Anye Ndefru works at one of the world’s leading oilfield services companies.
Alan Alexeyev (AA): Tell us a little bit about your current (or latest) position and what you do, as well as how you found a job.
Anye Ndefru (AN): I am presently the Sub-Saharan Africa regional Employee Development and Engagement Manager for one of my company’s sub-business units. In this capacity, I create, execute, and maintain the business unit workforce training and career development plans for our maintenance engineers and maintenance technicians, oversee career advancement, and facilitate the collaboration with our Human Resource (HR) function.
Prior to this promotion, I served in a very technical, advanced engineer function at our biggest global Technology Center as a Knowledge Management Professional (KMP). My business unit operates with 19 KMPs out of 11000+ employees within the business unit at its peak time. KMPs are an elite task force of experienced and highly skilled employees who provide 24/7 technical support to operations worldwide, manage technical communications and knowledge, and process improvement initiatives for their assigned technology portfolio.
My role as KMP was vital in preserving the company’s technological advantage over the competition, improving the reliability of our technologies, validating, and maintaining knowledge, ensuring operational process safety, guaranteeing operations integrity, and maximizing drilling productivity. I leveraged my experience in field operations and maintenance, quality and compliance management, logging while drilling, asset management, software, and technology lifecycle management among other skills, to meet the task force objectives. I also earned the formal recognition of corporate business unit Subject Matter Expert (SME) in Quality Systems during this time, in recognition of my expertise in the design, creation, and implementation of training, operational procedures, knowledge management, technical support, and technical communications for the introduction of cutting-edge technologies.
AA: What inspired you to start a career in the oil and gas industry? How did you decide to become a petroleum engineer?
AN: Growing up, I dreamt of becoming a soldier or a medical doctor, then discovered my passion for binaries in high school when I choose math over arts in my fifth year. At my technical university, I earned the equivalent of a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering (BSC) with two majors in engineering management and computer engineering. Soon after I presented my BSC project at the university, I received an invitation for a job interview through my school. It was the first time that best-performing students from the computer engineering section were invited by my current employer to participate in its recruiting session. Although I had only basic knowledge in geology and was planning to continue my education, my employer offered borderless career opportunities, structured career paths, an enticing salary, and fascinating prospects of working with culturally diverse teams.
When I received my job offer, I was amazed to read that I was assigned to the drilling business group as a measurements specialist. Given my IT background, I had expected to be hired for the IT department. My employer runs a well-structured organization with specific development programs for all its recruits and job groups. In my first three months, I learned about geology, the physics of measurements in drilling operations, and the vocabulary of the oilfield. At first, my knowledge of computer and software engineering was not of much help. Later on, the logical thinking and process approach to problem-solving that I had learned in university proved very useful. My employer supported my career growth by providing continuous professional development programs that enabled me to become an expert in my business unit and related oilfield processes.
AA: You often meet workers in industry who do not have a formal college degree, but in your case how valuable was it to get the university experience?
AN: My university degree proved to be very valuable, not just for the technical skills I obtained, but by providing me with the opportunity to interview for a job. My university studies also laid the foundation to learn, grow, and embrace new professional disciplines at my workplace. Within the first six years of my career, I successively occupied functions in field drilling operations, quality and compliance management, and assets management. I can confidently assert that knowledge, whether from academia or other sources, is a constant in the universe and is never wasted. Knowledge opens the doors to opportunities, unlocks your potential, and equips you with an analytical mind and the tools for informed decision-making. In 2015, I earned a second bachelor’s degree in business administration, and I am presently pursuing a master’s degree in technology management.
AA: How did you find yourself transitioning from the academic environment to industry/corporate? What would you tell people who are about to make such a transition?
AN: Some companies prefer to hire experienced professionals. However, in the oil industry, most of the core jobs require specialized skills that can only be acquired in-house. I was hired straight from university. My transition from academia to the corporate world was quick and intense. I learned a lot in a short while, mostly on my own or at my company’s corporate learning centers located in the Middle East and in the USA. I came to realize that when an employer hires a new recruit, it is less about the degree he or she holds, and more a bet on the recruit’s aptitude to learn about the employer’s business, adapt to the work environment, and solve challenges that arise daily. There is always a learning curve and, during the probation period, what matters is for the recruit to demonstrate how well he or she can blend into the company, positively impact the dynamics of the workplace, and meet the assigned short-term goals.
