Tracy Young brings the construction industry into the mobile era

Tracy Young ’08 (Construction Management) knew her industry had a paper problem.

It was 2010, four years into her construction engineering career, and she was growing frustrated with 3,000-page blueprints that would turn over multiple times during projects and often contained outdated information.

Luckily for her, 2010 also was the year Apple released the first iPad. Even better, her best friend from Sacramento State, Ryan Sutton-Gee, had stood in line to be among the first to get the new device, and she was meeting him for a drink later that night.

“He showed me his iPad, and I was telling him about this blueprint problem I was having and how it was impossible to get the latest changes, and he slammed the table — a little bit drunk — and said, ‘That’s ridiculous. It’s 2010. The cloud exists. All of this should be on this iPad,’” Young says. “And that was the start of PlanGrid.”

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Tracy Young, right, with fellow Sacramento State alumnus and PlanGrid co-founder Ryan Sutton-Gee at their graduation in 2008.

PlanGrid is the company Young, Sutton-Gee, and several other partners founded in 2011 to bring the construction industry into the mobile device era. Young currently serves as its chief executive officer. The company’s software platform hosts digital blueprints that can be accessed on tablets or smartphones and are updated in real time so that construction companies and contractors have access to the latest versions, reducing both paper waste and errors.

“It was just so obvious that the iPad would be perfect for the construction industry,” Young says. “We were just lucky enough to be the first ones that wrote software for it.”

The daughter of Vietnamese refugees, Young grew up in Milpitas, just north of San Jose. She had an interest in buildings and loved architecture, but knew her artistic skills were limited. She was, however, good at math and at solving problems, which led her to declare as a civil engineering major when she followed her older sister to Sacramento State in 2004. Once on campus, however, she discovered another potential career path: Sacramento State’s nationally renowned construction management program.

“I had to make a choice about whether I wanted to sit behind a desk and make the math work (on a project) or be part of the actual construction process and be on a job site, and I chose the latter,” she says.

The construction management cohort was small, allowing the group to become incredibly close-knit and lean on each other to make it through a difficult course of study. It’s an experience Young still draws on as a professional.

“What I learned most from my classmates was the power of working together,” she says. “We just so badly wanted all of us to get through the courses that we did things to help each other make it through.”

Young recalled spending hours in the teachers’ lounge, studying with her classmates, but her favorite courses were held outside, such as when they surveyed along the American River levee near the Guy West Bridge. She also interned with general engineering contractor Syblon Reid and worked as an assistant estimator for Turner Construction while a student, providing her with additional hands-on experience.

Following her graduation in 2008, she returned to the Bay Area and began working as a project engineer for Redwood City-based construction firm Rudolph and Sletten, a position she held until she left in 2011 to found PlanGrid.

Shifting from engineering to technology was a bit jarring – “I definitely miss the smell of drywall dust,” she says – but Young sees a lot of parallels between building a building and building a company.

“The medium is different,” she says. “Instead of wood and concrete and glass, there are people and there are departments. You’ve got designers and then you also have the builders, the hackers. There are quality-control problems, bugs you have to fix. Schedule is incredibly important.”

Since 2011, PlanGrid has grown from four co-founders to more than 330 employees today. The company has tens of thousands of customers in more than 72 countries, and has stored more than 50 million sheets for more than a half million projects worldwide.

With an innovative idea at its core and a large global footprint, it is only natural that Young will be speaking about PlanGrid at Sacramento State this week, along with her husband and fellow PlanGrid co-founder Ralph Gootee, as part of the campus’s second annual Global Entrepreneurship Week.

As CEO of PlanGrid, Young spends about a third of her time travelling and meeting with customers and her field teams, about a third of her time meeting with her executives who are running the day-to-day operations of the company, and the last third on high-priority projects. Becoming a manager, she says, has been challenging, but also offers her the opportunity to continue to grow professionally.

But the most enjoyable part of her job, she adds, is building relationships with colleagues and customers to make a project that is having a real impact on the ground.

“One of my favorite quotes is from a senior superintendent who had been working in the field for 30 years. Out of nowhere, he sent us a note that said, ‘I never graduated from high school. I worked through the trade as a carpenter to a superintendent today. I have to say, after 28-plus years, PlanGrid is the best tool that has ever been given to me,’” Young says. “Being able to influence and help someone who deserves great software is definitely rewarding.”


