“You don’t have to go to Silicon Valley to do something interesting,” said MCS alumnae Andrea Pound. “There are plenty of interesting projects going on here in Houston.” Pound is a Software Product Manager at Schlumberger, the world’s leading provider of technology for reservoir characterization, drilling, production, and processing to the oil and gas industry.
“Being part of a truly global company offers me the opportunity of interaction with colleagues from around the world. There is lot of mobility for software engineers at Schlumberger. Although we have a presence in Silicon Valley, I’ve never even felt the urge to leave this building.”
At a recent standup meeting, the team that joined Pound in the circle included software engineers who had transferred to the Houston office from Schlumberger offices around the world. Felipe had worked in their Rio de Janeiro and suburban Paris locations, Billy relocated from Beijing, Boris from Tyumen (Russia), and Vincent from Grenoble (France). The team also included a contractor from India and a recent graduate hire: Andreas from UT.
For the last year and a half, Pound has worked as the project manager of a cloud-hosted Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) framework. She said, “I am responsible for the overall success of the project: delivering the right thing at the right time and with high quality. I need make sure the stakeholders get what they need, and empower the team to contribute their best effort.”
She relishes the challenge of leading the project and thrives on the energy that flows through her team as they tackle and resolve hard problems, even though leadership brings its own uncertainties. “As a PM, it can be hard to measure your personal success – your work doesn’t compile, and you can’t unit test it! That can be quite daunting, especially in the beginning,” she said.
Pound takes pride in her team’s accomplishments and said, “We lead the Houston Technology Center in many technology areas and are building a product we are really proud of.” Her team’s industrial applications for the IoT may also lead to patents. Schlumberger is linked to more than 36,000 patents and all Schlumberger’s employees are encouraged to suggest and develop new ideas.
“It’s surprising how much we’ve learned about what’s happening deep underground, even over the last ten years,” said Pound. “Utilizing IIoT technologies at a well site is like turning on a flashlight in a dark room. Where we used to stand outside and just guess at what was happening inside, now we see more of what’s going on and that is really interesting to me.”
“Another thing that interests me is solving problems,” she said. “Problems are all different types and sizes and not tied to a particular technology.” She credits her CS courses for teaching her how to approach problems logically. “I learned a new way to think in my CS classes,” she said. “Logical thinking skills are an incredible asset in all parts of my life, not just work.”
Her work at Schlumberger is a far cry from her original degree in Fine Arts – Drawing. Pound arrived at Rice University to pursue a PhD in Anthropology and she took a student job at the IT Help Desk. She became fascinated by the UNIX operating system and began learning more about it, enough to become a student UNIX system administrator. “But compared to my fellow student admins, I felt I was struggling with the scripting tasks and wanted to do better,” she said.
One of her co-workers showed her how to use the Dr. Scheme programming environment, then convinced her to take an introductory programming class. “That was COMP 210,” she said, “and it was incredibly hard but I not only survived, I did well. So I decided to take the next course, and the next.”
By the time Pound was defending her Anthropology dissertation, she had accumulated enough credits to apply for the professional masters in computer science (MCS) program. Along the way, she realized that she enjoyed both the teamwork and the problem-solving that was part of her part-time job at the Help Desk and also in her CS classes.
Her ability to master CS and use it to solve problems is “not something I would have predicted,” she said, “but being able to take it one class at a time made it less intimidating. Also, the support of my coworkers and classmates helped me face down the challenges that could have derailed me otherwise.”
Upon graduation, her family expected her to move to California. “But I’m from Florida, and I love the South,” she said. “We own a house, have yard. Those are not things I was unlikely to have in San Francisco.” Then at a career expo, a friend of a friend called her over to the Schlumberger booth.
“He said, ‘Let me tell you about my job’ and he was in –is still in– embedded software. I said I didn’t know anything about oil and gas,” recalled Pound. Still, he recruited her. After the first interview, she remained uncertain. The second interview included a tour of the Sugarland campus and Pound became intrigued as she met members of various teams.
“Schlumberger’s international culture also appealed to me,” she said. “People are always moving around. Working in almost any team is a multi-cultural experience, you get to learn how they do things in other countries, how they live, what their religion is like. Many of the things we take for granted–we see them very differently through the eyes of our co-workers from other countries and cultures.”
She also appreciates the many different career tracks within Schlumberger. Pound said, “Even software engineers don’t need stay in that track. They may become domain experts, lead teams, move into different segments. If you are ready for a change, just talk with your manager and say, ‘Hey, I’m looking for that next challenge.’”
Pound’s enthusiasm for both her employer and the computer science program at Rice has not dwindled over time. For more than a decade, she has been an active recruiter of CS students for Schlumberger internships and jobs. Through her encouragement, Schlumberger supports Rice activities like HackRice, the Career and Internship Expo, and other events where recruiters can meet students and students can become familiar with the global company.
“We like to recruit locally,” said Pound. “The oil and gas industry is pretty unique. Even though we are expanding our recruiting efforts outside of Texas, we often get responses like ‘huh?’ when we try to explain what we do to students who haven’t grown up with family members or friends working in one aspect of the industry or another.”