Distinguished Alum: Tracy Young's high-impact innovation

Connecting mobile devices to traditional brick-and-mortar work has been an industry boon.
Fri Sep 21, 2018

Tracy Young is one of five people chosen to receive a 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award from Sacramento State.

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Tracy Young knew her industry had a paper problem. Steve Jobs gave her the tool she needed to solve it.

And for the innovations she brought to an industry so important to a state and country on the move, Young has been named one of Sacramento State's Distinguished Alumni for 2018.

It was 2010, and four years into her construction engineering career, Young was growing frustrated with 3,000-page blueprints that would turn over multiple times during projects and often contained outdated information.

When Apple introduced the iPad later that year, Young and her friends knew exactly what to do.

“We started writing software for people in hardhats and muddy boots because we felt that they were underserved by technology,” she said. The four founders of PlanGrid, three of whom graduated from Sac State, felt that someone needed to bridge the gap between great software and the construction industry.

PlanGrid is the company Young and her partners founded in 2011 to do just that, bringing the construction industry into the mobile-device era. Young in PlanGrid's chief executive officer. The company’s software platform hosts digital blueprints that can be accessed on tablets or smartphones and are updated in real time so that construction companies and contractors have access to the latest versions, reducing both paper waste and errors.

“It was just so obvious that the iPad would be perfect for the construction industry,” Young says. “We were just lucky enough to be the first ones that wrote software for it.”

The daughter of Vietnamese refugees, Young grew up in Milpitas, just north of San Jose, and came to Sacramento State in 2004 as a civil engineering major before switching to the University’s nationally renowned construction management program. The program’s cohort was small, allowing the group to become incredibly close-knit and lean on each other to make it through a difficult course of study. It’s an experience Young still draws on as a professional.

“I was very lucky to have been part of the construction management program at Sacramento State,” she said. “We really worked together to get through all our classes and all of the exams and midterms and finals. There was this camaraderie we had of just pulling everyone through to the finish line.”

Young recalls spending hours in the teachers’ lounge, studying with her classmates, but her favorite courses were held outside, such as when they surveyed along the American River levee near Guy West Bridge. She also interned with general engineering contractor Syblon Reid and while a student worked as an assistant estimator for Turner Construction, gaining additional hands-on experience.

Following her graduation in 2008, Young returned to the Bay Area and began working as a project engineer for Redwood City-based construction firm Rudolph and Sletten. She left in 2011 to found PlanGrid, which has grown from four co-founders to more than 330 employees. The company has tens of thousands of customers in more than 72 countries, and has stored more than 50 million sheets for more than a half million projects worldwide.

The San Francisco-based company also makes an impact locally through “PlanGrid Volunteer Week” Employees are encouraged to volunteer in their community that week, and Young typically serves meals to the needy at Glide Memorial Church. She returned to Sacramento State last year during Global Entrepreneurship Week, where she spoke about PlanGrid with her husband and co-founder Ralph Gootee.

In her free time, Young enjoys listening to jazz and reading to the couple's newest family addition, 3-month-old son Leo. - Jonathan Morales