HR Discussion

From a Production Technology Advisor: Young Professionals Should Keep a Technology Focus in Their Career Goals

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I posted an article on LinkedIn earlier this year titled What is a Production Technologist?  Why your company may need one now more than ever…. In that article, I attempted to reconcile the experience I gained as a senior production technologist in Europe with recent job postings that I had seen for production technologists in the United States and abroad. My intended audience consisted of hiring managers, recruiters, and potential coworkers. Part of my initial focus was to point out that in many cases, a person with a title of “senior production technologist” may very well have a breadth and depth of experience that is far beyond what might be expected based on what some may be viewing as a professional with a “technologist-level” degree.  In my experience, a senior production technologist at some companies is often more of an advisory-level position.  With that realization in mind, I now use the title of production technology advisor. 

In the LinkedIn article, I pointed out the difference between a production engineer, a production technologist, and a production technician with regard to educational achievement.  A production engineer and a production technologist in the United States will both have 4-year degrees, but the bachelor of science degree in engineering will generally require a stronger focus in mathematics and theory, while a bachelor of technology degree will be geared toward applied technology—in this case, the application of technology to enhance petroleum production.  A production technician degree is generally a 2-year associate’s degree with a focus on production systems and processes.

A number of companies seem to use the title “production engineer” and “production technologist” interchangeably; some treat the production technology discipline as an advanced technician-level position, and as mentioned earlier, some place the production technology role at a senior, advisory level in their organizational hierarchy.  It is that confusion that prompted me to write the original article.

The article enjoyed wide distribution, particularly among professionals working at companies that recognize the production technology discipline.  A number of comments were received suggesting that the article might be useful for young professionals to help them understand the options as they define their career path. So for this TWA article, I agreed to rethink the topics that I covered in the original article from a different perspective—this time aimed toward the challenges that today’s young professionals in the oil and gas business face. 

As a production technology advisor, if I were asked to choose one word as a focal point for helping someone make career decisions in the oil field today, it would have to be “technology.”   Technology has played a monumental and unparalleled role in the evolution of the oil industry throughout its entire history.  In no other time in history, however, has the rate of change in technology been greater than it is today. 

Focus on Technology

From the appearance of the word “technology” in the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ flagship periodical Journal of Petroleum Technology, to the recently held annual Offshore Technology Conference, it requires very little effort to see how significant technology is to the oil and gas industry.  Technology is pervasive, and there is no question that innovation and the implementation of new technology are critical to every segment of the industry.

Information related to new, improved, and emerging technology is everywhere you look today.   Out of curiosity, I recently performed a search for the word “technology” on www.OnePetro.org  and found more than 123,000 results with the word “technology” appearing in the article title, the journal name in which the article was published, or in the abstract of the article. With the tremendous amount of information available today with only a few keystrokes, it is no wonder that trying to understand where to focus one’s efforts while laying out career goals in the industry can seem overwhelming.

When faced with projects that seem overwhelming on first review, I often look to the past in an effort to try to understand the fundamental learnings and observations behind prior efforts to solve similar problems.  For this article, and in an effort to provide some guidance to young professionals in today’s turbulent and rapidly changing environment, I searched the Internet for an example that might illustrate the impact of technology during other times of rapid change in the industry.

I was surprised to find one of the earliest technical papers on the subject of technology in the oil industry in OnePetro. It was a paper that was published in December 1925: SPE 925019-G – “Technologic Progress in the Oil Industry” by F. Julius Fohs, vice president of Humphreys Corporation, New York, NY.

In this paper published 92-years ago in Transactions of AIME, Vol. G-25, Issue 1, the author provides his view on the role of technology in the oil and gas industry of the time:

“As an industry approaches stabilization, greater and greater stress must be laid on its technologic progress, which becomes a prime aid in improving its condition. The oil industry is tending toward this stage and hence its engineers must be pressed into greater service to prevent stabilization and stagnation from becoming synonymous, and to supply, either by improvements in processes or by new machinery, a means of obtaining savings in raw and finished products. Thus profits can be assured warranting continued investment.

