As the first woman petroleum engineer in Pakistan, Hala Hashmi navigated her academic and professional career by overcoming challenges, taking risks, and maintaining her self-confidence. In this article, Hala introduces us to her role as Senior Reservoir Simulation Engineer of Parex Resources and shares her inspiring story as a trailblazing engineer.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
I’m originally from Pakistan and although the village I lived in was small, the literacy rate was high. I went to an all-girls Catholic school which was very competitive and I participated in lots of extra-curricular activities. I later attended the University of Engineering and Technology at Lashore which is a 7-hour drive away from home. My parents and siblings were very supportive of my academic interests in technology. I have two sisters and one brother, and we all have established different career paths. My father emphasized to us the importance of education and I realized that in order to be successful, I needed to get my education and decide on my own profession.
In Pakistan, women typically enter one of two professions: teaching or medicine. I was not interested in becoming a physician and I felt I would not feel proud being a physician. I felt I would only feel proud of myself if I became an engineer, so I made up my mind when I was about 12 years old. It wasn’t until later on that I decided specifically on petroleum engineering. I did not know any petroleum engineers growing up but I decided to select petroleum engineering when I entered college simply because it sounded very interesting. Based on my good grades, I was allowed to select pretty much whatever discipline I liked.
During my first day of college, the admission officer advised me to choose a different discipline which might be easier for me to keep up with. However, I had no desire in other engineering majors. Our conversation went back and forth, and he finally said “But you are the only girl! Do you understand?” I did not know at the time (late 1990s) that there were no female students in the petroleum engineering program at my University nor were there any women petroleum engineers in Pakistan. I was the first ever woman who declared petroleum engineering as my major, but I was not afraid. I was determined to pursue petroleum engineering based on my interest and belief that this will make me proud. Although sometimes I felt lonely in the classroom, I was able to make friends with students in other majors. I had a good experience in college and learned to become independent.
“I was the first ever woman [in Pakisstan] who declared petroleum engineering as my major, but I was not afraid. I was determined to pursue petroleum engineering based on my interest and belief that this will make me proud.“
What is your normal work week like? What do you like most about your job?
In a broad view, petroleum engineers search for oil and gas underground, extract it, and make it useful for the industry. There are different specialties within petroleum engineering: geophysics, geology, petrophysics, drilling, production, reservoir, and more.
In my role, I am a reservoir engineer which means I am responsible for estimating how much oil reserves are underground, how long it will take for us to produce it and how much it is worth. Then I find different ways to produce it cost-effectively. We also work on simulation modeling, monitor our daily production and try to come up with optimization opportunities. There are risks that we need to mitigate so we acquire surveillance data to reduce our uncertainties. We make a field development plan and, using reservoir models, we evaluate if it is economically logical and environmentally safe to produce the oil from a reservoir. Most of my work is office-based but I will occasionally go to the fields because when I am working on a project related to a certain field, the field is my responsibility.
When I’m doing simulation and studying on a field, just as I am getting close to finding a solution, I feel a lot of excitement and that is what I enjoy the most about my job. I actively look for challenges and seeing the hard work pay off at the end is always worth it.
What challenges did you face in the beginning of your career?
I moved countries and companies several times throughout my career. I started my first job in Pakistan, then moved to Abu Dhabi, Oman and I am now in Canada. Now that I think back to my first job, I wish my training would have been better as I was not put in a robust training program. I worked there for 3 years and every day I felt I was not doing enough and did not know what I was supposed to do. A colleague encouraged me to keep learning and not to stress myself out and never give up because success would come in the future. I now realize that it was good advice. My next position was with British Petroleum and in just a year, I learned so much because of their robust training and support systems. Now, the advice I give to others is not to feel discouraged if you are not performing well in one area because this does not mean you are not capable. A change in environment or leadership may provide you with exactly what you need to excel.
“Do not feel discouraged if you are not performing well in one area because this does not mean you are not capable. A change in environment or leadership may provide you with exactly what you need to excel.”
Do you have any mentors or mentees?
There were many people that encouraged, inspired, and supported me throughout my engineering journey. I think back to university, where I had a professor that gave me tips that stayed with me forever. When I started working at companies, some of my team leaders and managers really advocated for me and helped me to come up with a plan for my career path. I have met so many people that I looked up to and learned from and we keep in touch even though I have moved on to other companies. I never hesitate to reach out and ask for their advice.
I also like to pass on the advice I’ve received and the things I’ve learned, so I have been in touch with some female students from Pakistan who are studying engineering. I went back to Pakistan for a visit and met with them to share my experience and give them encouragement. We still keep in touch via messaging app.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I am passionate about the field of petroleum engineering and I am always seeking growth so I would like to be in a leadership and executive role in 10 years. More importantly, I see myself inspiring other girls or ladies.
What are your hobbies? What is your favorite book?
After I moved to Canada with my family, we started a new hobby: hiking–and we all love doing so. I also enjoy painting, listening to music, and planning events and parties. My favorite book is the Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak.
What advice do you have for future engineers?
If you have a passion for something, just go for it. I believe that if you are motivated, a path will create itself and everything will work out. There are certainly struggles and challenges because nothing is easy. I imagine if I would have stopped pursuing Petroleum engineering when my university admission officer advised me to choose some other degree. If I had switched, I would not have been as successful as I am now and it would have been my biggest regret. My advice is that if you find something that interests you, don’t hesitate and don’t let others dissuade you from pursuing it.
“If you find something that interests you, don’t hesitate and don’t let others dissuade you from pursuing it.“
Another piece of advice I have is to develop the important skills of time management, planning, and prioritization. Plans often change, which is fine, but we should make base plans for the things that are under your control.
Lastly, it is important to recognize the benefits of networking. When I moved to Canada, I did not immediately have all the knowledge and experience I would need to succeed. I spent a whole year focusing on networking to help me succeed in my career in the new country and then I was able to lean on my network to help me learn. That also tells us all that it’s never late to learn anything new and practice.
If you’re interested in hearing more from Hala, check out her inspiring message to future petroleum engineers here.
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