Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity in the climatetech sector. Part 1 is a short Q&A with an industry role model about their career path. Part 2 features updates on career transitions. Please send feedback and tips to email@example.com.
Malini Balakrishnan: A tech leader working to revolutionize solar procurement
Malini Balakrishnan is chief technology officer at Anza Renewables. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.
How did you end up on this career path?
My background is in computer science engineering — I began my career coding. While I loved the high you get when the code you write finally works, I was always more interested in the impact coding could have on the people who use it. This led me to pursue an MBA in technology management and marketing.
That quest for impact is a thread that runs through my entire career. I have always wanted to be on the ground floor building things, so I was actually the first technology leader in most of the companies I’ve worked in. Now I am the founding CTO at Anza, which is very exciting and a logical evolution for me.
The most exciting aspect of working at Anza — apart from it being in the renewable energy sector, which aligns with my personal values — is how universal the product is. We are building a platform that is going to change the way solar is procured. We are aiming to address historical inefficiencies in procurement like outdated pricing and data, and the lack of analytical tools for making sound decisions.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
What’s right for your team is not always necessarily what is right for the organization. I got this piece of advice very early in my career, when I thought being a good leader meant passionately advocating for your team, whether for promotions or increased responsibilities. But you have to think of the context in which you operate and consider what the organization as a whole needs, reflecting on how doing right by your people impacts the broader company, which is a different lens.
What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve been fortunate to have jobs I’m passionate about, but my career has often led me through environments where few people look like me. Being an outsider, whether as the first tech leader on an executive team, the first woman [or] person of color, or as an outsider to the industry, means starting with a low trust balance.
That means you lack the immediate trust deposits that come from shared backgrounds or interests, like attending the same school or playing the same sport. I remember reading an article in Harvard Business Review that discussed three core drivers of trust: authenticity, where people trust you if they believe they’re interacting with your true self; logic, which involves faith in your competence and judgment; and empathy, the belief that you genuinely care about others.
So, to counter low trust balance, I focus on execution, solving problems and making things easier for stakeholders. Communication is also essential since I can’t rely on the unspoken understanding that comes from shared experiences. Collaborating and ensuring people are included in the process is also key.
What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech?
I’m admittedly biased, but I firmly believe the software area in our industry is underrepresented. At the RE+ conference last year, our industry’s flagship event with 1,300 booths, less than 5% focused on technology. So I think there is room for more technology. The next big evolution in this field will include a lot of new technology that is very exciting.
We’re looking for product managers and software engineers to join our mission of revolutionizing how the world does solar procurement. Many tech professionals think they need extensive knowledge in performance, cost and finance modeling specific to the solar industry, but there is a lot of room for those willing to acquire new skills while leveraging the ones they already have.
What is your superpower?
An ability to use easy-to-understand metaphors to demystify technology. In many roles I have held, I have had to explain the nuances of particular technologies to stakeholders, including investors and end users, who I want to buy in to the products but who need to understand what’s in it for them. So it is hugely important to be able to explain things in terms people can understand easily.
Tariye Gbadegesin will take on the role of CEO of the Climate Investment Funds effective March 2024. CIF is one of the world’s largest multilateral climate funds, with more than $11 billion pledged in over 70 developing countries. Previously, Gbadegesin served in leadership and consulting roles at ARM-Harith Infrastructure Investments, the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative, the International Monetary Fund, Boston Consulting Group and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Ellen Zuckerman has been promoted to head of energy regulatory and policy for the Americas at Google.
Amanda Halter, an expert on environmental law and policy and managing partner at law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman’s Houston office, has joined Erthos’ board of directors. The solar startup is commercializing a tracker-less mounting method where modules are installed directly on the ground.
Mona Dajani has joined Baker Botts, an energy, technology and life-sciences law firm, as a partner in its New York office. She will serve as global co-chair of energy infrastructure and hydrogen and co-chair of the firm’s energy sector practice. Dajani was previously at the law firm Shearman & Sterling.
Drilled, a global climate reporting network helmed by investigative journalist Amy Westervelt, has added several new team members, including senior editor Alleen Brown, previously a staff reporter at The Intercept; senior editor and writer Mary Annaïse Heglar, formerly co-host of the Hot Take podcast; and senior editor and reporter Molly Taft.
Check it out
Happy New Year! A lot happened in the world of clean energy in 2023. Canary Media writers took stock of it all to close out the year — get caught up with the top 10 Canary stories of the year and 10 charts that sum up clean energy’s progress. And if you want to see how well you remember 2023’s clean energy news, take our quiz! 2024 promises to be just as interesting — check out some of the reasons our writers are optimistic about the clean energy transition in the coming months.
Correction: This article originally provided an incorrect description of Tariye Gbadegesin’s upcoming role. We regret the error.
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