In her latest interview, Rose sits down with Senior Software Engineer Perry Stephenson to discuss his experience at Brightspot, his love of snowboarding, and why he's passionate about participating in the company's mission activities. Perry has been working at Brightspot since August 2017.
How long have you worked for Brightspot? What brought you here?
I have been at Brightspot for just over four years. I was at a Virginia Commonwealth University career fair where I met Avery Davila. At the time I didn't know much about the company, so I agreed to do an interview with Avery and Omavi Walker the next day. During that first interview, I really liked a lot of things that they talked about, such as what the company did, the mission work and the culture. I came and interviewed in person and fell in love with the office and I haven't looked back since.
What inspired you to become a software engineer?
I think it stems from my childhood. I always wanted to learn how things worked. As I got older, I started spending more and more time on my computer and wanted to learn the inner workings of that. When I went to college, picking computer science as my major became an obvious choice. I had zero coding knowledge so getting started was a challenge. After the first few courses and getting into the major, it became a lot easier. I'm glad I made the decision that I did.
You've worked on lots of interesting projects over the past four years. Is there a particular feature you've built or problem you've solved that you are most proud of?
Overall, the Amazon Science Mentorship project (a part of Amazon Science) was an interesting, unique experience. It was not your typical website but more of a web application that linked mentors and mentees within the Amazon Science experience. It was a cool project because there were just two developers on the team doing the active work. I was happy with what we were able to accomplish in a short amount of time. Overall, it was a really fun project with a really fun team.
Can you tell me about the current project you are working on and your role on the team?
Currently, I am on Brightspot's project for NPR. I am one of the lead front-end developers supporting their member stations. So, NPR is really cool in that it's not just one news station but hundreds of them. Each of those stations has their own website. As we launch, the stations still need ongoing support and the ability to add new features as needed. My job is to add those features, fix any bugs and keep NPR and all their member stations happy and their sites looking good.
How have your grown professionally since starting at Brightspot?
I have grown tremendously since starting at Brightspot. I think one of the great things about working here is when you start you immediately have a huge role on whatever team you join. I think that is very helpful because you get a good level of understanding for how everything works, not just one particular project. It's important, as a developer, to be well-rounded because at the end of the day—even though Brightspot is used in different ways in each project—it is all one product. Secondly, jumping right into a project gives you a lot of opportunities to hone your problem-solving skills. I have been given tasks where I was unsure of where to begin, but with help, research and determination you can figure out anything.
I know you've participated in a lot of different mission activities during your time at Brightspot. Is there a particular mission activity or event that stands out as your favorite?
That's so hard! There have been so many and I have enjoyed them all. Sponsoring the children for the holidays through the Salvation Army's Angel Tree Program each year really stands out. It's nice to give back and make someone's holiday a lot more enjoyable. One of my favorite memories was going with the Special Olympics to Aspen, Colorado, for the X-Games and just watching the athletes on their courses, dancing at the party afterwards and being in Colorado for the event. That whole experience was heartwarming and enjoyable. I love how involved the company is with the Special Olympics.
Besides the people, what is your favorite part about working at Brightspot?
Honestly, I think I would have to go back to mission. I love that we have such an active presence in our community and I think it's really important to give back. We are fortunate to be able to have that kind of ability, time and presence locally. I had the opportunity to be a mentor earlier this year at Aldrin Elementary School here in Reston, Virginia. I love that we do a lot of things with Aldrin, including landscaping and rebuilding their community garden back in the spring to beautify the school grounds. I love that Brightspot is not just about the work, but also about ensuring that the community thrives just as much as the company does. I think that's important for any company; it shouldn't just be a place where you go to work, it should be a place where you go to make the world a better place.
What are your favorite activities or hobbies to do outside of the office?
Those who know me know that I love snowboarding! I count down the days to every winter and I go out to Colorado multiple times a year just to get out in the mountains. Snowboarding is probably what makes me the happiest. Since the pandemic, I have gotten really into cycling and now that has become another hobby of mine. Last summer, I pushed myself to train for a 100-mile bike ride from Richmond to Williamsburg and back with my friend. That was an incredible experience, and I loved finding something I enjoy doing so much during the summer when it's too hot to go snowboarding.
What was the last movie you saw? Would you recommend it?
It was a re-watch. I watched Knives Out with my sister. It was my second time watching it and it was her first. It's a great murder-mystery movie with an awesome cast and incredible acting. I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes mysteries and things like that. It's a great movie!
If you could have any superpower, which would you like to have? Why?
The first thing that comes to mind is flight. It would be pretty cool to fly and not have to sit in traffic. It would be fun to see the world from that perspective. I am not cool like other Brightspot employees such as Paul Easterbrooks or Jeremy Collins who have their pilot's license, so being able to fly myself would be pretty cool.