Sixer Spotlight with Anneliese LaTempa
^ LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW ABOVE ^
In today's Sixer Spotlight, we're diving into a heartfelt conversation about resilience, personal growth, and the profound impact of community and culture in the workplace. Meet Anneliese LaTempa. Together, we'll explore her experiences, from overcoming cancer to her return to civic tech, highlighting the significance of support and meaningful work. It's a story of determination, community, and unwavering purpose, making this spotlight truly special. Join us as we explore Anneliese's world, where, amid numerous life happenings, she stands strong, unwavering, and yielding to nothing.
Anneliese’s Background and Journey
Who is Anneliese LaTempa?
A. I am a mom, a reader, a kayaker, a Baltimore Orioles fan, a weightlifter, gardener, and cook in my house. I'm a wife, and I am a cancer survivor.
Tell us about your journey to Agile Six.
A. It's definitely been an interesting journey. After I became pregnant with my son during my senior year at Christopher Newport, I just tried to find a job. I wanted to put food on the table. I started working in insurance verification for the hospital system, and I was fortunate to have a boss who supported my growth. In that role, I worked with every system in the healthcare system. A few years later, they established a new department, and I transitioned into roles involving quality assurance (QA) and business analytics, learning a great deal.
When I relocated to Baltimore, Maryland in 2013, remote work wasn't common in my field. That’s when I began working in healthcare collections, working for the Chief Information Officer (CIO), gaining technical experience.
In 2019, just before the pandemic, I got into civic tech. I was really excited about working for a values-driven company. It was the first time in my career that I thought, “Maybe what I do doesn't have to be just bringing home money to feed my son.” I never thought a project management role could offer real purpose, but civic tech changed that.
My Transition into Civic Tech
Tell us how your background in healthcare influenced your transition into civic tech.
A. One of the reasons I was excited about getting my first role in civic tech is that the first project I was going to be assigned to was with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. So, with my background in healthcare, that was really exciting to sort of have that come full circle for me. After I spent a couple of years working with CMS, I was able to do some work with the National Archives and Records Administration, working on a project where we're modernizing the National Archives catalog as something that's searchable on the internet. That was at the time that I started to have my own health issues. I was diagnosed with cancer while I was working on that project and had to take some time away. Ultimately, I decided that the fast pace of that work and the kind of support that I needed just wasn't happening. So, I stepped away after that and got into FinTech. Anyone who's looked at the news knows that Capital One laid off its agile staff earlier in 2023. When my job search started again, I landed back in civic tech at Agile Six, now doing work with the VA, which is also super meaningful and has a lot of purpose. I come from a family of Veterans myself.
Impacting Veterans' Lives
Let's talk about the project you and your team are working on and tell us how it aims to assist Veterans.
A. I'm currently working on a project with the VA as a delivery manager. I'm here to help the team succeed and ensure that the work is progressing smoothly. My role involves unblocking my team, allowing them to focus on their tasks.
I'm actually on a pretty unique contract. We have two separate teams working on two separate bodies of work, both of which are essential for Veterans. One team is dedicated to the disability compensation application process, where they are focused on improving the user experience for Veterans as they apply for their benefits. With the passage of the PACT Act, more Veterans can now apply for presumptive toxic exposure benefits, resulting in increased traffic to the site, which is a positive sign because it means more Veterans are gaining faster access to their benefits.
The other team I'm working with aims to expedite the claim process once a Veteran submits their claim. After a Veteran submits their VA.gov claim, there is a process in which the claims are rated, and the benefits are established based on the Veteran's condition or ailment. We are working to ensure that the classification code is correctly assigned to more claims. It's exciting to see that while one team focuses on enhancing the front-end experience, the other team supports the back-end, aiming to expedite the claim process for Veterans whenever possible.
Meeting Me Where I Am: True Support through Life's Challenges
One theme that has consistently emerged in our previous discussions is the concept of 'show, don't tell.' Could you please elaborate on this philosophy and explain its significance in both your work and personal life?
