Brendan Smith

Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder, SeekOps Inc., Austin, Texas
Smith, Brendan

Brendan Smith’s career ambitions soared above and beyond what NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory could offer, so he spun out the hyper-accurate methane emissions measurement technology he was working on as a doctoral candidate and co-founded a company. “I had aspirations to start something related to science and technology, but I didn’t think it would happen in 2017 when I was 27,” he says. Now, the Southern California native works with oil and gas companies worldwide to help them meet their methane reduction goals.

Which career milestone did you reach sooner than you had planned, and what helped you reach it earlier than expected?
“Starting up a company. So many people and things came together to make it a reality, from the support of those at JPL and those before me who enabled the technology. My wife was really the biggest factor—she supported us while she was pregnant and working full-time.”

What has been your most challenging project to date, and how did you meet the challenge and accomplish your goal?
“Building and maintaining a rock star team that’s dedicated to meeting the industry needs for methane emissions monitoring. I don’t know if it’s anything that you ‘accomplish,’ but it’s a challenge I meet head on every day.”

How have you exercised leadership to help shape your department and/or company?
“Being at a small company with limited (but growing) resources, it can be really tempting to micro-manage every aspect. One thing I learned through my career is to empower individuals to make important decisions for themselves, but be clear when the decision needs to be made by someone above them.”

What or whom do you credit for helping you develop leadership abilities during your career?
“I’ve had the privilege of having many good role models throughout every stage of my life. In university, I had my graduate adviser, the dean of engineering and the vice chancellor. In my early professional career, I had my uncle, who’s an executive at a large, global manufacturing company. When we were growing as a company, our CFO, Angela Smoller, provided lots of good advice and offered guidance through leadership books. More recently, our CEO, Iain Cooper, has helped me continue develop my leadership abilities.”

Who are your mentors? What is the most valuable advice they have given you?
“My uncle, Ted Dubbs. In so many words, “go after it.” Just being supportive and truly interested in what I have to say or where I want to go in my career. Simon Bittleston taught me to implement processes that enable innovation, not stifle it.”

What advice would you give other young professionals in the industry?
Loyalty is worth its weight in gold, so vet the companies you plan to work for before jumping on board. Staying with a company for more than two years shows your future employers that they can confidently invest in you. And, perfect is the enemy of good!

What keeps you motivated and passionate about working in the oil and gas industry?
The consistent increase in energy diversity and commitment to net zero. Regardless of your outlook on global warming, I think we can all agree that being good stewards of our resources is important and wasting resources is unnecessary with today’s technology.

Three More Things
  1. Our technology has now been deployed on six continents. My personal goal is to take our sensor to Antarctica. Maybe sniff some methane while I’m down there!
  2. I’m a Ph.D dropout. I had the opportunity to work at NASA JPL full time while I was supposed to be working on my dissertation. Much to the chagrin of my Ph.D advisor, I decided to spin out the technology instead.
  3. I lived in Shenzhen, China, for three months for an internship while I was an undergraduate student.