Secrets to Success as a Young Corrosion Engineer: Britney Taylor Q&A
In an interview, young engineer Britney Taylor shares insights about the corrosion field, saying: "Don’t be afraid to try new things and ask questions."
Britney Taylor is an engineer approaching five years of professional experience in oil and gas. She is also a NACE International-sponsored member of the Emerging Leaders Alliance (ELA). She currently works for Campos EPC, advising clients on how to ensure public safety, product reliability and regulatory compliance related to natural gas and hazardous liquids infrastructure, including integrity assessments (ILI, pressure testing, ECDA), corrosion mitigation and cathodic protection. We sat down and interviewed Britney about her career in corrosion.
Lou Frank: How did you decide to pursue engineering?
Britney Taylor: My parents are both educators. My mom taught art and ceramics, and my dad ran the science department of the high school in my hometown, so a big importance was placed on education in my family. I was very involved in the arts growing up, yet I also loved math and science.
In college I actually studied architecture for two years. Then one day, I had a heart-to-heart conversation with one of my professors at the University of Arizona that changed my mind. He told me, "You don’t have to be an architect to build buildings; structural engineers can build beautiful buildings too." That’s when I realized I liked solving problems more than brainstorming ways to create more of them. An architect is always looking for the next big design idea, but an engineer has to figure out how to make it happen. That turned out to be a better fit for me.
LF: Do you think your creative side gives you a special edge as an engineer?
BT: I do. Being able to solve problems and not just look at black and white solutions, but also look at the shades of gray surrounding the problem, has benefited me tremendously thus far in my career. I can visualize multiple solutions instead of just one correct answer, and then work to determine the best fit for each situation. This is actually what drew me to corrosion; you have to be creative to effectively solve the complex issues that arise during projects. I try to keep both sides of my brain engaged. (For an interesting spin on combining art and engineering, read Protecting Public Art Against Corrosion.)
LF: I see you took several internships. How did this shape your career direction and interests?
BT: I had a different internship every summer while I was in school getting my engineering degree—one at a coal mine, one as a land surveyor and the last one with a gas utility. These annual learning curves forced me to adapt quickly to new environments and learn various skill sets. I highly value all of my time as an intern and still call upon different aspects from each experience in my career to this day.
Out of school, I continued with the gas utility transitioning from intern to full-time engineer designing and replacing natural gas pipelines. Whenever you deal with the replacement of old systems, you’re constantly up against new problems. One of these project problems involved cathodic protection, so I started asking questions and getting interested in how CP works.
The company had a series of new engineer training programs. One of these was corrosion mitigation and cathodic protection design, where I learned the concepts in the classroom and then applied them in the field with corrosion technicians. After that experience, I realized what a huge impact corrosion control and cathodic protection have on public safety and it seemed like a great way to make difference. I became very interested in the issues surrounding CP and was also introduced to pipeline integrity management as a result.
Flash forward to the San Bruno, California natural gas explosion in 2010. I remember watching the incident unfold on TV, and all I could think about was how to prevent it. I started educating myself on the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) regarding integrity management practices for natural gas pipelines as I followed the incident proceedings. (Also see The El Paso Natural Gas Company Pipeline Explosion.) Then I started taking career opportunities that allowed me to focus on pipeline integrity management and corrosion prevention since they often relate back to one another.
From architecture, to surveying, to coal mines, to pipeline design, and eventually to CP and integrity. Ten years ago, if you asked me about my future, I would have had no clue this is what I would have a passion for. You have to expose yourself to different experiences and take opportunities as they come, and try different things to find your strengths and passions. Internships are great opportunities do this.
LF: What has the Emerging Leaders Alliance meant to you?
BT: ELA has had a huge impact on my career already. I graduated from the program in 2013; I think we were the first group to attend the ELA program as NACE representatives and most of us keep in touch still. It helps to see that the things you are going through as a young professional, other people in different industries are going through as well.
It was also nice to be surrounded by NACE professionals in similar roles and at similar stages in our careers. Sometimes, in this industry, you can feel a bit isolated if you aren’t working for a company that only specializes in corrosion issues. You become your own little corrosion island where you phone out for help or to coordinate with others, but no one really understands what you do. "That’s just Britney over there with her magic reference-cell walking stick again... don’t make eye contact." They know that what you do helps, but it’s great to find others who can relate directly to the problems you face and are willing to talk openly about it because they are at the same place in their career.
The networking aspect of ELA is huge. I wouldn’t be doing this interview right now if it wasn’t for ELA and the connections it has helped create. ELA alumni got together at the 2015 NACE Corrosion Conference for dinner and as a result, we were able to get involved in some of the conversations shaping the future leadership programs of the organization. It was such a great experience to sit in on the ad hoc leadership meeting and see firsthand the importance being placed on growing young professionals and creating leadership paths within the organization for success. These initiatives directly affect my generation and those that will follow—and it’s just so unbelievably motivating to feel such support from the executive levels.
LF: What is the biggest project challenge you’ve faced thus far and how did you solve it?
BT: It is one I am still facing and will continue to face my whole career. Aging infrastructure is a problem for many industries, especially those dependent on pipeline transport. In established cities, you can have operational pipelines that date back to the 1920s and 30s. Although companies are working to replace these systems, it can be difficult to prioritize replacement projects meaningfully. (To learn more about one promising approach, read Evaluating New Trenchless Technology for Water and Wastewater Pipeline Infrastructure.)
