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Highlights of Our Conversations at ClimateAi Interview with Senior Data Scientist Diego Alfaro

Meredith Mejia • February 13th, 2024.

Conversations at ClimateAi - Diego Alfaro

In our latest “Conversations at ClimateAi” installment, we sit down with Diego Alfaro, a Senior Data Scientist, to learn more about his journey to shaping climate science through data and technology. From finance to academia, entrepreneurship, and now pioneering data-driven climate adaptation—Diego delivers a captivating narrative of personal evolution and dedication.

Diego takes the lead in crafting advanced machine learning algorithms that revolutionize yield forecasts, a cornerstone of sustainable agriculture. His work bolsters ClimateAi’s mission and exemplifies data science’s power in addressing global challenges.

At the core of his role, Diego shapes yield modeling processes and validates forecast accuracy across diverse timescales. He’s also driving a critical project to eliminate biases in forecasts, ensuring high-resolution, unbiased, and accurate data. It’s a quest for precision in climate adaptation.

Diego’s unique background meets his passion for making a tangible difference in the world, which resonates throughout his story.

His work has led to profound contributions at ClimateAi. The conversation is just beginning, and the future is bright with individuals like Diego shaping the landscape of climate technology.

Read on for more of our conversation with Diego.

Conversations at ClimateAi
Preparing for Impact: How Senior Data Scientist Diego Alfaro’s Diverse Background is Shaping the Future of Climate Technology & Sustainability

Welcome to the second installment of our “Conversations at ClimateAi” series. We’re thrilled to introduce Diego Alfaro, a Senior Data Scientist whose work at ClimateAi operates at the intersection of climate science and cutting-edge technology. With a remarkable academic background spanning applied mathematics and atmospheric sciences, Diego brings a wealth of expertise and passion to our mission.

At the core of his role, Diego focuses on three critical areas. He spearheads the development of advanced machine learning algorithms to enhance yield forecasts—a pivotal element in supporting sustainable agricultural practices. He also leads the forecast validation efforts, rigorously assessing the accuracy and reliability of our forecasts across different timescales. Last but not least, Diego is at the helm of a crucial project dedicated to debiasing our forecasts, ensuring that our models provide high-resolution, unbiased, and accurate data.

The fusion of Diego’s academic journey, which has nurtured his deep understanding of climate dynamics, with the precision of data science is what sets him apart. His commitment extends beyond professional responsibility; it resonates deeply with ClimateAi’s core mission. The driving force behind Diego’s work is the desire to apply data science as a force for climate adaptation. It’s not just about cutting-edge technology; it’s about making a tangible impact on global sustainability challenges.

Let’s delve into Diego’s journey, contributions to ClimateAi, and vision for a climate-resilient future.

Q1. Hi Diego. You have a fascinating background. Can you tell us about your journey and how you came to join ClimateAi? What attracted you to the company?

Diego: The experiences that led me to ClimateAi have been diverse. Initially, I pursued a degree in applied mathematics and worked in finance at BBVA, a large bank in Mexico. However, the Great Recession financial crisis prompted me to rethink the type of impact I would aspire to have through my work.

During that time, I came across an article by the New Economics Foundation, a British think tank, which shifted my interest towards the intersection of economics and climate science. The article really inspired me to explore ways I could be a bridge between the two, as they are inextricably linked and our future depends on the balance. It further motivated me to pursue a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences at Stony Brook University in New York.

After completing my Ph.D., I held a tenured position at Mexico’s UNAM, where I worked as a researcher and professor focused on the dynamics of severe thunderstorms. After leaving my position at UNAM, I ventured into mushroom farming – something that had fascinated me – and then attempted my own startup project related to sustainability goals and yield modeling.

Interestingly, I discovered ClimateAi during my entrepreneurial phase, as the company was involved in similar work related to using climate technology to support risk management in the agriculture sector. What attracted me to ClimateAi was its mission of using technology for food security and climate resilience, areas I’m deeply passionate about.

When I saw a data scientist position open at ClimateAi, I viewed it as an opportunity to apply my diverse background and skills, as well as learn from a team that shared my vision. This alignment of goals and the opportunity to apply my skills in a meaningful way were decisive factors in my decision to join the team.

Q2. What do you find most inspiring about ClimateAi’s mission and the work you’re involved in?

Diego: I transitioned from academia partly because I wanted to be more directly involved in solving real-life problems. In particular, I was drawn by the possibility of finding practical and impactful applications for cutting-edge scientific and technological developments in climate and AI. Joining ClimateAi has allowed me to pursue this goal by addressing climate risk through insights for adaptation, a critical area that often receives less attention than mitigation. Previously confined to scientific journals or governmental agencies, our work now pioneers tailored solutions for various sectors vulnerable to climate risks, which is truly motivating and inspiring.

Q3. Could you share a specific project or accomplishment at ClimateAi that you’re particularly proud of and why?

Diego: Absolutely; the yield outlook product is something I’m immensely proud of. I pitched this idea when I first joined ClimateAi, envisioning a way to leverage our technology to accurately predict crop yields. Developing this product was a journey of overcoming challenges, from conceptualization to stakeholder buy-in to finally seeing it become a key scientific and product development focus. The success of the project was also helped through collaboration across teams – product managers, data and software engineers, and people in sales and business development – and oversight of the Junior Data Scientist who saw it through to fruition. It’s rewarding to see an idea I conceived transform into a tool that enhances our understanding of yield variability and aids global producers. This project demonstrates some of the innovation, team spirit, and impact ClimateAi aims for in agriculture and climate adaptation.

Ultimately, our customers now have access to models that are validated and calibrated based on observed yields, which are used to forecast yields for the next season and to project productivity scenarios for the coming decades. What excites me the most about this product is the tangible impact on understanding and adapting to yield variability across major agricultural regions, strengthening our food security.

