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Candidate Testimonies: Michael Chang

We recently placed Michael Chang as a Platform Engineer at Actual Systems! After a long hiatus from interviewing, he found great value in networking!

Candidate Testimonies: Michael Chang

Meet Michael Chang, a Platform Engineer at Actual Systems


DEVIKA: Hello, my name is Devika. I'm a recruiter with Climate People and we recently just helped place, Michael Chang, with Actual Systems, a wonderful company in the climate space. So, Michael, if you can introduce yourself and kind of talk to us about how your experience of getting a job in climate was that would be wonderful.

MICHAEL: Sure, my name is Mike. I'm a software engineer with about 10 years of experience and worked with Climate People to find this job at Actual, as Devika mentioned. I have a wide variety of experience in software engineering doing some backend data processing as well as infrastructure work.

Most recently I was working as the first employee at a FinTech startup. But, in the last couple of years, there's definitely been something in the back of my mind where I wanted to spend my time working on something mission-focused and what I really wanted was to help make a better world for future generations on earth.

I don't have kids yet, but I want my kids and my nieces and nephews to really enjoy the outdoor experiences that I was able to enjoy growing up. I think there are tons of different ways to make a better world for generations, but climate work is very intersectional with other issues like public health and just equity in general.

I was hoping to find an opportunity to make an impact In climate to sort of hopefully help advance progress on those issues as well.

DEVIKA: Yeah. Did you feel like you experienced any barriers while looking for climate jobs or just jobs in this space?

MICHAEL: Yeah. I'd say while I was doing my research, there's like tons of super interesting companies.

I don't think there's a shortage of folks trying to do these things, especially these days. I think it was definitely difficult, maybe not difficult, but, there are definitely a lot of opportunities where they're very hardware-focused right now.

It's companies that are pulling CO2 out of the air, for example. Where, you know, this is super interesting, but it's not necessarily a fit for a software engineer at this point in time. So, I think it was a balance of finding companies, as you would in any job search, but then finding the place where my skills could be useful at that point in the company's lifetime trajectory and being able to make an impact there.

NATALIE: Yeah, absolutely. Could you walk us through your experience getting a climate job? Why was the time now? Why did you want to work on these things? Did you consider different sectors or was it really just focused on what Actual is doing? Can you just walk us through that journey?

MICHAEL: Sure. Yeah, as I said, I've been interested in it for a while, and so I think maybe in the last year or so I kind of started to build up this background knowledge from podcasts and joining slacks, like My Climate Journey and Work on Climate. Doing those sorts of things helped me get a view of the landscape and what kind of sectors even there are, what people are doing, and what seemed interesting to me.

What seemed interesting actually was a couple of sectors. One was electrification and the idea that we need to stop using fossil fuels. All of our homes and buildings need to be electrified so that we can stop depending on natural gas.

The second sector that was interesting to me was around the idea of like ocean knowledge. The ocean is a huge carbon sink right now, but we don't understand too much about it. We're starting to deploy more things in the ocean, like wind farms and thinking about mining the ocean. But, we're missing this layer of understanding the impacts of these things and also the status quo. So, that was another sector or domain that was interesting to me! And actually, measurement, which I guess, Actual doesn't do the measurement at the moment, but it wasn't on my radar as much.

Yeah, I think having a conversation with the folks at Actual kind of really helped me understand the impact that getting companies beyond decision paralysis could have. I think the learning from there is I had my breadth of topics, I thought I knew what I was interested in, but it doesn't hurt to talk to folks and dive deep and understand their perspective and see where they're coming from. I think that was, that was super helpful in this case.

DEVIKA: That's wonderful. So, in terms of the impact piece, I know that when we were working directly, that was something that was a core piece. That was really important not only that but also being able to wear multiple hats and get very involved in the full life cycle of everything the company was doing.

So, in regards to just your job search and all the companies that you had on your plate, how did you kind of decide that Actual systems were the right impact piece for you?

MICHAEL: I think in terms of multiple hats, naturally at a smaller company, you're gonna have an opportunity just because there are lots of voids and lots of vacuums, right?

It's weird, you never have enough people and there's always too much to do. So, joining a seed-stage company like Actual, I think will afford me the opportunity to wear multiple hats, that was an important factor when I was thinking about joining Actual. Secondly, just talking to the actual people - actual can be using it in many ways - talking to the people at Actual. I was lucky enough to speak to folks both on the software engineering team, but also across other parts of the company.

A couple of things really showed through. It was a team that I would love to work with that, was mission-focused, really intent on solving this problem and a consistent piece of feedback that came up was that the founders were very intentional about everything they're doing as they are building this company. Whether it's thinking about building the company culture or, fundraising, but also very open to feedback from the rest of the team about any improvements that could be made, especially in this remote-first culture. So, yeah, I think those are some of the things that really made it feel like, this could be a good fit for me.

NATALIE: Definitely. That makes a lot of sense. Was the interview process what you were expecting? How was your experience working with Climate People? Can you just touch on all of those steps and how that was for you?

MICHAEL: I had actually heard about Climbing People, through Work on Climate at some point, before Brendan even had semi-founded it. Then, I think he founded it and then I revisited it later because a friend of mine had reached out to Climate People.

It was nice to talk to Brendan and talk through some of what I was looking for, what I was valued in the next opportunity and some of the requirements that I was looking for. I loved that Climate People seemed very intentional about the companies that they're working with.

