Dean talks energy, data and hiring students with ExxonMobil execs

Raymond E. Jones and Kenneth A. Warren visit Rice Engineering for fireside chat with Reginald DesRoches.

Dean talks energy, data and hiring students with ExxonMobil execs

More Rice University engineering alumni work for ExxonMobil than for any other company.

“So we have good reason to welcome these men to campus," said Reginald DesRoches, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering. "The ties between Rice and ExxonMobil are close and longstanding.”

On Sept. 19, DesRoches hosted a “fireside chat” with two of the company’s executives — Raymond E. Jones, vice president for surface engineering in ExxonMobil Upstream Integrated Solutions Company, and Kenneth A. Warren, vice president for research and engineering in the ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company.

“We are, in essence, a technology company. That allows us to stay healthy and strong,” said Jones, who has worked for the company for 33 years. The audience of more than 100 consisted mostly of Rice students.

“We have ramped up our research and development spending,” said Warren, a 39-year veteran of the company who oversees a workforce of more than 700 engineers. ExxonMobil’s R&D budget tops $1.4 billion annually.

Both men said that while ExxonMobil is investigating such renewable energy sources as solar and wind, the demand for fossil fuels will remain high for the foreseeable future. “There is a finite amount of gas and oil,” Jones said. “We are constantly depleting the reservoir, but we try to do it with the smallest carbon footprint possible. We still need hydrocarbons.”

Jones praised Rice’s recent emphasis on data science, including the Data to Knowledge Lab (D2K) and the adoption of data science as a minor. “We need people who can turn data into knowledge. Our industry depends on it. Data plays a role in everything we do.”

Warren said ExxonMobil is particularly interested in hiring students trained in predictive analytics, which uses various statistical strategies, such as data mining, machine learning and predictive modeling, to make data-based predictions about future events. He called the field “the holy grail.”

DesRoches asked the executives what they looked for when hiring new employees. Besides academic accomplishment, Jones stressed the importance of such qualities as determination and the ability to “talk to people and influence them.”

“We’re always looking for problem solvers,” Jones said, “very competitive people who know how to work collaboratively, people with breadth and a lot of technological depth.”

Warren added, “We turn engineers into business people.”

Both men stressed the importance of ExxonMobil internships. “We’re in competition for talent,” Warren said. “We don’t make work for interns. They’re working as engineers, a part of the workforce.”

Asked by DesRoches what problems “keep you up at night,” Warren cited cyber security and operational safety. “We’re in an inherently dangerous business,” Jones said. “That’s our first mantra: Nobody gets hurt.”

The event was sponsored by the Energy and Environment Initiative at Rice.