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Sidetrack Is Not Always an Expensive Choice: Job Hunting Strategies for Young Professionals

While sidetracking your career path is not an easy journey, the skills and knowledge gained in petroleum engineering education can be applied in other industries during the downturn.


Losing fluid circulation and movement of the drillstem is a nightmare for drilling engineers, often leading to an expensive consequence: sidetrack. Sidetrack is an absolute point of avoidance in drilling operations, however it may be a smart move in a career path. The current downturn of the petroleum industry is lasting longer than any pessimistic predictions and the situation does not appear to be changing anytime soon. In fact, maybe the upturn that occurred around 2010 to 2014 was not realistic for the future of the industry.

The continuous growth of crude oil prices kicked off in 2009, attracting younger generations to pursue their dreams in the petroleum industry as this was the highest paid job among all the engineering majors at the time. The size of undergraduate petroleum engineering programs increased significantly and several universities decided to establish a petroleum program in the US and across the globe. However, the glory of black gold did not last long and the crude oil prices took a nose dive.  Companies started rounds of layoffs and thousands of petroleum professionals lost their jobs. Consequences of the dragging downturn took the focus away from the wave of young professionals waiting to get their chance in the petroleum industry. While the petroleum community was trying to accommodate the more senior professionals impacted by the downturn, thousands of young engineers are struggling with the future path of their careers.  

Fluctuations of crude oil prices are not surprising as oil and gas is a geopolitics-oriented industry and price fluctuations have occurred frequently in the last century. Our petroleum engineering programs have not been efficient enough to train students with the extra skill sets that would help them survive during the rough times our industry experiences. An up-to-date educational system strategy in a unique major such as petroleum engineering could expand the career choices of students, and diversify their professional horizon. Unfortunately, our young professionals have to face the reality of the limited job opportunities and do their best to survive the current downturn. Here are some recommendations for those who may consider a sidetrack from the petroleum industry during the downturn.


Subsurface is subsurface even though there is a world of difference between the applications in the different industries from civil engineering to petroleum engineering. As a petroleum engineer, you have a very good grasp of subsurface structure, subsurface mechanics, and subsurface characteristics. You get to learn the fundamentals of different data-logging methods and how to interpret that data to have a better understanding of the subsurface. You get to know the concept of subsurface stresses and basic mechanical earth modeling. This knowledge base is a starting point to get your foot in the door for other subsurface engineering industries.  The knowledge of subsurface mechanics can help you land a job as a geotechnical engineer in the construction industry. Your knowledge of subsurface logging and data interpretation can help you find a job as a geophysicist in a variety of other industries. Remember you are fresh out of college and nobody expects you to know everything. Your basic subsurface knowledge will be enough to guide you through the interview process with hiring managers.  If you are still in school, try to enroll for soil mechanics and more advanced seismic interpretation courses which will help you in this journey.  Advance your subsurface knowledge.


Regardless of where you work, or what you do, you will have customer interaction and expectations. In the professional business environment, interactions with customers require a lot of soft skills, which you can acquire by working for larger consulting firms. They work with clients in a variety of industries across the globe and provide technical and project management consulting services. These large consulting firms are active players in the energy industry and you might get an opportunity to work with a big name petroleum company locally and/or globally.  Soft skills learned during your time as a consultant are investments toward your future career, regardless of your possible return to the petroleum industry.

Data Analytics and Business Intelligence

It’s all about DATA. The significant increase in the application of online and cloud-based platforms in all industries has created a huge demand for big data analysis and unique opportunities for data-driven business strategies. This increased demand for data analysis has led to a need for data scientists.  This new position has become one of the roles with the highest demand and is often called as the hottest job in the 21st century. However, the field of data science is not evenly defined across different industries and the level of complexity varies. Some data scientist roles are heavily involved in cognitive computing and machine learning while others are mainly focused on the descriptive and predictive analysis, which requires a good understanding of statistics and math with an analytical mindset.

As an engineer, you have already proven your analytical mindset by surviving tough engineering courses and strengthening your knowledge of statistics and math by taking the basic required courses as a freshman and sophomore. In addition, you must learn how to code.  Programmers are going to be the next generation of blue collar workers and programming skills will shine on any résumé. Get yourself familiar with basic data science tools, from programming and statistical tools such as R, Python, SAS, and JMP to data visualization tools such as Tableau and Microsoft Power BI. There are several online learning platforms such as Coursera and Udacity which provide great educational materials for the data science field at a low cost.

Opportunities are countless and extend far beyond those areas described above. Sidetracking your career path is not an easy journey and requires investment in gaining new skill sets and extra networking efforts to present yourself in the job market. However, what you achieve through this journey is priceless. In the end, your will and determination is everything. Hope is not a strategy but your dream combined with effort and planning will fuel you up through the battle. Relax! Nerves can be a killer.

Reza Rahimi is a sidetracked petroleum engineer working with Mastercard as a senior data scientist. Over the past 8 years, Rahimi held various research, engineering, and operational positions in the areas of offshore drilling, well construction, and geomechanics. He received his PhD and master’s degrees in petroleum engineering from the Missouri University of Science & Technology and a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Petroleum Technology. Rahimi is a member of the TWA Editorial Committee and has been an active SPE member since 2005.