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Last Updated: December 13, 2017
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Adrin Shafil is a Drilling and Completions Manager for Petrofac, and is also a contributing writer for NrgEdge. He has a passion for ERD and is always thinking of the next breakthrough idea for the oil and gas industry.


1. Before joining the oil & gas industry, you wanted to work in Silicon Valley, also known as the world-leading tech hub. What was the reason for the career move to oil & gas in Malaysia?

Actually, let’s talk about my previous aspirations, even before my ambitions for Silicon Valley. Since as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a doctor in my teenage years. The practice of medicine excited me, and I was an avid viewer of medical TV dramas such as E.R. Even at the end of high school, when ExxonMobil came knocking on my door during my senior year, I declined a scholarship with them in hopes of pursuing a career in medicine. However, ExxonMobil did not give up. After my exams, they invited me over to East Coast Malaysia, to visit their offices, a trip offshore and their processing plant. This was when I realized that I could achieve so much as an engineer, when I observed the complexity of the machinery and people on site hard at work. So, I took the engineering scholarship, and went to New York.

Fortunately for me though, ExxonMobil did not dictate which field I could sign up for. So, after taking a few introductory engineering classes, I finally chose Electrical Engineering, majoring in Computer Hardware design. So, my years at school were basically filled with tinkering with microprocessor design and assembly language (even more basic than computer science programming).
And yes, my ambition back then was slightly swayed by the allure of Silicon Valley, where I went to a few interviews with Intel, EMC2 and Microsoft, but after some soul searching, I decided to go back to my love for oil and gas, so I decided to join ExxonMobil in Kerteh, and was assigned to be part of the drilling team, and have remained a driller ever since.

2. Other than being a member of SPE, what are your other involvements outside of work and how do you find time to be involved?

I am fairly active with IADC (International Association of Drilling Contractors) as a speaker and committee member, as well as participating in industry technical committees led by PETRONAS. Recently I’ve been appointed as the Vice Chairman for WeDSTeC Committee by MPM Drilling in Petronas, which was a great honour. The WeDSTeC Committee is a drilling technical arm under the main umbrella of PETRONAS CORAL 2.0 industry-wide transformation programme, which stands for Cost Reduction Alliance 2.0.

And of course, my current online activities as a leadership influencer on LinkedIn and NrdEdge have proven to be quite rewarding, where I assist multiple layers of people in the oil and gas and other industries reach their true potential.

All of this are quite time-consuming, but I feel it is my responsibility to give back to the industry and community I live in, so I don’t let the time crunch bother me too much.

3. You graduated in computer and electrical engineering from Cornell University. How important is education in shaping one’s career path?

I believe that in high school or in higher level institutions, we are not actually merely learning equations, systems, rules or previous discoveries. What we learn is to develop our own abilities based on the fundamentals and tools given to us, where we are able to take our own path and succeed.

Another way to think about it is, every 3-5 years, a new job type is created, especially in the world of engineering and technology and it’s almost impossible for anybody to be educated specifically for that future job, that does not exist yet. Even in oil and gas, I believe with automation in the 4th industrial revolution with robotics and internet of things, the traditional draw and calculate engineering type will be displaced by program designers and data scientists. So, the journey of self-improvement and change will never end in the world we live in, so why should we limit our options based on our education when we were 18 years old?

4. Do you think that fresh graduates today are well-equipped to navigate their way in their careers? What are the skills and traits that are important to sustain a long-term career in the oil & gas industry?

I believe fresh graduates need to look beyond what they have already done, and have a vision of the future, while figuring out their place in that future. With the ability to reinvent themselves and have the right tools always for that vision, they can enter any industry with confidence, and specifically for oil and gas, they will be the catalysts for the new direction that O&G needs to move towards to, to catch up with the level of sophistication that can be found elsewhere. For example, the world is moving towards big data analytics, automation and A.I., so it’s almost impossible to think that O&G will not transform in the same way. And how will O&G be after the 4th industrial revolution? I will not be around then to witness those changes but the current new graduates will, so they need to be prepared for that future.

5. What are your thoughts on the concept of work-life balance? Do you think that reaching the top of the tier in your career, means losing that balance?

My personal opinion is a balance is entirely up to the individual’s goals in life. You can be great at something, but it’s impossible to be great at everything. And this applies to work-life. If you achieve an equal split between the two, then if you are happy with that, go for it. However, if you want to achieve greatness in perhaps a top tier position like a CEO of a company, then you have to make a choice. For some people, they are comfortable with their choice and make work-life possible. And for some, they do not differentiate between work or life, as life is both work and family. To each their own.

