The Tale of Chemical Engineering (Part IX of I)

Previously Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII and VIII.

From February 14th 2015.

“…I am just excited and happy to see the CEng MIChemE appear after my name on official post from the institute and will hopefully be promoted to a new grade of engineer in the office.”

What a difference ten months can make.

You’ll have gathered from the posts about moving to England and other things (like my Instagram feed) that I no longer live in Glasgow… or Scotland for that matter. In an entirely unexpected turn of events that might go on to define my life and career (no pressure then) Connie, Joni and I uprooted and moved down to Cumbria. There are so many factors that lead to this decision, you could even trace the seeds of them way back in 2012.

The actual events that caused the move are long and drawn out over months and months too, stretching back to… maybe even 2012 as well, but certainly back to the beginning of 2015. That sentence in Part VIII, in which I was suitably and rightly chuffed that I had been awarded Chartered Engineer status, was actually a subtle complaint – at that point my now ex-employers had already snubbed me for a promotion after at least a year (and definitely longer, actually) of promising it. It stung. It stung for so many reasons, but mostly because it seemed arbitrarily imposed on myself, whilst others had been waved past that point without even a glance at their situation. It was like a line up at a club, and I was waiting in the velvet rope line as under-age kids with no ID are waved through. Kids that aren’t even famous or attractive! I mean, come on.

Coupled with a massive downturn in the oil and gas industry’s available cash, a move to something different was suddenly an important option and one that was foisted on me when the company started redundancy proceedings in April.

This post isn’t to talk about the events over the summer which were pretty dreadful, but to talk about something that I’d never thought about for a very long time prior to the middle of spring this year – what do I want to do? This question first reared its head back in 2007 as I graduated, stunned with the first post-education choice of my life. What to do now? The decision was kind of made for me back then by a great job offer in Aberdeen that I’d have been foolish to have turned down. The prospect of an actual honest for real payday took me North. I didn’t regret the decision then (and don’t regret it now either) but over time like most things the novelty wore off. I excitedly rushed my way through graduate training and off shore working and then Houston before coming home. Coming home was like a hard landing. As soon as the scheme had been completed and wrapped up it was like they’d forgotten about us staff engineers.

The bombshell of deciding to no longer work in oil and gas, which was something I’d been twirling around my mind for years, is actually not the big impact that it once had. Speaking to people outside the industry and inside the industry I’ve made a very proactive move, and it is one that certainly helps my own conscience. I can now say with confidence that I work for an industry that is cleaner and actually about cleaning things up, in the end. I’d not really considered the moral or ethical implications of working for Oil and Gas when I first took the job and that mind-set had only coalesced over the past few years. Not that I am naïve now, but I was then. One thing that is very strange (and actually one that I understand from an outsider’s perspective) is that the industry to which I have moved has a worse reaction than oil and gas almost all over the planet. Mentioning to folk in Canada that I worked with a nuclear power plant had genuine and real recoils from family and friends, where before Oil and Gas had left a simple nod and a “oh yeah”. The difference was surprising – not only because nuclear energy is easily one of the cleanest we have, pound-for-pound, but also that it I’d never came across it before with my other employment despite the hue swathes of the world that Oil and Gas is destroying.

The main difference with my new work is the verve it’s giving me. I’d admittedly lost the drive I needed in Oil and Gas. It was a deckchairs/Titanic type of feeling for a long time, going through the motions and doing basic stuff day in day out without much verve. The last thing I worked on, a Helideck, was quite interesting because it was something that I’d not done before and never came across before.  In the day to day work, however, the blowing up of minutiae to epic proportions for no reason at all was mind-numbing and whilst things got done, the attitudes towards innovation and doing things differently were just abysmal. Looking out of that bubble into a new industry felt like an escape, but I am no longer that naïve – Nuclear has its own issues, but there’s something different at the core.

That fire is back. I actually find the minutiae interesting. The history of where I am working on what I am working on is fascinating. I have already been able to do things that none of my close friends have done or maybe ever will. And the added complexity of working on entirely new and pretty complex plant is exactly the kind of thing I needed,  and now doing something that feels like it did maybe five or seven years ago when I’d first started is quite exciting.

However we will just have to wait and see in the end. I don’t think I expected this year to end up the way it has back in February. It is true that you can never be sure as to where you’re going to end up, so time will tell. 2015 has taught me a lot, and one of the biggest lessons was to roll with the punches, but probably more importantly is that you make your own luck. Leaps and dramatic shifts can and do fail, but you’ll never know which way they’ll end up without doing them. 2015 Hasn’t been the best of years, but at least in certain areas growth has happened.

Roll on part X of I.