Transfer your skills to a green job with Work on Climate's Eugene Kirpichov
May 10, 2023
Eugene Kirpichov had a great job as a software engineer at Google. But he left it all behind. As he expressed in a resignation letter that went viral on LinkedIn, “the scale, urgency and tragedy of climate change are so immense that I can no longer justify to myself working on anything else.” That letter, which urged others to follow suit, set the course for his career path. He would go on to co-found the wildly successful Work on Climate community, which today boasts more than 20,000 members. It’s been lauded everywhere from Fast Company to The New York Times.
In the latest installment of The Year of the Climate Job, Kirpichov shares how you can take stock of your own skills, which are likely far more climate-ready than you realize. And he shares his vision for making climate work “mainstream,” along with how he and his co-founders started Work on Climate as a Slack community and built it into the mighty army of planet-saving professionals that it is today.
Eugene Kirpichov co-founded Work on Climate, an online community for people passionate about solving the climate crisis, in 2020. Prior to WoC, Kirpichov spent more than seven years as a software engineer with Google. But learning how severe the climate crisis was, he felt he could no longer stay in his job. The resignation letter he shared on LinkedIn went viral.
HILL: He had a great job, an enviable job, as a software engineer at Google. But after seven-plus years, Eugene Kirpichov found he could no longer stay. So he penned a resignation letter:
KIRPICHOV: Dear friends and colleagues: I'm leaving Google effective Aug. 1, 2020 in order to focus on finding my place in the climate change mitigation landscape.
HILL: A few things had happened to Eugene to bring him to this moment: He’d watched documentaries about the climate crisis. He’d listened to activists. He’d had heartfelt conversations with energy scientists at Google.
As Eugene wrote, he could no longer ignore this escalating crisis. He saw only one future for himself.
KIRPICHOV: The reason I'm leaving is because the scale, urgency and tragedy of climate change are so immense, that I can no longer justify to myself working on anything else, no matter how interesting or lucrative, until it's fixed.
HILL: This letter would set the course for Eugene’s career path in climate. That is, running a company helping other people build careers in this space. But before we dive into his journey, there is something Eugene wishes someone had told him back then.
KIRPICHOV: I certainly wish that I had known a few years earlier than I did that my skills are needed.
HILL: Yep, you might imagine that Eugene, this Google engineer, was totally confident that he could change careers. But he had doubts. Would his skills transfer to solving the climate crisis? Even more anxiety-provoking, would they – would he – be needed?
Change is coming, oh yeah
Ain’t no holding it back
Ain't no running
Change is coming, oh yeah!
HILL: Welcome back to The Year of the Climate Job: a five-part Degrees mini-series designed to help you get a green job. I’m Daniel Hill.
I’ve been thinking about a series like this for a long time after hearing from so many people struggling with their green job search.
So I asked job seekers to share their experiences. Thousands of you responded. People who’ve been urgently raising their hands to work on climate.
And I heard loud and clear that you feel stuck because maybe…
- You can’t find roles that match your interests.
- You lack connections in the climate space.
- You don’t have the direct experience you’re seeing in many job postings.
- And you have no idea how to map your skills to climate work.
You are not alone in any of this. Today, we’re going to tackle that skills transfer problem – as I mentioned, it’s a problem Eugene was struggling with. And what he ultimately learned can help us all.
So back to Eugene’s growing anxiety about the climate crisis. He felt lost until another crisis helped him figure out what to do with his climate despair. COVID-19.
KIRPICHOV: So the pandemic is indeed another great example of a crisis that can have different effects on you, it can either paralyze you or motivate you. And at the beginning of the pandemic, I was also very, very worried that we're all going to die from the virus. I was, like, very anxious about it, and could barely work.
HILL: Then, a friend reached out. Asking if Eugene wanted to help him build an affordable ventilator.