Q4. ClimateAi emphasizes its commitment to sustainability and addressing climate change. How does that align with your personal values and aspirations?

Diego: To me, meaningfulness is key, and more often than not, what I find meaningful aligns with minimal environmental impacts. I find fulfillment in having an impactful job that contributes positively to our world. My lifestyle is rooted in minimal consumption, and I place a high value on sustainable choices. This includes living lean, prioritizing relationships, and actively engaging with my community. ClimateAi’s dedication to sustainability resonates with this ethos. This shared focus on making a significant, positive impact on the environment and society through innovative solutions and a sustainable lifestyle drives my passion for our work at ClimateAi.

Q5. Diego, as the only team member in the southern hemisphere, how does this impact your work and engagement with ClimateAi’s culture?

Diego: Being the only ClimateAi member in the Southern Hemisphere, specifically in Argentina, has its unique aspects, but the company’s culture of collaboration and inclusivity makes it a positive experience, and that extends into the remote work environment. I have been impressed by the degree to which people are open to helping others without the internal competition that sometimes arises in some other businesses.

I frequently visit the Mexico office, which is coincidentally located in my family’s hometown. These visits enhance my feeling of being part of a global family, despite the physical distance.

Participation in ClimateAi’s Garages also significantly influences my work experience. A Garage is a team getting together in a place to tackle a specific problem where meeting in person would significantly improve productivity and potentiate collaborative creative thinking​​. These face-to-face gatherings for focused work sessions foster innovation and build unity and shared goals, illustrating how ClimateAi leverages geographical differences to strengthen our global team.

Q6. What other values or principles at ClimateAi contribute to a positive and inclusive work environment?

Diego: The core values that foster our positive and inclusive environment are inclusivity, respect, trust, transparency, and “Teaming to Win.” We emphasize inclusivity, making everyone feel part of the team, which is crucial. Respect is about listening and learning from each other, creating a space where every voice is valued.

Trust is fundamental for working across teams and avoiding a micromanaged environment, while transparency is about making all types of information and decisions visible throughout the company. Lastly, the value of ‘teaming to win’ reflects our strong collaborative spirit. It’s not just about working together; it’s about winning together. These values – inclusivity, respect, trust, transparency, and collaboration – are what we’re reminded of and what truly defines our culture.

Q7. In your opinion, what sets ClimateAi apart from other organizations in climate technology and environmental solutions?

Diego: For me, a couple of things about ClimateAi stand out. Firstly, we’re unique in providing forecasts and risk assessments based on meteorological factors across a range of timescales. This includes short-term forecasts a few days into the future, extending to weekly insights for up to six weeks and monthly insights for up to six months. We even provide long-term climate projections decades into the future. This multi-timescale comprehensive solution helps businesses prepare for potential risks and make sustainable investment decisions.

Secondly, our focus and specificity in coupling meteorological and climate data with agronomic insights set us apart. While ClimateAi is not solely devoted to agriculture, our approach to solving problems in this sector is distinct. We don’t just identify general risks like heat or drought; we analyze these risks specific to each crop across the timescales we cover. This level of detail and industry focus, especially in agriculture, differentiates us from others, encompassing different emissions scenarios decades into the future.

Q8. Can you describe any professional growth and development opportunities that ClimateAi has provided you during your tenure?

Diego: Yes, of course. When I joined ClimateAi, I started as a Data Scientist II. I’ve progressed to a Senior Data Scientist in just a year. This growth, for me, is most notable in how it happened and how the team enabled me to provide my own proposals, and share my own voice, insights, and thoughts, even in my initial role. My progression involved showing proactiveness and, in a way, leadership in proposing and executing ideas. I’m especially grateful to my manager, Dave Farnham, whose continuous acknowledgment and support were key to this progression at every step.

Now, I have my own core development team within Data Science. ClimateAi has allowed me to propose ideas and entrusted me with more responsibilities as I delivered on these proposals and implemented solutions that the company needed. There have been several growth opportunities throughout my time here, which is significant in a startup environment. I feel like a seasoned veteran of the team now, and it’s been a remarkable journey of professional development.

Q9. How do you see your role and the company’s work contributing to a more sustainable and climate-friendly future?

Diego: Addressing one of the main challenges we face with climate change involves understanding climate oscillations and trends, which are now manifesting through a clear increase in global temperatures. In my role, we provide insights to prepare for these changes. ClimateAi is pioneering in creating these insights, allowing people and businesses to plan for potential risks. We’re not just predicting a single end-point state; we’re providing a range of possible future scenarios with their respective likelihood levels, helping formulate comprehensive strategies for adaptation and resilience. This approach is crucial for contributing to a more sustainable and climate-friendly future, as it enables effective planning and response to the evolving climate landscape.

Q10. What advice would you give someone considering joining ClimateAi or pursuing a career in climate technology?

Diego: My advice is not to lose sight of the fact that the climate risk insights industry requires all types of professional profiles, not just specialists in software engineering, climate science, or data analytics. More than your specific skill set, it’s about the ability to connect your line of work to this field.

I recommend getting involved and becoming immersed in all the information on climate technology, climate services, and climate change. So, you don’t need to be a data scientist to contribute. It’s a huge field with room for various talents and perspectives. Everyone can find a way to connect their expertise to this vital industry.

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Thanks to Diego for sharing his story with all of us.

Stay tuned for more inspiring conversations with the incredible individuals shaping the future of climate technology at ClimateAi. Next time, we’ll chat with Business Operation Manager Ariel Avgi for her perspectives on life at ClimateAi. We look forward to sharing more stories of passion, dedication, and innovation in future articles.

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