Bottom Line — My heart wasn’t in it. The cyclical downturns got old. I jumped to software. No regrets about starting with petroleum engineering.
My heart told me it was time to leave years ago but I could easily shut it up because I’d be crazy to leave a great paying job that looked fantastic on paper.
My heart had a persistent way of nagging every few months. I couldn’t hold on any longer.
Seeds of doubt
I worked in the industry from 2010 until recently. The times that made me happy were when I solved real engineering problems.
I remember my first job. A high 5-figure salary straight out of University. It was a small company with intelligent folks. I looked forward to learning the craft of hydraulic fracturing simulation.
The US was a pioneering hydraulic fracturing and we were inching closer to energy independence.
I was in WAY over my head. The application I worked on had something like 100 knobs to adjust and you had to know which ones to adjust in order to get the right result.
It didn’t click for me.
After two months of barely any progress, I began to take lunch breaks and ask myself Is this what I want to do?
One month later, due to a tragic company loss, I was laid off.
As I was looking for another job, I got a part time job working for a small Oil and Gas operator. I started to manage wells and traveled to Kentucky to oversee wells that were coming in.
The company was once again small and there was no training. You had to learn and improvise.
After the first few weeks, I felt directionless. It wasn’t what I wanted to do.
Through a school connection, I joined a medium sized Oil and Gas company. It was a great opportunity and I got a taste of a low bureaucratic company life.
I finally got to use my engineering skills for the first few years and consulted for a year. Like I said, I was happiest when I solved problems.
The last few years, I was promoted to product management. As early as 2015, I once again asked myself — Is this it? Can I do this for the next 40 years?
Hint: If you have to ask then the answer is no.
The pay was good and I had a great job on paper. On the inside, I wasn’t really living. The fire inside me was gagged by the everyday monotony.
Oil and Gas is a cyclical industry that highly depends on world politics. I knew that going in but I didn’t expect the downturn to be a persistent train wreck we see in 2010 to today.
I got out with my Petroleum Engineering bachelor’s degree in 2008 — right as the world recession hit.
Fortunately, I got into the masters program and delayed entering the job market for another two years. For about 4 years, the market treated me well. In 2014, oil prices plummeted to half their price.
Once again the industry shed it’s workers through layoffs. I was fortunate to hang on — downgrading to a part time position.
I began to ask myself if this industry is worth the stress.
Hint: If you have to ask then the answer is no.
From engineering to product management
I jumped from engineering into product management. I slowly started losing my engineering edge. Like a frog in a heated pot, you don’t notice it until a few years pass.
There were other hints that it wasn’t the right place for me.
We had yearly Oil and Gas global conferences. Even though I went, I didn’t really desire to be there.
When I went to happy hours, I found myself in a group of people who were chatting about which fields they were working on and oil well specifics. I just didn’t have an interest.
A glimpse of what’s possible
I had a co-worker about my age who was a software developer by training. I managed the product we worked on but he coded the application and we both shipped it. We were young and hungry to make a 3D application that would look better than what competitors had.
He just happened to work in the Oil and Gas sector. He could easily take his software skills to another industry. A downturn in one industry simply meant getting out and taking your skills to another. That’s mobility!
He encouraged me to seriously look into software development. I loved our talks about emerging web frameworks and technology.
That was a hint that I’d be moving in the right direction.
I had a false start in 2015. I took a programming course and the concept of Object Oriented thinking didn’t click. I left it alone and it wouldn’t be until a few years later that I’d return and understand it.
I mention this because I know a few friends that feel guilty about procrastinating in switching their own careers. Don’t. I procrastinated as well.
While working part time in Oil and Gas, I used my free days to hustle. The self-learning journey was arduous and I plan to write more about it.
I took online courses and more importantly, I started to build projects. Small projects. Simple CRUD (create, read, update, delete) applications.
I went on a multi-prong offensive. I planned to use my Github portfolio, interviewing skills, and marketing strategies to break in.
It paid off.
Oil and Gas Aftermath
I watched politics and COVID decimate the Oil and Gas business in 2020. I saw the layoffs happen to folks I knew on LinkedIn. It continues to be a hard time for the Industry.
Things will surely recover. Some young graduates of 2019 and 2020 switched majors during their junior and senior years. It will recover, but can you ride out the hard times? Should you ride them out?
Reflections on the good parts of Oil and Gas
My Petroleum Engineering education at The Colorado School of Mines was top notch. The average GPA in our department during my graduating year was 2.8. The curriculum forced you to improvise and succeed or drop out. The curriculum was genuinely hard and made me develop a thicker skin around the concept of failure.
My advisors and a few close professors were genuinely interested in helping me succeed. Some of their professional habits rubbed off on me. I use those habits to this day and will take them with me in my future endeavors.
As a Petroleum Engineer, I got to travel to Pakistan, Colombia, Kazakhstan, and to different US states.
I worked with experienced engineers and got to know what made them tick. I better understood the mind of an engineer.
Do I regret it?
Hindsight is funny. Even when I realize that I took a path that didn’t fully work out, I still wouldn’t change it.
The act of changing industries was scary and laden with anxiety. But it’s worth going though because if I could hustle to change industries, I feel more confident in my future potential to break into other ventures.
Had I found just the right path from the start, I would be scared to make changes in my life.
Is software engineering the final destination? I don’t know. But it’s an excellent transition for me. I once again get satisfaction solving problems and software development seems to scratch my itch.