Innovating for the Future You've Never Seen: Distributed Systems Architecture & the Grid

As climate action accelerates, the existing electrical grid plays a central role in decarbonizing our energy supply. We know that software can transform how we manage networks - now we need to take what we've learned, and apply it to managing the grid. Bringing software innovation to critical real-world infrastructure requires careful attention to reliability - moving quickly, without breaking things. How do we leverage experience with high reliability innovation in big tech, to transform our energy system and decarbonize the grid?

What is the focus of your work these days?

My company focuses on software for the electric grid. Our core mission is to bring our past experience and distributed systems technology into this new domain and help utilities use it to deliver more affordable, reliable, and sustainable power.

What's the motivation behind your talk?

There's a lot of folks in the tech world who are interested in figuring out how they can bring their work to bear on the problems that they care most about. I have colleagues who are choosing to work in government, who work in medtech, who work in climate tech. It's probably the most common question that I get from people that I know in the tech world: what are the options if I want to go help with something that I care about?

I appreciate the opportunity to chat with folks who are in the tech world and who have these really important skills and provide a little bit more insight into what the options look like if you want to choose a job that's mission aligned. What's out there, where those tech skills are really valuable, where are the opportunities to make a really big difference, etc. Those are the questions I get a lot of, and I'd love to share my perspective with the audience as we go through.

Is there anything specific you would like the audience to walk away with?

I think there are a few areas where technology and innovation in the big tech space have a ton to offer. For industries where the role of technology is evolving, there's an opportunity to bring in the more cutting-edge stuff that we developed in the big tech space and provide transformative change. Highlighting a few of those opportunities, and talking about what those have looked like for us, I'm hopeful that it can give others ideas about places where they might want to engage and bring those skills to bear.

I think in particular, the role of cloud computing and highly parallelized, highly scalable computing has a lot to offer in many disciplines, and we've certainly seen a lot of that with utilities. But it's still in the process of driving change across many industry verticals. And energy is one that really is lagging in technology adoption. As we're moving towards rapid decarbonization of our energy supply, this is something that's a real blocker for major change within the energy space and for decarbonization in general.

So a couple of things that we do, and I’d really love to share with folks as part of the conference, includes looking at what's the role of large-scale computing? What's the role of distributed computing, of modern data science, machine learning and deep learning approaches? And specifically helping to drive the transition of the grid to a decarbonized state and more generally helping to drive the energy transition, since we only have a little bit of time.


Is there a specific persona or level for your target audience?

I don’t think you need any particular background in order to engage in the sustainability and climate tech space. I'm coming from a background of having worked in a number of fairly transformative or large-scale computing spaces from my work at Google where I helped develop their SRE model and Google's large-scale distributed computing approach. But when I started doing that work, no one was an expert in distributed systems, and one of the things that my team and I helped to do was make that accessible to everyone. So, no, I don't think you need any particular technical background to get engaged in this work, nor to listen to my talk.  



Astrid Atkinson

CEO & co-founder @CamusEnergy, previously early leader in SRE @Google

Astrid is the CEO and co-founder of Camus Energy, a company dedicated to decarbonizing the grid using a software-centric approach and deep experience in distributed systems. She previously led software and systems teams at Google, where she was an early leader in the Site Reliability Engineering team, and went on to lead infrastructure teams in Cloud, Search, and Product Infrastructure. She was personally on-call for for five years, and is passionate about using her skills and privilege to combat climate change.

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Tuesday Oct 25 / 09:00AM PDT ( 1 hours )


Grand Ballroom