6. You’ve given talks about extended-reach drilling (ERD) and have mentioned it a number of times in your articles – why are you so passionate about ERD and what are your hopes for ERD technology in the future?

ERD has just a special place in my heart. Just like how architects and construction engineers race to build the next record breaking skyscraper, the same affection is felt for ERD by drilling and completion engineers. ERD represents the epitome of what drilling and completions engineers can achieve with the tools that they have. Right now, the world record is up to 13km in length, and Malaysian record is about 6.5km. Of course, well lengths are all dependent on the basin you are drilling, and there is no point drilling further and further if the well is unable to achieve the business value, but it remains my dream to be able to push Malaysian ERD industry to deeper frontiers. My hope is that technology for ERD escapes the confines of drilling rig limitations by transforming the way the tool’s energy source is received and converted to mechanical energy. Currently, hydraulics, torque, and pull are all supplied from surface by the rig, which then limits the ability to drill further. In other words, the rig has to be more powerful but there is a limit and cost on upgrading rigs. But if we can imagine self-powered bottom hole assemblies (tools downhole used for drilling), with powerful hydraulic pumps, and automated navigation abilities and closed loop corrections, we can definitely see the 20km barrier no longer be a hurdle.

7. You have managed to gain quite a large network on your LinkedIn profile and you’re very active on it. How important has your professional network been in your career journey?

I feel blessed and grateful with the following that I currently have, and I personally would like to help and guide as much as I can, with nothing expected in return. However, the interactions that I have and visibility allowed by LinkedIn, helps to create a personal digital brand for myself. I am a firm believer that branding is as important to a company and as important to an individual’s success.

In the real business world, the way I dress, the way I communicate is my visual professional brand. Online, what I share, what I write and comment, will become permanent virtual content, which will become my digital image, my personal brand and my legacy. The benefits of an excellent digital brand include a wider audience recognition of my abilities, spanning within and beyond my own field of expertise. With proper exposure, possibilities may arise to allow me to discover new things or pursue whatever it is that I’m passionate about.

8. Do you have a role model that you look up to?

I’m sure I’d embarrass my boss if I mentioned him by name, so I won’t. But to me, he is my role model as he embodies the company’s values, inspires me to take action and he never tires from coaching me with the right guidance and nudges for me to succeed. He is truly a leader, not a boss, and I’m glad to be working with him.

9. I’m sure you have accomplished many things in your life. Can you share your most memorable achievement?

My latest challenge was being able to deliver two wells with a lean budget and on a fast track basis, in what we recognize as a difficult time for the industry. Even the best laid out strategies could not be executed without a great team. My team this year was able to work within the business constraints, and with best in class performance, delivered the two wells safely. It was no easy feat as this was considered one of the most complex wells in Petrofac to date! I’m proud of my team and what they have achieved.

10. Was there ever a moment in your career when you were frustrated to the point of giving up? How did you recover from it?

Okay now it is time to be frank. I am a rather ambitious person and have been since I was in grade school. When my teacher asked me what I was going to be in the future, at the young age of 11, I answered confidently, “A Menteri Besar” (State Governor). While I did not choose the life of a politician, I’ve continued to be goal-oriented all my life, so I aim higher and higher at every stage of my career. So, when I don’t achieve what I want, or being told its not currently in the pipeline, of course I get crushed. An example was back in 2007, in my sixth year as an engineer, I was promised the job of a US Engineering Supervisor after completing my stint in the worldwide planning group. When I was told I had to wait for another year, I threw a fit and quit my job with immediate effect. That was not my proudest moment, but it all worked out well in the end, as I had plenty of opportunities with other companies and I would not be where I am now, if I did not make that change. But as I mature in the industry, I realize that opportunities have to be earned and may not be at the time what we want. So, perseverance and the ability to reinvent myself is key, because sometimes the opportunities given may be something entirely new, but I have to be ready for it.

11. What is next in the pipeline for you? Do you have a project you’re working on or would like to embark on?

Currently we have plenty of wells at Petrofac to be drilled, and future developments, that will keep me busy.

12. Finally, what is the one piece of valuable advice you can give to oil & gas professionals who are about to step into the industry?

Be mindful that the current difficulty in the industry may be longer than expected, so what the industry really needs are people with creative and innovative minds, to be able to maintain safety, operational excellence and achieve business objectives even with a tight budget. So, use the tools that you have, the skills that you’ve learnt and be ready to suggest the next change for oil and gas, and prepare to work and make it a reality. There will always be somebody to listen and guide you, but you need to be able to drive yourself to achieve your goals.

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