This month’s Spotlight Series focuses on Siena’s Assistant/Project Manager Alex Testa. We first met Alex a few years back when she arrived at Siena as an intern. She quickly impressed the office team with her intelligence, maturity, and sense of humor. After some time away in the work force and graduate school, Alex returned to Siena as an Assistant Project Manager. Alex provides leadership and supervision with all aspects of Siena’s construction projects, including estimating, coordination, and organization. She recently managed renovations for Northeastern University’s Financial District Campus project. We asked Alex how her previous diverse work experience (engineer, barista) as well as her hobbies (marathon running, baking) have prepped for the challenges of construction management. Thanks for all you do for Siena, Alex!

What was your first job ever? 

Like, ever ever? I worked at Dunkin’ Donuts and it was surprisingly gratifying. I learned a lot about the food service industry, which is my second favorite industry, and still draw on experiences I had with customers there. Getting a coffee is arguably one of the high points of someone’s day, so being a part of that and doing it well was nothing to shake a straw at. The most memorable regular orders I had were: a small coffee with 16 packets of Equal, and a medium coffee with 2 packets each of Splenda, Equal, and Sweet n’ Low.

During my job search the next summer, I listed my experience at DD on my resume, describing it with passion and zeal. The engineering company I was interviewing with appreciated my enthusiasm, and they ended up giving me the internship. You never know!

Why did you choose the construction industry as a career path?

I like to tell folks that the construction industry chose me. I didn’t know much about the field until I happened into an internship at Siena in 2013, and I had enough sessions with [Siena’s Senior Coordinator/IT guru] Louis to convince me that construction interested me more than engineering. But, I did see the engineering part out and learned loads (HA!) from being on the design side. After a few years, I begged George and Terry to take me back in at Siena.

How does your engineering background help in project management?

It gives me another level of understanding, and not just on the structural aspects of the project. I think it’s more that I see where engineers and architects are coming from, and what steps we as construction managers can take to make everything run more smoothly.

Any similarities between construction project planning and marathon training/running?

Gosh, not many. Both involve me going around Cambridge and the Charles early in the morning? If I had to boil it down to the basics, on a construction project you plan out the best possible schedule but inevitably have to update it constantly, making changes and being flexible as different things come up. Same goes with training for a race—you try to get out there and stick to a plan, adapting it when there’s bad weather or you get sick. At the end of the day, in both cases, the finish date (and line!) is the same as when you started.

What’s more challenging: completing a construction project on time and on budget, or baking the perfect cake truffle? Please explain.

Baking the perfect cake truffle. No one cares how a construction project tastes.

What’s your favorite aspect of working at Siena?

Everyone else at Siena. I get to work with the best people.

What are you proudest of in your work? What keeps you coming back?

A lot of people work in construction, and I think it’s partially because taking a concept drawn on a piece of paper to reality is extremely satisfying. I am constantly impressed by the management of job sites, where a multitude of trades are working at the same time but towards the same goal.

What advice would you give to a young person who’s starting out in the construction industry?

Find a company that will support you in your goals, and where you see opportunities to contribute and add value.

Alex’s Favorites:

Favorite movie: Sex and the City 2

Favorite TV show: The Wire

Favorite book: Anything from the 20% off shelf

Favorite place in Boston area: Flour Bakery

Favorite restaurant: Sarma and Dave’s Fresh Pasta

Favorite vacation spot: The Maldives