For more than a year, we’ve been sharing weekly interviews with the many faces of design, construction and building operations in our Behind the Build blog series. From novices to construction veterans, we have been honored to highlight the stories of so many talented, passionate and hardworking individuals.
This week, we speak with Eliseo Estrada, Project Manager at Granite Construction. He shares his thoughts after working for the heavy civil general contractor for more than a decade and how he builds trust on the jobsite with technology.
How did your passion for construction start?
My passion for construction started when I was in high school when my stepdad would bring me to the jobsite. He’s a carpenter, and the entire experience tapped into many of my senses. We’d show up at the crack of dawn, it’s cold and foggy and the smell of wood is everywhere. In the end, we were building something from scratch. I started looking forward to those days when you could go from zero to a final product.
Those first experiences made me think, “All right, I want to be in this world someday.” My stepdad encouraged me to think about being an architect or engineer. So I went to Cal Berkeley to become an engineer. I graduated in 2007 right before the Great Recession, and I was lucky enough to get a job here at Granite.
I’ve been at Granite now for a little over ten years, and it’s been an excellent experience. I’ve had the chance to work on a variety of jobs including railroads, highways, private companies and even a refinery project which was a whole other world. I still love working in the industry today.
What gets you up in the morning?
For our team, it feels good to all work together and successfully build a job for the owner. Making Granite Construction profitable is the ultimate goal and what drives the excitement.
Also, construction is an industry that relies on face-to-face communication.
It comes down to the people you meet, and the projects that we build together.
The challenges that come with the project involve problem-solving. When we hit a roadblock, the best moment for me is when we put our minds together to figure it out. It’s the reason I’m in this industry, and it’s a great opportunity to show the human potential. When we all work together, we can solve real problems.
How were you first introduced to PlanGrid?
When Granite first wanted to pilot PlanGrid to see how well it worked, they introduced it to my team. I just picked it up and ran with it, and I know others did as well. Since then, I’ve always been sharing it with other engineers in my company and encouraging them to use it–I think it’s a great tool for our industry.
What was life like before PlanGrid?
When I first joined Granite, which feels like a century ago, we had to print plans and specs and create these job folders. It would take almost half a day to create these binders that we would issue to our foremen and project staff. Often, our team would lose plans and documents because it’s paper that gets thrown in the back of a truck.
It changed when we started issuing iPads. Workers didn’t want to lose them, and they always had access to the latest drawings with PlanGrid as long as I shared them. I think it helped that I had gone to college in the age of social media–everything was changing exponentially, and I was used to getting information fast. The formen we had on the job were amazed at the power of this instant communication. They no longer had to go out on the job for every issue. They could save time and energy by solving problems right on the spot.
Which project are you most proud of?
The Red Barn project, just near Salinas, California, was my favorite. It was a two-year job, at least for the portion that I was involved in, and it was primarily a big dirt moving job, which is rare in the Bay Area. These types of projects require a good deal of space, permits and environmental challenges.
It was a transition job where we started using PlanGrid and technology to our advantage, and it was a great partnership with the owner, Caltrans. It was also a job that bridged the gap between the recession period and getting out of it. It provided work for a lot of people through some hard times.
How do you build trust quickly with people on a project at Granite Construction?
It’s transparency–and technology has allowed us to do that.
For example, for a job I was working on in Palo Alto, they were still using paper plans and were always behind on the current set. Once we would share the information we had available in PlanGrid, we’d show them details and how they were supposed to be built with the most current set of plans. They started to trust us because we had done our due diligence always to have the latest information to build correctly.
Do you have any advice for the next generation of builders?
Learn from as many people as you can, but don’t get stuck in a certain way of doing things. In my career, I’ve always picked and chose ideas from people that taught me the old way of doing things. Some have taught me some new ways, but I’ve always continued to think, “How can we do this better, more efficiently? How can we be more productive?” This type of mindset is what’s going to push technology and the efficiency of our industry to the next level.