Employee Spotlight: Melissa Sheehan

Melissa Sheehan

This week, we sat down with Melissa Sheehan, a Senior Software Engineer at Banyan Infrastructure. Purpose-driven and deeply passionate about sustainability, Melissa shares how her diverse experiences helped her discover a way to align these values with a fulfilling career she plans to dedicate to solving impactful problems within the climate tech industry. In sharing her story, she reveals what drives her passion for saving our beautiful planet, the local, sustainable advocacy she’s involved in, and why you might find more than just a few cats in her backyard.

Please share your background and what led you to Banyan Infrastructure.

These days, I describe myself as a purpose-driven person, and I am always reminding myself to actively live with conscious intention. For a while, I positioned myself to pursue a career in bioinformatics. While I found this field conceptually interesting, I wasn't very passionate about the topic. 

With each software engineering role I've held, I've better honed in on what I find most fulfilling. Most notably, I spent several years at a startup creating accessible financial products for underserved communities in emerging markets like India and Kenya. My day-to-day work focused on solving problems to financially empower folks in countries much different than my own. As I developed empathy for customers with these backgrounds, I grew more conscious, compassionate, and then quite profoundly concerned about the current state of our planet. 

My concerns quickly escalated into an anxiety-fueled attempt to recycle my way toward saving the planet (spoiler: that can’t be done). As I doomscrolled my way into understanding the gravity of our climate crisis, I knew that I needed to do more for a cause I cared so much about. A pivotal moment for me was when I came across a non-profit named 80,000 Hours and their eponymous book. They argue that your career choice determines how you’ll spend roughly 80,000 hours working throughout your lifetime, and it is thus the most impactful ethical decision you’ll make.

Their research was my first source of confidence that working on climate change isn’t limited to a few niche professions—in fact, engineers, in particular, are in high demand! Instead of settling for the role of a vigilant consumer voting for change with her dollar, I could spend my time, energy, and skills on things of significantly higher value.

Many more learnings followed, often within educational and supportive communities like Terra.do and Climate Draft, whose missions are to help individuals join the vast and booming climate tech industry. By the time I was officially job hunting, I knew this was exactly where I wanted to be.

Once this goal was defined, I was determined to achieve it. At an open house, I visited on a whim, I struck up a conversation with the realtor there. When I shared my desire to pivot into climate tech, she introduced me to someone already in the field. That person then shared my profile online, where our recruiter at Banyan Infrastructure spotted it. I never anticipated that that initial conversation could have such a significant outcome, but I think my story is a perfect and amusing anecdote on the power of networking and manifestation!

Why did you work at Banyan Infrastructure, and what do you hope to accomplish? 

What solidified my decision to join Banyan Infrastructure was witnessing how genuine the people here are about the company's mission. We consistently show up to events, host them ourselves, share knowledge through webinars, and lead conversations in this space. It's incredibly motivating to find an organization so focused on saving the planet and well-positioned to make a meaningful impact.

Banyan Infrastructure’s mission aligns with my own personal commitment to creating a more sustainable planet. As a software engineer, I aim to play my part in modernizing the project finance industry. Beyond my role, I hope to inspire others to embrace the 80,000 Hours ethos I mentioned earlier. Of course, folks here already resonate with that concept, but I strive to serve as a role model, in general, to recruit others not yet in climate tech to join initiatives that align with their own values and passions.

I’d also personally be really psyched to help build Banyan Infrastructure into a platform that can serve the waste and recycling industry!

What do you like to do in your free time?

I live in Oakland, but since I now commute to Banyan’s office in San Francisco, I've had the opportunity to join a coalition called ReusableSF. As a collective of individuals and businesses dedicated to accelerating the transition to a circular economy, we advocate for San Francisco’s shift from single-use disposable foodware to reusable alternatives. An abundance of research shows that reusable foodware offers a triple win: it’s cost-effective for our local economy, promotes consumer health, and reduces plastic litter and pollution in our environment.

Hearing such a compelling case for a relatively straightforward solution convinced me that alongside my full-time work on Banyan’s macro-focused vision, I could make the time to volunteer for this local initiative.

At home in Oakland, it brings me great joy to help stabilize the feral cat population here! This hobby began after I moved into a home with a resident feral cat colony. Once “kitten season” arrived and I witnessed firsthand the heartbreaking fate of feral kittens destined for often challenging and perilous lives, I learned how to help. I began fostering/socializing kittens and, most crucially, participating in a strategy called TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) to prevent further rapid breeding. I’m proud to report that the feral colony in my backyard is no longer at risk of rapid population growth, and many of the kittens born there have found loving homes among my family and friends.