Monica Norman

Inspirational Woman: Monica Norman | Technical Programme Manager, BP

Monica NormanMonica Norman is a technical programme manager in bp’s data & analytics Centre of Excellence.

Her work is focused on the digital projects that will move bp closer to its new purpose: to reimagine energy for people and planet.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I work as a technical programme manager in bp’s data & analytics Centre of Excellence.

The focus of my work is projects that will advance bp’s ambition as it works to become a net zero company by 2050, or sooner, and move bp closer to its new purpose: to reimagine energy for people and planet. This means developing innovative solutions using design, critical thinking and code to create the methods and tools that bp uses to drive technological innovation.

Creativity is a fundamental part of my personality and being creative is something that I really enjoy. This might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of data and analytics, but in my role at bp I’ve found there is room to think outside the box. When I’m painting, I put paint on canvas. When crocheting I use a hook, wool and yarn to create designs. In digital products, I use my creative capabilities to develop new and impactful approaches to data science and analytics.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I come from a very humble background. When I was growing up in Nigeria, my parents could only just afford to send me to secondary school and university education was nothing more than a pipe dream. I studied for Ordinary National Diploma (OND) in computer science and paid my way through it by working two jobs.

As part of my OND qualification I took on an IT placement with Shell in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, where I was lucky enough to meet my husband to be. He encouraged me to carve out a career path through education and hard work, ultimately sponsoring me through university. I ended up at bp after working for a company that looked after subsurface geological data.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

University in the UK was a challenge for someone coming from rural Nigeria. I had grown up learning in a school with no chairs, windows, electricity or running water. Right from the start I knew I was worlds away from the environment I had grown up in – my comfort zone was completely shattered.

This is something that has stayed with me. It is sometimes hard to shake my inferiority complex when I’m working in an industry full of people that are highly educated and confident. Today I work in a diverse team, with colleagues from all over the globe. There has been, and continues to be, a lot of work being done around diversity and inclusion at bp.

For me, the key is ensuring diversity of thought within teams. If you have a group of colleagues that all think in the same way, then you’re going to find it harder to make progress. People with different experiences and backgrounds working together can collaborate much more effectively and learn new things from each other.

The lengths I took to graduate from university mean I sometimes have to pinch myself when I think about how far I’ve come. But I’ve been fortunate to have had incredible bosses and mentors who have supported me throughout my career. They have continuously reminded me that I bring something completely different to the team and that we are stronger because of our diversity. I have come to realise that we all bring our own strengths and perspectives to the table.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

When I was working as a seismic data specialist in the bp Middle East region, I used my lunch breaks and computer science skills to develop a new web application called Seles, hosted locally on my laptop, to help manage the life-cycle of seismic data.

Today Seles is the front-end tool for bp’s flagship project, Seismic Shift, an online catalogue and interactive portal used to easily access, search, order and move seismic data and other related documents. It truly was the springboard that launched my digital career at bp and opened lots of doors for me that meant I could get into other digital roles.

Using my creative capabilities to develop industry changing digital technologies has been something I’ve enjoyed from the very beginning. Thankfully I have been fortunate to have the support and encouragement from my team members to push myself and learn new things.

What are some of the most exciting projects that you’re working on?

Digital is fundamental to bp’s ambition to become a net zero company by 2050, or sooner. It’s not necessarily about big-ticket items all the time; it’s also about the smaller contributions that will move us closer towards our goal of reimagining energy.

For example, I worked on a project that can help our organisation reach net zero and also focused on safety, one of bp’s core values. It involved using data science machine learning models to read and classify images taken by Boston Dynamics robot dog “Spot” on Mad Dog – one of our rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. The algorithms we developed helped to read values of gauges and valves for monitoring purposes, checked for safety hazards, unsafe practices on the rig, looked for corrosion, mapped out the facility and even checked for gas leaks!

Using digital technologies to minimise the number of journeys needed to the rig also reduced the carbon produced along the way, whilst upholding bp’s rigorous safety standards.

My team also developed a fleet decarbonisation tool to help customers, cities and businesses lower their carbon emissions in a cost-effective way. We used bp’s digital capabilities to analyse fleet data and offer the optimal fleet composition to our customers using less carbon intensive fuels. The end product can help customers drive down carbon emissions, within their financial constraints.

On this project I was one of a team using Operations Research Techniques, first by building out the theoretical mathematical model to validate the concept behind the tool, before building the solution using python and other analytical techniques.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

I think it is really important to engage with people around you as you’re building your career. Get to know them and build firm relationships based on trust. When you engage with others, you connect, collaborate, learn quicker and build team spirit for a better working experience.

At bp there is a real opportunity for digitally and technically minded people. Digital is a core function that will be crucial to the work that companies like bp do to ensure they can operate safely and build products and processes that are kinder to the environment.

bp also makes a real effort to support talent in the digital space. Our data and analytics communities, informal working groups for colleagues in digital, give bp employees access to experts in the field and provide mentoring opportunities that they can use to advance their skills. I would advise people who are at the start of their careers in the digital space to take advantage of opportunities like these ones and use them to expand their horizons.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Talking is one of the best ways to kick start progress. As a woman working in technology, I’ve found the informal networks that I have been able to build with colleagues to be the most valuable ones. Being willing to share my experiences with other women also trying to carve out a career in tech means I have learnt a huge amount from them in return. I’ve also been involved in a number of mentoring programmes with people in my teams and those who are beginning their careers in an effort to make sure that they can learn from my experiences.

Flexible working is also critical, and I’ve found bp’s flexible working patterns to be a real blessing. They mean that I don’t have to miss moments in my children’s lives. I want to be able to attend those seriously important school plays – even if my child is only a tree in the background with no actual lines to recite! The new ways of working that we’ve all become used to recently have made it much easier to be a working mother with young children.