AA: Has the industry taken initiatives to smoothly transition young professionals into the oil sector? What, if anything, could be done better?
AN: Companies do a lot to ensure a smooth transition of young professionals into the oil industry. They administer in-house onboarding programs, deliver continuous training to their staff, offer scholarships and internship programs, sponsor leadership development programs in partnership with universities, give back to local communities by promoting STEM initiatives, and donate to charitable organizations. I am a strong advocate for STEM education. Personally, I volunteered with Junior Achievement and the Spindletop Charities Emerging Leaders Program in the Houston area when I lived there. I find it very rewarding to help young people learn about the many opportunities available to them in the oil and gas industry and in engineering in general.
AA: The oil and gas industry has tons of conferences and events. Have you attended any of them? If so, how useful you find them and what’s your takeaway?
AN: The Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) is one of my favorite oil and gas conferences. Major players in the industry are hosts of this event, which provides the opportunity to meet and network with peers, while enabling participants to learn about recent technological innovations in the industry. Some of these innovations are applicable beyond the oil sector for dual-use in the military, medicine, education, and other industries.
AA: If you communicate with students on a regular basis, do you think there’s an increased or decreased interest among the younger generation to have a career in the oil and gas industry, in comparison to the past?
AN: The oil industry has encountered several crises over recent years. During my career, I have witnessed three such downturns in 2008, 2015, and the ongoing unexpected health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many graduates I talk to are becoming skeptical of the oil industry and, while I understand their concern, I believe there are still going to be very good jobs in the oil industry for many more years. The renewable energy industry is the main competition to the oil industry. However, there is still a long way to go in renewable energy technologies, and we must acknowledge developing countries and the energy challenges facing their industries. Most of the major oil and gas players are strategically rebranding themselves as energy companies. They are gradually picking up the pace and some of them are now at the forefront of technological developments in the renewable energy field. This strategic metamorphosis is good news for current workers and future recruits.
AA: What advice do you provide to students who have an interest in the oil and gas industry? Should they pursue the career during these constant downturns?
AN: A career is a means to achieve self-fulfillment, security, and financial independence. Periodic downturns should not deter anyone from pursuing a career in the oil and gas industry because no job in any sector is ever guaranteed – crises can occur in banking, tourism, healthcare, real estate, etc. Although the core competencies for the oil and gas industry are very specialized, the opportunities to learn and grow into different functions are many. Multi-skilling is the keyword here. Individuals who are presently employed in the oil industry should do what they know best and develop themselves in what they know least. One should be happy with what one does, but one should also be proactive in pursuing skills that will advance career growth.
AA: What main technical skills you think will be needed for the industry in the near term based on your experience so far?
AN: There are certain core profiles that are essential for the survival of the oil industry: mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, petroleum engineers, physicians, and chemists. Software engineering and machine learning have gained ground over the past decade, creating new lines of services. However, without in-house workforce development programs and a sound business strategy, the core profiles will lack the catalyzers that are needed to drive and support technological innovation.
AA: What would you like to learn in the near future from experienced people who are in their mid-to-late careers?
AN: I am grateful for what I have accomplished after dedicating nearly 13 years to the oil industry, and to the mentors who helped me become an expert in my field. To further my own growth, and my company’s workforce development, I will continue to seek the wisdom to make the right decisions at the right time as a mid-career manager, the patience to disseminate my knowledge to young professionals, and the zeal to relentlessly learn and adapt to changes in my environment.
Headline photos: May 17, 2019 – Ecobot Challenge Jury Member, Houston NASA Space Center
Alan is a graduate from the University of North Dakota with a Master's degree in Petroleum Engineering. He previously earned his BA in Mathematics from the University of Houston and a BS in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Wyoming. Alan is an active SPE member and has presented at petroleum conferences and exhibitions.
Oil and gas operations are commonly found in remote locations far from company headquarters. Now, it's possible to monitor pump operations, collate and analyze seismic data, and track employees around the world from almost anywhere. Whether employees are in the office or in the field, the internet and related applications enable a greater multidirectional flow of information – and control – than ever before.