I started my second job, moving from the semiconductor manufacturing industry to the upstream oil and gas industry, in a time when the energy industry was booming. It is a cyclical industry with boom and bust cycles. There was a gap in the workforce due to the bust cycles in the 80s and 90s. And they were anticipating the big crew change: a large portion of the workforce was aging and were expected to be retiring soon, so they were hiring new engineers to be trained by the experienced engineers, and hopefully the new engineers would be able to capture some of their knowledge before retirement.
This was perfect for me for two reasons: I had lots of other engineers my same age and experience-level starting with me and my husband who would become our lifelong friends, and I got to learn from some brilliant and experienced engineers who had been through the ups and downs of the industry.
I started in a rotational program to get an introduction to petroleum engineering, similar to the one I had been in at the semiconductor plant. The program included three-month rotations through each of the six main petroleum engineering disciplines at our field office: drilling, completions, production, reservoir, facilities, and project engineering. This allowed me to meet people in each discipline and learn the basics of each job. It was especially helpful to my husband and I, because we didn’t have petroleum engineering degrees. To help us get further aquatinted with petroleum engineering our company sent us to a Petroleum Super School. It was an intensive three week training course designed for engineers from non-petroleum disciplines to learn the key principles of petroleum engineering.
Five months after we started our second jobs my husband and I got married. Leading up to the wedding we were driving two and half hours each way almost every weekend finalizing all the wedding details in my hometown. It was exhausting because we were busy during the week learning our new job, then we were busy all weekend too with traveling and wedding planning.
Our wedding day arrived and it was perfect in our own way. It rained on our wedding day, but I heard that’s good luck and it has been for us. We said our vows in a beautiful ceremony in front of our closest friends and family and celebrated with them afterwards.
After the wedding we were able to get settled in our new town and start making friends. We bought a house we loved. The only work it needed was in the yard. We spent an entire summer landscaping the yard – starting from dirt and weeds and transforming it to a green and inviting space. It was hard work, but very rewarding when we had a beautiful finished yard to relax in with friends. We saved a lot of money by doing all the work ourselves and we were proud to tell people we did all the work when they admired our yard.
We were living in a small town so there wasn’t much to do on the weekends. We often hosted game nights for our friends. I will always fondly remember our long nights playing Settlers of Catan, making coffee at midnight so we could keep playing for a few more hours – ah the small town DINK (duel-income no kids) life…
Our jobs were going great too. In our first year we got to spend a lot of time in the field hands-on seeing the rigs, visiting wellsites, witnessing various operations and getting to know the field workers. It was always slightly more awkward going to the field for me than for the guys. The field workers would straighten up and watch their language in front of me. It was nice that they were so respectful when I was around, but sometimes I felt like I was missing out on some of the bonding that happens when everyone can be themselves. But I wasn’t the only young female engineer in our office, and I think the field workers were more respectful to us because there were several female engineers coming out to site regularly, and we were all friendly, eager to learn and competent.
In my early years I realized that pretty much everyone I worked with had more knowledge through experience than I had from my four-year engineering degree, so I was eager to learn from everyone who was willing to teach me. The lease operators, rig supervisors, and plant operators I got to shadow in the field were some of the best teachers I had when I was learning petroleum engineering. They taught me things I didn’t and couldn’t learn in school – you have to experience some things first-hand. For example, I would spend a day driving around with a lease operator. We would stop and check on wells, check tank levels, launch a plunger, restart a pump, and add chemicals to a well. I got to witness operations and understand all the work that is required and why.
In addition to my time in the field, in each rotation I was assigned a mentor in the office and given a project to work on. The mentors helped familiarize me with how things worked in the office, they explained processes and procedures and reviewed my work. It was so valuable to me to have someone I was comfortable with to ask any questions about my job. It gave my a sense of security knowing they would answer my questions and check my work so I wouldn’t make any huge mistakes. At the end of each rotation I presented my completed project to the team I was working with.
I completed all the six rotation assignments in 18 months, and then I had to decide which of the disciplines I would like to specialize in for a longer term placement. The placement was based on both my preference and the company need for engineers in a certain discipline. I liked all the disciplines I rotated through, so I wasn’t sure which to choose. Around that time a very experienced plant engineer was getting ready to retire. Plant engineering was exactly what I was trained for with my chemical engineering degree (distillation, compression, pumps, and process simulation) so it was a perfect fit. I was ready to finally start contributing individually as an engineer for the first time, almost two years after graduation.
Did your first job have a good training program for new hires? Who were your best mentors?
Stay tuned for my next post on my two years as a plant engineer.