Seizing the Moment: How I Broke Into the Solar Industry

I currently work at SolarCity the top residential solar installer in the States.  I am happy with my job, because I work alongside some of the brightest and most talented people in the industry – I look forward to going to work every day.

It was no simple task to get to where I am at now. It took me three months and a lot of soul searching to make the career shift and get the job I wanted.  I was formally trained and worked as an architectural designer. I worked with one of the best design firms in the city and owned my own design studio for three years until the commissions dried up with the economy.  I began to get disillusioned with architecture and started looking for other opportunities.  I started working in the energy efficiency industry because I saw a shift happening in the market. Sustainability was an important aspect of my work so I had always paid attention to the cleantech economy. I observed the market growth in the solar industry and I was drawn to both the technical and conceptual nature of solar power.  The idea was poignant: take a high-tech product which converts light into energy, which requires little maintenance, reduces the dependence on fossil fuels, and saves it’s owners money. Sold.

I was fortunate to find out about the SolarTech Workforce Innovations Collaborative (SWIC) and was enrolled in a hands-on intensive Solar Technical Sales course taught by Stewart Wadsworth, a solar veteran and instructor. The course covered solar technology, design, site estimation, installation, sales proposal development and the art of closing the deal. By the fifth week of the two-month intensive course, I had already been through a phone interview and three in-person interviews with SolarCity. I felt confident about my performance as I spoke about my career as an architect, and about my drive to join the clean energy economy. I made sure to utilize industry terminology when I spoke to prove I had a grounded understanding of solar PV (pun intended). I emphasized that I wanted to work for the best company in the industry. Needless to say, I got the job. 

I knew that I could utilize my skills as a designer in the solar industry, but I needed the training and the connections to be a competitive candidate. SWIC provided that opportunity and connected me with a competent, encouraging career advisor who guided my job search and a true solar veteran instructor that prepared me for the interview process.  The program also connected me with a robust network of alumni through social media and networking events and, in fact, a SWIC alumnus referred me to my current job.

I absorbed all the technical knowledge I could during that course and took advantage of the network resources that SWIC offered. Three of my colleagues and I are proud to call ourselves SWIC alumni. We often share our experience with SWIC and the training course and we actively keep in contact with the staff and classmates.  The career switch was not easy, but I have found that I am not alone in this, in fact, I am in the best of company.

The moral of the story is this: When you are presented with an opportunity to train and make the connections that can change the course of your career, seize it. 


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Raised in Southern California, Abel graduated with a B.A and M.A. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, worked for a renowned architecture firm, and co-founded a design studio based in San Francisco. Abel currently works as a residential Solar PV designer for Solar City and lives in Oakland, CA.

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