My first engineering job in oil and gas was at a field office in the small town of Farmington, NM. My husband and I were a little nervous to move to a small town, but we found settling in surprisingly easy because our office was actively hiring lots of early career engineers as it was ramping up it’s workforce.
We ended up working with many young engineers (male and female) who we were able to form great bonds with. I remember that it rarely crossed my mind that I was a minority as a woman engineer when I worked there because there were so many other young women engineers in the office with me at the time.
One of the woman engineers I worked with was Jessica. She is a petroleum engineer and when I met her she was working as a completions engineer (she mentored my husband when he rotated though the completions team in our training). I remember being so impressed by her. Watching how she and the other women engineers did their jobs in the office and in the field with as much skill, intelligence, and confidence as the men gave me to the courage to do the same. She genuinely seemed like she loved her job, and that positive energy was so great to be around in the office.
Jessica, like me, is now a stay-at-home mom to her young son. Before she decided to stay at home she had an impressive career as a Petroleum Engineer, and I am so glad she gave me the chance to tell her story on the blog today. I hope you enjoy our interview below.
Engineering Emily (EE): How and when did you decide to become an engineer?
Jessica S. (JS): I wasn’t totally committed to the idea until after I had finished my freshman year of college and had my first internship! However, I started on an engineering path when I was in high school.
I was really leaning towards journalism or special education, but I had a lot of math and science credits in high school. UT- Austin had a summer engineering program, and my chemistry teacher (who I was extremely close to) had the opportunity to send a student to the program. She made a deal with me that she would talk to her friend who was a dean at NYU if I would go to the engineering camp. I thought what could be more dorky than an engineering camp for a week in the summer?? But I really wanted to get in to NYU, so I decided it was worth it…and there I found people like me who were good at math and science and thought like I did.
I also fell in love with Austin! So, engineering camp totally changed my life! I ended up choosing a new major at a new school!
EE:What was your college major?
JS: Petroleum Engineering
EE: What was your university experience like as an engineering student?
JS: The first year in petroleum engineering (PE), I was one of only 4 females in my class. I was planning on going the mechanical engineering route, but PE was offering good scholarships, and I figured that the first 2 years were basically the same across engineering, so I would take the money and then decide my specific path.
As time went on, I came to love PE, mostly because of my experiences during my internships. I worked through school to help pay for housing and books, which definitely added to the load. However, I felt extremely accomplished when I graduated having put myself through school.
There were definitely issues being a female in the engineering school though. By my second year, we had gotten several more girls who all came in to the program (scholarship money talks!!), but the assumption was always the girls could take notes in group projects, or were more there to be secretaries and “flash” for the presentations.
My professors usually didn’t treat us differently, it was more the peers. Over the course of several years, it changed, but it was because we were a small program and our peers learned that just because we were “girls in engineering”, we were still engineering students just like they were, and there for the technical, not just the flash and pretty.
EE: Did you do any engineering internships during college?
JS: I actually did 4! Because I was working during school, I decided to take 5 years to graduate, and so I had the chance to do 4 internships. I worked in Texas, New Mexico, Offshore GOM, and Kansas. These experiences were the reason I became an engineer. I don’t think I would have stuck through the hard classes and late night study sessions had I not had the real world experiences of being an engineer that these internships provided.
EE: How did you find/get hired for your first engineering job?
JS: My first full time engineering job was working for Schlumberger. I am pretty sure that I got the job because during their interview process (it was 2-3 days), I got dirty more than once.
They did a day of group observational interviewing where they have you work with other interview candidates, solve problems, and such, and then you do a field tour, before wrapping up with an individual formal interview.
When I was hired the interview team said that they knew I was SLB material when I came in all dressed up, but had no problem dropping down on the ground to get under the bridge project we were working on. They thought that I was a girl who didn’t mind getting her hands dirty to get the job done, which would fit in nicely with their team.
EE: What industry do you currently work in?
JS: I am currently a stay-at-home mom. I do some part time photography (a hobby that I can also use for extra income as I desire) and help my husband out by doing the office administration for one of our two small family owned businesses.
EE: What has been your career path from college graduation up to today?
JS: I started work at Schlumberger (SLB) in Texas for a while. I spent 3 months living in France with SLB working in the training center there, and then came back to Texas. After 2 years of working for SLB, I decided to leave the oilfield service industry and work for an operating company.
