Philip Smedley, Advisor – Design of Offshore Structures & Chairman of International Standards Organisation committee for Offshore Structures.

Job Title: Advisor – Design of Offshore Structures & Chairman of International Standards Organisation committee for Offshore Structures.

Organisation: BP

Qualifications: BSc (Grade 2ii) Mathematical Sciences at Birmingham University, FIMA, CMath, CSci

“Like all careers it’s all about doing lots of less interesting preparation work, reading, training, learning from minor mistakes that prepares you for the tougher but most exciting challenges.”

 

Organisation: BP

Number of years in current position: Eight years in BP

Qualifications: BSc (Grade 2ii) Mathematical Sciences at Birmingham University, FIMA, CMath, CSci

Briefly describe the organisation you work for.
Global energy company primarily associated with exploration, drilling, production, refining and marketing oil and gas. My role is within a central engineering team with deep expertise in specific disciplines (mine is floating oil & gas platforms). We act as the hub providing expertise to new development projects and existing operations in the many regions of the World in which BP operates.

Explain what you do on an average day at work.
I work on a number of longer term tasks such as writing company and industry standards that capture best practice, developing and giving training courses, managing cross-industry technology development projects, and leading in-house projects to improve the quality, reliability and maintainability of our offshore platforms. However, mostly I provide ad-hoc advise and support our engineering teams so they can deliver safe and reliable offshore platforms by providing relatively short term help investigating and resolving problems and answering technical questions.

What do you like most about your job?
I enjoy working on a wide variety of tasks which I need to manage in terms of prioritisation and people. It can be high pressure when major decisions need to be made but as you continue to build expertise and experience then you can feel more comfortable at these times. For the International Standards work dealing with a wide range of different people, opinions and cultures is interesting and largely very enjoyable. Like all careers it’s all about doing lots of less interesting preparation work, reading, training, learning from minor mistakes that prepares you for the tougher but most exciting challenges.

What stimulated your interest in maths, and when?
I did not have a single key moment but rather found that I enjoyed and was drawn towards the mathematical aspects of all school subjects, e.g. data collection, statistical assessment, probability theory, early computer programming, et al. I also enjoyed numerate hobbies such as board games, card and later casino games, and collecting stamps, football cards, league tables, and cricket statistics.

What influenced your career choice?
While I didn’t set out to be an engineer, in fact at age 18 I wanted to be anything but, there does seem to be an element of it being in the family genes. Plus once I tried working in an marine/structural engineering company I really enjoyed the work, as I have done since. I was not sure what career I wanted to follow until I was about 23 so took a general mathematics course later specialising in elements of statistics and computing plus a subsidiary in psychology. I tried electronic engineering for a year after completing my degree, but it was not right for me. Finally there was a great US soap opera on TV at the time called Dallas where they had big offices, fast cars and good looking women, and no one seemed to do any work – maybe that swung it for me.

Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job?
In addition to basic numerate and engineering knowledge the two main skills I need are:
1. Ability to rapidly review and then challenge potentially incorrect assumptions or methodology in technical reports.
2. Ability to communicate clearly and succinctly both verbally and in writing.

Any advice you may have for other individuals considering your career path.
While I would not recommend frequent large changes in career path, if you find yourself in a role that is unsatisfying be aware that your skills are in demand and that other opportunities exist. Moving roles can be scary but, looking back at the times when I have moved, the outcome has nearly always been for the better.

Your future career plans.
Ideally more of the same but possibly with more work directly ‘on site’ where big offshore platforms are being built.