Career Development

Oil and Gas Careers You Didn’t Know Existed—Transitioning a Career Path: From Geologist to UX Designer

In a slightly different spin to the series, this article features a geologist turned user experience designer at Halliburton.

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“You carry with you your whole life experience and the skills that come with that—own it, trust it, use it.”

Advancing on the Transitioning series, we wanted to have a slightly different spin with this article. Apart from knowing about the jobs that we didn't know existed, we also wanted to address the well-known topic heard at the water cooler which concerns “changing our career path.”

Discovering a career or a passion is an ever-elusive campaign which may require time and zeal. It is not uncommon for people to transition from one career path to another. There can be many ways in which a transition of career happens. Most of the transitions are still inside the domain and mostly represent a change in the work scenario, for instance, changing from a field job to a desk job, from engineer to consultant, from a research-and-development focus to manufacturing, etc. There are also bigger transitions that can change the entire way a person works, such as when moving from a technical role to a managerial role. This can occur within the same organization, but people also transition to other industries, most often by obtaining a degree in management.

Still, the transition is not automatic when one earns a degree. There may be many doubts inside a person’s mind such as

  • “How well will I perform?”
  • “Is the transition good for me?”
  • “Is this financially a good decision?”
  • “Am I making a mistake?”

We asked questions of certain industry professionals who transitioned from a completely different role and background. We hope their experiences will help young professionals understand what it takes to transition to an unknown career path.

Jo Wyton is a geologist turned user experience designer. She currently is the head of UX design at Landmark, Halliburton where she manages a team of more than two dozen designers and developers. In her spare time, she does UX design for fun (

–Aman Srivastava, Prithvi Singh Chauhan, Mohamed Mehana, TWA Editors, Discover a Career

Can you please describe your previous role or degree?

I have an undergraduate BSc from the University of Leeds in geology, but then I couldn't figure out what on earth to do with my life. So I went and got a MSc in Micropalaeontology from University College London (which I did in conjunction with the Natural History Museum, which was an awesome experience!). From there I joined Neftex Petroleum Consultants. It was a small company—I was the 18th person through the door. It was all hands on deck, all the time, and I loved it. I started as a junior geoscientist and progressed to a senior geoscientist, and then held a number of leadership roles as the company grew. Five years ago, Neftex was acquired by Landmark, and after a year I moved into a product management role.

What was it like at first to take on this role?

Frankly, I was a bit out of my depth when I first moved into the product management position. I was surrounded by acronyms I've never heard before. I'd never worked in software—I hadn't even used it all that much! As a geoscientist I was all about drafting maps and charts by hand because it seemed to provide the best connection between my thoughts and the things I was producing. So the move to this role introduced me to a whole world of information.

What motivated you to look for another job or to transition your career?

One of the things the product management role introduced me to was user experience. For anyone reading this who is unfamiliar with UX design, I would summarize it as a lifelong mission to make software as little annoying as possible. It works to understand the end user of the product and then shape a product to suit that user's needs as closely as we possibly can.

It took a while for me to realize that what I was enjoying about being a PM was the design aspects of the application. My first manager at Neftex once told me that being a geologist is 50% art and 50% science. Exploring UX design reconnected me with the creative side of myself, and so the thing that drew me to the career change wasn't anything in the role I was doing at the time, but a slow draw from one thing to another.

How did you discover your current role?

It was more as an eventual turn of events, a gradual evolution that relied on some good luck. The position came up and I was offered it. Once I'd realized I was interested in UX I had self-funded training and I had made it known within the organization that UX was what I was interested in. So when the position came up I guess my name was at the front of people's minds. Perhaps I’ll take the luck comment back, and say part luck, part graft!

[What] is critical to success in any leadership role is understanding that everybody in your team should be more qualified at what they do than you are. Your job isn't to do what they do— it's to enable it, and I think you have to trust that.

What attracted you to this position?

Honestly, leading our UX design team is the perfect confluence of the things that drive me as a professional: leadership, mentoring, design (which is itself a combination of logic and creativity), business strategy, and collaboration.

How did you prepare for that transition?

In the end it happened quite quickly, and I think it was more about bringing the experience and training I already had to bear, rather than new preparation.

Did you have any reservations?  

Oh, so, so many. I had never actually designed anything before. Not really. Walking into a leadership role where every single person on the team is more qualified at what the team does than you will ever be is daunting. Part of my preparation was to remind myself of my own skills and experience and to embrace those. For example, one of the things I believe is critical to success in any leadership role is understanding that everybody in your team should be more qualified at what they do than you are. Your job isn't to do what they do— it's to enable it, and I think you have to trust that.

How steep was your learning curve?

My intention going into this role was to be a leader, and that's what I wanted to do. But on my first day on the job one of the designers—very kindly and supportively—told me to get my hands dirty. To take a project and design for it, and that he would mentor me in doing that. I've really never looked back, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people who are both excellent designers and crazy generous with their time and knowledge.

Looking back, do you believe you made the right decision?

Well, let's put it this way—I can't ever want to leave UX design behind.

Did this decision impact you financially? It is up to you to answer this.

It didn't, no. Not unless you count the frankly ridiculous amount of money I spend on design books and the amount of personal time I spend designing.

Are there any common points between your current and previous roles?

Yes, absolutely. The obvious one is leadership. But putting that to one side, I think that one thing a degree in geosciences does for you is that it trains you to balance logic and creativity, and to leverage both of those things in order to produce something that is useful to someone. My shift from geology to UX design might seem on paper like a huge move, but really it takes those exact same skills and simply allows me to apply them in a different way.

How can a YP learn about UX design?  

UX design is a relatively new term coined in the 1990s by a cognitive psychologist and designer. Because of that, pretty much everything ever written about it was written online. If you're interested in finding out more, try websites like the Nielsen Norman Group and

What advice would you give to YPs who might consider making a career transition?

I remember taking a French exam at age 16. Trying to calm my nerves, the teacher said ‘It's so strange. Everyone acts as though the second they walk through that door, everything in their head falls out.’ It's the same with a career change. Just because you want to do something new does not mean that everything else in your head has fallen out. You carry with you your whole life experience and the skills that come with that—own it, trust it, use it.