I took a job with ConocoPhillips (COP) in Farmington, NM. I worked as a completion engineer for 2 years. During the next 6 months, I, along with my supervisor and rig superintendents, started a pilot “engineer as rig supervisor” training program that allowed engineers in the completions department to work supervising rig crews and field operations that gave a more hands on experience.
I then moved over to the drilling department, and worked as a drilling engineer for 2 years. I spent the next 2 years in production engineering. After that time, I worked in a special projects group that focused on remedial rig work-overs (optimizing operations and specialized procedures) and plug and abandonment operations. During my time in this group, I got pregnant with my son. After my maternity leave ended, I opted to volunteer for layoff, as I had decided to be a stay-at-home mom.
I went back to work for 6 weeks to wrap up hand offs for any projects. My last position was my favorite, and I truly looked forward to going to work most days. However, being a stay-at-home mom was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, and I can honestly say I have loved it every day and wouldn’t have given it up!
EE: Have you travelled for work, and if so how often and to where?
JS: I have travelled for work. When I worked for SLB, there was a great deal of travel involved. I worked as part of a specialized logging team that travelled throughout the US to field locations, and also trained other engineers and field teams. After I went to work for COP, I travelled less, and was mostly for training or meetings at corporate offices. Farmington was fortunate that our field locations were very close to our office.
EE: Have you had to move for work?
JS: I moved temporarily for work for SLB (France). I never had to move for COP, but I had the opportunity to if I had wanted. I chose to not move, due to family constraints.
EE: What has been your best experience working as an engineer?
JS: Working on the specialized wells team (my last position with COP) was probably the best. I worked on complicated projects that utilized my experience in field and industry. I also worked on large-scale business planning projects, expense optimizations, and worked in contract negotiations to optimize our budget. I also loved being a rig supervisor – being able to have hands on experiences, and lead a team was pretty awesome!
EE: What has been your most challenging experience working as an engineer?
JS: The most challenging part of being an engineer was being female. When I started in oil & gas engineering in 2004, there were significantly less female presence on the technical side. So, you obviously had guys who had not worked with female engineers, and therefore, didn’t take me seriously.
There were times that people assumed that you were only there to meet a husband, or that you were there to be a technical secretary. I worked with several people who were from foreign countries, some of which generally did not allow women to work, or at least not in technical capacities, which obviously caused friction at times. But as a whole, the experiences I had helped me grow as an engineer and made me stronger and more capable.
EE: Do you feel women are treated equally to men in engineering?
JS: Not yet. It is much better than when I started but we still have a ways to go.
EE: What advice do you have for girls interested becoming an engineer?
JS: Do it! Develop tough skin – everyone will have an opinion about everything you do, but it doesn’t mean you have to get hurt by it! Take the good, learn from the constructive, and leave the bad. Learn to know when you are right and to stand your ground. Make friends with the females you work with – you never know when you will need a feminine supply or someone to vent to!
EE: Why did you leave engineering?
JS: I had my son almost 3 years ago, and decided to stay at home with him.
EE: Do you plan to return to engineering? If so, when? If not, why not?
JS: I don’t know. Since I left engineering, most of the engineering positions locally have relocated to Houston. Since we have small businesses locally, I am not mobile to relocate. I love being a mom at home with my son, and my photography, along with helping run our small businesses, allows me to “work” but on a schedule I can control.
EE: Would you still become an engineer if you could do it all over again?
JS: Yes – I loved it!
EE: Any other information or stories you’d like to share?
JS: I loved engineering! I love it still! Being an engineer is as much about how you are wired and what you do in certain situations, as it is about a job!
Thank you Jessica for sharing your inspiring work story with us! I loved the story about how Jessica attended the engineering camp before college as a bribe and then realized engineering was her calling. It’s one of those meant-to-be moments where life changes because of that one decision to attend the camp.
I also loved Jessica’s advice for girls interested in becoming an engineer. I couldn’t agree more with all of it! Tough skin, take the advice for what it’s worth (“take the good, learn from the constructive, and leave the bad”) and make friends with the women you work with. These are all keys to surviving and thriving as a woman engineer. 🙂
What did you think of Jessica’s story? She’s had a pretty awesome career, right? I hope her story has helped motivate your own engineering journey.
If you’d like to help inspire the next generation of girls to become engineers and also encourage our fellow working women engineers/Mamas out there by being a part of our Women in Engineering Interview Series, please contact me today to share your story on the blog!