Job: Estimator, TechnipFMC
Location: Houston, Texas
Brenna and I were connected through Karen, a YoPro interview from a few months ago. Jumping into the oil and gas field at an inopportune time, Brenna has spent the past few years out of school learning the ropes of this male-dominated industry. In this candid interview, she shares what she has learned, what she has done to fit in, and how she plans to make a difference.
Give us a brief background on you.
I'm currently an estimator for an oil and gas company called TechnipFMC. I went to a school called the Colorado School of Mines, a small engineering school in the most beautiful little town in Colorado. I have a degree in petroleum engineering, but honestly, I chose engineering because I didn't really know what else to do. I thought petroleum engineering sounded cool and being from Houston, I thought why not? I don't really have that amazing background story of all of the generations before me that did the same thing and I "wanted to carry on a legacy". I just picked it because it sounded cool.
Did you go straight into this role right after graduation or did you bounce around a little bit?
I actually graduated from college at a bad time for the oil and gas industry. I graduated in May 2016 when no one could find a job in the field and was lucky to find a company who agreed to hire me as a temp, so I was able to look for jobs full time while also earning a paycheck. I started that position in May of 2016 and couldn't find a job until around December of that year. I had multiple interviews and competition was crazy. I actually ended up getting a job in the electrical power line industry, where I was an estimator for the company and hated it. I learned so much from that experience, including how not to act with fellow coworkers and also how to really communicate and know that it's okay to talk things out if you need to. After a little over a year, I found a job in the industry that I went to school for and it has been amazing ever since. I actually just hit my one year anniversary with the company this month.
What does your day-to-day look like as an estimator?
It depends on what project we are working on any given day. An example of a project I just finished up is for an ammonia plant up in Washington and depending on what stage of the project you're in, you can be doing many different things. You can either be gathering information from all of the other engineers you're working with, or you can be in meetings with discipline engineers to go over quantities and make sure everyone is on the same page. We might be talking with a project manager who's going to manage our project once it's done and also make sure we're on the same page. Today we actually had a meeting with a client to make sure the client was happy with the number we came up with. It all just depends on what stage of the project you are in, but it's constantly changing. You're constantly being challenged and solving problems, which is one of the things I really enjoy about it. This past year I went from a very small company to a very large company, so that has been an adjustment in itself.
Which size company do you prefer?
This new company is so much better! There is a gym in my office and I get to work out there during the day, which is important for me. The people in my department that I work with are amazing, too. We're just one big family and they really care about you. One thing that makes a difference is the boss I have, who is the complete opposite of the first manager I had. He wants us to get our work done, obviously, but if you need to leave, leave. Everyone has a life and this job shouldn't be your entire life, which he's very understanding of. I think it's super important to have a manager who's approachable, as well. I've heard horror stories of managers walking around with a clipboard writing down when their employees get back from lunchtime, and that is just too stressful for me - and a lot of others, I’d imagine. I definitely prefer the larger company.
What would you say to somebody looking to get into this field?
I hope they have tough skin because it's a very cyclical industry. You might lose your job one day. Most of the people in this industry right now are your stereotypical super old white guys, ”good ole boys.” They're very tough and most of them are coming from the field. They don't care what you learned in school; they only care about what they know, and I think people who are getting into this industry need to be humble and not just throw their degrees in everyone's faces. I’d like for them to realize that it's okay to ask for help if you don't know something or it's okay to listen to other people and have a conversation. For example, if one of these guys act like they know more than you, you can have the confidence to say “can you show me how you thought of this? This is what I was thinking.” Everyone can be critical, especially in this industry. There have been multiple times when people will tell you bluntly that you did a bad job and you need to be able to take that and not get your feelings hurt.
What has been your biggest challenge since becoming a professional and how did you grow from it?
Honestly, you have to prove yourself as a young woman in this industry. These guys will give you so much crap and you can't let them. You have to stand up for yourself and if they give you crap, you're going to have to give them crap right back. It's pretty much the only way they're going to step back and think, “Wow. Don't mess with her.” It's hard, but it goes back to having tough skin.
Do you have a network of women who have forged the path for you or do you feel like you’re alone in the field?
I would say it’s a mix. The alumni system from Mines has helped out a lot and I have a couple of good girlfriends from school who are also in the oil and gas industry, so that helps. I sometimes do feel alone in the field because it is dominated by males and there's not a lot of women necessarily in my department at my company. It makes building relationships with men at the company a little harder, I’ll admit. One of the guys in my department knows a bunch of other guys from different departments. He talks to them all the time and he asks me if I have gotten to know anyone outside of our department and I say no, because it can be a little awkward trying to make that relationship when you're on the outside. Being female in a very stereotypical industry where males are more dominant is tough, particularly when many of the few women are in typewriter-like roles. It really helps out having friends that are in the industry that can relate to all of this stuff, though.
What is something that motivates you?
Something that motivates me is probably the way my dad works. My dad was a first-generation college student and he worked at a grocery store at night to put himself through school. His work ethic is insane, I don't even know how to describe it. I often think if he could do all of this with no help from his parents, how can I sit back and just coast by when I have my amazing parents behind me? I also have a husband who's so supportive, and I try every day to work as hard as he did and still does.
What is it like being a young professional in Houston?
Being a young professional in Houston is amazing because there are so many different areas to go explore. The young professional group with Mines does a bunch of fun activities like going to soccer games and bars around Houston. I think what I enjoy the most is definitely going to sports bars with big groups. I was in a sorority at school and there's a young alum group here in Houston and that’s kind of the same thing. It’s a good break from all of the technical oil and gas conversation with all of the men I work with, and it’s just fun hanging out with just the girls since that's not who I regularly see every day.
How do you get your news?
I love listening to Your Daily Drive on Spotify because it actually has snippets of podcasts and songs for your commute each day. It is perfect for the younger generation because let's face it, we like to be entertained 24/7. I also love TheSkimm, and the fact that it's written by two women is the best because they are absolutely badass.
Favorite book or podcast recommendation?
My Favorite Murder is great, but absolutely terrifying. I never listen to it when my husband is out of town because I get scared. It's two women who basically talk about different murders and somehow make it funny. A book I read recently is called A Woman in The Window and it is a thriller. I really like to read things that let you zone out and just read and not have to think too hard. You just read.
The YoPro Know's Takeaways:
- Why having tough skin will get you far
- It's okay to ask for help
- Prove yourself as a female in your field
- An insider's look into the oil and gas field
- Great ways to get your news