Alyssa Zayas makes her mark on downtown hotel project

For the city of Sacramento, the recent grand opening of the Sawyer Hotel marked a major milestone in the ongoing transformation of downtown. For Sacramento State alumna Alyssa Zayas ’14 (Construction Management), it closed the door on an exciting time in her young but already impressive career.

Zayas, a senior project engineer for Sawyer general contractor Swinerton Builders, has spent nearly two years working on the project, where she says her day-to-day responsibilities “ranged from managing underground waterproofing to managing the exterior skin subcontractors.”

“The majority of my time was spent problem solving design and constructability issues in the field, and managing the contracts and money associated with solving those issues,” she adds.

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Alyssa Zayas served as a senior project manager for the Sawyer Hotel, seen at right in downtown Sacramento. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Swinerton offered Zayas an internship in 2012, when she still was a Sacramento State student, to work on the remodel of Jackson Rancheria Casino & Hotel. When the two-year internship was up, the company hired her full time, and her other projects have included the Sutter County Superior Courthouse and the John Muir Health Ambulatory Care Center in Walnut Creek. Working on the Sawyer, however, was different.

“What made this project just a little sweeter for me was the fact that I was born and raised in Sacramento and plan to raise my own family here as well,” Zayas says. “The fact that I got to be a part of bringing such a high-profile project to reality, and will get to watch the community enjoy it for many years to come, gives me so much pride.”

The project’s compressed schedule proved challenging, she says, with long days required to complete the hotel on time. “It took a toll on us all, but was worth it in the end when we were seeing, literally, the fruits of our labor come to life right before our eyes.”

For Zayas, construction is a family tradition. In a 2015 Made at Sac State feature, she discussed growing up around the excavation company founded by her grandfather and passed on to her uncle and father, as well as the challenges of being a woman in an industry that is more than 90 percent male.

The Construction Management program at Sac State is one of the University’s strongest, boasting a 100 percent job placement rate and six first-place finishes in national competitions over the past five years. Zayas, who played a role in two of those national championship-winning teams, says going through the program gave her the work ethic and public speaking skills that are essential to being successful in her current role.

“The Sac State Construction Management program does a great job of exposing students to real-world situations and teaching the skills needed to succeed in this industry,” she says.

Alumna turns the page at Teen Vogue, shares vision with New York Times

Sac State alumna Elaine Welteroth talks about her first foray into journalism in a New York Times interview.

The teen magazine famous for dishing out fashion and makeover advice is enjoying a historic facelift of its own. Editor-in-Chief Elaine Welteroth ’07 (Communication Studies) is the force behind Teen Vogue’s transformation into a modern voice for an empathetic and engaged generation of readers.

Under Welteroth’s editorial direction, current issues of the magazine include fewer stories on fashion, beauty and style, and more on the progressive politics and social issues that impact and resonate with today’s diverse, digitally connected audience.

In a recent New York Times interview, Welteroth shares thoughts about her first foray into journalism and lauds a Sac State class that she says “changed her life.”

According to the article, the professor promised that any student who could get published in a national magazine would receive an automatic A. Welteroth pitched a story about plus-size footwear to Figure, a magazine for plus-size women, and her pitch was accepted.

Before her last semester of college, Welteroth interned at an international advertising agency, where she reportedly told a fellow intern that she’d rather be working at a magazine and showed him one of her stories from Figure. The other intern questioned whether her articles were real journalism, to which she replied, “I remember staying up for an hour and a half debating this man to the ground, telling him that beauty and fashion journalism is journalism.”

The editor-in-chief followed her heart and passion to become the second African American in Condé Nast’s 108-year publishing history to hold such a title and the youngest in Condé Nast history to become editor.

While content on the magazine’s robust website still includes articles on adolescent angst and celebrity crushes, the first navigation bar now reads “News and Politics,” a nod to Welteroth’s determination to move the needle on what’s considered news for teens.

“I felt like there was an opportunity to go a little deeper and to feature a different type of girl: someone who actually used their platform to be a role model and to be a thought leader. There was something shifting in the zeitgeist,” she told the New York Times. She added, “Teen Vogue has as much right to be at the table, talking about politics, as every young woman does in America right now.”

Welteroth was previously editor at Teen Vogue, which she joined in 2012 as beauty and health director. Before that, she was the senior beauty editor at Glamour, and worked as the beauty and style editor at Ebony magazine. – Anita Fitzhugh