From Geologist to Marketeer (but Still a Geologist): The Story

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To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often – Winston Churchill

So I start my professional journey by studying geological engineering which then makes me a geologist by trade. Then over the past 2,5 years I sailed the oil and gas industry through pore pressure and geomechanics specialty boat. And now, as you have guessed from the title, I am enjoying my little adventure in the Marketing realm.

For those of you that are hardcore Geologist, you may gasp with shock upon my decision to move to an area that is not as “scientific” or “technical”. It is shamefully inevitable that the technical community often sees business roles, such as finance, accounting, and marketing as the arbitrarily lower-level discipline in terms of difficulty and required brainpower (spoiler alert: it is not). In fact, when the news broke out internally about my transfer to Marketing from a Geoscience Consultant role, I heard a few comments on fellow technical ninjas that it must be because of the prestige in working overseas especially in the US, while at the same time jumping into the “easier” part of the company.

(Note: bear with a lot of quote-to-quote I put – also inevitable)

However, the truth about my move is this: when I was approached by Jenny and Sarah on this opportunity (who is now my manager’s manager and manager, respectively), it was just a childhood dream comes true. As cheesy as it may sound, I actually read a lot of Marketing books since middle school! Believe it or not, my first encounter with Marketing literature was when I was 14. Back then, I attended this book fair together with my best friend at the time. I saw a stack of books on sale with elegantly designed white and gold cover titled The Power of Simplicity and written by the marketing guru Jack Trout. The title made so much sense to me as I naturally have a talent on BS detection. So I grabbed it and paid 15000 IDR (about 1,2 USD) for the book.

The book.
The book.

 

And, oh dear, it was my best book purchase ever.

The book covers how unnecessary complexity created by the fear of straight talk and perceived need to appear “smart” has plagued the business world and confuses the strategy, thus detouring the marketing approach and makes it actually counterproductive. Jack gave out the weapons to navigate the readers safely through the thick forest of:

  • corporate buzzwords and jargons that ironically make the communication worse,
  • too much looking inward/skewed competition assessment, i.e. Pretending that you are in a virgin market that is imaginary at best and self-deceiving at worst, and
  • the general practice of leaving common sense stranded while entering the office’s glass door.

Marketing-wise, The best advice of all time that he gave was to realize that the battle of marketing is not on the TV, in the magazine, or on the internet – it is within prospects’ minds. And to win that, we need a strong differentiator attribute that is simple, real, and clear. Something that our solution owns that separates it from the rest of the competition, not something we wish our solution would become. The determination of said differentiator would be a realm of strategy. Meanwhile marketing, Jack said, is the ways to secure the said differentiator attribute in the prospects’ mind. And it is best done with brutally effective simplicity.

I ended up holding on Jack’s principles so much that I applied that to my writings, my presentations, my designs, my brainstorming, my way of talking, and more. I read it countless time to the point I half-drowned the book in the bath tub. One Jack’s book leads to another, and I regularly went to the city library in Malang (my hometown) to borrow his other books such as Differentiate or Die, 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Positioning, etc.

Who ever guess that Marketing books can be so entertaining?

But then Earth Science Olympiad pulled me into geoscience world during high school to the point that I represent Indonesia in the 4th International Earth Science Olympiad. However, a few months before the geology yadda-yadda even means something to me, I have decided to pursue a degree in either a special branch of banking/finance that based on profit sharing rather than interest, or biotech (that’s another story). The earlier would be much closer to Marketing. In the end of the senior year, however, after being dumped by MIT (yes, I applied, and that’s my proudest failure in my life), I decided to get into Geological Engineering instead – reuniting with the professors that mentored me during the 6-month-off-school quarantine for the competition.

Now, looking back, I have to admit that one of the considerations of choosing geology as a major is the notion that it is financially lush. That was 2010 when the oil boomed, exceeding 100 USD per barrel. Which is ironic because a few months after I graduated, the oil price just free-fell chaotically. Deep down, I know that I still like the business strategy part, especially those that celebrates creativity – like marketing.

Lo and behold, here I am.

The point that I want to make is that I can empathize with a lot of young geologists that falls into the trap (or pressure) of taking geology because it looked like you can make a lot of money. And now struggle with either actually finding a decent job due to the downturn or unhappy with what you studied for 3-5 years makes you end up doing everyday. I want to say to y’all, do NOT drop your dream. If you initially want to be a programmer, but then enter geology, then pursue it in your spare time. If what you want initially is graphic design, pursue it. If what you really want is finance, pursue it. Although those does not have a direct correlation with what you currently do (as “real” geologist), surprise surprise, it will give you a strong differentiator. Take these cases.

  • In my current company, there is a solution oriented in petroleum investment. Meaning, you need to understand both petroleum industry and how it technically work (you can argue with the depth needed but basically you need to know a whole lot), but also fluent in financial and investment terms and how they technically work, too. So those of you (including me) that deep down leans towards economics, guess what? it is bloody useful!
  • Or the fact that you are more of a creative person that likes to design, write, launch bizarre ideas, or generally loves to try new things, then guess what? The energy companies’ Marketing department needs you!
  • Do you love programming? Guess who made so much money developing geology software then sell it out to the big fishes! In order to do that, obviously you need an expert understanding in the geology problem you are trying to solve, and a sense (or better, knowledge) on how to write them into codes so it is communicable to the developer you partner with.

For sure these “cross-dressing” attempt of geology/petroleum engineering x [insert something that seems completely unrelated] will put you in a huge, huge learning curve with occasional blood and tears in trying to balance and excel in both worlds. But, in the end of the day, you don’t let down yourself. You may take a slightly unusual path, but you stay on track fighting for your dreams. 

And that’s – for me – what matters the most.

______

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3 thoughts

  1. So you’re now on US, Sau?

    Actually sometimes people says marketing is the lower in jobs difficult levels, but I think marketing is more and more difficult than technical job. Ini technical, you can find something stack on some literatur or discussion, but marketing like gambling. When all of your effort done on the best strategy, no one known the result before it happen.

    First time to read your blog and maybe this useful to me to increase my English. Sorry for my bad english. Keep blogging.

  2. Hi Aslan – yes! for a while.
    Yes, I totally agree. That’s also what I feel about Marketing – the result is wild. But it’s what make it fun.

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