If I had the chance to tell you one last thing

in the space
above your head
I see his face-
And the memory of
The us that once was
Floods back,
In a moment.

I see his eyes
And the glee
And I recognise
Like the inevitable
cold sweat of
a bad night’s dream
that we have leapt across
the edge of the
river of no return

If I had the chance
To tell you
one last thing
I might tell a tale
Of a thousand parts
Or sing a song
To cast a spell so
Time would stand still
Or maybe silence
May be all there is
To see and be.

Bitter-sweet

I have spent the last few days offsite attending the SPE’s Oilfield Corrosion Conference in Aberdeen. When the email invite first came through, I knew I had to be part of it. The one main gripe I have about my job is the lack of real technical content in it on an ongoing basis. I tend to get sucked into the fire fighting, reactive mode that prevents me from applying my specialist Corrosion & Materials engineering knowledge.

It was good to see what my peers (if I can call them that seeing they are so far ahead of me technically 🙂 ) are up to, put faces to names I’d heard of in the past and catch up/ socialise with a few old friends. There was also the awkward moment where I ran into the Corrosion Manager at the firm I turned down after what seemed like a good interview just over a year ago. If I had to summarise my learnings I would pick a number of points viz:

  • There is a lot of work going on in the Academia and consulting which doesn’t get through to the industry quickly enough
  • The day to day operations support integrity engineer role is not one I want to remain in for very long and as a corollary to both these points,
  • The PhD in Materials & Welding needs to get back on the agenda ASAP.

On a sightly less happy note, I got a message about one of the (Nigerian) lads at work getting fired. Truth is he’s had issues for quite a while now which the boss had put up with quite a bit, but it still rankles that he was cut off. I do not have all the facts, but I suppose in a sense it’s also a failure of the mentorship and people’s development system. It must be quite a burden when the boss, especially in a close knit group like mine, has to take a decision to let go of someone.

In other news, I am off to Nigeria in eight days. There’s the small matter of my baby sister’s wedding, as well as the niece  I am yet to see and a few loose financial ends to tie up. The step sister and the rest of the family have had drifted apart majorly over the years, and one of my objectives this trip is to try to seek her out and reconnect. Family is too precious to cut off permanently.

Eight things I Wished I knew Eight Years Ago…

Eight years ago, I was a wee lad, barely 23, fresh off my year of serving the nation in the foothills of Sango; with the mellifluous, if unintelligible, sounds of the music that consistently wafted upwards from the traders that surrounded my very modest lodgings at Maraba still ringing in my ears. I was none the wiser of the ways of the world at the time – like the good son of my Mother that I still was, in addition to being the pitifully shy, introspective bloke, I still greeted older males and females as ‘Sir’ and’Ma’ – a predisposition which perhaps made me fall prey to the shenanigans of a couple of police men on my first day at work.

That  first job was the dream; and each day I was in it, I went in with great gusto happy to contribute my quota and more. Sadly, in retrospect, I suspect I could have done a lot better than I did out of it. I left it a month shy of my fifth year anniversary; missing out on the plaque, the car loan, and the furniture grant I would have gotten. The years since then have made me more pragmatic (some would say more cynical), but if I had the chance to do it differently, I suspect I would change quite a few things. So here goes, in no order of importance.