If everything is corroding, how do we know what to fix first? Unfortunately, utilities have limited budgets, and limited time and resources, so you can’t replace everything immediately. It takes years and sometimes decades to plan large-scale replacement projects.
I was part of an initiative to drive an assessment program on a gas utility’s assets. Because some of these pipes can’t be replaced in a timely enough manner, the pressure is usually lowered to avoid rupture failures (below 30% SMYS). When this is done, pipelines no longer fall into the more stringent Transmission Integrity Management rules (20% SMYS and above or HVC), and therefore become part of the Distribution Integrity Management rules (below 20% SMYS), which have different assessment requirements. This can result in these older pipes getting less attention than their higher pressure, younger brothers.
To assist with solving the problem of what to replace if everything is corroding, I was able to provide enough justification to the upper management to perform several years of corrosion surveys. Because of my background in integrity management, I was able to really drive home the importance of good CP practices and how they directly affect the integrity of buried steel assets. The utility had a risk ranking system, but when you run into data gaps, the risk programs can be ineffective at times.
Example: Take an engineer who replaced a pipe back in 2003 (seamless, fusion bonded epoxy (FBE) coated—basically a newborn pipe in this industry) and didn’t keep good records. Because of missing wall thickness data or SMYS values, this newer pipe could get prioritized over a pipeline from the 1920s that has extensive corrosion and severe leak potential. I wanted a way to gather more meaningful data to ensure that the risk assessment being used to drive replacement was relatable to actual pipeline conditions in the field.
As a result of this ongoing project, I was able to go through and say, "Not only do we have the GIS pipeline attributes (age, yield strength, coating type, etc.) on these buried assets, but we have corrosion information every 5–10 feet and can pinpoint areas of concern for excavation and start planning for replacements based on the remaining wall found at the worst locations." It was like "ECDA-lite" for a gas distribution system.
During this project, I was able to look at the survey data and tie it back to what we knew about the system and the company’s historical practices—everything from pipe joint locations to coupled fittings, and unmapped anodes to changing vintages. I learned to pinpoint items with a good degree of accuracy all from the indirect survey data and from my understanding of the tool indications. If you understand the data/regulatory side and, most importantly, the field aspects of the business—when you get the two to correlate with each other—you can really start making some headway toward smarter system replacement, which I believe this project did.
LF: What’s your workplace pet peeve?
BT: For me, it’s people pretending to know the answer when they don’t. This can be especially true of engineers—we’re all guilty of it. We have the degree and we’re supposed to have the answers. We can get thrown into a project management role pretty early, so people tend to gear more toward, "Yeah, I got it," rather than, "Oh hey, I don’t know what’s going on, can you help?" I’ve been fortunate to be part of some really strong teams where space was created for people to ask questions and learn instead of feeling intimidated by the subject.
LF: Experience is not only the best teacher, it helps people get the best jobs out there. How can new graduates get the best experience foundation in corrosion?
BT: You have to start building your reputation in college. Establish connections at job fairs, participate in student organizations, take internships and treat your internships like the longest job interview you’ll ever have. Luckily, in engineering, you usually get paid for internships, and you also get a chance to learn more about the industries you’re interested in. Talk about a win-win situation.
Don’t turn down an internship, even if it isn’t what you imagine yourself doing. Even if it isn’t a good fit, you’ll get pieces from it. You learn something from every situation you’re in. What you learn in school is a good foundation, but it’s not overly applicable to most jobs you’re going to have. Get out there and get your hands dirty in the field, work hard, ask questions and learn. It will help you grow and learn more about yourself than you could ever imagine.
LF: What is your career philosophy?
BT: Believe you do great work and see the bigger picture of how your work affects others. I believe it’s important to be in the driver’s seat of your own career.
LF: What’s your productivity secret?
BT: Organization. When things start rolling, sometimes you can’t file everything in its folder right away, so I’m a big list person. So, first thing in the morning, I make a list—sometimes even just mentally while getting ready. These are my main items that have to get done, these have some float and can be delayed a little if need be, and these are wish-list items that will get done eventually. Then, at the end of the day, I look at the list (or just revisit the mental list while going to bed) and reprioritize what still needs to get done; if not this evening, then tomorrow.
LF: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
BT: My grandfather was a home builder who loved earth-moving equipment. When I got back from my coal mine internship, he was talking about a particular piece of excavation equipment and he asked, "Do you know what that is?" I hesitated for a brief second and then nodded, "Yeah." My grandfather knew I didn’t really know what he was talking about, and he said, "Ah, spoken like a true engineer." He was joking, but those words were so wise in their own special way that they still stick with me. I was afraid to ask. He just wanted to show me that I needed to learn.
This is one of those honest moments in life where you re-evaluate your approach. It’s okay to ask questions—in fact, it’s better to do so. I have learned so much so fast by asking questions and learning from others. That’s one moment I will always remember and it has truly shaped my professional career.
LF: What do you consider to be your highest achievement thus far?
BT: I’m not sure I have one yet. Being chosen for ELA is an achievement of sorts. I was really honored to be given that opportunity. Each great new job I have taken is an achievement of sorts as well, I suppose.
I’m excited to be where I am now as a consultant. I have the opportunity to work for multiple clients, where I learn the different ways in which they conduct and run their businesses. Campos EPC is a great company to work for because we do it all and have a diverse team that ranges in experience and expertise. We are still small and that allows us to coordinate and cross-train one another, which is a wonderful opportunity. I’m still wet behind the ears, but hope to leverage my current career growth opportunities at Campos EPC to impact the industry as I continue to grow and learn from my corrosion experiences.