Name: Steve Jackson
Designation: Agent 0023
Double Agent Role: Staff Software Consultant
Special Skills: Swiss Army knife
Location: Houston, TX
Favorite Emoji: 💚
My highlight from the past year was an opportunity to mentor some engineers at Gusto. I had an opportunity to be there as a sounding board for them, and watch them grow and stretch. It’s all them, they’ve done all the accomplishments. But it felt really great to be there while they leveled up and expanded their influence, and started getting into areas they weren’t comfortable with before, and started thinking about things from different angles—like really taking that leap from mid-level to senior engineer. That was a really great experience for me.
I think I’m really focused at the moment on my current client. We’re in a push to get this project done before the summer—it’s for schools—so the impetus is to get it ready before the next school year starts. And it should be a real help to teachers. I’m excited about that because I really like teachers—I married one—and I would like to make their lives easier. So I’m pretty excited to get that through, and then see what happens after that.
It’s really the community of folks that we have. I really enjoy how empathetic and thoughtful everyone is, and how they care even more about things that I care about. It’s really a bummer to be the only person who cares about unit testing on your team, but at Test Double there are people who care even more about that, who care even more about user experience, who care even more about database performance than I do. So, just to be surrounded by folks that are that enthusiastic and invested in the things that I am also interested in and care about is great.
I think Test Double’s unique skill is the ability to meet our clients where they are. We are very versatile and very adaptable. We care a lot about a lot of different things and are very passionate about these things. But we also are very focused on being empathetic to where our clients are, what sort of needs they have and helping them through that. Other consulting agencies will often come in with “This is the way you do things,” and “This is our dogma and how we do stuff,” or ”We’re going to keep you at a distance, and you just feed us work.” Instead, we really try to get invested with clients and work through their problems together, which I think is special.
Something I’ve been thinking about for a while is making it safe for folks to fail. I think engineers in particular go to extreme lengths to avoid failure, which is sort of wasteful. It’s about being okay with failing and learning from it, and not being devastated—and also creating spaces where people can fail. I feel sometimes we’re not very beginner-friendly, because you’re expected to kind of know everything as soon as you show up. And that’s ridiculous. So I think I really want to focus on finding ways to give people places to explore and feel safe to step out a little bit and be wrong. And that’s okay. We’ll figure it out together. Too often it feels like you’re wrong and now you can’t be trusted with anything ever again.
It’s tough because I think most of the immediate things are bad. Last year was terrible, but I’m hoping that what I reflect on 5 to 10 years from now, is how resilient and adaptable my kids have been through this. One of the hardest things I had to do last year was basically cancel my five-year-old’s birthday. He’s so social, and he loves people and having guests over. I had to be like, “It’s really not happening, we’re not doing all those things.” For him to take it in stride and still be enthusiastic and happy was so reassuring. Then my fifth grader has really excelled at virtual schooling—as hard as it’s been for everyone—he’s really buckled down, doing all his assignments and getting straight A’s. I’m super proud of him for persevering through all that. So I’m hoping that’s what I take from this: how awesome and adaptable they’ve been through a really not great time.
I’m really excited about my dad coming into town in a couple weeks, and I’m going to go see my mom in August. I haven’t seen my parents since 2019, and I can’t wait to give everybody a hug. That’s what I’m pretty stoked for.
So I’ve been listening to Scene on Radio podcast for a while. They’ve had two seasons that were pretty impactful. One of them was Seeing White, and the other one is called Men. I’ve been thinking a lot about both of those—because I’m a white dude—and how that reflects on me and my position in society and how it affects tech. Even deeper than that, I’m also raising two white boys and how do I raise them in a way where I want them to be aware of the injustice in the world and fight against it, but I also want them to do well and thrive and be happy. So it’s sort of a weird thing that I haven’t fully figured out, and I’m still struggling to get through. I think those are both great podcasts for giving you some new perspectives you maybe haven’t had before, and really challenging how things are set up. I recommend them very highly.
I’m definitely most excited to be able to tell my five-year-old super social kid: “Hey, you can just play with those kids.” I don’t have to worry about: are they licking each other, are they staying apart, are they wearing masks? We moved in 2019 cross country and then got hit with the pandemic immediately after. It sucked. So, I’m looking forward to being just like, “Yep, you’re cool. Go play with your friends!”
Most of the stories about me that are interesting fall into three categories. I grew up around Navy people and was a Navy contractor for the beginning of my career, so I’ve got lots of interesting stories there. I was very serious about basketball for about 10 or 15 years, so I have lots of run-ins and experiences with famous people that people know.
Generally the thing people who know me professionally don’t know is I was in charge of the spirit organization at the University of Houston called the Bleacher Creatures. We were the folks who wore face paint and were loud and obnoxious, trying to get the other team to run into the stands after us. We were obnoxious but we had a really good time cheering on football, basketball, baseball—anywhere we could show up to cheer on our teams and be obnoxious was a good time. Our motto was “Paint up and get rowdy,” and we tried to do that as much as we could.
This interview is based on a recorded conversation with Steve Jackson and Cathy Colliver. It may or may not self-destruct.