  1. Esoteric specialities count for nothing: My fascination with metallurgy and rust was born during my six month internship at one of the moribund steel mills in Nigeria. Four of those months were spent under the wing of a bloke who learned his trade from the Russian steel makers of his day. His enthusiasm infected me, and when the chance for selecting a specialty on my first job came, I opted to go down the rust route. In addition to the seeds sown by said old boss, the lure of eventually becoming a specialist in an obscure discipline was a big draw. In retrospect it wasn’t a good move. Aside of the satisfaction – and that dubious at best – of speaking a technical language no one else on the ALT spoke, the dividends were few and far between. And when it was appraisal time the high fliers were the drilling lads who delivered barrels of crude oil in the hundreds; the critical pitting temperature of 22Cr duplex counted for nothing.
  2. Irrespective of whatever HR spiel you’re fed about the ‘Corporate Culture’, the social context of work is almost always more important: The HR suits – the word around town was that quite a few of them were Harvard MBAs  – never missed an opportunity to remind us of how we were working for a truly global company with tons of development opportunities open to us. What they failed to add was that the Corporate Culture of objective assessments, rewarding high performing employees and attracting and retaining top talents was superimposed on the Nigerian culture of deferring to people in authority and tribal cabals. By the time yours truly realised he was the minority in a  minority state, it was probably much too late to rescue my career.
  3. Nine times out of ten how you say what you say is more important than what you actually say:  It may have been because we were new hires, fresh out of college with the most important metric of success being our ability to learn, but time and time again, the one dude who consistently put his foot in his mouth, resumed work at 9am when the rest of us had been in since 8.30 or earlier but never shirked the chance to speak up was the one who got the plaudits early on. It wasn’t so much that he was crap, and spewed crap and rubbed everyone the wrong way, it was that when first year appraisals were done, he was somehow ranked highest of us all, and got a cushy transfer to Houston for a three year stint. There might have been the influence of a few high up relatives, but I can only chalk his meteoric rise down to him being willing to put himself out there in the eye of others. A particular case in point stands out. The choke on a high sand producing well had failed for the umpteenth time and we were sitting in on a 5 whys sessions. The said dude promptly declared loudly that the failure had occurred due to brittle fracture. Every metallurgist worth their high school diploma knows that brittle fracture occurs when a metal loses ductility when it’s cooled below its ductile-brittle transition temperature, not when it is clearly eroded by high flow velocity fluids with entrained solids!
  4. Alignment is 9/10th of the law, the other 1/10th is visibility: I learned late – I was already mentally out of the door at the time – that every manager has a pet project, the one (or more) deliverable he is betting his two year stint on. The first boss’s one was staffing and growing the group – hence the slew of new hires including yours truly that he brought in over an 18 month period. The next one’s though was controls – ensuring that every task we did – routine or not – had an appropriately documented procedure which had been peer reviewed and was stored in a retrievable format. The next one from the group who got the cushy assignment to the relatively heady heights of a file totting Lagos office was the one lad who submitted the most inane of near-miss reports and effectively acted as his Ops Manager’s PA.
  5. In male dominated work environments, delectable females wield a lot of (understated) power: Our Technical Administrator was a delectable Efik woman who could not have been a lot much older than us, but she sure made sure we felt her presence, even though she was only a contractor. She ran everything from organising our monthly tea and biscuits, stationery, and passing documents to the big boss for signing off. Inevitably in her time, she also ran her eyes over a few documents requiring high level clearance. A quick chat a few weeks ago revealed a telling fact, the big boss had asked for her opinion of quite a number of us as part of his canvassing the opinion of ‘knowledgeable others’.
  6. The first essential of taking over a new role is rubbishing the work the ones who came before did: Time and time again, the time honoured tradition espoused by people who took over roles that had been done passably by others was to bad mouth the previous regime. Sadly!
  7. The mirthless grin is an art form that must be conquered: The mirthless grin, a quick expansion of the lips to form a grin, barely discernible but there quickly became the de facto greeting – quick enough to show recognition, but devoid of any real emotion.
  8. Though shalt have a vice, as long as it is a shared one: Mid way through my last year on the job, I realised that there were both tribal and activity based cabals. One Monday or the other we would come across clusters of people sharing stories of their latest exploits in painting the town red. Unsurprisingly, these people seemed to earn moves to the same places at the same time. Us lads with no discernible vices never got a look in.

