Sustainability Engineering: How I Made My Passion My Career

Sponsored by X, the moonshot factory

Xinyue Li

Photo courtesy of X, the moonshot factory.

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April 15, 2024 at 2:47AM UTC

Xinyue Li is on a mission to save the planet. As a power systems and machine learning engineer at X, the moonshot factory, she is part of a team trying to figure out how to use data to more quickly decarbonize the electricity industry. Generating electric power produces more than 25% of the world’s greenhouse gasses. Xinyue and her colleagues are working to reduce emissions by developing grid simulation and planning tools that will make it easier for grid operators and utilities to replace fossil fuels with clean and renewable energy.

Xinyue’s journey to cleaning up the grid has taken her all over the world. After earning her bachelor’s degree in control science and engineering in China, she continued her studies into sustainable development in Sweden, and then environmental science and engineering in the U.S.. Internships also took her to Stockholm and Washington DC before she settled in the Bay Area. 

“Feeling empowered to take the next step in my career, wherever that may lead, has always been important to me,” says Xinyue. “A big benefit of X is that I’ve been given opportunities to follow my own career path and try different disciplines. X really values people with diverse perspectives and backgrounds because it understands that diverse teams generate more creative ideas and are better at solving hard problems.”

Google's founders established X in 2010 to develop breakthrough technologies to solve huge problems that affect millions of people. X has developed self-driving cars, drone delivery systems, robots, and technology to improve ocean health and global supply chains.

‘Mission alignment’ to such bold endeavors is a huge reason why Xinyue stayed at X after completing an initial AI residency. She shares that having a manager passionate about X’s vision for the electric grid was also a big positive during her onboarding with X. “A shared vision helps achieve value alignment, guide project design and illuminate career development,” she explains.

We asked Xinyue what advice she has for engineers who are also drawn to a career in sustainability.

How a Support Network Can Accelerate Your Career.

“Growing as a software engineer isn’t something that happens overnight — or in a bubble. It’s incredibly helpful to have access to a support system and resources to help you on your way,” says Xinyue. She lists three key resources in particular as having been fundamental to her career development so far:

  1. Find a residency program. “Residency programs can be incredibly valuable in helping those who would like to apply their expertise to make meaningful progress against seemingly intractable problems in an experimental yet highly practical way,” says Xinyue. “X’s residency program is designed to encourage people from different disciplines to apply machine learning to their domains, in my case the energy industry. I learned a lot through the residency projects and took a full-time position on the team at the end of the program.”

  2. Seek out a mentor. Mentorship provides another excellent path for translating academic expertise into success in the workplace. “X has a mentor network where people can sign up for a mentor/mentee match,” says Xinyue. “There are also various groups hosting their own mentorship programs with more targeted audiences.”

  3. Apply for education reimbursement. Learning is a lifelong journey that helps you adapt to the fast changing world with new skills and perspectives. Xinyue recommends asking prospective employers whether they offer programs that support employees to keep learning and developing. “X offers education reimbursement to encourage employee investment in both professional and personal development. It’s a really attractive perk!” she says.

X offers a multitude of additional perks and benefits, from paid parental leave and healthcare coverage and 401(k) matching to the Women of X (WoX) employee resource group. Want to join Xinyue in growing your career at X? They’re hiring! Check out the following link to browse current job opportunities.

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