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Meet Helio Monteiro, Who Turned His Artistic Passion Into a Career in Construction

By Emily Rennie

January 27, 2021

Meet our Pathfinder, Helio Monteiro, who works at Venture General Contracting in Seattle. His artistic skills opened the doors to a successful career in construction.

Growing Up in Cambridge with a Passion for Art 

Helio Monteiro has enjoyed a very successful career in construction—and he’s only 32 years old. Already, he’s worked for two dynamic GCs, contributed to some incredible projects, and has been promoted several times. 

But his path to success was not a straight line. It took many twists and turns. 

Helio was born in Portugal and is fluent in both Portuguese and English. His family is originally from Guinea-Bissau, which was a Portuguese colony for 500 years (from 1474 to 1974). Due in part to that history of colonialism, Guinea-Bissau today faces significant economic challenges that limit opportunities for many people. This was one of the main reasons his parents decided to move to Portugal and then later to the United States. 

In 1992, when he was four years old, Helio, along with his parents, his brother, and his sister, immigrated to the United States. Growing up in the Boston area, he learned at a young age that he had a passion and ability for creating art. In elementary and high school, he was constantly drawing and doodling on his homework assignments.

“I always liked to draw and create all kinds of art. When I got older, I wanted to find a way to use that skill in my future career,” he said. “But I wanted to also ensure that I’d have financial stability.” 

Studying Architecture in Idaho

Helio was an average student and did not initially have aspirations to go to college. After some persuasion from his mentor he relented and applied to a college that would take him close to 2,500 miles across the U.S. Ultimately, he chose to follow his passion—but with a pragmatic approach. 

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for college, but I liked to draw and I liked art,” he said. “I was trying to figure out how I could use that skill in a more professional setting, as opposed to just a hobby.”

It was important to Helio that he find a career that would provide financial stability. After researching a few different career paths, he chose to pursue a degree in architecture. He was accepted to the Architecture program at Brigham Young University (BYU) Idaho.

During his college years at BYUI, he started the foundation for his career and even met his future wife, who was studying early childhood education. By the time they both had graduated, their family had grown with the addition of three boys. 

But, as we mentioned, his path was not a straight line—it held a few surprises. After several years at BYU Idaho, including two internships at architecture firms, he realized that architecture was not the right fit for him. This presented a new challenge: how could he use the things he had learned to forge a new career path? 

Making the Leap to Construction

After deciding to leave the architecture field, Helio needed to make a new plan. Fortunately, one of his professors suggested that he make the move to construction management. He looked into it and realized it would be a great fit. “The only experience I had with construction before my college career was helping build decks on the weekend,” he said. Nevertheless, he threw himself into a Construction Management program and began learning as quickly as he could. 

As part of this new curriculum, he entered the Associated Schools of Construction (ASC) regional competition in Reno. For the Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) challenge, he was given the role of Team Leader. The goal was to solve a challenge provided by utilizing Building Information Modeling (BIM) processes. Helio told us: “I don’t think we did well on the product delivery, but we showed poise and on-our-feet problem-solving skills, which got us a little bit of attention.” The trip to Reno turned out to be momentous because he met Jim Pappas, a district Vice President for Hensel Phelps Construction, a nationwide general contractor. 

“I walked up to the Hensel Phelps booth and saw my entire team crowded around Mr. Pappas. They spotted me and waved me to come over. I didn’t know it at the time but my entire team was talking me up, which made him want to meet me.” The two of them hit it off, and when Hensel Phelps lost their VDC manager later that year, Helio was the first one they called to interview for the open position. 

Fortunately, this was just three months before Helio was about to graduate with his Construction Management degree. “I was like, ‘Heck yeah, let’s go to California! As the provider for a young family this was a huge relief,” he said. As a junior member of the team at Hensel Phelps, Helio did all kinds of jobs, including VDC, Field Engineering, and Office Engineering. Helio believes working in the field is a crucial necessity for those who aspire to have a career in VDC. 

“The first thing I tell every new person who wants to break into VDC is: ‘Learn how to build. Spend some time in the field, spend some time in the office, and figure out how the parts and pieces go together. Also, learn how to problem solve because sometimes what’s originally drawn on plan isn’t necessarily the end result out in the field.’”

Moving Up in the World (to Seattle)

Three years ago, Helio and his family moved to the Seattle area to help bolster the VDC manpower for the recently set-up Hensel Phelps office there. Eventually, he was promoted to Lead VDC Engineer and was able to work on high-profile jobs for the Port of Seattle and Sound Transit. 