Thankful Thursdays #20

Thankful for:

  • Courteous road users: The final crossing before I make the right turn up the tiny road to my apartment is about as busy as it gets by the time I drag myself home. There are people turning left into the big housing complex just down the road from me, people going to see movies at the beach and all that. I often spend five or more minutes waiting for the traffic to lighten up enough for me to make a dash across the road. This week, I have had the delight of having a couple of drivers stop to allow me cross, even when they have not had to.
  • Resolution: How I managed to get sucked into a spat at work beats me, but I ended up exchanging almost seven emails trying to defend a technical call I made on a work item. The downside of being the Asset Integrity guy is I often have to insist on cutting back production to allow safe operation of the asset I support, and that doesn’t really sit well with the production guys. Thankfully, I took a break from the to-ing and fro-ing and allowed a day pass before sending my final reply. That and common sense prevailed in allowing us reach a compromise.
  • Good starts: From time to time opportunities arise at work where I get to demonstrate my technical depth. This week, I had to respond to a technical question from one of the older colleagues. Being able to provide detailed answer made my smile inwardly to myself – thankful for the grounding in Corrosion and Materials I got from my first gig at XOM.

Holding Pattern

 

There is treading water.
And then there is lostness
and the bland, depressing
sameness, of everything.

There are bad night’s dreams.
And then there are visions
of the night – in which
one writhes and like
a knotted string snarled
back upon itself one-
finds himself at the
self same starting point.

In the beat
of the drums of the
delirious priest
and the frenzied dance
that is our Faustian pact,
Hope like a stubborn root –
peeks out from between
a rock and a hard place.
And the unwilling lethargy
of a quiescent dawn
is forgotten, as it fades
like the memory of a
quick frolic in the shade
of water side palms dies
in the heat of a
baking desert sun.

But in the rarefied quietness
of our seasons of re-memory
we find – that for all our sweat,
and all our pain, and the make belief
of hope and delirious joy,
we still remain, kept in check
In the self same holding pattern

Thankful Thursdays #18

Thankful for:

  • Summer Fridays and the chance to focus on some of the more proactive/strategic components of my role at work
  • Conversations with my Uncle F: Even though I moan about his ‘interference’ at times, the one thing I cannot argue with is he’s walked the self same paths I’m currently walking, and he does have a good head and good intentions.
  • Improved work relationships: Our shared office space has been seeing a lot more laughter lately. Even though some of it is banter I’m having to lap up, I have to say I’m thoroughly enjoying myself this year from the looks of things.

Weekday debaucheries…

 

malones_500

I caught my first whiff of light headedness half way through my second pint of Guinness Extra Cold – in all its frothy, 3.5 degree chilled gloriousness. The group from work – ever happy for an excuse to hit the town and splurge on the brew – had decided they were up for a second night out, a mere two months after our February jaunt, and that on a Wednesday evening no less.

We gathered at the Irish Malones bar; I arrived the small matter of five minutes before we were due to start to meet a sizeable number of people settled in, already downing a few tasters. There was no discernible pattern to how the group had aggregated, although it was clear the drilling and reservoir lads were having their usual love-in slightly to one side of the building, and the six or so ladies from Planning were chattering away excited at the other end.

I made my way to the bar and ordered my Guiness Extra Cold – wikipedia had promised it would be a very tolerable 4.3% ABV laced meal in a glass (a wee bit over my usual Becks fare, but I expected I would be able to handle it). A few sips into my drink, I caught the eye of my current work mentor, mid way through the very animated conversation he was having from his enviable position, sequestered between two buxom women. I went across, got introduced and proceeded to participate in the conversation, my participation being limited to interjecting now and again with oohs and ahhs at the colourful details of some altercation from a previous outing way before my time here.

Somewhere between downing my first pint and starting off my second, I was saved by the arrival of the finger food – an assortment of meatballs, fish fingers and spring rolls, with several sauces to choose from. I went for the compendium approach – having a little of everything to ensure I had sampled the lot. True to my insular, anti-social leanings, I flirted briefly with the thought of heading home early. There were mitigating circumstances this time though – my lightheadedness, and  the insistent growling of my hungry stomach – but the lure of watching the evening’s football (Real Madrid went on to lose on penalties at home to Bayern Munich) proved too strong. Thankfully, staying turned out to be the correct decision as the game provided enough of a talking point, and dragged on long enough to allow me dilute my alcohol with a diet coke.

I may have learned only one thing from this night out – I still have a ways to go to building my alcohol resistance. That, and the quip from my work mentor who insisted in mock horror at my choice of Guinness extra cold, that a true gentleman only drank gin-and-tonic.