It may be repeated, technology must apply a slight improvement here, a change there, or a complete renovation, to eliminate inefficiencies and make each dollar invested yield greater results. The profits of yesterday were made of rich strikes, of monopolized patents or processes, of control of prices and of markets. Sixty-five years of growth, of large investment, of healthful competition, and of expanding markets, have put the oil industry in the foremost rank of world industries. Just as the railroads passed a similar period of expansion and growth, and are being stabilized with reasonable profits, so the oil industry must take advantage of the efforts of its engineers and experts to promote its healthful growth and a better service to the people.”

While those two paragraphs are not immediately analogous to the industry today, I came away with two thoughts after reading them.

The first is that at the time the article was written, the author felt that the state of the industry was one approaching stability.  His warning was that the industry’s engineers “…must be pressed into greater service to prevent stabilization and stagnation from becoming synonymous, and to supply, either by improvements in processes or by new machinery, a means of obtaining savings in raw and finished products. Thus profits can be assured warranting continued investment.”

No one today would argue that the state of the industry is anything remotely approaching stability —most would probably agree that the industry has never had more instability.  The cause of that instability is manifold—there are numerous, significant disruptions occurring that will shape the oil industry of the future. 

Technology is not only the primary enabler for finding the solutions for the problems we face today and looking ahead into the future, but it is also a major disruptor; some of the technology available will require a paradigm change in the way people work and the type or work that they do.  Many emerging technological advances will require a new way of thinking about working, and this is an area of immense opportunity for young professionals.

The second takeaway is the concise definition of technology of the day, along with the clear statement of why technology is necessary:  “…technology must apply a slight improvement here, a change there, or a complete renovation, to eliminate inefficiencies and make each dollar invested yield greater results.” 

In this one simple statement, the author points out that technology is applied at all scales throughout the industry, with the objective being to reduce inefficiency and to improve the return on investment. 

Considering the above, and with a young professional’s perspective in mind, I offer the following thoughts and questions for you to consider, and recommendations as guidance.

Start With a Brief Self-Assessment

  1. Where are you in your career? 

    1. Are you still investigating a career in the oil and gas industry?

    2. Are you in college?

    3. Are you a recent graduate?

    4. Do you have a few years of experience already?

  1. In what capacity do you want to work?  
    1. Do you want to work in the field in more of a hands-on capacity?

    2. Do you want to work in a team based in a company’s main office?

    3. Do you want to work in a laboratory or in a research capacity?

  1. What is your main area of interest related to the production discipline?
    1. The application of off-the-shelf technology to existing, real-world problems?

    2. Researching a new technology to solve a difficult, existing problem?

    3. Evaluating technology needs that will be required to address future problems?

Once you have worked through this brief assessment:

  • Take some time to think about the history of technology in the oil industry and make a list of the technology that might be considered disruptive to the way business has been done in the past.

  • Investigate the cause of some of the instability we see in the industry, and try to get a feel for what a solution to help reduce that instability might look like.

  • Look at the realities of the industry—especially the effects of the latest downturn.  Consider the large number of layoffs, the number of people that have left the industry due to the severity and duration of this latest downturn and will not be available after the recovery, the projects deferred or cancelled, the rigs that have sat idle for months or years and may require significant effort to return to service, and most of all—the effects of the “big crew change” as more and more senior professionals retire from the industry.

  • Think about the areas of technology development that have an effect on you personally, based on your answers in the assessment above.  Make a commitment to join special interest groups online, attend seminars and meetings on the subject, and to invest time in keeping up with that technology as part of your daily activities.

  • Understand that when the turnaround occurs, demand for smart people will be fierce—be prepared.

Finally, think about how drones, nanotechnology, robots, artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet of Things, or any of the other major technological advances you read about daily can affect the industry in a big way, or incrementally.It is in this workspace that many of the young professionals in the oil industry will find their future.


 Thomas A. Funchess is a production technology advisor and a licensed professional engineer in petroleum engineering in the state of Louisiana. Over the past 33 years, he has worked as an operations engineer, a production engineer, a completion engineer, and as a production technologist.  His experience extends from the US Gulf Of Mexico on shelf, deepwater, and ultra-HPHT projects, to onshore projects along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast, to Eastern Russia with extended-reach drilling projects, and the Danish and Norwegian sectors of the North Sea. Funchess holds bachelor and master of science degrees in petroleum engineering from Mississippi State University. He can be reached at tfunchess@usa.net


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