Abarna Krishnakumar has long had a passion for teaching. In fact, that’s what she had set her sights on when she was growing up. As life would have it, however, a couple of twists and turns led her down a different path. She ended up initially in the engineering program at a university in Ontario, Canada where she grew up. But she quickly found it was not her calling.
It wasn’t until she ventured into an architecture technology associate degree that Abarna hit her stride. She knew she had tapped into something special. She went on to earn another dual degree in adult education and digital technology, and is now using all three of these areas of expertise in her role as VDC Resource Manager here at ZELUS.
Though she has ‘manager’ in her title, Abarna describes her role as being more of a cheerleader or coach. And with her lifelong interest in learning and teaching, it feels a natural fit for her skills and interests. Read on for more about Abarna, and what brought her from Canada to our team in Phoenix!
What’s your role at ZELUS?
This is a new role that is growing organically in terms of the responsibilities. As of right now, I’m working with our team individually on their skill sets and making sure that I'm partnering them up with the right types of projects that best suit their strengths.
Anywhere I see an area that needs improvement, I work with them to find creative resources to beef up those skills and help them move towards their aspirations in the company or in the industry.
I was a senior virtual construction specialist up until two months ago, so I know what it's like to not know what's out there. My goal is to be the bridge between the individual and the projects, industry and technology.
The role is called VDC resource manager, but I feel like I'm a coach and a cheerleader more than a manager. I want to be that cheerleader to enhance what the team is already good at and then help them add on more skills.
What were your early years like? Where did you grow up?
I'm originally from Sri Lanka. My family and I left because there was a civil war, and so to give me a better life, my parents went to Canada. That's where I grew up.
Growing up, I always wanted to be a teacher, either in high school or elementary school. Never did I think adult education was a thing. When I was 17 years old, and about to apply to university, my parents decided to introduce me to a family friend who went to teachers’ college, to ask them about their experience.
I got quite the eye-opener. Similar to down here in the US, up in Canada it's not that easy to get a full-time job once you graduate from teachers’ college. I didn’t want that. So I went to study engineering, because I was good at math and physics.
I hated it. I was spending 12-hour days, Monday to Friday, at school with little to no break because there were three-hour lectures, three-hour labs, three-hour tutorials. I burned out, essentially, just being a student, so I transferred to a different program: urban planning. It wasn’t enough for me. So then I went into architectural technology, and I don't know what happened. The light bulbs went off. I enjoyed every minute of it.
What brought you to ZELUS?
I moved to the US to join a software firm in San Francisco about two years ago. When COVID happened, the company downsized quite a bit. I was one of the folks who was let go from the downsize. While I was looking for jobs, I came across ZELUS. I joined ZELUS a year and a week ago, and it's been a wonderful ride ever since.
What were you doing prior?
After graduation from university, I started working at a civil engineering consulting firm where I was tossed between architecture and process piping, doing a little bit of everything because they were just entering the BIM world. I was one of three people in a 200-person company trying to figure things out on the fly, and that problem solving is what enticed me.
From there, I moved over to an electrical contracting firm. It was a much slower pace. And though I felt valued, I eventually felt a little bored. I didn't feel challenged.
Within a few months, I got a call from that software firm in San Francisco for someone with BIM expertise and the ability to train. While in Canada, I actually taught Revit at a local college in the evening, while in the day I was a BIM coordinator. All of that experience –– being an educator, being able to work in the software and the different industries for our clients –– aligned with what the San Francisco company was looking for.
I was there for a year, and it was very different from what I had done in the past and what I do now. It was on the software side and I was supposed to essentially go in and try to break things, like Wreck-It Ralph.
What’s been your favorite project at ZELUS and why?
It's hard to choose a specific project because ever since I started, I've been placed on a diverse number of projects. Every project is unique in its own sense, and whatever I have had the privilege of working on, I've enjoyed every minute of it because it challenged me in a different way.
I think what I love the most about my current role is being able to not only interact with the team in a different way, to understand their passions and how they work best with our projects, but it's also being able to see the projects in the industry from a different angle.
Now I'm looking at it from a proactive angle of what's happening out there. I’ve got to maintain a certain level of knowledge of the industry and the software that is out there and know what the competitors are doing. I'm constantly learning.
I'm a huge supporter of lifelong learning, no matter what it is that you learn, whether it's cooking or software-related. As long as I'm learning something new I'm happy. So I've enjoyed every minute of it.
What’s been the most valuable thing you’ve learned since joining ZELUS?
The value of having an open mind to things widely changes an output. So for example, when I first started, we had a set of reviews, just to make sure that we're all on the same page and that my performance is matching what the company is expecting out of me.
One question that usually arises is where do you see yourself, or what do you want to do? And I didn't want to provide a specific role or responsibility that I wanted to tackle because the team and the department were so new. I didn't want to pigeonhole myself when there's so much more that I can experience. I told them I'm open to anything because I don't know what I don't know.
That ultimately led to where I am today because this role was non-existent six months ago. It took some time for my team to realize that they needed a bridge like myself to connect the team with the rest of the department and the seniors –– to be that communicator of various things. I'm forever grateful for it.
When you're open-minded, anything can happen, and it's always for the better.
What’s one thing you hope to achieve in the next year?
I hope for my team to be able to shine in different ways. We have members of so many different experiences. If I were to sum up the number of years of experience the team has in total, it would be in the three digits, for sure.
Being able to showcase each and every person's strengths, the strengths that they were hired to do, and being able to help them find a strength that started after I joined –– I think that would be one of my biggest accomplishments. To be able to say, “This person is your person for this project and I don't have to worry about that person because they're awesome.” That's my goal.
They're already awesome. It's just to help them shine even more to where they're a well-oiled machine.