By Kelli Ainsworth, Editorial Coordinator
Like many college seniors, Rium Tapjan wasn’t sure what her next step should be when she started interviewing for jobs ahead of her graduation from the University of Texas at Austin in 2008. Although she believed that the electrical engineering degree she was earning offered numerous possibilities, she was uncertain what career track to pursue.
Then she heard about the NextGen program at National Oilwell Varco (NOV). “The recruiters were giving us examples of people who were in the NextGen program,” Ms Tapjan recalled. “They had experiences in the field, out in the North Sea or Argentina, all these different places. I thought, ‘Wow, the possibilities are endless.’ ”
The program, which has been in place at NOV for more than a decade, puts participants through a series of rotations in different areas of the company, allowing the new graduates to identify their interests and strengths. Ms Tapjan said she found her niche during her first rotation.
At the time, she was tasked with creating an internal webpage and newsletter, which featured various topics intended to be informative for engineers regarding resources available to them, such as intellectual property, import/export compliance, engineering software, lean processes and corporate R&D efforts. “I realized that a lot of the problems that I needed to solve involved people: getting information from people, putting the right people together and then putting the solution together,” she said. “I realized that was my strong point, and I learned to play to that strong point from then on.”
After completing the rest of her rotations, Ms Tapjan was offered a job to handle special projects for the corporate engineering group – a position that she has been able to shape based on her personal talents and interest. “I didn’t have to fill someone else’s shoes when I took that role. I realized everyone who worked in that position defined their own job description,” she said. Because she was good at communicating and putting the right people together on projects, this became a significant part of her job. “That was definitely something that I loved,” she said. “If you try to corner someone and say this is what your role is, it’s going to be less and less appealing.”
In 2011, Ms Tapjan took on a project to establish a new 70-acre R&D technology center in Navasota, Texas. The facility is envisioned as an engineer’s playground, she said. “It’s an incubator where people within NOV can test new product ideas and take them to the point of prototype,” she said. “It hasn’t hit the market yet, and they want to test these products in this safe environment before we bring it out to the customer.”
The research center will consist of three buildings and a drilling rig, which will drill along a 360-ft concrete-paved drill cellar, she said. While a broad range of new products and services will be tested at the research center, there will be a particular focus on testing drilling equipment, both surface and downhole, and how the two systems communicate and work together, Ms Tapjan said.
Over the past few years, Ms Tapjan has worked on the design of the facility along with the engineering team and was named project manager last year. In this current role, her job is to ensure that the construction of the technology center and its equipment meets the design needs of NOV’s business units.
She’s also responsible for generating interest and buy-in into the center. The work being devoted to develop the center would all be in vein, she said, if it doesn’t meet the company’s needs or none of the engineers want to use it. To that end, she regularly communicates with people throughout the company to get a sense of what their research needs might be in the coming years and what they want out of the facility. “I meet with all these product groups and ask, ‘What do you think you’re going to plan to test next year, the next five years, the next 20 years?’ Their eyes get so big,” she said. “Meeting with those people, that’s kind of my wheelhouse. It’s fun to try to get people excited about it and get people to sign off on it.”
As project manager, Ms Tapjan has drawn extensively on the network she developed during her time with the corporate engineering group. As she met more and more people through various projects, she learned to develop a sense of who is good at what and how to tie everyone’s skills together. “It’s amazing how many issues or problems you can solve not by reinventing the wheel but putting the right people in the same room,” she said.
As a young professional going through her first downturn in the industry, Ms Tapjan said she remains optimistic about her career prospects in the coming decades. “My belief is that young professionals are easily adaptable to change,” she said. She also doesn’t believe that market conditions will deter young people from seeking careers in the oil and gas industry. “We should reach out more not just to engineers,” she said. “We need to have very business-savvy people running things that engineers may not know anything about.”
Click here to view a video interview with Rium Tapjan on young professionals’ role in the industry.