A. One of the challenges that I've had in some of my previous roles is this concept of support, and it's a word that a lot of people use, and it means different things to different people. And I know for me personally, showing support for me is showing up and being there and standing with me when things are not going as well as they could be.
So my first impression at Agile Six is, wow, these people are really standing in the mud with me right now. This is the space I'm in right now, and they're meeting me here, and they're saying this is okay, and let's get through it together. And I think in some previous roles, there were a lot of great people that wanted to give advice, and they'd say, let me know if you need anything, or I'm here to support you. It's just not the same when people aren't sitting there in that messy spot with you.
In my personal life, I also had a shift after I was diagnosed with cancer, how folks show up for me there. What do my friendships look like? I've always been a caregiver, both at work and at home. I'm just that type of person, and I end up in that role, even in my friendships. I love that, right? I love doing it. I wouldn't be here now if I didn't love being that person for people. I'm also a very independent person, so it was really difficult to go from a space where I'm the one rallying and caring for others, and suddenly I need it, and I can hardly take care of myself. It's hard enough to deal with that at work. It's quite another thing when you're just trying to do activities of daily living. If my husband left the house for a couple of hours, I had to have a friend come over and sit with me because I couldn’t even walk my dogs. I was unable to cook dinner, which can sound a million different ways, but I enjoy cooking. I love cooking for my family. It's something that my son and I do together. We do cooking classes together. So not being able to cook, just cook dinner, not being able to do that for myself and needing other people to do those things for me, it was really, really tough. I just felt so helpless walking around my own house.
Wholeness, Trust, and Self-Management in a Remote Environment
Now let's shift our focus to values. Agile Six has five core values, purpose, wholeness, trust, self-management, and inclusion. Which one resonates with you the most and why?
A. I have to say wholeness. They're all important, right? But wholeness, really showing up as you truly are, what you truly need. Having the space to make those decisions for yourself and do what needs to be done so that you can be completely whole at work and away from work. That sounds like a pipe dream, right? But that's it.
Is there anything unique about the culture at Agile Six or something that stands out differently from other places you've worked?
A. I think that rebuilding my confidence in how I show up at work is a big part of my journey at Agile Six. I do think that that's important. After being sort of broken down last year in so many different ways, starting a new company is always going to be challenging in one way or another. But I feel like I've gotten my confidence back. I know that I do a good job, and I am able to work with people who lift me up every day–people at Agile Six, but also some of our partners on our teams, and that's really special. And you don't have that everywhere. Work is not meant to be a breeze, right? It wouldn't be called work if it were. But work can be enjoyable, work can be pleasurable, and work can be worth it. It's the work that you're doing, but it's the people that you're surrounded by that help you get through every day, that's what matters.
Agile Six is a fully remote, self-managed company, no managers here. Did you find it challenging coming into this environment?
A. I did find it challenging coming into this environment. The reason being, I'm not used to having no one looking over my shoulder to make sure that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. So during the first several weeks, I kept wondering, "Is this too good to be true? Is there really some sort of assessment about my job performance happening in a place where I can't see it?" However, I quickly realized that wasn't the case. I felt and was shown that people really do trust me to do a good job. In turn, I get to trust my team, knowing they are also here to do a good job, and we're not here to assess each other in that way. We're all here to serve Veterans, and we do whatever it takes because the work is important to us.
Navigating Life, Work, and Healing
We talked about a few challenges in this conversation, but what's the biggest challenge that you've tackled, and how did you overcome it?
A. I have to say, surviving ovarian cancer in 2022 was definitely the biggest challenge I've overcome to date in my 35 years. There were so many different things that having cancer comes with - surgery, treatment, and in my case, chemotherapy over four months due to it being a reproductive cancer. I also underwent fertility treatments. All of these things happened within two months, from having surgery to starting chemo. Additionally, my wedding was last year, so I was going through chemo, planning a wedding, working, and trying to be a member of my family as much as I could.
