Ten Years On

This coming week marks ten years since I started my professional career. I’m writing this to recap what I’ve done and what I’ve learned. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting and useful.

Starting Out

In 2009, I started out as a Graduate Engineer in Oil & Gas supporting riser engineering teams for a company called MCS (now part of Wood Group), based in Galway Ireland. After a three month training period, I relocated to the Paris office to work on riser engineering design and analysis projects, mainly for new developments offshore West Africa. The main clients I worked for were Saipem (Tier One Engineering, Construction and Installation contract) and TOTAL (an oil supermajor).

For the next two years, I learned to analyze and design subsea riser systems using Finite Element Analysis (FEA). This meant I developed skills such as structural engineering, naval architecture, oceanography, automation, data processing and reporting.

In parallel, I settled into the French culture and lifestyle. I think it takes around two years to really settle in a new country.

Image: www.ogegraphics.com

Aberdeen Secondment & Riser Design from Scratch

In spring 2011, I was assigned to assist a team of engineers in Aberdeen, Scotland who were assigned to work on the Maersk Gryphon Area Recovery project (GARP).

This period exposed me to other aspects of subsea engineering and deepened my skills in riser engineering and FEA. Returning to Paris after three months in Aberdeen, I continued to support the project remotely. Soon after, I was assigned to work on some new projects. I also reached Project Engineer level and started to lead projects. Before, I usually worked under the guidance of a senior engineering manager.

I was lucky to be involved in a deep-water project offshore Brazil for Saipem and Petrobras - Saphinoa aka Pre-Salts. I worked on designing the Free-Standing Hybrid Riser (FSHR) system.

Netherlands Secondment & Installation Engineering

In January 2012, I was seconded to Leiden, the Netherlands, where I acted as a Specialist Engineer for an EPCI contractor - Heerema. Mainly, I worked on analysis for pipelay equipment for their new build pipelay and heavy lift vessel - DCV Aegir. Other duties included supporting tenders by performing high-level analysis to assess the viability of projects. This period allowed me to learn a new sector of subsea engineering and to work face-to-face with clients.

Upon returning to Paris, I continued to work with Heerema and support their pipelay engineering teams. This experience improved my project management skills. I also learned how to lead projects from afar. Based on this experience with Heerema, Wood Group and Heerema offered me the responsibility to work on the first pipelay project by the Aegir. This project was based in the Gulf of Mexico, for the operator Anadarko.

As the workload increased, I started to require more support to meet demands. I was assigned some graduate engineers to support the mission. The main duties I had were management of people, monitoring and contributing to deliverables, reporting and liaising with the client.

Image: https://hmc.heerema.com

Managing People

After successfully delivering that project, the team I managed was assigned the same client but for the Aegir’s second project, Ichthys, for the Operator Inpex. The team expanded as more deliverables were assigned to us. During this period, I learned that people management was something I needed to work on. Looking back, I should have been more empathetic and more patient with the junior members of the team. At the time, I felt under pressure due to short deadlines and this caused me to be more demanding and less considerate of their needs as inexperienced graduates.

I expanded my skill set by learning more about the installation operations - we were defining methodologies and analyzing operations to ensure the integrity of the pipeline and structures would not be compromised in the weather conditions forecast.

As a result, I was promoted to Senior Engineer and continued to support Heerema on small scopes - mainly within a dual role of engineer and project manager. I also got the chance to co-author a paper that was published at the OMAE 2013 conference in Nantes, France.

Image: Heerema Group

Business Development, Technology & Intrapreneurship

Around this period (2014-2015), I started to become more interested in engineering software tool development and enhanced my skills in Excel spreadsheet automation. Looking back on this, I perhaps should have put more emphasis on using Python - which is what I primarily use nowadays. This is because VBA sufficed due to most deliverables being in Excel.

I also became interested in technology developments and was assigned technology representative for the installation sector within Wood Group. Moreover, there appeared to be a downturn in work for the industry due to the oil price crash. This exposed me to business development opportunities where I was responsible for developing a new business stream - installation analysis.

Moreover, I had been playing with the idea of building a mobile app - a tool for engineers to perform calculations that we would build in-house. I was successful in obtaining a small budget from an R&D programme to finance the project- an app for recording safety observations. After some dormant time for the project due to other responsibilities, I embarked on my first project under my Intrapreneur hat. I had to find the right resources (no one in my local office could code).

After some searching and many calls - I built a fully remote team. The lead developer was based in Brisbane, Australia. He coded the app. We had to work with the Health and Safety team in London, marketing in Aberdeen and Houston for Corporate IT support. After a few short weeks, we had a neat app called SAFE - which worked on iOS and Android and synced with a desktop app (which was already operational). This was a great experience for me and got my motivation going to build more digital tools.

Image: Wood Group

Entrepreneurship and My First Startup

In July 2016, I left Wood Group to found Computation Hub. The main mission revoled around modern digital tools for engineers. First, my co-founder and I started to offer browser based engineering tools and sell them to Oil & Gas companies for a monthly fee aka Software-as-a-Service. After some discussions with prospects, it was clear this would not work for several reasons - that I won’t go into right now. But, today the focus is toward digitalization and digital transformation for Oil & Gas companies in-house under service contracts that I manage. Primarily, we are merging domain experts within subsea engineering and field design activities with software engineering, something I’m proud to do.

At the moment, my feeling is that scaling the operation is quite difficult for two reasons. First, competition is hard. I’ve sub-divided it into two categories - one being external competition such as BCG, Accenture and Capgemini, who can sign attractive Master Service Agreements with Oil & Gas companies. Moreover, competition exists inside of the clients I’m targeting - in the form of internal startups and some department’s resistance to change.

Second, finding experienced software engineers with 3-5 years experience is very difficult. This is because venture-funded startups and Big Tech companies can offer attractive employment packages.

Thoughts

I’ve definitely learned a lot of skills from diverse experiences. I feel that project management and interacting with people are critical to adding value for clients and delivering projects with quality, under budget and on time. I also got to work with people from all around the world - French, Dutch, Italian, Norweigian, Tunisian, Chinese, Indian, Nigerian, Scottish, Irish, English, Mexican, Polish, Greece, American and many more. I also got to travel to Houston, Oslo, Fano, Aberdeen, Leiden and Rotterdam for work.

Those skills I learned in my engineering career have helped with my entrepreneurship venture such as project management and my technical expertise. I also learned about the Lean Startup method. It saved me from spending tons of money on developing a software tool (at Computation Hub) to discover nobody would use it.

Nowadays, I don’t do any traditional subsea engineering. I mostly focus on developing the business but do have time for programming in Python (via Django) and Javascript. I did do some Machine Learning and Data Visualisation last year but that focus tailored off in the second half of 2018. Hopefully, I can find time for some unfinished projects too.

What’s the most important thing you have learned in your career?

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