Behind the Build: Interview with Chris Walker, VDC Project Manager at PENTA Building Group

People with successful careers possess many admirable qualities, but one common denominator that these folks have is their willingness to push themselves out of their comfort zone. 

Chris Walker, VDC Project Manager at The PENTA Building Group, exemplifies this trait incredibly well. Beyond working to improve himself, Chris strives to elevate and develop the people around him. He also leads PENTA's diversity committee, which focuses on promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion within the company. 

He's achieved a lot, so it's no wonder Chris has been named an Autodesk 40 Under 40 Construction Champion of 2022

We recently connected with Chris to chat about his career, accomplishments, and initiatives at PENTA. Check out what he has to say. 

Tell me a little bit about PENTA and what you specialize in. 

PENTA Building Group is a general commercial contractor. Our home base is in Las Vegas, where I am, though we also have offices in Phoenix, Arizona, and Southern California, where we've expanded. 

We build several types of projects, including hospitality, education, and healthcare. We've done arenas and ballparks, as well. 

As for me, I'm in the VDC department, specializing in construction management, BIM, and construction technology. I'm also involved in the DEI initiatives we have at PENTA.

Walk us through your career and what led you to become VDC Project Manager.

I've been in the construction industry for 12 to 13 years now. Even as a kid, I was interested in architecture and design. Plus, my dad used to be a carpenter.

I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, and ended up attending North Carolina A&T, where I got my degree in Architectural Engineering. In college, I grew more interested in construction, which led me to do two internships with a GC in the DC metro area. Then once I graduated, I started to work full-time with them as a project engineer in the field. 

After a year, around 2011, I was introduced to BIM and fell in love with it. 

Fast forward a few years, I switched to a different GC in the same area as an assistant project manager. BIM was still growing at that time, so I played dual roles and became a BIM Manager on a project on Capitol Hill in DC. 

I started with PENTA as a senior VDC engineer when I moved out to Las Vegas in 2018. The company has allowed me to advance my career with VDC, and I've been involved in several initiatives and projects in both Las Vegas and California.

What is your proudest accomplishment in your career at PENTA? Why? 

My proudest accomplishment would be a continuous improvement for myself and PENTA. 

The company has allowed me to be comfortable in my skin, where I can fully be myself at work. That has empowered me to learn more, get out of my comfort zone, and grow professionally.

As a result, I was able to start and lead our drone program and implement new technology like Autodesk Build company-wide. 

I am also able to mentor high school students and interns who are interested in the AEC industry.  

On top of that, I'm fortunate to be part of our diversity and inclusion initiatives, in which I've led focus groups over the last year within the company. 

Those are just a few things I'm proud of, but the focus has just been continuously improving myself because that allows me to help improve PENTA as a company.

As construction evolves, how do you see the role of VDC Project Manager changing? 

VDC has continually evolved ever since I started at PENTA. My position title has recently changed, it's now VDC Manager as I'm not solely focused on projects. We're focused on initiatives and innovative solutions, which is more than technology. 

I've learned that I have to focus on people, processes, then technology—in that order. People evolve, and so do processes. Then we have technology, which is constantly changing as well.  

So the involvement of the role naturally fits with these three areas: the people, the processes, and the technology. 

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role? How does technology help you overcome those challenges? 

The two biggest challenges are communication and collaboration. Buildings are becoming more complex with shorter schedules. There's all this information that we need to communicate to several people. I've found that the root cause for the majority of these issues is miscommunication. 

As for collaboration, I've found that different people—whether it's the design team, contractors, or the owner—are working in silos. So that contributes to the communication challenges.

Technology has improved that by bringing information to one platform and making it accessible. RFIs, drawings, and models are easily accessible thanks to technology.

Then there's remote collaboration. The pandemic expedited the adoption of remote work, where we've increased ways of sharing and communicating information. Technology has improved those challenges. 

Switching gears to Autodesk products, what is your favorite feature in Autodesk Build?

Autodesk Build has a lot of great features. My favorite would be the umbrella of operations information being in one place. With Autodesk, I can access drawings, models, submittals, RFIs, and even photos in one location. 

It saves time not having to open up different software to review, resolve or communicate an issue. That would be it. Encompassing all of Autodesk Build's features, I'm happy that I can access the information in one place. 

What made you want to partner with Autodesk on your projects? 

Autodesk is amazing and a major company in the industry. We love the vision of Autodesk, and it's great to provide feedback and have an influence on what the vision is. That's something that made me want to partner with the company.

Plus, Autodesk has been able to collaborate with our VDC Department to achieve common goals and provide innovative solutions. That partnership continues to be great.

When you think about the future, what are your plans to advance innovation and productivity at PENTA? 

I've always focused on advancing innovation, productivity, and operations. Coming from the field, I'm passionate about improving anything I can in that area. 

I plan to continue understanding the challenges people have in the field. The more I can understand the issues, the better I can help find the right solution. 

To that end, a solution to those challenges can be improving a process, introducing a new tool, or implementing new technology to advance innovation and productivity. 

What advice would you give to the next generation of men and women entering and preparing for the future of the industry? 

Always be willing to learn and ask questions. That's one thing about our industry. Nobody has ever learned everything about construction. It's constantly changing; there's always something new. That's why the next generation should be willing to learn and ask questions. 

It's also important to think outside the box. The industry needs to continually grow and evolve. New ideas and innovative solutions to the challenges we currently face are the way to accomplish that.

Kelsee Campbell

As a Senior Customer Advocacy Program Manager at Autodesk, Kelsee has the privilege of working with Autodesk customers to champion their stories on the Digital Builder Blog. Kelsee strives to create an engaging experience that amplifies customer perspectives, fostering a sense of community and connection.