Women in Construction Week: Anna Palmer

Anna Palmer joined Sellen as virtual design and construction (VDC) integrator in July 2019 and began helping several teams right away, including Block 18 and Seattle Children’s Hospital. Anna is currently working at a Confidential Campus Refresh job site. Read on to hear how Anna took a leap of faith to find her career path in the industry.

What made you want to go into the construction industry?

This is actually my first construction role at a general contractor. I was in architecture and design for 10 years. I started in school doing interior design and industrial design. My first job out of school in 2008, when the economy was not so great, was a 3D job. It was rendering furniture for small, boutique firms in fake settings so that they can put it on their websites and gain some visibility and traffic of what it is that they could possibly offer the industry at a time when it wasn’t really thriving. By the time Revit came along, I think it took me all of a month to pick it up and then I got professionally certified.  I was the fourth woman in the state of Washington to be professionally certified for Revit architecture and it’s just something that drew me in more and more. There’s this whole design in the built environment and for me it was actually being around the parts and pieces that make the things come together and function. It’s one thing to just draw some things on a cocktail napkin but it’s another thing to make it function – that’s priceless. That’s invaluable.

What has surprised you the most about the construction industry? How have you seen the industry change?

If you asked me 10 years ago, I’d just assume I would be in the trades. But as things have evolved, technology has really made its way through. For me, being at the forefront where construction is actually utilizing technology to the best degree and being at the epicenter at what Building Information Modeling (BIM) is, I get to blend my design background and this direction of learning more and more information modeling – it’s just the perfect hybrid. The minute I got here, any negative notion of being a woman in the construction industry shed away because it was just so welcoming. Everybody is respected as a professional.

How has your role changed over time?

It has changed based on the phase of construction. I came in at the middle of one project, the beginning of another and now in preconstruction. But it’s been helpful to do that backwards flow, because now that I’m at preconstruction at the Campus Refresh for the long haul, I have a taste of all these other project phases.

What do you enjoy most about working at Sellen?

The culture at Sellen is amazing. It’s been such a breath of fresh air compared to how the industry can sometimes be in these fast-paced environments and big cities. Everybody is just very hospitable at all the job sites I have been at and it’s easy to ask questions. Everyone is really helpful and professional in what they do. When I got to the job site, I did my transition meeting and it was really empowering to sit at a table with all these seasoned professionals and actually feel like I’m shoulder-to-shoulder with everybody.

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

I spend so many hours just looking at things at such a small scale, only as big as my screen. Now, instead of going to a site once a month, I can walk out in the middle of the day and just stare in awe at the scale and the magnitude of the project I’m looking at. It’s probably like how a child can equate playing with Legos to going to Legoland. The scale astounds me every single day in that it’s just so accessible – sometimes I just nerd out about that. It makes for a more effective process because I can look at it and then immediately do the work around that instead of having to transfer information at a slower pace because I’m not allowed on a site or coming from across town.

Advice for women in the industry or interested in the industry?

Never doubt yourself. I thought that maybe I’m not equipped, since I don’t have a formal engineer or construction management background. I got here because I took the leap of faith, switching careers and taking on a role I’ve never done to pursue my passion. There was a little bit of hesitation because you think of engineering and you think of a very right-brained process and high accuracy, but actually I was a perfect fit because there is nobody else that comes from exactly what I’ve done. You never know, because things are evolving so rapidly. Have a voice and trust your intuition and don’t be afraid, because you can really bring something magical to the table.

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Anna Palmer
VDC Integrator