Bilal Ahmad is a 25-year-old Graduate Project Engineer with BP, responsible for the subsea hardware on Shah Deniz 2, a major gas field expansion in the Caspian Sea. The Student Engineer caught up with him to find out about his career path, and what it’s like to work for an oil & gas giant.
Where did you go to university and what did you study?
I studied a Masters in civil engineering with industrial experience at the University of Birmingham, graduating in 2014.
What drew you to engineering in the first place?
From around Year 9, I was really keen to go into architecture. However, as I got into my A-levels years and started exploring the subject, I realised it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for in my career. For me, architecture had a little too much focus on the arts and conceptual design side, whereas I was looking for a more tangible experience which had higher exposure to maths and physics.
At that point an advisor at my college suggested that I look into civil engineering, which piqued my interest immediately. It had the right mix of maths, physics, and the creativity that I was looking for. I spent some time looking into the detailed module breakdowns of the civil engineering courses being offered by my preferred universities and was further attracted by the broad range of topics and disciplines that the course would cover. I could see that it would give me the skills to really make an impact on building and shaping things around the world.
When and why did you join BP?
I joined BP’s project management graduate programme in September 2014, straight out of university. Throughout my 4 years at university, I had completed a number of internships working for a civil engineering company, and they had offered me a graduate position.
Having considered the offer carefully, I was not as excited to take it up as I had hoped to be for my first graduate role. So I decided to have a look and see what else was available out there. I was looking for something that was going to offer me the opportunity to develop broader project management skills and potentially international exposure as well.
(Credit: BP via Flickr)
I came across BP’s website and ended up reading through the project management graduate programme details. As I was reading through the experiences and the competencies that you could gain from joining the programme, I realised all of those things were exactly what I wanted to do. I was also drawn to the international opportunities available in a company with the scale of BP, so I applied as soon as the scheme opened and was given an offer mid-way through my final year.
Can you tell us a bit about your current role?
My current job title is Project Engineer. I am responsible for working on the Shah Deniz 2 project, which is one of BP’s largest and most technically complex gas production projects. The project will deliver gas to Turkey and Europe from a giant gas basin located in the Caspian Sea off Baku, Azerbaijan.
My responsibility is looking after the safe, quality, on time and on budget delivery of subsea hardware for this project. This is part of the subsea production system which sits on the seabed, extracting the gas from the wells drilled into the gas field below and transferring it up to the platform for supply onto the onshore terminal and beyond. I am responsible for a substantial package of equipment and work directly with a broad range of disciplines both within BP and with our external suppliers.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The work I do is something really tangible. I am involved in the design process and can follow the hardware through its fabrication process, I know where it is going to be located, and I know what contribution it is going to make to gas production on such a flagship project for BP.
One highlight was being sent on an international assignment. I am currently based in Norway, at a contractor’s site. This contractor works for BP to supply the subsea equipment for the project, and I am directly managing their work both in the office and at the fabrication sites around Norway from an engineering and project management aspect.
It was great to be trusted with this level of responsibility on a challenging scope and international assignment at an early stage of my career, providing me with a real confidence boost from BP’s trust in my ability to push my performance and deliver.
Do you have any advice for other students who are considering applying for a similar graduate programme?
I have two pieces of advice, depending on what stages of their degree they are in. The first one is to make sure that you are spending the free time that you have during the summer breaks on getting internship experience. Then when applying for roles, really explain that experience and get across the skills you learned that are relevant to the role you’re applying for. Furthermore, emphasise what contribution you made during those internships. Most companies like BP are keen to engage students at an early stage in their studies and offer them an accelerated route through the graduate recruitment process when they come to apply for a role.
The second aspect, I would say is that anyone applying to BP should keep in mind that the company has a massive focus on culture and behaviours, which we expect our people to live up to and demonstrate. One of the key things for students applying to BP is to really understand our core values and to explain during the application phase how the way they work is aligned with those values and where they might have demonstrated them in past experience.