I guess I had a layer of vetting for better or worse, right. Devika was super helpful throughout the process to make sure that the next steps were clear to just ensure clarity throughout the process.

The interview process with Actual was great. We did a take-home exercise, in which, personally, I think I am able to show my better side versus, doing the sort of constrained hour, coding high-pressure interview. I was grateful to have the opportunity to do that take-home assignment and then submit that to the team so that they could evaluate me in a more realistic context.

I was very lucky to be able, to talk to multiple members of the team, both the engineering team and the folks from the policy team, and the founders as well. I'm sure it was nice for them to be able to have multiple folks across the team meet me and understand where I'm coming from.

But for me, it was also very nice to sort of get those views from across the company as well. I think that the entire process went pretty smoothly.

DEVIKA: Yeah. So, in terms of the job that you took with Actual Systems as a platform engineer, can you kind of tell us a little bit more about the company's overall mission and how you've understood this from your impact piece? And also a little bit about what you're gonna be doing there on the team as well?

MICHAEL: Sure. Yeah. So Actual is, I’m new to the company so I don’t know If I will do this justice, but Actual is centered around this thesis that we need as many companies to take action towards decarbonization as quickly as possible.

There are a lot of companies thinking about doing the measurement, right? Which directly speaking is what you need to know, because if you don't know how much you're admitting, then how do you know how you're gonna reduce that, or cut things out. The Actual thesis is, that instead of spending time upfront to measure your company's current emissions, like let's just build a model, in a game-like fashion that allows you to really understand the parameters of your business to really just be able to take action and make progress now. That doesn't mean that measurement is not important, but we want to sort of getting the ball rolling and have the snowball effect of making decisions and getting beyond this decision paralysis.

My role as a backend engineer is going to help build out the first version of the product for some of the existing clients that we have on board. Then, after that, dig into the weeds of building this decision modeling engine that allows Actual to help clients across multiple industries to figure out what are the parameters.

And discover the levers that they can pull to really change how their business is run to start to decarbonize. So, yeah, I’m very excited about the opportunities, both the missions and the ability to work with a strong team.

NATALIE: Definitely. Yeah. It's awesome to really have that day-to-day job where you can see the direct impact that you'll be making. So that's really exciting. And congratulations. So while our sole mission is to get more people working on climate, we're also really proud of our partnership with 1% for the planet.

Essentially, we donate 1% of every placement fee to an environmental nonprofit. We sent over a few nonprofits and I can give you a quick refresher if you need it. But, did you have a second to look at those and see which one you wanna donate to?

MICHAEL: Yeah, I took a look already and I'd like to donate to the Environmental Voter Project.

NATALIE: Awesome. Yeah, they're such a good organization. One of my favorite things about them is that they use what they call the peer pressure model. So basically, all of their messaging is centered around the fact that these people are doing it, why aren't you doing it? And really just trying to encourage people to vote.

So, yeah, they're an incredible organization. And as we know policies are kind of the root of it all. So that'll donation will hopefully spread some of that awareness a little bit more. So, yeah. Thank you again.

MICHAEL: Nice. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you all for being part of 1% For The Planet. I think every little bit helps.

DEVIKA: Right. Michael, do you have any advice for people who are looking to transition into climate? Would you share just your own knowledge and experience kind of interviewing and just being in these jobs?

MICHAEL: Yeah. I think I mentioned a couple of things before, but, try to talk to a breath of people and ask for advice if possible. You'd be surprised how willing people are to help. I think a lot of people have gone through a very similar journey that I have recently and they are willing to help tear down those barriers for you. And so, just trying to talk to a breadth of people, you know, reaching out, even if doesn't seem like there’s a role at the company that might be a perfect fit for you.

I think you'd be surprised at how, how willing people are to help out. I think figuring out what you want is important, right? Personally, this is the first time in a while that I was kinda looking for a job from scratch. And so it forced me to figure out what I was prioritizing in terms of my role and what I would be doing on a day-to-day basis. That dictated the size of the company to some extent. For example, what values do you care about from a teammate's perspective or, or from a company perspective? I think narrowing down on those things helped me as I made a decision on what company to join.

It helped me get out of my own decision process. I think there are just a lot of resources in general about understanding the space. It felt overwhelming at first, it seems like there are a lot of different places. As I mentioned, I think joining a community, like Work on Climate, which I found super useful. There are a ton of podcasts out there, my favorite one is Volts by Dave Roberts, he talks a lot about electrification. I think those are a couple of things that I've found helpful in my search.

NATALIE: Definitely. It's so funny, a lot of the people we talk to say the same thing, it's like, there are so many resources that it's almost overwhelming. It's like, there's too much information. So yeah, finding a way to figure out what you want and really prioritize that and use that to navigate your search is definitely helpful.

So I'm sure a lot of people will relate to that. Devika, do you have any other questions that you wanted to touch on?

DEVIKA: I do not, but thank you so much, Michael, for sharing your experience, it's been such a pleasure working with you, and this is just the beginning of the relationship, not the end. So I'm super excited to see everything you do for Actual Systems, all the work that you put into the platform, and just seeing the company grow and excel.

There's so much exciting work to be done. So, um, amazing job, and congratulations again.

MICHAEL: Thank you. I’m happy to help out your efforts in whatever way! I definitely recognize that I hope will find my fulfillment working climate, but bringing more people on board is important as well. So, if I can help in any way, other than, this interview, I’m happy to help!

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