Alumni Spotlight: Varun Sharma

“Before coming to Rutgers, my only experience was living and working in India. This was my first exposure to being in such a diverse environment, with people from all around the world. I feel like Rutgers prepared me for working in a diverse, multinational company.” –Varun Sharma

Varun Sharma, a native of Chandigarh, the capital city of Punjab, India, is currently the drilling group reliability métier manager at Schlumberger. After receiving his BS from India’s Thapar Institute of Engineering & Technology, he worked as an Engineer with Tata Motors before earning his MS in Industrial and Systems Engineering at the Rutgers School of Engineering. Through various positions at Schlumberger – from sourcing engineer and field engineer to his current role – he has gained expertise in all aspects of the value chain.

Where are you from in India? 

I’m from Chandigarh, the capital city of Punjab.

What led you to Rutgers?

This was the first time I was leaving India. At that time, the internet wasn’t what it is now. It was hard to look up information and you were limited to what you could find. 

My freshman year college roommate got his degree in ISE at Rutgers and gave me highly positive feedback – plus my first cousin was living in New Jersey and I liked the idea of being close to New York City – which convinced me to come to Rutgers.

I’d also asked one of my very good friends at a different university for advice. He said my old roommate was the best to guide me as he was giving me good feedback, and knew me well. 

You studied mechanical engineering in college. What attracted you to industrial and systems engineering

After college, I went on to work for automotive company Tata Motors – one of the largest industrial groups in India – for two years. While working for them as an engineer, what I observed was that while a BS in mechanical engineering gave me the technical skills required for the job, I had to relearn things specific to their cars. 

At the same time, since I was in operations, process thinking became more central to me, so I decided to pursue a master’s degree in ISE. I wanted to learn something with a practical applications to the industry, which would add value to me in terms of higher education and help in furthering my career.

Have you been with Schlumberger since receiving your Rutgers degree

In 2007, I joined Schlumberger in Princeton. I then spent a couple of years with them in India, before moving to Aberdeen, Scotland. I spent 5 years in a small town in England called Stonehouse. Since 2015, I’ve been back in the US in Houston with them. 

What do you most enjoy about working at Schlumberger?

The one thing I most enjoy is the borderless career that Schlumberger offers by providing opportunities to work in different profiles across the globe.

I started out in supply chain, moved to manufacturing and hard core operations. In Scotland, I worked on oil rigs. This was not the calmest of scenes given the 20- to 30-foot waves in the North Sea. I’d go to the rig by helicopter and stay on it for 3 weeks at a time. That was the most exhilarating job I’ve ever done. It was an actual hands-on job, and gave me the satisfaction of knowing I’d delivered what I was sent out there for. 

After that, I worked in manufacturing and product support before getting back into reliability and my current role in operations reliability.

What does this involve?

In my current role as métier manager, I am directly involved in the strategy development and implementation for the improvement of product reliability within my technology portfolio. I own the internal processes and standards related to reliability and ensure their implementation through design reviews and audits.  

What do you most enjoy about your job? 

I enjoy working in a technical leadership role where I can leverage the knowledge I have gained over the years while collaborating with highly motivated project teams that are spread across the globe.

Has the pandemic impacted your work?

I’ve been working remotely. By meeting online we can collaborate so quickly – sharing designs online and giving technical feedback to people on three different continents. This is quite exciting. 

Technology has come a long way since I was growing up. I remember the time when I was the remote – and would have to get up from where I was sitting – when my family wanted to change the TV channel when I was young.

What do you most value about your Rutgers education? 

The diverse culture that was there in the ISE department. Before coming to Rutgers, my only experience was living and working in India. I still remember the day I first walked into the International Students and Scholars Services office so clearly. On the lawn outside the office there were students from all over – from  India, China, the Middle East, Africa, Europe.  

This was my first exposure to being in such a diverse environment, with people from all around the world. I feel like Rutgers prepared me well for working in a diverse, multinational company.

Do you have any advice for new students?

One piece of advice I have for new students is to make sure to reach out to the professors and students at the University. They are the best resources to provide you with information about the work that is going on and to help you understand if Rutgers is the right fit for you. From my experience at Rutgers, the faculty is always ready to help and provide you with the right information.

What did you do for fun while at Rutgers?

I played soccer at the Busch campus and I played cricket. Being an international student was more about sightseeing – seeing New York and Philly. 

In India, you don’t hear much about baseball. So when I went to a Yankees game with my cousin, I finally understood that there was more to baseball than just pitching a ball and swinging a bat. I also got interested in football. 

I remember watching my first Super Bowl, where there was free pizza and soda.

One thing I learned from that: if I wanted a crowd at seminars, if I  threw in free pizza and soda, I’d get one.

What do you do for fun these days?

Most of my time I spend with my two girls, aged nine and almost 7. I love teaching them how to ride a bike, play soccer, or play backyard cricket. And we like to take the opportunity to travel whenever we can.

If you could go on vacation tomorrow, where would you go? 

If I could go somewhere I would really want to go home for vacation in India. I usually go there once a year but it’s been a year and a half since I was there. 

Even though I’ve been to Greece, I’d like to visit again, as two weeks was not enough time to appreciate all that was there. I’d also like to visit Rutgers. My kids have seen their mom’s college in  Cleveland – now  I want to show them Rutgers.