Cork Board

Employee Spotlight: Tessa, Interactive Developer

We talked to Tessa, our Interactive Developer, about creating web applications, rebuilding self-confidence, and more.

Tessa, Interactive Web Developer

What is your job title, and what does it mean?

My job title at Flying Cork is Interactive Developer, and it means I get to utilize my expertise in user experience (UX) and human-computer interaction (HCI) to design and create web applications including websites. The digital products I make have a positive impact on a client’s internal processes, streamlining them so they too can be more productive and successful.

What is your most memorable commercial that is not from Flying Cork? Why?

One of the most memorable advertisements that stick out in my mind is a video titled ONEbyONE created as part of ONE’s campaign to end extreme poverty and preventable disease worldwide. It feels like it’s such a simple video concept-wise. Just voices, no sound effects or music. Just jump-cuts, no fancy transitions. Everyone is wearing the same outfit with the same background, no fancy environment or wardrobe. And I think having everyone read the same script and then just blending them together… simple, but powerful. It was impactful in my mind.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Feeling like I have unlimited time to just code. I work from home and have a room in my house dedicated to being my home office. When the kid goes to school and my husband goes to the lab, I’m left alone (almost) all day with two cats and my thoughts. Being able to work without interruption is the best feeling. I have a neurocognitive condition that makes transitions difficult, so holding onto a train of thought can be challenging when even the smallest but persistent noise is around. Working from home, I have total control over my environment and no worry about loss of mental labor due to task interruption.

How has Flying Cork helped with your career development?

Working at Flying Cork has helped me rebuild my self-confidence. I would often walk into a room (or virtual meeting) and automatically assume I’m the dumbest person there. After working with clients who have talked me up to others calling me an “expert,” I finally have the confidence to refer to myself as an expert too, without the imposter syndrome.

First job or weirdest job you have had?

The first job I ever had was when I was 15-years-old, I lived with my grandparents and worked at Hershey Park as a ride’s attendant. I wasn’t old enough to operate the rides, so my job was checking restraints, ensuring safety, appropriate attire, and height requirements for the ride I was working on. I basically lived at Hershey Park that summer and became the King of Dance Dance Revolution with how much time I spent in the arcade. I think I still have some of the expert-level moves memorized if I heard the song. Adults were right in that it didn’t help me learn how to actually dance!

What is something that might surprise us about you?

I am an autistic self-advocate and I’m very passionate about social justice, especially in the areas of neurodiversity, disability, autism, gender diversity, sexual orientation, and race. I spend a lot of my free time volunteering and helping local nonprofit and grassroots organizations like Lebo Pride, M.O.R.E, South Hills Gun Sense Alliance, and Misfits on a Mission.

I’ve even started becoming a bit of a public speaker, both for pre-recorded and live events. I just can’t help myself because I also maintain a personal blog called Just 1 Voice where I provide educational information, resources, and amplify voices of other marginalized communities. When they say us autistic people go deep into our special interests, we go way deep, and my special interest in social justice is a prime example.

Besides working at Flying Cork, what are your Top 3 life highlights?

I could easily say my top 3 highlights are my child’s birth, my wedding, and some other major life milestone, and while they are incredibly happy moments marking an important change in my life, I’d actually have to say my top 3 highlights are actually the month after my child’s birth, the 24 hours before the wedding, and the time I brought in the single highest donating sponsor for the inaugural Lebo Pride Celebration.

My child’s birth was complicated, and it took a while for me to recover. When I was physically capable of picking up my new baby for the first time without assistance, about a month after she was born, that was a highlight for me.

The night before our wedding, I was so stressed out about decorating and some of my friends who weren’t even in the wedding party took it upon themselves to throw me a surprise party in the suite.

And finally, the inaugural Lebo Pride Celebration was held in June 2022. We planned it in under 2 months and it was such a massive success. Queer and gender diverse people of all ages, including myself, felt loved, seen, and we really had a fantastic time.

What is the best book you have ever read?

I can’t decide on the “best” book, but the most impactful book I’ve ever read was The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. I read it while I was part of a book club. It follows an autistic geneticist, Don Tillman, and how he goes about life with “projects.” For example, he decides he wants to find a wife and get married, so he starts about the “wife project.” He also helps his friend Rosie find her father and calls that the titular “Rosie Project.” This book really sucked me in because I found Don’s way of thinking so incredibly relatable. Take this excerpt from page 134 for example:

Throughout my life I have been criticized for a perceived lack of emotion, as if this were some absolute fault. Interactions with psychiatrists and psychologists–even including Claudia–start from the premise that I should be more “in touch” with my emotions. What they really mean is that I should give in to them. I am perfectly happy to detect, recognize, and analyze emotions. This is a useful skill and I would like to be better at it. Occasionally an emotion can be enjoyed–the gratitude I felt for my sister, who visited me even during the bad times, the primitive feeling of wellbeing after a glass of wine–but we need to be vigilant that emotions do not cripple us.

I diagnosed brain overload and set up a spreadsheet to analyze the situation. 

I began by listing the recent disturbances to my schedule. Two were unquestionably positive. 

I’ve experienced the very same criticisms and was even told in a former employee review that my reports were too robotic. I also love to create spreadsheets and weighted pro/con lists to help me visualize complex, emotional decisions.

When I walked into the book club meeting excited to talk about all the ways I loved this book, I found everyone else to be in complete and utter confusion about why he would do these things.

The pathologizing talk of autism in the room had scared me from speaking up then, but I eventually did receive an Autistic Spectrum Disorder diagnosis in 2020 after finding the language to describe my experiences.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“Ask for help”—It’s so simple and goes against everything I was taught to be–that I had to be independent, 100% self-made, refuse all help, do everything myself–that it physically hurts to ask for help because doing so felt like I was admitting defeat.

But then someone told me that every animal is born with their most important instinct to help them survive: giraffes are born with the ability to run, snakes can bite right away, and humans cry for help. We are meant to be a community, to help each other and to allow others to help us. It’s not a weakness to need help, it’s our superpower.