Pillars of Industry

Next Challenge: Pumping Up the Future

Imran Butt, Baker Hughes

I recall that my first day at work after graduation was both exciting and overwhelming. For me, the transition from academia to becoming a full-time employee in the oil and gas industry was relatively smooth. I had spent a considerable amount of time at school completing internships in a variety of places, which gave me good exposure to industry. However, I still felt that the responsibility of maintaining a full-time job was overwhelming. I had many questions and aspirations to pursue. On my first day at work I had the feeling that I had finally made it after many years of school. Soon after, I quickly realized that this was just the start of a long journey and I had just taken the first step.

During the interview process, I was asked whether I was “mobile.” At the time I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but I quickly found out. Within the first few weeks of getting hired, I was sent on a plane to attend technical courses, and since then I have never looked back. I have worked in 36 countries and my family and I have relocated four times over the course of my career. The word “mobility” has changed significantly over the years, from very short notice to every several years now. New countries, new schools, new communities: What a fantastic adventure!

Apart from the typical technical queries, I began my career with many career questions and very few answers. I wanted to learn how to get better at my job and how to build my franchise within the greater oil and gas community. I was interested in discovering specific achievements I would require in order to gain the respect of my colleagues.

Over the years I worked with several people that helped me answer these questions. When I joined Baker Hughes, I spent 4 years at the Celle Technology Center in Germany. In Celle, I was fortunate to be surrounded by so many great minds: I worked alongside people from research and development, manufacturing, operations, applications, and business development, to name a few. I quickly realized that I was at the hub of knowledge and I had the opportunity to interact with experts every day.

I came away from this role with several great mentors. My first manager was a great teacher, a technical expert, and truly cared for his team members. He had a lot of patience for instruction and coaching and showed me how to take ownership and to move quickly up the learning curve. I learned a lot from him and I am truly grateful for his leadership abilities.

I have been productively involved with SPE in many ways right from my student days and that has positively impacted my career at different stages. As a student I got introduced to SPE by my professor and I participated in several events and volunteered in the local student chapter. I have been the coauthor of some papers and presented them at SPE conferences. I then became a director for the SPE Northern Emirates Section and later served on the regional committee. I have raised sponsorship for events and have delivered seminars and lectures for student chapters and young professionals.

An Innovative, High-Tech Industry Awaits You

Today’s oil and gas industry is as high tech as it has ever been. The technology that is needed to reach to the deepest formations in the search for hydrocarbons is very close to what is required to reach outer space.

The oil and gas industry has evolved tremendously over the last few decades. We have scientists and scholars who are required to guide the drillers with the help of seismic and other geophysical data and analysis. The drillers then use the latest equipment to explore the deepest depths of the oceans and vast stretches of the deserts to get to the hydrocarbons.

Once produced, the refinery is a completely different world managed by another set of experts. And that’s not all—not only does the industry needs engineers, but we also require finance and management experts to run the business. Lawyers, supply chain professionals, human resources experts, and people from many other professions are required to ensure that we can ethically run our business and provide a clean energy source to the ever-growing population.

Innovation is a key mission of most oil and gas companies. In my opinion, the number one technological innovation in the exploration and production industry is the improvement and focus on health, safety, and the environment. Over the last 100 years the industry has come a long way in lowering the frequency of spills and common blowouts to the point where we have truly become a safety-conscious industry. For me, innovation is not only inventing a new tool to perform a job faster, but also changing the culture of the industry in general.

Technological advancements have completely changed the game in all aspects of the supply chain. From 3D and 4D seismic to developments in liquefaction and regasification, technology has had an intense impact on the way we explore, produce, and distribute the hydrocarbons. The future will bring more developments as we are already seeing nanotechnology and biotechnology being implemented in our industry.

Be a Part of the Answer

The oil and gas industry will need more experts in the future and it will become harder to get to the hydrocarbons. If you are looking for an industry that is challenging yet rewarding, then you know the possibilities are endless in this industry. The opinion that this is a dying institution and the oil and gas will only last a few more years is incorrect. If you look at the proven reserves alone, common sense will show that we easily have 100+ years of production, and that’s without even fully quantifying the unconventional reserves and the exploration for new reserves that is continuously ongoing. This industry is developing technology to make the process more efficient, and if we can manage to utilize the energy efficiently and keep adding more reserves, we can add years to the time line.

With the number of pressing challenges in our industry today, I believe that the focus on people is a must. We need to ensure that we can hire the right people and invest in their development and training so that they can contribute to providing the right solutions.

Looking back, I believe that I was successful in many of my positions due to my willingness to relocate and work for several different product lines. Many of the regions I have worked in are considered to be remote. In these environments, the work is challenging but the potential for learning and growth is great. In remote regions, I discovered how to become a “jack of all trades.” Indeed, if I am given the opportunity to change the past, I would not do anything differently.

As a fresh graduate with good grades you will likely have several career options to choose from. I would suggest joining an organization that believes in employee training and development. It is helpful to research information about their trainee programs and how they encourage their employees to develop. Ensure that the programs give you both field and office experience. There is no shortcut to success, so get as much exposure as possible in the initial years and then go out to the big wide world and prove yourself. After that, I suggest not to remain in a single location for too long. It is important to work in different groups and with different people.

The oil and gas industry can be quite rewarding but it is also a lot of hard work. Michelangelo once said, “If people knew how hard I worked to achieve my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all.” If you want to be successful, do not shy away from working long hours and putting in the extra effort.


Imran Butt is the country director at Baker Hughes in Pakistan. He started his career in the late 1990s with Shell and moved to Baker Hughes in 2000. He has worked in several countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East in several capacities and is a Baker Hughes’ OASIS-certified performance and drilling engineer. He is an active member of the SPE community and has co-chaired several SPE workshops and conferences. Butt has also served on the SPE regional committees and as a director for the SPE Northern Emirates Section. Butt holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in petroleum and reservoir engineering from Clausthal University in Germany and a PhD in petroleum engineering from the Colorado School of Mines.