It is my distinct pleasure to introduce today’s engineer, Laura! She is the Engineering Manager for the project we are working on and one of my role models! She is smart, level headed, and always full of smiles and good advice. I couldn’t ask for a better person to look up to! She is one of Ryan and I’s favorite people and I really think you will enjoy hearing her story!
My dear friend, Erin, asked me to write something for her blog to inspire girls to become engineers… And I thought, hmm, what would be the best way to do that, other than just telling others what made me one? And also, giving a little flavor of all my adventures during my professional career? However, before I start telling you more about myself, I wanted to mention something I consider critical: choosing your career is one of the most important decisions you will make so you will want to make a good choice. The only trouble is that you may not fully understand what it means when you decide what direction you want to go. You will probably wonder – What is a Process Engineer (my actual degree)?; what is a mathematician? What do lawyers really do? What does a person actually do when they graduate with their specific degree? The bad news is, you probably won’t understand it until a few years into your professional career or luckily, during your final college years. However, the most important thing is to follow your instincts to find “your element”: that thing that you love doing; that thing you can get so immersed in it, that time at work just flies by; that thing that you can never get enough of. Remember that even if you love it, it will still likely take a lot of time and effort, but that is also true of any good thing in life that you want to be successful at, right?!
Now onto my story….this is how it goes: I really liked the sciences during high school and I was really good with math, chemistry, etc. Also, my home country of Venezuela, the Oil & Gas Industry is a big part of the economy (and also where the best salaries were). So, the combination of my math/science skills and the prospects within the oil & gas industry made it a no brainer for me to become a Chemical Engineer. However, it wasn’t until the middle of my internship at the Complejo de Refinación Paraguana (Venezuela’s biggest Refinery Complex) when I really understood what my career was about and some aspects of what I would be doing in the future. I was fascinated by such a huge facility able to produce oil and multiple other products by physical, chemical, and mechanical separation processes. The final years of my career took a whole other meaning after that experience because I saw the practical applications of everything I had been learning in school. One of my favorite parts about being a Chemical Engineer is that we are really versatile and, by knowing the actual “process” (translation: that mysterious word that just means what happens with the stuff coming from the ground when it gets inside the refinery), we become very handy in multiple other fields which means we can have a really broad range of experiences.
Then, about a year after I graduated from college, I started working for ExxonMobil in Venezuela at the Operadora Cerro Negro, Heavy Crude Oil Upgrader (very similar to a refinery). That was quite something: countless hours of hard work learning the units I was in charge of by heart… Learning from the Operations crew, the older engineers…Everyday there were new things to learn! This steep learning curve actually happens with anything you do, I think…the beginnings are always hard but, at the same time fascinating. One thing about being a female engineer in the oil industry is that, although nowadays there are a lot more women dedicated to this field, I can say that is still a male dominated one. But that does not have to be a bad thing! It depends always on how you approach it. Female engineers can add a lot of value with a different perspective than men and so the collaboration between men and women usually brings about better outcomes. I can say as a female engineer, I am taken seriously by my male colleagues and we always work together to find the right answer! And, I have made some truly wonderful friends that are also female engineers!
The last part of my career, I have spent it working on a fantastic project for ExxonMobil Development Company (Arkutun-Dagi Platform). It is the heaviest Topsides ever built going to an arctic-type environment. Everything was different for me: country, language, specialty (offshore vs onshore), operating conditions (remember I was coming from the Tropics and now I was designing an Arctic style platform!!). During 7 years, I have seen it all…all types of challenges and a tremendous team effort to bring something from design on paper into a reality. I also had the opportunity to work in a Korean Fabrication yard which, engineer or not, is a mind blowing experience! All that besides meeting awesome people to work with like the Kendrick’s.
One of the cool parts about traveling to Korea (besides the amazing experience of working in a shipyard on a huge project) is that I was able to see some of the sights around Asia…I went hiking with my team and experienced the beauty that Korea had to offer and also got to hike the Great Wall in China with my husband’s MBA class on my way for one of my trips to Korea. Having the opportunity to see more of the world is something I really enjoy!
In summary I can tell you, if you want a profession where you are ALWAYS learning (I can still say that after almost 15 years), and if you are driven by challenge….if you like to build, create, innovate, then go for it and become an engineer! Remember that an engineer can work in nearly any industry, not just oil and gas; food processing, construction, cosmetics, plastics, commodities…the opportunities are endless! My biggest advice is to never forget to follow your instincts and don’t settle for just “a” career – challenge yourself and find your “element”!