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Technical Careers in Schlumberger

Date: 09/17/2009
Location: Paris

Recognition and reward for technical excellence

For over 15 years, Schlumberger has provided a well defined technical career recognition scheme for its technical contributors, providing them with a career path that offers recognition, reward and influence that parallels an equivalent management progression.  Technical careers are not isolated from other career paths in Schlumberger. Many technical careers take the employee through a variety of jobs that require different mixes of technical and non-technical skills such as management, personnel management, communication, and marketing. Other technical careers may successfully remain purely within the technical arena.

Schlumberger technical careers are designed to increase employee motivation and enhance employee retention by providing significant reward and recognition for demonstrated technical excellence. As such, the scheme is based on three “pillars”:

  • Parallel technical and management ladders
  • Decoupling of technical recognition status from day-to-day job/position responsibilities
  • Objective technical evaluation open to all

Technical career progression has four steps:

  • “Senior” - a technical expert contributing independently
  • “Principal” - a technical expert leading in their location
  • “Advisor” - a technical expert leading across a wide expanse of the company
  • “Fellow” - a technical expert leading in all Schlumberger and industry/academia

Ask Barbara Zielinska how she feels about having achieved Advisor status as part of the Schlumberger Eureka Technical Careers (SETC) program three years ago and her response is unequivocal. “I’m really proud of it. It’s a very prestigious role, on a par with a high-level management position. Technical respect may come from the work you do rather than the title you hold, but being named as Advisor is a real stamp of recognition for the contribution you’ve made. You’re widely seen as an expert in your field.”

Manager of the simulation and modeling group at Schlumberger Riboud Product Center (SRPC) in Clamart, France, Zielinska spent her early career in a number of academic research positions before becoming R&D manager of the Montrouge Technology Center and then moving on to lead the simulation and modeling group at Sugar Land Technology Center (SPC) in Texas and now in Clamart.

“Being an Advisor has had a really positive impact on my career,” she says. “If there’s anything in particular I want to do nowadays in terms of my technical interests, management is more likely to listen and give their support.

There are now 212 Advisors like Zielinska within Schlumberger—expert individuals whose knowledge and experience is highly prized within a company synonymous with technological leadership. All are proven technical leaders across either an Area, Segment or the entire Research, Engineering, Manufacturing and Sustaining (REMS) organization, and most have approximately 20 years’ Schlumberger seniority. They are expected to maintain a high profileboth internally and externally, to be readily available to provide authoritative technical advice, to act as a sounding board in support of key business decisions and to mentor less-experienced technical staff.

The SETC scheme first arrived on the scene roughly a decade ago. This technical career ladder runs in tandem with the traditional management path to recognize and reward the contribution of outstanding technical professionals—and to reassure those with no desire to be a line manager of the immeasurable value of their work to the company.

In the past, some technical people expressed frustration at what they saw as a lack of acknowledgment of their worth and of a clear career trajectory,” explains Susan Rosenbaum, director of Eureka and Knowledge Management. “The SETC program answers those concerns in a well-defined and highly visible way.”

The beauty of the scheme is that it’s entirely self-nominated. Those who have been recognized as Principals in the SETC and meet the breadth of technical leadership required can put together a Personal Self-Evaluation, assessing their accomplishments in five key technical leadership areas (technical understanding; solutions experience; input to business strategy; mentoring and community leadership; and professional visibility). Once they receive the green light from their direct managers, their applications go before a technical review committee of Fellows and Advisors. The whole process takes up to six months, with four reviews carried out each year.

For Reservoir Geologist Barbara Luneau, who works with Data & Consulting Services (DCS) in Denver, the self-initiation aspect of the scheme is its biggest selling point. “I think the vast majority of technical people underestimate their own contributions because they have their noses to the grindstone,” she says. “You can end up in your own little ghetto feeling like a tiny cog in a huge machine. Going through SETC means that you yourself come to recognize your professional worth."

Now in her fourteenth year with Schlumberger, Luneau sees herself very much as a working geologist. She spent her early career in research science with the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology and then RPI International, followed by a number of years at INTERA Information Technologies as senior geological consultant.

She relishes the additional engagement in business strategy that being an Advisor for the past year has given her. “Once you’ve achieved this status, doors open for you to be far more involved at a conceptual level in where your Segment and the company as a whole are going.”

High-octane input notwithstanding, all Advisors remain very much hands-on in their day job. “I’m still doing what I was doing before I became an Advisor two years ago,” says Eduardo Proano, production domain head based in Mexico City. “But I now have a better perspective on things because I participate in many additional activities, including sitting on the SETC review committees.”

It can add up to more work overall, he concedes, but he’s happy to accept that as part of the territory. “Sometimes the timelines are very tight to do certain tasks. Last year, when I was a member of a production symposium committee, for example, I was given 123 technical abstracts to read at 5 p.m. that were due by 7 a.m. the next morning. But Schlumberger was never an 8-to-5 job for me and SETC has proved without doubt that the investment in time and effort is worth it. The rewards are outstanding.”

Proano’s own 22-year career at Schlumberger spans a variety of engineering and production roles. Most recently, he was head of production solutions for the North Gulf Coast (NGC) and Mexico and Central America (MCA) GeoMarkets, including a 10-year break when he left to run a family business.

Schlumberger is itself a big beneficiary of the Advisor and SETC scheme, he adds. “It provides a real incentive for individuals to prolong their lifespans within the company, meaning that we retain first-class petrotechnical people—always something of a challenge.”

Steve Flew, global technical manager for DCS and Integrated Project Management (IPM) based in Kuala Lumpur, has been an Advisor of two years. He believes the most important thing is to lead from the front. “You have to be very proactive. No one is telling you what to do.” He also dispels the myth that the higher your technical role, the more narrow the focus. “There’s plenty of opportunity to maintain your breadth of knowledge and understanding. I try to lead by being broad-based and not too specific on a single discipline. Integration of disciplines is extremely important.”

A midcareer hire whose most recent roles include reservoir studies manager, subsurface manager, and Middle East & Asia (MEA) consulting services technical manager, Flew finds that younger team members approach him for advice far more readily now than when he was a manager plain and simple. “In fact, I even carry two business cards, one saying ‘Advisor’ and the other ‘Technical Manager,’ and I choose which one to use depending on the circumstances!”

Approachability and acting as a powerful role model are particularly important where women professionals are concerned, points out Barbara Zielinska. “I coach a lot of women who want to be SETC nominated and encourage them to be more self-promoting. Many women have a tendency to say ‘I have no time’ or to treat their managers almost as family and don’t put their own achievements forward. I tell them that they have to use the first person and claim their achievements and contribution. There’s no good scientist without a healthy dose of egocentricity!”

"Recently appointed Advisor Alexander Shandrygin, Moscow-based reservoir management Advisor in the REMS organization, is in no doubt that his new role will give a real boost to the projects and technical priorities he is keen to progress.

“I am sure the more-senior status will help me contribute to an improved sense of direction in our R&D and engineering work,” says Shandrygin, who spent his early career in academia and with Russian oil and gas companies Gazprom and Yukos and the consulting firm Enconco before joining Schlumberger in 2002.

“I will be far better able to pursue my activities in several spheres, particularly, for example, the highly complex issue of how to deal with gas condensate, a problem that we need to address urgently. As Advisor, my role will be to determine the R&D investigation and create the bridge between R&D and engineering. That’s what the job of Advisor is all about. As specialists within a specialist culture, it’s up to us to help drive future company strategy.”

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