KIRPICHOV: The moment I started working on that, I was not worried about the pandemic anymore. I was worried about how I'm going to write the code for this firmware for this device. So I was back in my native element – I felt like I'm in the driver's seat. It gives you hope, it empowers you to actually work on the thing that you're feeling so passionately about. And that made it clear to me that I really want to feel the same way about climate change.
HILL: So he had the conviction. Now he needed the job. He was still at Google, getting more and more anxious to quit. But finding a green job? That was way harder than he expected.
KIRPICHOV: I started by just trying to find climate work in the way that I knew how, which was, for example, just like searching LinkedIn for the word climate. Which turns out, it actually doesn't give you results that are that useful, at least at the time. I had no idea how to really go about it, how to look for climate work.
HILL: Eugene was frustrated. He ended up sharing his worries with a Google coworker and friend, Cassandra Xia. Turned out, she had her own climate anxiety.
KIRPICHOV: And within a week of beginning to talk about this, we talked each other into handing in our resignations. Because when you're doing this together with somebody, it just goes a lot faster. Because you don't feel like you're going alone. You have to articulate your arguments for why or why not you're staying or leaving. And you just cannot be in denial anymore about the fact that you're doing something you shouldn't be doing.
HILL: And just like that, they each resigned. Got to love the buddy system. Then, Eugene posted his goodbye-to-Google letter on LinkedIn. He says about a half a million people read it. Hundreds commented. Loads of people contacted him and his colleague Cassandra. Suddenly they were hearing from dozens of climate professionals AND dozens of climate job seekers.
KIRPICHOV: As we talked to people in climate, who are saying, ‘Hey, we want to help you and people like you,’ it became clear that they need people like us and lots of other people. And as we were talking to other people who are in the same boat of looking for climate work, but being even unsure if climate work exists for them, it just became clear that this is such an urgent need. There are so many companies that need these people, and the people don't know that the companies need them, or they don't even know that the companies exist. So we decided to conduct a little experiment and just put these job seekers and these climate experts into a community and see what happens.”
HILL: What happened was Work on Climate. That’s the organization Eugene, Cassandra, and their friend Eva Illescas Sanchez, co-founded after leaving Google.
Work on Climate was born as a Slack community. It was an experiment to see what would happen if climate employers and job seekers started talking with each other directly.
And it blew up. Today, only a few years later, the community has more than 20,000 members, including myself.
Work on Climate now hosts office hours with climate professionals. There’s a place for job postings. They organize online and in-person events. They post how-tos written by climate folks with titles like “The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Getting a Data Job in Climate” or “Breaking into Climate as a Mechanical Engineer.” There’s also a list of climate tech startups software people, I’m looking at you! And they have resources for entrepreneur-minded folks and people interested in climate justice.
Ugh. Where was this when I was starting my career?
But the million-dollar question remains: how can YOU figure out which of your skills will translate to a green job?
For Eugene, he didn’t have a single “aha moment” where a spotlight dawned on how he could use his tech chops on the climate crisis. It was a series of little… light bulbs going off…you know those tiny twinkle lights people brighten up dark apartment corners with? It’s more like those.
They first started to light up Eugene’s dark career corner when he read a report about climate change and artificial intelligence.
KIRPICHOV: And it became clear that there are at least some uses for my skill set, which at the time was AI engineering.
HILL: The paper was about mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation, meaning solutions to help reduce emissions, say, retrofitting building energy systems or fixing and preventing methane emissions. People are also needed for adaptation: we need specialists to prepare ahead of time for major weather events – think infrastructure or smart city technologies.
That report got Eugene excited. He could imagine using his AI skills for either mitigation or adaptation. Soon, he discovered a climate tech company founded by former Google employees. He talked with them, which led him to more climate tech companies. They didn’t need people with climate experience on their resumes. What they needed were software engineers and programmers and designers. They needed people like him.
KIRPICHOV: I still think I wasn't really realizing that these are not the exceptions, that this is the rule. It became clear that this is the rule only when I talked to a lot of companies and saw the kind of people they need. They need just regular people for the most part.
