distributed resource energy management systems (DERMS) is an interesting career option. These software platforms manage the operation of power grids utilizing several small, localized renewable energy sources and need experts to gather, consolidate and process data through extract-transform-load processes and energy algorithms.  It also requires other software engineers to bring these systems to production, such as backend engineers to build application programming interfaces, frontend engineers to work on user-facing features and development and operations engineers to ensure continuous integration and continuous delivery of information.

Buildings and transportation: Buildings and transportation are among the climate software sectors that lean heavily on sensor networks and IoT devices to monitor the sustainability of industrial processes. For example, the company Span provides users with information on energy consumption trends in their home and allows them to manage electrical circuits via their mobile phone.  Such software can also be used to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles by predicting the distance that can be covered with the vehicle’s current battery life and identifying charging stations along a programmed route.  This area requires collaboration between embedded engineers and hardware engineers to build specialized hardware and firmware that can be adapted for different applications.

Manufacturing and supply chains: Sensor networks and IoT device monitoring to improve energy efficiency and minimize waste in the manufacturing of commercial products, and as these areas are already dependent on digital software, they provide an ideal opportunity for software engineers spanning the development pipeline. Examples include Higg’s use of an integrated software platform to provide climate metrics on various manufacturing bases and shipping routes. Another company called Afresh analyzes data from food supply chains, projected consumer demand and grocery store inventories to reduce food waste.

Carbon capture and offsetting: This sector involves developing software to facilitate efforts to capture carbon released into the environment and to offset carbon emissions through programs that produce an equivalent reduction in carbon emissions.  For example, SimCCS is an open-source software that identifies the most efficient route between the source of carbon emission and a carbon sink to maximize the amount of carbon that can be captured.  Other software platforms have been designed to keep track of carbon accounting to advise carbon offsetting efforts.

Data storage: Data stored in the cloud has a significant carbon footprint—about 0.3% of overall carbon emissions (a comparable amount to some countries)–and is expected to grow in the coming years. While Amazon, Microsoft Azure and Google all invest in renewable energy credits to offset their energy consumption, Google also uses machine learning to optimize their data storage operations for energy efficiency, and Microsoft is exploring powering data centers by electric batteries or chemical fuel cells. Software is needed to analyze trends related to energy consumption by individual applications and carbon output from data storage providers to recommend best internal practices or opportunities to migrate data to another storage center like the Cloud Carbon Footprint tool which can measure carbon emissions stemming from a company’s cloud-based data storage.  

Community as a Networking Tool for Software Job Seekers

Networking is critical to finding your place in climate solutions. Approximately 30% of jobs aren’t listed on job boards but are found through networking, making networking especially valuable in the climate change industry where opportunities with early-stage companies are not always visible. The good news is that there are a number of great articles and resources designed to help you find your place in climate work.

  • Networking Programs: Terra.do hosts its own networking program called Huddle. For those looking for opportunities to work on technology for climate change solutions, Huddle lets you join a small group of similarly skilled and passionate people hosted by a leader in the climate tech space.  In addition to facilitating professional connections, such communities allow you to learn from the experiences of your peers and leader and can provide support as you grapple with the difficult reality of climate change
  • Newsletters: You might be surprised that a number of climate tech newsletters also host growing communities. Some, like Climate Tech VC host a Slack group of their own, whereas others like Innovate Climate work to connect professionals across the climate tech startup ecosystem in an effort to facilitate partnerships.
  • Learning Programs: Some organizations like Climate Science offer networking and fellowship as a part of their general climate change courses. Terra.do’s Climate Change for Software Engineers specifically connects software engineers in an environment designed to get you ahead of the learning curve.
  • Slack Communities: There are a number of slack communities built for climate professionals across scopes and spheres such as Work On Climate. Other Slacks offer a community for other tech-minded groups like Out In Tech does for the LGBTQIA+ community, which then host smaller channels or subgroups of climate interested professionals.

Learn more about our course tailored to software engineerings interested in making a climate switch.

Climate Change for Software Engineers

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