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My Engineering Journey: BP projects and modifications manager Tamara Holmgren

Professional Engineering

Tamara Holmgren rose from an apprentice at Foster Wheeler to a manager for BP
Tamara Holmgren rose from an apprentice at Foster Wheeler to a manager for BP

1989-92  Apprentice, Foster Wheeler

When I left school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I did data entry for a year, at which point my mother saw an advertisement for an apprenticeship in engineering at Foster Wheeler, an oil and gas contractor in Reading. 

I thought it sounded interesting, so I applied. I was the only girl on my course, along with 60 boys!

I loved what I was doing, and I became more inspired by it as time went on. And my welding wasn’t bad, either! Despite, or maybe because of, the difficulties of being the only female apprentice, at the end of the year I achieved distinctions across the board. When I finished my apprenticeship, I decided to go to university. 

 1993-96  Civil engineering, University of Surrey

The maths was tough, and I had to work hard to fully understand the concepts. I also had my son in my second year at university – just two weeks before my exams. After his birth I had a week off and then went to sit my exams. I scraped a third, but I persevered and got a first in my final-year exams, so I averaged a respectable 2:1. 

I would not have succeeded without the support of friends, lecturers and family.

 1996-2006  Engineer, Foster Wheeler

Upon returning to Foster Wheeler, I designed buildings, structures, foundations and bridges for petrochemical plants all over the world. This included assignments to Hull, Wales and Thailand. 

In Hull I was responsible for designing and building concrete foundations and structures for a vinyl acetate monomer/ethyl acetate plant. In Wales I designed 300m of steel pipe and pedestrian bridges at the Texaco Pembroke plant. In Thailand I led the team that designed 5,000 tonnes of steel buildings and structures for a purified terephthalic acid plant. 

 2006-10  Engineering manager, Foster Wheeler

All civil engineers in the energy industry have to have a broad understanding of other disciplines but, as time passed, I decided my ambition would be to play a more leading role in each project. Consequently, I transferred to project engineering and then became an engineering manager. In this role, I was fully responsible for all the wider engineering design, including process, electrical, instrument, civil and mechanical engineering. 

 2008-09  MBA, Henley Management College

I was sponsored to study a Masters in Business Administration. I found it fascinating to study with individuals from many different industries and to develop a wider understanding, particularly of financial aspects. 

This was an exciting time. I developed a fresh, new outlook. 

 2010-17  Project manager, Foster Wheeler

My career then became more business-focused. I was promoted to project manager, where I was responsible for the delivery of major projects. This ranged from a refinery in Iraq to a gas-oil separation plant in Saudi Arabia. During this time, I was responsible for leading the entire project task force, which included cost and planning, health and safety, commercial, engineering, procurement and construction. 

 2017-present  Projects and modifications manager, BP

I joined BP in July 2017. I am projects and modifications manager for the eastern hemisphere. Whenever a facility is taken out of operation, we stringently check it is safe, and that it can be operated efficiently, before it is handed back. This is highly important – the energy industry is high-risk and we need to ensure the integrity of the newly installed systems. 

I am working with the regions to map out our practices, test that they are fit for purpose, and that each of the checks we do is appropriate. It is about improving our processes. 

What I particularly value about engineering is that we get the opportunity to create something that makes a difference to people’s lives. 

In the energy industry, we make a massive difference, especially in quite remote parts of the world. We help to develop those regions, bringing health and education opportunities where they had previously been limited. 

We are constantly problem-solving and striving to improve. I feel fortunate to have found a career that has offered me such a wide variety of experiences, with ever-changing and exciting challenges.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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