Adam Palay (Class of 2021) knows a thing or two about making professional pivots. “After completing my AB and MS in English, and deciding to put a PhD on hold, I spent four months teaching myself how to code,” said Adam. He explained, “At the time, a lot of online learning platforms were launching – Coursera, edX, Udacity – and so I was able to learn to code from these new, high quality resources.” As it turned out, edX hired Adam and he spent the next five years in various engineering roles. Adam credits that “on-the-job experience” with teaching him most of what he knows about engineering. 

In the fall of 2019, Adam entered HBS in the MS/MBA: Engineering Sciences Program ready to test a career hypothesis. “I wanted to understand why we have climate change and what I can do to mitigate it,” Adam recalled. “What are the technical interventions that entrepreneurs and investors are thinking about, and what are the economics?” Without previous experience related to climate change or the environment, Adam was “a career-switcher coming in from scratch; I didn’t know the industry terminology or how the energy grid worked, let alone the organizations and roles I should target.”

Early in his internship search, Adam recalls being ambivalent about whether to seek out a role at an operating company or at an energy-focused venture capital firm. Thirsty for the information that would help him decide on a direction and build a strategy for his internship search, Adam attended numerous Career & Professional Development (CPD) industry education programs, company presentations and company conversation events. “Hearing what companies had to say about their business and their impact gave me a sense of what I could learn in an internship,” Adam explained. “Those observations helped me focus my internship interests and inform my search strategy.” For example, Adam realized that as a career switcher he risked not having the specific industry expertise that would allow him to truly have an impact as an intern at an operating company in the energy ecosystem. Ultimately, Adam concluded that “an internship in VC would offer a systems-level overview of the industry, which would be most helpful as a relative newcomer.” 

Adam also made a point to leverage resources at HBS outside of CPD’s career programs and in addition to company events. “Through the School’s Business & Environment Initiative, which runs a mentorship program connecting students with alumni, I was able to speak to alumni in venture and at technology start-ups that have an environmental impact,” said Adam. “Those conversations shed light on the different career paths in venture and cleantech, which proved valuable as I prepared to discuss my transferable skillset in interviews,” he said. When the time came to decide on offers, Adam again turned to these alumni for help understanding the reputation of different VC firms, “which can be hard to decipher on your own, especially as a career switcher.”

In mid-March, Adam accepted an offer to join Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) as a Portfolio Greenhouse Gas Impact Analysis Intern; BEV invests in entrepreneurs building companies that can have a significant impact on climate change at scale.

Reflecting on his successful effort to switch industry and function, Adam was struck by how his internship search had truly been a journey. “When I came to business school and this journey started, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, and that is completely okay,” he said. “I knew HBS would open a lot of doors, but I didn’t know just how many different doors there were out there; I’m glad I took the time to figure things out.”