HILL: The more climate people Eugene talked to, the more he learned not just how his skills apply, but that many skills transfer.
KIRPICHOV: Because these are companies just decarbonizing their respective industry and they need the same kind of people that they needed before decarbonizing it just with a slightly different focus of their work. So, climate companies need software engineers too. Any company of a decent size needs an accountant. Any company in climate needs a business development person and so on. It's kind of obvious in retrospect, but at the moment, it was news to me.
HILL: Take, for example, Jeanine. We connected recently through my initiative, Open Door Climate, where climate professionals, like me, volunteer to talk with climate jobseekers, like you, to share more about our journey, our jobs, and answer your questions.
Jeanine works at a healthcare startup. She works on operations. But she wants to pivot to a career where she can help reduce food waste, or expand renewables, like solar.
JEANINE: I think the most frustrating part of my job search is just having the confidence and the know-how to take my skills and my experience and translate that to a job in a green space in the green profession. The job search is intimidating in general, and I think trying to make a change between fields is even more so.
KIRPICHOV: It sounds like she has significant generalist operations and administration skills. And I would assure her that climate companies need that just the same as all other companies.
HILL: This is Eugene again. He says, sometimes, it’s about really parsing out the skills you’ve gained in your current and previous jobs. Maybe she’d have a tough time transferring healthcare industry skills like, say, Medicare billing. But Jeanine probably has experience with certain computer programs, operations, project management that every company working on climate needs.
And, by the way, that’s soon to be every company. But that’s for a different episode.
KIRPICHOV: Start by talking to people who found jobs and by now enough people are talking about the jobs they found that you can probably find someone who is like you and talk to them and ask them like, ‘Hey, I'm someone like you. I don't really understand how my skills translate. How the hell did you pull this off? What are you doing now?’
HILL: Okay, if you’re feeling stuck with this, try to reframe climate work as regular companies who happen to be addressing climate. Take sustainable fashion companies. Although the textiles or sourcing or packaging may be sustainable, at the end of the day, they’re an apparel or retail company that has many of the same roles as a traditional apparel company. Same can be said for food companies, sustainable finance, climate tech startups, even energy service and consulting firms. A lot of the business functions they need are the same as a company not working on climate solutions. Now with that framing in mind, think about what skills you’ve used at past companies. Got it? Great, that’s a transferable skill.
You might have noticed a theme by now in this miniseries. There’s a lot of power in talking to people who do climate work as part of their job. These conversations can help you discover which of your existing skills are transferable. Because, as we’ve discussed, there’s too much mystery about climate work.
But you’re probably wondering how on Earth do you find people who will talk to you?
You could post your resignation letter on LinkedIn and hope it goes viral, like Eugene’s. But also like, maybe don’t do that. And actually, even though that jump-started Eugene’s transition, networking was really hard for him.
KIRPICHOV: I'm a raging introvert scientist, academically minded person. But I kind of got the hang of it. And I'm really enjoying connecting with these people now. It's very satisfying. Because it's not just about chitchat. It's about learning about how the rest of the economy works.
HILL: Remember those 20,000 members of Work on Climate? Well that’s a small army of people passionate about green jobs – both people who have them and people who are looking for them. They’re all seeking community, so they want to connect with you. That’s a great place to start.
Also, you can find climate professionals with an open door policy by searching the hashtag Open Door Climate on LinkedIn. We’re available, and so are other online communities like Terra Do, Women in Climate, Climatebase, and M-C-J Collective. There’s also LinkedIn's Top Voices in the Green Economy list. And if you haven’t listened to our last episode about networking yet, definitely earmark that one for later. And all of these links are in the show notes.
Alright, let’s take a short break and we’ll be back with more.
HILL: Some climate jobs do require very specific skills, like carbon accounting, or ecologists, or solar technicians. But by now you know that Eugene likes to say green jobs are just jobs.
