Commentary: Ten reasons I love my career in oil & gas

When I plan future topics, I try to alternate between commentaries (on people’s perception of the oil & gas industry, or regulation of its operations), and more personal observations based on what I’ve experienced so far in my career.  The commentaries are meant to share my thoughts with you to spur some discussion, and the personal observations are my attempt to help put a human face on an industry which broad swaths of the public views as threatening and anonymous.

Facts are one way to address that view, and you can quite easily find articles describing how the oil & gas industry benefits society, for instance by providing raw materials for all types of plastics, or creating thousands of jobs.  The problem with these articles, I find, is that they’re very high level and factual, almost clinical.  I’ll always advocate that numbers and facts have an obvious place in the discussion, but they don’t adequately convey how people can personally and directly benefit from working in and around the oil & gas industry.

Judging from the comments I’ve gotten in the past, a fair number of readers JUST…CAN…NOT believe that I can care about this business so much.  There’s just no possible way that I can write what I do seriously, with a clear conscience, without some industry bigwig or lobbyist dictating every word behind me while I type.

And yet…

The question I would pose to anyone strongly against oil & gas is:  “if you can be so passionately AGAINST it, how is it unacceptable or incomprehensible that someone can be equally FOR it?”

Everything I participate in, from work, to school, to this column, to “The Way Ahead”, to get-togethers with my friends and the conversations I have with my family, involves oil & gas.  From the moment I wake up, to the moment I go to sleep, I deal with the subject of oil & gas, and it’s been that way for nearly six years (and counting!).  It’s time consuming, it’s exhausting, but I love it.  It’s a part of my identity and my level of involvement is a choice I make consciously, by myself, and it’s one I’m proud of.

How can I possibly care so much about oil & gas?

For all the work my family and I have put into this industry, we’ve gotten a lot back.  In no particular order:

1. It allowed my father to have a successful career, work his way up the financial ladder…and lead to me being born!  My dad loves being in America (watching the NFL every weekend seems to be among the top reasons why).  He actually grew up in France, where he and his family were then quite poor.  Well, a lot of hard work lead him to employment in oil & gas, which lead him to meet my mother at a company called Flopetrol (hence the “me being born” part) and then his time at Schlumberger enabled him to buy a nice house, nice cars, put his three children through private schools and universities, and even semi-retire early.  Not bad for someone who grew up not even speaking English!

2. It allows me to live very comfortably.  You’ve heard that “good” jobs are hard to come by?  You’ve also heard that you can make a comfortable living in oil & gas?  Well, if you have the skills and are willing to work hard, that’s true!  Don’t take my word for it though:  check out the Rigzone statistics here, or the SPE salary survey results here .  I’ve put an enormous amount of work the past few years into building my skill set and qualifications, and I want to use those where I’m going to get the most return from that investment:  that’s oil & gas!

3. It’s helped me make some really great, new friends.  Through my work, my involvement with “The Way Ahead” and attending conferences and graduate school I’ve met numerous really fun, interesting people, some of whom have become great friends.  I’ve said it before and I’ll continue saying it:  if these people are representative of the next generation of leadership in oil & gas, this industry is in very, very good hands!

4. I can directly apply what I’ve learned in school.  How many times have you heard people say: “I studied subject X in school, and not once have I used it!”  That’s disappointing:  choosing to major in something should mean you’re interested in that subject.   If that’s the case, why wouldn’t you want to carry on that path and make a career out of it?  In fact, that’s exactly how I felt a few years back, and those sentiments are what got me to join this great field.

So, good news for all you engineers!  When you hire into this industry, you WILL be expected to contribute technically, and this industry is so broad that there’s always something new for you to do:  drilling, completions, reservoir engineering…you’ll never have a chance to say you didn’t apply what you studied!  You’ll be thrown in the deep end from day one, but based on the patents and papers my friends and I have already worked on, the rewards for assuming that responsibility are great.

