Co-hosted by SEC and YPE Bay Area, speaker panel Developing a Career in Energy drew a diverse group of Stanford affiliates and local energy enthusiasts to Stanford campus to learn about the practical guidelines, key insights about the industry.
Volunteering their time on the panel are: Chris Knudsen, VP Platform Engineering at Silver Spring Networks; Shouvik Banerjee, Director, Product Business Development at Solar City; and Jayme Marquez, Installations Applications Engineer at Bloom Energy. The discussion is moderated by Elizabeth (Lizzie) Caldwell, Interconnection Coordinator at Bloom Energy.
Many observations became very clear from the combined experiences of the panelists; the energy industry is a dynamic and growing industry where rarely anyone is an expert and where you are expected to learn rather than know. Despite their diverse background, they are connected in their drive to make a positive impact through their jobs, which the energy industry has allowed them to do.
New to the energy field? Below is a short summary curated from questions asked during the panel discussion.
Why the energy industry?
Compared to 20 years ago, the energy industry today is a rapidly, changing and growing industry with influence in science, engineering, finance, business, policy, and even design. There are many opportunities in the energy industry that suits your interest and you will get to wear a lot of hats on the job, especially in the startup world.
Making a positive Impact
What hasn’t changed much, though, is that your work will have a positive impact on the world. In his line of work, Shouvik Banerjee is making money and helping fight climate change at the same time – at other jobs in the energy sector, you will work on projects that have similar bottom line.
How has college education prepare you for the industry, both in academic career and extra-curricular?
Curiosity is key
In the energy industry, the curiosity to learn is a powerful indicator of potential for growth and success. Because technology constantly changes, you are not expected to graduate or transition into the industry with a complete set of working knowledge – regardless of you specialty. To prepare yourself and to show your curiosity, you have to find your passion. Chris Knudsen suggests choosing the academic background in college that you enjoy and getting engaged through internships and professional societies.
Pay attention the Foundational Knowledge
Technology may change from day-to-day but what stays constant is the fundamental knowledge that you learn in your foundational classes – mathematics, physics, chemistry, for example. This basic set of knowledge will help you understand key concepts in new technologies and, better yet, make it easier for you to learn from your peers once in the industry.
Playing a team sport like soccer or performing in an acapella group means you can work in harmony with people in high-stress environments. Can you keep your spirits high and be enjoyable to work with on a bad day? This is an extremely important issue to the team’s morale because, at the end of the day, your work revolves not around the cutting edge science but around collaborating with people. Moreover, having worked alongside chemical engineers and geologists, Jayme reminds us that you never really know when the next great idea will come from and that teamwork is especially important in multidisciplinary teams.
Liberal arts background
Shouvik’s background in liberal arts (he graduated with dual BS degree, computer science and history) gave him an appreciation that things can change over time and an understanding of how he can be a driver of that change. Combined with your curiosity and foundational knowledge, a liberal arts mindset can help you see identify many opportunities in the energy space to make a radical change.
Stay informed (Read GTM)
While you are not expected to be up-to-date on every new developments in your field, it is a good idea to read regularly so you understand big-picture concepts as well as growing trends. Professional journals (e.g. IEE spectrum), annual reports, energy outlooks (from Energy Information Administration, for example) are good for technical developments while WSJ and the Atlantic can give you an ‘outsider’ perspective on energy issues. Most importantly though, do you even read Greentechmedia (GTM)?
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Understanding the value of what you’ve done in physical, tangible numbers – trees saved, CO2 reduced, energy reduced. Moreover the payback is on a much shorter-term, almost immediate – compared to pure research or academia. At the end of the day, knowing your work as part of a bigger puzzle with a rewarding end-goal of sustainability is itself a positive feedback that keeps you coming back.
If I come from a non-energy background, with non-conventional experiences, how can I market myself and my interests in the energy sector?
Tell a Good Story
There is a reason – a narrative – that led to where you are today. Now turn that story into a compelling narrative to show the employers who you are and why you are interested in energy. A diversity of experiences in different fields is a good sign that you know what you like and – perhaps more importantly – what you do not like, a fact that some people overlook. Additionally, Lizzie Caldwell suggests not viewing your experiences as hindrance, because, more likely than not, you will meet recruiters who have stumbled into the energy industry from other sectors, exactly in your position today.
At the end of the day, finding a job in the energy industry is about understanding your own narrative and your source of motivation. While the panelists offered great insights for the enthusiasts out there, some may say that high-stress environment, interdisciplinary work, and emphasis on team collaboration are applicable to almost any industry out there today.
What makes the energy industry different in that regard is the opportunity to innovate that will be presented to you on a daily basis – to be curious and to use your knowledge to find impactful solutions for issues that concern everyone on this planet.
Questions or comments about the information above? Contact the author, Paricha Duangtaweesub, at firstname.lastname@example.org or via LinkedIn.