Jeremy Starcher, CGI Federal

Jeremy Starcher

Senior Consultant

As I sat on a recent MS Teams call, cats from around the country leapt onto desks, and stared at speakers and headphones. 

Of course they did; I summoned them—not intentionally, but when one has Tourette’s Syndrome (TS), one does a lot of things unintentionally. Unexpected meowing sounds, it turns out, can be a powerful cat attractant.

The medical world classifies Tourette’s as a “tic disorder,” characterized by uncontrollable physical and verbal movements. That’s true--but it's also boring. Worst of all, it makes Tourette’s seem entirely bad. The truth is, TS is a double-edged sword that helps and hinders me at the same time.

The same wild firings between brain cells that send my arm flying up or out can also send bits of obscure knowledge flying across my mind, making random connections and resulting in new ideas. I’m full of them and sometimes, they are even good ones.

That’s the key word: Sometimes.

Here at CGI, I have met incredible people and have been on incredible teams that help filter those really good ideas from the bad ones.

I need that. I need people willing to listen and work with me. I can’t do it on my own.

In 2016, I had my first live interview at the local CGI Federal office here in Cleveland. To be honest, I was terrified. Not about the technical details of the interview, but rather, about what my body would do and how I would embarrass myself this time. I kept my feet firmly planted on the floor to avoid another “Great Shoe Throwing Incident” (Yes, it’s happened before and yes, during a job interview.)

Everyone I met at that time was very welcoming. I felt more at ease here than I did during any other technical interview that I had been through.

Some folks wonder if I tried to hide my TS from my coworkers. The truth is, you can’t hide TS. When it flares, it is at full volume and there is no way to hide it. It’s obvious to everyone—I couldn’t hide it even if I tried.

However, everyone I met here gave me the freedom deal with my Tourette’s as needed. If I needed to take a break from onboarding, and run up and down the stairs a few times to burn off some energy, nobody questioned it. If my arm jerked and I tossed my pen, I got some strange looks but no judgment.

Now that we’re doing a lot of remote work thanks to the pandemic, my TS still affects my coworkers but to a far lesser degree. On my worst days, I stutter and stammer a lot, but my colleagues are patient. Team members have stepped up to give internal demos for me, and others have allowed me to think over a question and reply by email or chat rather than trying to force out an answer on the spot.

I’ve been in training sessions where musical sound tracks have set my tics off. After it happened a few times, and once my co-workers understood the problem, someone would always give me heads up when to lower my volume to avoid the trigger and when it was safe to raise it again. It is the amazing people at CGI that make it possible for me not only to aim high, but to reach high.

When my meow tics come out on conference calls—yes, I sometimes meow involuntarily—and I summon cats across the nation, my team smiles and calls it “cute.” And I, a gray-bearded man, can handle being called cute. It’s much nicer than many other things I’ve been called. At CGI, I belong and it is refreshing to be accepted for who I am.

Everyone at CGI has a gift. I summon cats. What about you? 

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