KIRPICHOV: I mean, this is the future of the economy, if you're going to be in the economy, you're going to be in climate. Such as, say, transitioning as a society from gas vehicles to electric vehicles from dirty energy to clean energy, from animal protein to plant protein. So it's mostly that It's also building a couple of new industries, such as building out carbon markets, building out coastal resilience, and so on. It's the same with jobs. So climate jobs, the kind of people who will be working on climate solutions, it's mostly the same people who are working on these industries today.
HILL: Of course, there will still be lots to learn as you focus on climate work. Just like there would be in any career transition.
KIRPICHOV: So it's a massive labor transition of a much wider scope than people tend to think when they think about the climate labor transition.”
HILL: The Inflation Reduction Act – which includes incentives and tax credits to encourage new energy projects – became law last summer. And since then, U.S. companies have already announced 100,000 new jobs in wind and solar energy, EV and battery manufacturing…home energy efficiency and more. That’s according to a group called Climate Power. In other words, this isn’t a technology challenge. It’s a people challenge. We must get people ready for these jobs and we must make those jobs much more accessible for people, if we want to succeed in this fight.
For Eugene, this is just a start. He says climate work must be mainstreamed. And in order to address this massive labor transition, employers and schools need to move into the future.
KIRPICHOV: Over every course they teach, they need to teach the applications of that to climate solutions. For example, when you take an accounting class, the school needs to teach you carbon accounting. When you take an AI class, the school needs to teach you geospatial AI.
HILL: He goes on: recruiting firms need to train their employees to understand the climate space and green jobs. To teach them how to fill niche climate roles… and to learn how people can transfer skills to green careers. Eugene hopes the fear of what you don’t know won’t hold you back. But he understands psychological barriers like that are very real. He faced them himself. And according to Work on Climate research, job seekers are really feeling the mental strain of their search.
KIRPICHOV: Starting just from the imposter syndrome of thinking that their skills are not useful in climate, or thinking they're not good enough. Or thinking that they simply don't belong with the climate people who are supposedly some kind of mysterious group of people that are very different from us all here, which is obviously not true at all. There is the additional climate layer of emotional barriers, which is that this is just really high stakes. So normally, you look for work. And maybe if you do that, while you have an existing job, you're just looking for something better. But here, you're looking for work while the planet is on fire. And you realize that the clock is ticking.”
HILL: That’s right. Climate anxiety can hold any jobseeker back. And that’s when community is critical, Eugene says. He’s tried to build a sense of community into Work on Climate.
KIRPICHOV: We wanted to design the community so that it just feels different and feels motivating. It was clear again, from both my own internal experience and from conversations with many people that a big reason that many people are not looking for climate work is that they have given up. It's not even just that they don't know that their skills are needed. It's also that they are just fatigued from all the doom and gloom rhetoric. They think it's really bad. They think it's hopeless and nothing can be done. From the beginning, we focused it on being about action. We have a Slack community as one of the programs that we offer, and we don't have any place in the community where you even can just post doom and gloom, or post news or discuss how bad it is. It's all focused on sharing something you're doing, asking for help with something you're doing, offering help with something that somebody else is doing.
HILL: There’s even a Slack channel within the community called “I got the job” for people’s success stories and how they got there.
Here’s some examples of what people have shared in the channel:
One person said they started a new job as strategy and operations manager at a climate consulting firm called OnePointFive. They wrote: “I found it through Work on Climate so I’m SUPER thankful for this community’s support.”
Another person joined Sofar Ocean as a product manager. They said Work on Climate helped them understand the climate landscape. And also offered to chat about their journey. “Don’t hesitate to shoot me a DM,” they wrote.
I want to reiterate the importance of community in this journey you’re on. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for communities I’ve joined. Back when I had an idea for a nonprofit to train students to help small businesses save energy, I thought I had everything I needed to do it. And by everything, I mean spreadsheets, Google, and coffee shops. But what I very quickly learned was that I didn’t know what I didn’t know and I had no one to talk to about it. Everything changed when I joined some dedicated climate entrepreneur communities. We’d share resources. We’d make introductions to contacts that might be helpful. And we’d hear from peers about how they overcame roadblocks. These were my people. Having this support was invaluable.
