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Epic Sprints and…Comedy Gigs? The Experience of a Non-Tech Person in a Climate Tech Start-Up

When I joined Climate Policy Radar back at the start of December last year, I knew pretty much nothing about tech products, natural language processing, data science, product management, or the tech startup world in general. With a PhD on international climate negotiations at the UNFCCC, and some time in DG CLIMA of the European Commission, my background is mostly in academia, with a little in the public sector.

So, you can imagine how bizarre and confusing the following sentence sounded to me when said by our data scientist Kalyan in a stand-up meeting during my first week:

“OK, cool – so I’ll move the extraction epic in Github from the icebox to the sprint backlog – and you can view it in Zenhub as well, by the way”.


Was I to infer from this, that some kind of… historical screenplay about a covert ops rescue mission (?) will be moved, within a meeting place for irritating and irritable people (?), from either a drinks cooler or a place of punishment (?), to…a place to warm up before an athletics meet? And that you could watch all this happening from a meeting place for meditative Buddhists?!

And why are we discussing all of this in what it’s implied will be a comedy gig at 9:30am?

Joining CPR: a climate tech startup

I was a little daunted coming into CPR because of exactly this kind of confusion – the worry I would be out of my depth and not have any idea of what was going on.  I thought (and think!) the idea behind our mission is a fantastic one, and that what we go on to produce – a tool enabling easy access and interrogation of climate law and policy data – will be priceless. I was just concerned that, with no prior tech experience, I wouldn’t be able to make much of a contribution towards it.

Sprints screenshot

Yeah…your guess is as good as mine was, to be honest…

Fortunately for me, I have incredibly patient, responsive, and knowledgeable colleagues who are happy to indulge my simplistic questions and can walk me through a personalised version of Tech Development for Dummies whenever I get stuck – and I’ve been stuck *a lot*. But like any job, it’s not insurmountable – it’s a learning curve. Little by little, day by day, I’ve found myself more and more au fait with the once-alien language of tech design and development. Not to show off…but I now find myself casually referring to wireframes, questioning our parsing capability for PDFs, and asking questions about NLP models (I know, right?!).

If you’re thinking about joining a tech company but haven’t yet made the leap, I would encourage you to give it a go – especially if it’s contributing to something as beneficial for the world as improving decision-making in climate policy. Often these worthwhile companies are startups, designed to follow up on the great idea someone has had, but which are in their infancy as organisational entities, with small teams getting programmes and software off the ground.

Getting to grips with climate tech

I remain a relative novice in tech, and I still don’t think it’s something that comes especially naturally to me. Yet I’ve found it to be far more accessible than I realised, and in fact being part of a startup, and a small team in particular, has given me great access to people who know it well and who are a great learning resource. Above all, I have found the tech world a genuinely enjoyable space in which to work, providing a stimulating balance of topical interest and pragmatic sense of tangible achievement. 

After all, we’re working towards actually building a *thing*, that we’ll put out into the world and people will use, hopefully to do more great things. That is easily exciting enough a reason to get up in the morning, learn new concepts, ideas, and skills, and get stuck in – to move my own story from the icebox to the “in progress” stack, if you like!

Zenhub board

It all makes sense now!

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