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The metaphorical ruler

I’m excited to share my "observations from behind the laptop" series of posts, as part of the McKinsey Women community. For my first one, I want to tell you about how I left my career as a field engineer to join McKinsey. 

Stuti joined McKinsey after working as an oilfield engineer in the Middle East. She has been part of our Boston, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore offices and has served clients in over 10 countries. Stuti specializes in the energy sector, focusing on energy transitions, clean energy, gas, and liquified natural gas. She holds an engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. Outside of work, she enjoys traveling, board games, and dystopian fiction.

Dear reader,

I used to roll my eyes at the idea of consulting. I was a free spirit, a creative soul who refused to be pinned down by the dysfunctionalities of Microsoft Office. My pre-school report card described me as “a restless and talkative child.” I was never in my seat because I patrolled up and down with a ruler in my hand and intimidated classmates. My teachers often complained that mine was the only voice they could hear from the playground, and I even coerced one of my victims into marrying me 20 years later.

So, in undergrad, when I learned that consulting meant sitting at a laptop twiddling font sizes, I bolted. I signed up, instead, to be an oilfield engineer, where I lived on a boat and supervised operations in the Persian Gulf. We pumped high-pressured fluids to "clean up" reservoirs, allowing oil to flow out easily. Put simply, I was a well-paid plumber for oil wells, and I loved it. The job took me on adventures in remote locations, where no one in their right mind would otherwise go. I worked offshore, in deserts, and in Siberia, learning how to charge through hurdles to get things done. I was never the physically strongest person on the field, so I relied on my ability to think on my feet.

But while my job made me focus on the oil trapped in rocks 10,000 feet below the surface, my mind soared 30,000 feet above with the planes that flew past, carrying with them cargoes of hopes and ideas. Around that time, I came across a quote by a prominent petroleum geologist, Wallace Pratt: "oil is first found in the minds of men." Before I arrived on the scene, someone had pointed at a map and said, “there, that’s where we need to look.”

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Rigs spotted from my window seat flying into Singapore

I wanted to be that person who assesses a situation and points at things with a metaphorical ruler. While I enjoyed extracting black gold from reservoirs, now I wanted to extract and develop ideas. Our minds are like untapped reservoirs: with care and inspiration, ideas can be mined and built into great things. I loved to travel and to work in teams that fueled engaging conversations. One of my friends at McKinsey, Nupur, said: “wait, that’s what I do” and referred me. “Also,” she added, “we have a terrific graphics team that makes slides.”

Within two months, I swapped out my coveralls and steel-toed boots and I jumped ship. I updated my address from "Berth 02, Supply Vessel X" to "Seat 34K, Boeing 747." It’s been five years since I made the second-best decision of my life (right behind bullying my classmate into marrying me).

Over the coming weeks, I will share my observations from behind the laptop on: being an Asian woman in the predominantly male-dominated world of energy and globe-trotting on a charge code. Watch this space for more.