There has been progress though. Searching for green jobs isn’t quite as bleak as it was when Eugene was looking three years ago – or when I was looking (throat clear) 15 years ago! There are a number of climate-specific job boards now. Like Green Jobs Board, Climatebase, Carbon Removal Jobs and Nature Tech Jobs board. And, of course, EDF’s own Green Jobs Hub.
Hey, I know this is tough. Looking for a green job can be exhausting. But Eugene’s message (and mine too!) is to hang in there. Because we need you and your talent and skills!
KIRPICHOV: This space is exploding as we speak. And there are more and more jobs every day. There is going to be one for you. Continue building the relationships in this space and continue trying. And if you're kind of too exhausted from the search, yeah, maybe take a bit of a break, maybe tone it down a little, but don't give up.
HILL: That was Eugene Kirpichov. He co-founded Work on Climate, an online community for people wanting to work in the climate space.
Before we wrap up: here are three things you can do right now!
- One: Reach out to people who have already landed jobs in the climate space. Ask them what their day-to-day jobs look like, and which skills they transferred from old jobs.
- Two: Take stock of the skills you’ve gained over the course of your professional and academic life. And remember, climate-focused companies need all kinds of workers, including accountants, operations managers, software engineers, marketing experts and more.
- And three: Find community while you search, whether that’s an online space like Work on Climate or local meet-ups in your city or town. It helps to know you’re not alone and you can learn from others’ job searches.
HILL: That's it for this episode! Make sure to listen and follow on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, or wherever you're listening now. Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest news on EDF’s Green Jobs Hub and new Degrees episodes. And share this podcast with a friend.
In the next episode of “The Year of the Climate Job,” we look at the frustration of lacking direct experience in a new field when all of the job listings you find require it. Terra Do founder Anshuman Bapna talks about how we need to mass upskill billons of people to reach our climate goals.
Degrees is presented by Environmental Defense Fund. Amy Morse is our producer. Podcast Allies is our production company. Stephanie Wolf, Elaine Grant, Andrew Parrella and Kevin Kline worked on this episode. Our music is Shame, Shame, Shame from eco-conscious band Lake Street Dive. And I’m your host, Daniel Hill. Find me on LinkedIn and let’s chat green jobs. See you next time.
[THEME MUSIC IN]
Change is coming, oh yeah
Ain’t no holding it back
Ain't no running
Change is coming, oh yeah!
[THEME MUSIC OUT]
Resources from this episode
- Join Eugene Kirpichov’s Work on Climate community.
- Join other climate-specific communities:
- Read Kirpichov’s goodbye-to-Google letter.
- Check out the Climate Change and AI report that helped Kirpichov understand which of his skills were transferable.
- Browse other climate-related job boards:
- To find people to follow on LinkedIn, visit LinkedIn’s Top Voices in the Green Economy list.
- Search the hashtag #OpenDoorClimate on LinkedIn to find climate professionals who are willing to chat with you. (This is the movement founded by Daniel Hill. Year of the Climate Job host and director of Environmental Defense Fund’s Innovation Fund.)
- Sign up for the Degrees newsletter.
- Here are some articles we love::
Degrees: Real talk about planet-saving careers is presented by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Daniel Hill hosts The Year of the Climate Job. Yesh Pavlik Slenk hosts Degrees. Amy Morse is EDF’s producer.
Podcast Allies is our production company. Stephanie Wolf is senior producer; Andrew Parrella is our production manager; Matthew Simonson is our audio editor; Elaine Appleton Grant is CEO of Podcast Allies and Tina Bassir is podcast manager. Our music is Shame, Shame, Shame from Yesh’s favorite band, Lake Street Dive.