5. I can pursue my education.  Education takes three things:  motivation, time, and (unfortunately in the US) money.  The first one is completely internal:  either you have it or…you don’t.  Time and money, though, aren’t plentiful just because you want them to be.  Thankfully, oil & gas companies have been doing well the last few years, and most organizations have some kind of tuition reimbursement plan available to qualified employees.

What about time?  Well, though you will have to make adjustments to your routine, working in the oil & gas industry will allow you time to study and attend classes.  Many operating companies have “9/80” work weeks, which give employees the freedom to take every other Friday off.  If you work for a service company, think of all the time you’ve spent waiting around for jobs to start.  Rather than spending that time sleeping or getting fat in the galley (guilty on both counts), you can study.

6. It has helped me see the world.  Everyone wants to travel and see new things, but how many of us have that opportunity?  At 29, I’ve had the amazing good fortune to visit 14 countries and I have no doubt there will be plenty more to see in the future!

7. It has helped me be more open minded.   Every company wants to pursue diversity, and rightly so:  everyone brings different experiences to the table, and it just makes the office a more interesting place to be!  Well, the oil & gas industry is INCREDIBLY diverse, due to there being rigs all around the world.

Growing up in several different countries, hiring into the oil & gas industry and continuing those travels into my adulthood  have helped me relate to all different types of people, and this has made me more open minded:  you realize quickly that the “American way” (or the “French way”, or “British way”…) of doing things isn’t the only way once you leave the country a few times!  Today, work teams are increasingly virtual, incorporating contributions from people all over the world.  Those who can adapt to this diversity will be the best positioned to succeed, and the oil & gas industry provides you with ample opportunities to hone that skill.

8. It has made me more thankful for what I have.  Even if there is a lot of hard work involved once I arrive at a destination, there’s no doubt that being in these places is really fun.  That’s obvious.  What’s not so obvious is how differently you feel and act after you’ve visited these places.  Take education.  That’s always a big point of discussion in ANY country.  Parents want what’s best for their kids, and to the extent that working hard to get a good job is still the surest path to success, they want to make sure that their children are getting the best education possible.  Here in America, the debate is “how much technology should schools use”, or “what’s the best methodology to engage kids”.  You’ve heard of the term “#firstworldproblems”?  Well, what if the schools weren’t even air conditioned?  What if electricity wasn’t guaranteed?  Football teams and theater programs?  Forget it.

I like to achieve goals and push myself forward; I get pleasure from that.   But every so often if I don’t feel things are going my way and I catch myself thinking negatively, I’ll think back to my time in places like Indonesia and Mexico, where citizens somehow make it (or, unfortunately, don’t make it) on a fraction of what I have, and who may never have the opportunities I’ve had to move past that.  I’m really lucky, and the oil & gas industry helped me gain that sense of perspective.

9. It has given me a sense of purpose and identity.  Everyone wants to feel like what they do is meaningful, and that their work has a purpose.  I get that sense of achievement from my involvement in oil & gas.  Sure, I don’t help individuals as do doctors or firefighters, but in a very small way, I contribute to the task of powering modern society, and I’m proud of that.

10. It set me up to be successful.  The big picture here is that growing up around, and then being in, the oil & gas industry set me up for success in all kinds of different ways:  being born into an environment that allowed me to learn another language (which is proven to improve cognitive abilities!), facilitating meeting other successful people, and providing me with work that leads to a comfortable living and a feeling of pride.  Most people want a career, not just a job, and today I can’t think of a better industry in which to make a career than oil & gas.

BONUS:  It helps me get involved in and contribute to the community.  I admit that, unfortunately, I don’t have as much time as I’d like right now to volunteer, but in the past I’ve helped out, through the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), with Junior Achievement, a program that helps high school students learn essential skills like cover letter and resume writing.  The industry and the SPE are also very involved in supporting organizations like (among others) the BP MS150, and the Beacon, which helps the poor and homeless.

For all these reasons, I can’t see myself doing anything else.

And you?