From ocean science to managing software development

Luz Zarate - Oceanographer and Software Product Owner

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Luz is a product owner and physical oceanographer. She leads the software development of RPS' Metocean Science and Technology tool OceansMonitor, which is used to support our project managers make better decisions, improve processes and respond to clients’ needs more quickly. The physical oceanographer side of her role supports oil and gas industry operations – delivering real-time, or near-real time metocean data (on wind, waves and currents), to advise our clients on environmental conditions and why they’re important so they can then respond efficiently.

QWhat was your career path?

It all started with a great geography professor I had in junior high. It’s a testament to the impact teachers can have in your life! He was so passionate about his subject and so detailed, so I got interested in geosciences. One day he used the word geophysics – a word I’d never heard before. It turned out that my Dad had been to the geophysics museum in college. When I said geophysics was super cool, my parents were also really keen to support and enable this.

I have a Batchelor of Engineering in geophysics, and at college I saw a call to participate in an offshore campaign in collaboration with two U.S. universities, as part of a research project around the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This was the first time I knew about oceanography. I worked on a research vessel where I met my advisor for graduate school. The more oceanographic work I did, the more I liked it, but I also found a very strong support system, which was the key to me getting into this kind of work.

Quick Q&A

Which woman or women inspire you?

All working moms! It’s inspiring how they make it work.

Female scientist

Marie Tharp – a pioneer of seafloor mapping who didn’t get full recognition at the time.

Growing up, what did you want to be?

First, an astronaut! But by 13, I was on a geoscience/geophysics track.

Why this science?

I was excited by understanding the physical processes on the Earth – learning about earthquakes was thrilling. Thinking about how things that happened thousands of years ago led to the resources we use today, and those drive economies and how we run our countries! Isn't that fascinating?

QTell us about a career highlight

I’ve transitioned into two roles and groups at RPS – not only measurement but also consultancy. I also started learning about the software development lifecycle and management of software development. Combining these gave me the idea of championing OceansMonitor web. I am now a Certified Scrum Product Owner and I’ve enrolled in an online business class at Harvard. It all keeps things interesting, and with RPS I’ve had the opportunity to explore areas I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of.

QWhy is the work you do important and what does it mean to you?

What we do has an impact on how our clients drive their operations – and the accuracy of the data that we collect can save lives. It might sound clichéd to say “we solve problems that matter” [one of the RPS core behaviours] but this data may be used in real-time or the client might use it to assess how many years they can operate on a specific offshore facility. I truly think what we do makes a difference; we may not see it every day, but there’s a reason why some countries have it as a regulatory requirement. They know that they really need this kind of information.

QWhat career advice would you give to your younger self?

Women don’t always advocate for themselves, but we mustn’t be afraid to speak up. Trust yourself and know your worth – if you don’t know it, no one will! Another thing I’d say is, don’t try to impress anyone but yourself. Maybe, for example, you’re afraid to say no to something because you think there’s an expectation, but actually, that might be self-imposed.

QThis year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘Break the bias’. There seem to be lots of women in environmental roles and possibly, fewer barriers – why is this?

When it comes to environmental issues, it’s a long-term investment in Mother Nature! I believe we’re more passionate about helping and making an impact to improve our lives. I’m not saying men don’t, but women do seem to gravitate towards things that make our homes safe…

What could we do to make things better? Representation – seeing more women in these fields – promotes it to the next generation. Things that could be improved are female representation in leadership roles and at board level (not necessarily at RPS, but generally).

QWhat are you most proud of outside of work?

I’m co-founder of a taskforce for women in the energy industry through the Society for Underwater Technology. I’ve been leading the group this past year. We host panels and discussions, with keynote speakers who’ve made successful careers in the industry. We focus on their success and the challenges they’ve faced. The focus is to foster diversity and inclusion, so we have male speakers too. We need men as part of the conversation and their contribution does have an impact. We’ve also had a woman switch jobs as a result of the discussions! They helped her realise her true passion, which was coaching. The group has allowed people to talk about their concerns, but also be true to themselves.

Want to know more about oceanography? Get in touch!

Luz Zarate

Physical Oceanographer

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