Seattle. A city that’s commonly known for rainy days, Starbucks and, most recently, construction. That’s right–in just the past few years, the construction market in the Emerald City has been flourishing. So much so that Melissa Gomez, a Project Engineer, asked to be temporarily relocated to the city from Los Angeles with her company BNBuilders.
“I thought it’d be a great experience. Seattle is an exciting city because it’s just booming with construction, especially from big tech companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon.”
In this week’s Behind the Build, we speak to Melissa about what it’s like working in the Seattle construction market as well as the innovations that make her excited.
BNBuilders is listed as one of the best places to work in San Diego and Seattle. What makes the culture there so special?
For me, I saw how different the culture is at BNBuilders compared to most other large general contractors. Inevitably, when a company gets too big, it has a corporate feel. There are too many employees that you can feel more like a number than a person. I had this experience in the past with the companies I interned at.
BNBuilders, on the other hand, is still a midsize company. It allows you to wear different hats. At the beginning of my time here, I was helping with estimating and chasing down items for other projects. I also got to work with our BIM department. With a younger midsize company like BNBuilders, you have that flexibility and freedom to work with different people and try new things. What’s cool is that people at our company want to be well rounded and learn new things. I’ve even had the chance to relocate from Los Angeles to Seattle with BNBuilders.
What has your experience been like as a project engineer?
Working as a project engineer is an ironic experience. You are one of the greenest people in the field fresh out of internships and university. At the same time, you have one of the biggest responsibilities.
Many things can slip through the cracks as a PE. Not necessarily anything critical, but there is just so much that is time-consuming, and if you’re not well organized, you can get behind quickly. But once you get past the initiation period, the pride sets in. You have all this responsibility, and you learn at a fast pace. BNBuilders emphasizes growing us as young professionals.
What are you currently excited about in the construction industry?
It has to be about the progress our industry has made and the technology we are using today. My more experienced coworkers will tell me how we worked back in the day. As a project engineer, I would have to write in an RFI in the big plan set. Then that file stays in a cabinet somewhere. To this day, I often wonder how anything could have been executed quickly.
I think about how far we have come today and the exciting tools we have available to us. For instance, I use these virtual reality construction goggles to walk through an empty building and rooms. These VR goggles have all the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems loaded into the system. As you’re walking through the space, you get to see how everything will be constructed. You can also identify the potential clashes, months in advance of construction.
Technology has almost redefined our jobs as project engineers. We’re no longer the token record keepers. We get to take on so many more responsibilities without the burden of intense manual work.
What makes the Seattle construction environment unique?
I’m still based out of the Los Angeles office, but I asked to work out of Seattle on a project for a year. I thought it’d be a great experience. Seattle is an exciting city because it’s just booming with construction, especially from big tech companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon.
The city has grown so much in the past five years. If you just look at the time-lapse videos over the last few years, it’s crazy to see how many skyscrapers have lit up the skyline. At one point last year, there were two tower cranes in the city at once.
The construction environment in Seattle is very fast paced as a result. Schedules are tight, and you need to work with very efficient construction teams to be successful.
How did you successfully roll out PlanGrid at your company?
First, the software was successful because it was very user-friendly from the beginning. The foundation was there. Secondly, we also used PlanGrid’s Consulting Services for training on the software. The team that came to our office educated us on how to use the product, including all the tips and tricks we needed. I was able to then teach my field team what I learned.
Why does BNBuilders use PlanGrid?
PlanGrid is a huge help when it comes to punch lists. For instance, we had a project that involves two buildings, each with six floors, a roof patio deck and four parking levels. Completing the entire punch list of one building, let alone two, is intensive. We also had a very tight turnaround of two weeks. If we had attempted to do it manually, I highly doubt we could have accomplished it.
The owner on this project also happened to be quite picky. Using an iPad, we went around with an owner and architect to point out what needs to be changed and fixed. Typically, this could have taken us about three hours, but with PlanGrid, we were able to accomplish it in one. Also, PlanGrid allows us to report while we walk. I don’t have to go back to my desk after and make the report and risk losing vital details. It also allows us to bring in our subcontractors. So if there’s a roof that needs to be repainted, I would add it to PlanGrid, and it would send them an email. The software also automatically sends out a reminder the day before it’s due.