After Heriot’s Blog

Next on the blog we have Laura Sarkis.

Please get in touch if you wish to share your story ‘after Heriot’s’.

Laura Sarkis, Class of 1997

What is your current role?

I am the proposals manager for an engineering company (Wood). We are a global business, HQ in Aberdeen and support companies from Shell, Equinor, Exxon etc in the conventional (oil and gas) energy market, to offshore wind, green hydrogen, wave and tidal clients in renewables and so-called ‘energy transition’ markets. If one of these clients has a project for which they need engineering or operations people to fix something or come up with a new solution, they will put out a ‘tender’ which is an invitation to multiple companies to offer a price to do the work, basically. So if you wanted to buy a new car, you might go to a few garages, look online, and weigh up costs, performance, speed, safety etc etc – this is essentially what contracting companies do. Shell or Equinor is ‘buying the car’ and a few companies will compete to sell it. We have around 35,00 people worldwide with a huge range of engineering expertise – people who are experts on subsea pipelines and cables, designing wind farms, managing turbines, and lots of digital specialists who work with artificial intelligence to make great solutions for engineering and technical problems.  

It might not sound very exciting but I really enjoy it – I work with a lot of incredibly smart people and am regularly put out of my comfort zone. I have travelled a lot with the company, lived in Houston for two years and now live in Norway.  

What was your journey to get there?

I loved Heriot’s but had no idea what I wanted to do on leaving. I had a deferred entry place at Aberdeen University to study Forestry – mainly because I liked the outdoors and didn’t know what else to choose. However whilst working for year first, I joined the local territorial army unit – looked like fun! Then I joined the regular army in the Royal Military Police and spent a super five years travelling the world and really enjoyed it. I left in 2003, did a few temporary jobs whilst deciding what to do, and finally went to Aberdeen in 2005 to study joint hons, legal studies and gender studies. A couple of modules on the course really interested me – rural law and renewable energy law, and upon graduating I ended up in renewables, then after two years joined Wood.

What are your achievements?

Professionally, in Wood I have been really supported and mentored to take on a lot of roles and responsibilities which I may not have felt I could do, on the face of it. One such role was managing a large professional team. One of the team members told me that she had been offered another job during my time as her boss, but enjoyed working for me and had declined the job on that basis- that was a really nice feeling!  At the end of the day in Wood we can win multimillion dollar contracts, execute really complex scopes of work and keep clients happy, and even come up with solutions which tackle some of the issues around climate change – but what can I truly influence directly? Being a good leader, trying to act as a role model and supporting my colleagues and team members – that’s what gives me job satisfaction. 

Personal achievement is more difficult – being unafraid to tackle challenges, take on daunting tasks and being one of the few women to become a close protection officer while in the army.  

What are your favourite memories of Heriot’s?

Running up and down the narrow stone steps to Herr Wand’s German class in the turret, such a privilege to be educated in such surroundings…rushing to see the hockey team lists (always 4th or 5th for me!)… Dr Thompson’s English classes – probably my favourites. I really enjoyed the RAF cadets and we had a couple of camps which were excellent adventures. To be in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle every day… I haven’t really kept in touch with schoolfriends but I look back very fondly on my time at Heriot’s and know how lucky I was to attend. 

Any top tips for current pupils when planning their future?

Job titles are not often helpful and don’t tell you what you might be doing day in, day out. I know now that I like lots of change, frequent different projects and quite fluid days. However many of my colleagues like a very clear and fixed structure to their day, and don’t like sudden new information or vague requirements – we are all different. I would say try to consider what you like to do, how you like to work and in what kind of environment. 

If you had to tell someone to do something, would you email, phone or go and talk to them? 

Would you prefer to read a report then write some summary notes, or have a meeting about it? 

If you had to research something online, would you prefer to do it in a library or a café? 

(for the record I would talk to the person, have the meeting, and research in the library…) 

Think about the type of company you want to work for and the type of environment you’d like to be in. At a high level (i.e. ideally), what type of company would you like to work for? You need some realism – I like the idea of being a zookeeper and care for baby elephants but there are not so many jobs doing that, and in reality it would be the same stuff every day and I would get bored! I have worked as a cleaner, a gym instructor, in a prison… whatever you do, do your best and never think you are better than anyone else.