Part I: A Girl’s Guide to Drilling Rigs, Helicopters & Offshore Ops

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If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be flying in helicopters out to sea as part of my everyday job, I would’ve laughed and call you crazy. Today, I must apologize for my would-have-been impolite attitude. It took only one phone call for me to leave my astronaut childhood dream (and space career) to join the supposedly ‘anti-polar bear’ oil industry.

The way I remember Shell is with appreciation and slight nostalgia. Not only I signed up for a company but an expat lifestyle, in which people befriended, dated, married, and worked  in the same circle. On one hand, I formed some of my strongest lifelong bonds then. On the other, this may also have been the reason why I left. I lived in a sort of snow globe, watching the outside world through a concave glass.

Never before did I experience what it was professional satisfaction. I was a 20-something, Colombian girl, in a foreign country (The Netherlands), telling senior colleagues, mostly men, how to run our operations. I felt powerful, entitled, and strong. No wonder why I loved my job.  This would all prepare me for what it was yet to come: working 12 months, with 40 tough-looking, cowboy-like men, mostly non-English speaking, in a drilling rig, for 14 days and 14 nights. I lived, ate, and slept in a pre-fabricated, cargo-like container. Nevertheless, after working 12 hours (really 15-hours), the premises of my living conditions became of such low importance, that at the end of that very long shift, I was glad to have a place where to lay my head (I would finish with ‘at night’ but sometimes it was ‘in the afternoon’ or even ‘in the morning’).

I also abandoned the concept of a sleeping cycle. It was more like “ok now that it is 11pm at night, I’ll sleep until 1am, wake up and make my way up to the drilling floor to join the night crew.” There I was, no heels, no make-up, hair up in a bun, in greasy orange overalls, half awake, half sleep, watching this huge rotating steel machine make its way 6,000 m (18,000 ft) below the ground. We were standing over the biggest hydrocarbon reserve in Europe. At any time the high pressure could trigger a major gas leak, and worst yet, an explosion. Something movie-like but as real as many tragedies in the oil industry.

It was a Dutch winter in February, without snow but wind chills that painstakingly pierced through your skin like tiny sharp icicles. Indeed, it was an exciting time, out of the office setting. But there were those nights under the moon on the drilling floor that I questioned my existence.

If you are reading this, it means I survived my year of isolation. Aside from the hard work, my time-off was bliss. Even Jules Verne would have been envious. For an equivalent period of 180 days I went around the world: chilling by the beach in Lebanon, partying in Mykonos, wine tasting in Andalucía, and cuddling up by the fireplace with family in NYC. Oh! And there was that monsoon season volunteering in Nepal where the b-school idea originated.

At work, I met some of the brightest, most ambitious and adventurous people. They were from countries that I didn’t know existed such as Azerbaijan, Brunei and Gabon (can you name the continent and language of these nations?). Thursdays nights I met up with my 3 co-workers/partners in crime: an Iraqi, a Nigerian, and a French. I truly felt like a citizen of the world.

I am not going to lie, being in the oil & gas business was a lot of fun. Many did wonder if I felt guilty for working in a place that was controversial w.r.t. the environment. Initially, it didn’t feel this way. I was in awe at the gained self-confidence, cultural awareness, and professional acumen. Eventually though, my inner voice advocating for a sustainable future would speak louder and louder. But I will save the rest of the story for the second part of this blog.

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My Tech Internship: The-1001-expectations

image001So why in the world would I decide to start a blog? I always thought blogs were for those individuals who have managed to change history through their actions, discovered the cure to a rare disease or have won an olympic gold medal. I have done none of these three things (at least not yet!), but I figured it would be interesting to record the next chapter in my life, most importantly professionally, but also personally. 

The purpose of my words, arranged in a particular context, is to inspire women and men, who like me, have latent passions awaiting to come true. This could be living in another country, working in a high-tech ‘cool’ industry, or making a complete life switch to make a higher impact. The latter, as I discovered when reading Elon Musk’s biography, is the one that applies to me best. 

In a couple of days, I will start my summer internship at Tesla. I still think fate has played a trick on me and occasionally, I let a small giggle escape. Who would have thought that many months earlier, I would be telling the universe that I refuse to return to the corporate world unless it was to work for Tesla. This was at the time when I was just starting my MBA and was reflecting upon what I wanted out of life. After all, this was the whole point of quitting my job, moving across continents and becoming a student again. I was desperately looking for inspiration, creativity and a mission-driven career path (I must warn you, the idealist in me will start to show up). And then, that actual call from Tesla came about. So first moral of the story, if you really really really want something: ask the universe what it is that you want and the universe might just grant you your wish. I know it sounds like something from The Secret…but in my case the stars did align. 

Now, in all honesty, I have no idea what to expect about this amazing opportunity. Actually, I have yet to accept the fact that I have been chosen to join Elon’s vision. As Tesla overtakes GM as top car manufacturer w.r.t. valuation, it is positioned on the likes of Google and Facebook for pushing the envelope in terms of innovation and also for being the most enthralling places to work. The one mental picture I have in my head of the physical plant consists of red shiny robots putting together a chassis and a sleek auto body, all working in unison, out of a Terminator movie. My first day, as I walk into the Fremont plant someone will pass me a wrench and ask me to go fix the arm of one of the shiny robots. I’ll just convey obediently. 

And so, as I make my way though the lines of Harvard, MIT and Stanford recruits, I try to define what my role will be. As an engineer at heart, I cannot wait to see how these robots mechanically manage to operate smoothly, and how can a car function without a combustion engine. As a first year MBA, I want to understand how the named-after-Nikola-Tesla company does business differently on the daily basis with suppliers, customers, and managers. Is it more like “we are Tesla, we are cool and this is what we expected done…yesterday” or perhaps more like “Elon said we needed those 500,000 pre-ordered cars produced and delivered by the end of the summer, and that’s what we’ll do at all costs” or even “we have this magic machine that secretly makes whatever we thought out, and you have now become part of our tribe and are sworn to secrecy”. 

Will I love Tesla and Elon’s mission to change the world? Or instead, like an odd Lego piece, struggle to fit in? What if I am indeed sworn to secrecy and cannot share my excitement through my writing. Guess, I will have three full months to find this out.