Durham School alum building new career amid massive New York development
When John Tran travels to work each morning amid the bustling streets of Manhattan, he can’t help but think about how much his life and career path has changed.
It’s especially so when Tran, an assistant project manager for Related Companies, sees the skyline, particularly the burgeoning Hudson Yards project, and knows he’s playing a key in the construction of the largest real-estate development in U.S. history.
“Once you’re near Hudson Yards, you realize the scale of the project is astonishing. You can’t walk in the neighborhood without, at some point, turning to look at it,” said Tran, who has bachelor and master’s degrees from UNL in architectural engineering. “You can see a lot of people just standing by and taking photos. It’s a big deal.”
Hudson Yards stretches across 28 acres on Manhattan’s Far West Side. About half is public open space that coexists with more than 17 million square feet of commercial and residential space and a school designed to hold up to 750 students. It all rests atop a pair of concrete platforms –nearly 10 acres – that act as a roof for one of the world’s busiest railroad yards. To support it all is a series of beams, stilts and rollers.
A project this immense also has a lot of resources that need to be managed. When it is complete, Hudson Yards will have used more than 100,000 tons of steel, 28,000 shrubs and the work of 23,000 construction workers.
“Basically, working for the developer (Related Companies) of the project and my job is to coordinate to our best interests as well as determine strategic planning for the construction of this particular project,” Tran said. “It’s all about managing the materials and timing of the materials, and managing the people, the subcontractors and contractors. The overall scope of the work is to make sure everything is on time and according to schedule.”
Planning and scheduling a construction project is not something Tran envisioned doing when he started at UNL as a computer engineering major.
“I realized at some point that I didn’t particularly enjoy coding. I knew I had to do something else, but I wanted to stay in engineering,” Tran said. “The architectural engineering program (at The Durham School) was fairly new at the time compared to other programs across the nation, and they convinced me that I should take that route. Once I got in a few classes, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
After graduating, Tran moved to New York and began working as a structural engineer. One of his biggest projects was as a design/inspections engineer and working on-site during renovations at Madison Square Garden’s arena and theater.
Despite the challenging work as a structural design engineer, Tran said he couldn’t pass up the chance to try a new career path with the Hudson Yards position in August 2015.
“At that point, I was ready to transition into something else. Project management was something I had picked up midway through my career. It wasn’t something that I had originally planned, but the opportunity was intriguing to me so I figured I’d make the jump and give it a try,” Tran said.
His transition to project management, Tran said, is in some ways similar to when he changed majors at UNL more than a decade ago.
“I didn’t take any scheduling classes or project management classes (at UNL), so this is kind of an entirely new experience,” Tran said. “It feels like I’m back in college and I’m having to start from the bottom and relearn all the techniques and methods. This time it’s project management.”
Despite all the challenges of a new job, Tran said his experience as an engineer is helping to make the process smoother.
“I’m basically starting in a part of this industry I’m not familiar with, but I have a better understanding of how these structures are designed,” Tran said. “This project is something that’s completely new to 99 percent of the people working on it – new ways of construction, new ways of engineering that I’ve never seen. It’s exciting to take part in something that’s never been done before.”
Now that he’s settling in to a new job and career path, Tran can look up at the Manhattan skyline and reflect on his journey.
“I don’t know what my goals for the future are, but I see this as a long-term thing,” Tran said. “It is, for me, humbling to come from a smaller town (Fremont) and go to New York City to work on the largest real-estate development in the history of the United States. It’s a little overwhelming when I think about it.”
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