Prutha Chiddarwar graduated with a masters in Construction Management in December 2020. In this interview, she discusses her transition from architecture to construction management and describes the current work she does as an estimator in pre-construction.
Could you outline your professional journey between graduation and today?
I graduated from the University of Washington with my masters in construction management in December of 2020. Earlier that year, I had an internship for Mortenson and was fortunate to receive an offer back based on my performance. In March 2021, I started working there full-time as a field engineer in pre-construction with estimating.
How did you make the transition from architecture to construction management?
When I was working back in India – after I had received my master’s in urban design from UCL, London and bachelor’s in architecture from VNIT, India and – I began to take lead on projects, I got exposure to the construction side of things. This experience drew me to learn more about construction management.
How was your experience at UW and the College of Built Environments?
UW prepared us well to go into the industry – practical knowledge was shared in the classes I took. We would have guest lectures and panels from industry professionals, and professors would also share their construction experiences. Actual projects examples were used to explain the concepts. Actually, it was in one of my classes that professor shared about Mortenson’s project to explain a concept and I first heard about the company.
Another way UW prepared us to enter the industry was through networking. There were campus presentations, interviews, and career fairs specifically for construction management. The career fair featured over 80 companies from across the country; it was a great opportunity to interact with company representatives through interviews and learn a bit about their culture, current projects, share my experiences and explore a good fit for us, personally.
I also had the opportunity to work as a student assistant for the Construction Management department for Construction means and methods course, where we would go on job walks and visit ongoing construction projects. This gave an exposure to construction and the industry.
Can you give me a brief overview of what it is you do in your work?
As an estimator in pre-construction, I work closely with our design phase management team. Since we are in the very early stages of design, we get to interact with the architects and clients. My role includes to provide reliable cost estimates in various stages of design, bidding, cost modeling, and value analysis. We work often with alternate delivery methods like GC/CM or design build, which has highly involved preconstruction process where we would try to bring up constructability or other issues early-on, to reduce cost impact for later.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?
What I find interesting about working in pre-construction is that it helps me bridge the gap between architecture and construction. My past professional experience in urban design and architecture helps me bring out different perspectives and enables me to dive deeper into the details that help me make recommendations and influence design early on in the process with team collaboration.
Do you have any favorite projects that you’ve worked on recently?
One of our current projects is a carbon-neutral building for the electrical engineering and computer science department at Western Washington University. It was exciting to be part of this mass timber project and collaborate with the design & pre-construction team towards value analysis early on.
We recently worked in preconstruction on the SeaTac airport low-voltage upgrade project, where we would be upgrading almost every electrical panel on the main terminal. It was a much different experience from most of our other projects. Being part of preconstruction and now getting to see it built, is nice.
We’re currently working on the new UW ICA basketball training facility, which is a design-build project. I enjoy collaborating with our design partners & UW on it. It feels great to a part of a project at my own university.
Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life?
I’ve had many mentors throughout my professional life, whether that be at Mortenson, UW, or through any of my previous education or professional experiences. I would say my parents, who also have a similar background, have always been a big inspiration and empowered me.
What’s next for you in your work? What are you looking forward to?
I would say I’m trying to get as much experience and exposure here in construction. I’m trying to grow in my role and see what opportunities are ahead.
Was there a pivotal or life-changing moment that led you to this path?
The projects I took lead on when I first returned to India after receiving my master’s in urban design were quite impactful. Some of these were related to urban spaces and redefined urban development in my city. They were unique projects that shifted mindset and were looked at as an investment by the government to improve the quality of public life. Being able to lead these projects, which changed people’s experiences and set an example for future developments, was very satisfying to me, especially so early in my career. I’m proud, to be a part of Mortenson and to be able to continue to make such kinds of contributions.
Any last parting thoughts or words of wisdom?
Talking to various industry professionals to understand what different roles are out there is very helpful. Construction involves many different areas of expertise – there are a lot of options and opportunities for one to choose and make their own path. There’s not one straightforward path that one has to go into.
Securing internships whenever possible will give one lot of exposure to different areas of the field beyond just the construction technicalities. When I had my internship with Mortenson, I found that I liked the culture; everyone had the opportunity to contribute or lead and was a collaborative and supportive work environment. There were a lot of trainings that one could choose from, on any desired topic, and learn about best practices from past projects. I would say if one has the opportunity to do an internship- it’s definitely worth it.