In October 2019, Helio was offered a position with Venture Construction, also based in Seattle. While it was difficult to leave Hensel Phelps, he decided that it was time for a new challenge and he accepted the job. But he wasn’t going to leave without telling his co-workers how much they had meant to him. “Before I left Hensel Phelps, I wrote a letter to the entire district letting them know how grateful I was and that I would never have gotten this new job without them. I know I would’ve never been prepared for this position without the extensive training I received at Hensel Phelps. I’m thankful for the experiences I have had and all the things that I’ve learned along the way.” 

As for working with Venture, Helio stated that he has even more opportunities to utilize his artistic side in a professional setting. “I’m still able to use my artistic side when working with the models and technology. I have had many opportunities already to model and render graphics for procurement or other owner requests,” he said. “The Venture Way is to help all team members clearly understand design intent, and in turn, improve project quality and cost. So we’re leveraging technology to be able to do that.”

Building for Big Tech and Adapting to COVID-19 

Helio is now a father to four boys, and he and his wife are completely settled in Seattle. With his new job at Venture Construction, he is fulfilled and busy. Of course, he’s still learning new things and always staying on top of the latest technology. 

About a year ago, Helio began working on a really important project. Venture won a bid to build a lab and office space for a Fortune 500 technology company. The project had a lot of complexities and a 120,000-square-foot layout. 

As soon as Helio and the team got started on the project, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Seattle area and forced people into lockdown. “Our company has implemented one of the top processes in dealing with the pandemic and keeping people on job sites safe,” he said. “The rule is that no matter what position you hold, you’re part of safety. You’re responsible for making sure that people go home to their families every day. That’s the reason why I work.” 

The pandemic and local regulations have limited the number of people who can be on a job site or in the office at any given time. That means Helio and his team are spending more days working from home. “To even get into the office today, I have COVID protocols. I have to go through a questionnaire, take my temperature, make sure I stay six feet away from other people and I’ve always got my mask on. I also limit visits to the office. I’m only here about two days a week. I think people are noticing that the productivity level isn’t changing much between the commuting office and the home office.”

Using OpenSpace to Succeed in Difficult Times

To improve collaboration and communication during this trying time, Venture has been using OpenSpace’s 360° photo documentation. “OpenSpace has been huge for us right now. Documentation is always a big deal in construction. For example, you might have an architect that visits once a month from a different state or something. So they are only getting that once-a-month snapshot. Using OpenSpace, our architects are able to access a digital replica of the site at any time. We do weekly site walks so they’re able to find the information that they need on a daily basis without having to come out to the site.”

By relying on this advanced technology, they are able to move just as quickly as usual but also comply with the limits on personnel working on-site every day. “It keeps less people on the site. It keeps them away from risk in being out there and it even saves them time on commuting. It can even save them the expense of taking an airline flight.” 

One of the most important ways Helio is using OpenSpace is for Owner Architect and Contractor (OAC) meetings. The owner, a Fortune 500 tech company, wants to confirm that work has been completed to its exact specifications. With OpenSpace, they can do a virtual walkthrough with the Venture team, looking at specific scopes. “We’ll usually walk the site right before the meeting to get the most up-to-date picture. OpenSpace is so fast… An hour later the images are ready to view in our meeting. We also use Field Notes to share critical issues and coordinate action among the teams. It’s easy to send those issues to our subcontractors so they can address them quickly.” 

Venture is using OpenSpace to communicate with everyone, from the owner’s representative to the various subcontractors. “We have made the workflow almost 100% virtual for all parties. That has saved us so much time and headaches.”

What It Means to Be a Pathfinder

As one of our newest Pathfinders, we wanted to ask Helio what that word itself means to him. Not surprisingly for someone who has paved his own path in construction, he had a great answer: “I think it means going first and widening the path. I want to walk the path first before I send anyone else in. And I want to share the experiences and pitfalls to create a roadmap for them to follow.” 

Helio said when they implement new technology at Venture, they are very purposeful about making sure it will be useful. “We hand it over to our guys out in the field then we ask them, ‘Hey, how is this going to benefit you? Or can you see yourself using this? Can it solve a problem you’ve been having?’ And then we work backward from their needs and then mold the tool to be able to be efficient for them.”

Another thing that “Pathfinder” means to him is going the extra mile to test new technology before giving it to his team. “Any time I get a new tool or something, I always warn [the creator] that I’m going to try to break it. So that’s my job to make sure that it works the way it is supposed to and that it works when it needs to work. So, if you say that it can hold X amount of gigs, I’m going to double that and see if it’ll still work or if I can crash it. If I can’t figure it out and I’m supposed to be the Director of VDC, there’s no way I want to hand it to anybody else and let them go through that struggle.”

We’re very glad that Helio’s journey brought him to construction and led him to become one of our Pathfinders. You can check out all of our published Pathfinder Spotlights in the OpenSpace Community gallery. If you’d like to be a Pathfinder, submit your Pathfinder application today.

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