It affected me in some obvious ways, like having less energy and not feeling well, but there were other implications outside of general health that also impacted me at work, which weren't as easy to spot. During chemo, I began experiencing cognitive challenges and memory issues. Given that I already have an anxiety disorder, I started to feel a lot of panic when I couldn't remember things. You figure out ways to cope, like writing everything down, but it took a toll on my self-esteem. I was already dealing with the self-esteem issues that come with chemotherapy, being a young person losing my hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows right before my wedding. It's kind of hard to go through all of that at once.
I look at you today, and I celebrate you. You're talking 2022. It's 2023. I'm looking at my next question, “Tell me about the most rewarding part of your job.” And I'm not going to ask that question. I look at how you've overcome so much in a year, and how honored and happy I am to be able to sit here today talking to you about life, your life. So the most rewarding part of my job right now is doing this interview with you. I thank you for being so open to share your story, and you are rocking it. I'm so glad you're here at Agile Six doing what you do, and we are able, as Sixers, to show up for you.
A. I am so happy to be here. It took me a while actually to share with anyone at Agile Six what my story was because I had such a confidence breakdown last year. The act of interviewing is already not something I feel that I'm great at. I know some people are really rock stars at interviews. I never feel like I'm that person, but whatever confidence I had before, I just felt like, what if I forget to say what I want to say? What if I can't remember what it is I even do anymore? I don't want to make anyone think that they made a mistake hiring someone that is having all of these challenges behind the scenes. Instead, when I finally did start opening up about it, Stephen, our Delivery Coach, was like, “Wow, I didn't know any of that.” It just made me think, you know, maybe a lot of this could be in my head at this point, and maybe it's time that I really need to just find some healing and some self-acceptance with this. This was part of my journey. I made it. I'm alive still.
One of the first things that Stephen had told me when he sensed that I was overwhelmed, as I was saying earlier, was to take some wellness time. And I did. I went down to the gym, I did a private lesson with my coach, and I said, “How do we get me back?” I have gone every single week, multiple times a week since then. That's over six months ago now. I knew I was going to get back there eventually, but it was so meaningful and special to me that just by getting a job at Agile Six, I found my way there sooner, and I'm so grateful because now I have another community back that I didn't have access to last year.
Finish this sentence. Agile Six is …
A. Agile Six is here for me. They've got my six. It's not just a catchphrase; it's the truth.
Reflections. Connections and Community
I want to share something that is really important to me. Last year while I was going through all of my chemo appointments, I got back into reading in a way that I hadn't been for a while. I was always a big reader growing up, under a cover with a flashlight, reading Harry Potter in elementary school, getting caught many, many times. And as I got older, I would try to read books, and I just couldn't do it anymore. It was like my mind was too busy, and I was too distracted or would fall asleep.
While I was going through chemo, one of my friends gave me a fiction book, and I had this renewed energy for reading again, and it made such a huge impact on my life. Reading can often be such a great escape, especially because I like to read fantasy books, so just magic and things that don't really happen in real life. But I was also really connecting to these characters in their struggles. And even though they live a completely different life than mine, I could still really resonate with some of the feelings they were having and their thoughts. When I joined Agile Six, we were starting to experiment with social clubs, and at the first social club meeting, it was me and three other ladies. We realized that we all like to read the same books. We started a social book club, and we read one of the series that really means a lot to me, “Throne of Glass Series” by Sarah J. Maas.
The group agreed to read the books with me. So I get to reread them with a new set of people and have new conversations about these books that just mean so much to me. One of the tattoos that I got from that book series is this sword with a butterfly, and it says, “You do not yield.” It was one of the powerful phrases that the main character was told and kept repeating to herself over and over again. You know, there's so many things that are happening, but you do not yield. So another great part of working at Agile Six is just being able to form all these close connections with people over things that aren't even work-related and having the space to do that.
Sixer Spotlight is an ongoing series to share the stories of our team. If Anneliese’s story piqued your interest in a career with Agile Six, explore our open roles.