I was born in Houston, however, I consider myself someone who "grew up" in Connecticut after moving there when I was 8. After high school I graduated from Texas A&M with a bachelor's in Marketing, then I went to France to pursue a Masters. When I returned to Houston and began looking for a job it was extremely difficult. After months of not receiving any feedback or responses from the countless resumes I submitted into the void I finally visited a staffing company which brought me to my first role in my career at Noble Drilling.
My first hitch in the shipyard working on the Noble Lorris Bouziguard
This was my first experience in the oil and gas industry: an offshore rig contractor. A company that would drill holes into the surface of the ocean thousands of feet below the surface of the water using floating rigs (what?!). I had no concept of energy, the benefits, and positive contributions hydrocarbons had in my life, the amount of capital it took to keep one of the Mobile Offshore Drilling Units (MODUs) operating much less the process of extracting the oil and refining it. But I knew I wanted to work, plus the first few months I was there it was a great atmosphere. I met some great lifelong friends, mentors, and some characters I would never forget. I was doing HR temp work, something I knew very little to nothing about, but I caught on and worked hard, eventually landing me a full-time job in “HSE”. Letters I didn’t even know what they stood for at the time. However, through great mentorship and eagerness to perform well, I quickly began to understand the business.
But what I didn’t understand and couldn’t do at the time was two things: I didn’t know anything about operations, also I was nervous to speak to someone on the rig. Why was I nervous? Because I didn’t feel like I knew enough about anything to speak competently on operations, NOR did I have the confidence and banter to bullshit with the great folks on their floating home/office for half the year. Several of my buddies were in an Operations Management Development Program (OMDP)where they would work 2 weeks offshore, 1 week in the office, and have a week off. This was not the career path I wanted I thought, after all, I graduated in Marketing and got a Masters in European Business (like an MBA with a European focus). I wanted to do something “marketing-y”, I wanted to be a part of the marketing group that wore suits and would negotiate contracts, move the needle of the company, lock in day rates, etc. It sounded absolutely fascinating and the place and path I wanted to take.
So after approaching the Marketing Department and expressing my career path desires, a plan was laid out for me to join their group….BUT there was a catch: I had to actually know what I was talking about. Sure I’ve visited rigs during my HSE role, but when it came to operations or even what equipment was called offshore I was a green hat. I wanted the easiest path to Marketing, one where I didn’t have to be pulling slips or pipe back in the derrick. It was a different world, and quite frankly, I was scared. It was fear-based of not knowing the rigs, the crews, the operations that made my decision one I had to push myself to make. So I decided to join the program I didn’t initially want to do (nor see myself in), the OMDP program.
Looking back, it was one of the best career decisions I made, and this is why. It provided me with 2 tangible skill sets and 2 intangible ones.
The first thing I learned was what in fact a monkey board was. Why was this a big deal to me? For years I would read those books about the working of a rig. From the top drive/kelly rigs to the BOP system, to the pumps, etc. Yes, I knew what the equipment was, I was reading morning reports since I began my HSE role. But I never could connect what it actually was. Nippling up the BOP, JSA’s, man riding permits and moon pool were all terms I knew, but the actual application I was clueless about. Now that I was actually on a rig, part of the crew, I was able to see firsthand what these pieces of equipment were and the processes behind offshore operations. I was able to see how they all tied together and how everything was part of the process of drilling and completing an offshore well. I felt more comfortable in operational-related conversations, I was able to understand more of the morning reports and begin to comprehend what part of the process the rig was in on the well. I was able to understand more about our industry, and engage in conversations around the table I was silent at previously.
The second thing I learned was that I wasn’t fearful to call out to the rig when I was onshore. Before I was just a corporate guy calling them, not knowing what I was talking about, and asking questions to get info that was way out of my league. On the flip side, they could have told me they were waiting on Chocolate Fruity Pebbles before they pressure test the lampshade and I would have responded “ok, sounds good, stay safe!” But after working with a great group of people out there and establishing a rapport with them, I now knew that Chocolate Fruity Pebbles and pressure-testing lampshades were a bunch of bullshit. It gave me the ability to have a dialogue and banter with the people that make it happen.
The first intangible skill, whether we like it or not, was the “stripes” I earned. In any industry, and especially ours, people want to see actual experience and willingness to work (or take on new challenges). The willingness to go to the field where the magic happens, to miss birthday parties, weddings, and happy hours all my shore base buddies were going to was a sacrifice that many people make in this industry that runs 24/7/365. It’s a sacrifice that people want to see, whether in the field or higher-ups in the corporate office. I was surprisingly shocked (in a great way) when I was at the SPE North American Student Symposium and the majority of conversations I had with soon-to-be-graduates were that they wanted to go to the field when they started their career.
The second intangible thing that occurred was being humble. Here I was 28 years old, with a Master's Degree from France and I was miles away from land, getting dirty, pulling slips, calling out mud weight, and putting in some manual labor! This was a lot for someone who went “above and beyond” to get a master's. That mindset shifted when I began working offshore. Here I was surrounded by some of the best folks, who were blue-collared people from all walks of life working offshore to provide for their families (and to buy themselves a new bass boat and other toys). My program was 3 - 5 years, then after I could enjoy dry land and make the happy hours and dinners. But what caught me when I began to gripe and complain about being offshore was that my program was short in duration, versus some people who have worked offshore for 30+ years. They missed birthdays, their kids being born, funerals, picking their kids up from school, their kids waking up with a bad dream, and more simple life experiences. Who the hell was I to bitch and gripe about 3 - 5 years when some of these guys and girls were doing it for decades at a time. I appreciated the sacrifices and work that they perform.
Working offshore provided me with the skillset to speak to anyone from the CEO to the boat hands, and I could do it comfortably. It gave me the ability to understand and listen more actively in operational conversations. It provided me with the stripes I needed to further my career in ways I couldn’t imagine at the time. It gave me additional appreciation and respect for those away from their homes.
So in short, heading to the field, something I didn’t want to do starting off (fear-based and a world I did not know), but was the best decision I made for my career and personally. I made some great friends, still smile to myself at some of the stories that occurred, and learned more in one hitch than I did from years of reading books.