From Rural Minnesota to the DC Beltway – the Humble Rise of a VP of Operations.
Jessica Jarmin, Tactis’s Vice President of Operations, has the unique distinction of being born and raised in Warren, MN, where in 1979, a UFO allegedly collided with a sheriff’s vehicle. The sheriff was left unconscious and blinded for 39 minutes. By the time the census of 2010 came around (more about censuses later), the population of Warren had grown to 1,563 people, 681 households, and 418 families, one of which was Jess’s.
The larger part of Jess’s early childhood was spent in this region of north-western Minnesota, one hour from the Manitoba border, and a short two-and-a-half-hour hop to Winnipeg where, pre-911, a drivers’ license was all one needed to visit the polar bear capital of the world. When Jess’s biological father passed away in plane crash, the task of bringing up young Jessica – then still a two-month-old – was left to her mother, a nurse. Always in healing mode, Jess would have to remind her mom to be a mom, and not a nurse! “Sometimes you need a mom to bring you soup,” she says, “and not medical advice.”
Jess’s love of the arts from an early age led her to being enrolled into Northern Expression School of the Arts, a special program for rural high schools, an extension of a bigger art school, where she was able to attend art school for half the time, and high school for the other half. “Half of the school day,” she expands, “was spent on normal academics, and two hours a day spent on the arts.” Back then, in a pre-social media age, the focus was on photography and videography.
Jess, then affectionately known as ‘Snapper,’ got her nickname when her mother, having remarried, moved the family to Thief River Falls, a town fractionally larger than Warren. According to the 2010 census, Thief River Falls boasted a population of 8,573 humans, one-hundred-and-eighty of which were in Jess’s class alone. And as there were eight Jessicas, nicknames were divvied out. Snapper stuck.
Her next stop was college in Willmar, MN where she earned a degree in photography, acing the art of dark room techniques and film-development, a lost art today. Jess loved the process back then. ‘It was not instant gratification,’ she says, ‘using a manual camera is all about math, and understanding how the individual settings of your camera are going to impact the outcome.’ This led Jess to a career in photography, which, by her own admission, ended up being ‘more starving artist’ and less ‘prosperous photographer.’ And so it was that Jess went back to school. “I needed something other than an art degree,” she says.
Fargo, which boasts the tagline ‘Far More,’ is famous for many reasons. Who can forget the iconic woodchipper scene in Joel and Ethan Coen’s eponymous movie? It was during Jess’s stint at the North Dakota State University that she took on a part time job in a commercial call center. Whether she knew it or not at the time, her life was about to change. Her ascent in the call center was fast – never her intent – but as someone who likes math, and is good at math (one of the five percent), this is not surprising. Quite unexpectedly, she found herself really enjoying the job. ‘I am a curious person by nature and enjoyed learning about the complexity of job.’ It was this curiosity that led her down the rabbit hole on the commercial side.
Sensing a new career in the making, she quit school, and has been working around the DC beltway ever since. In 2019, she landed a position at MissionSide, what was to become DC’s leading experience agency, Tactis. And it is Tactis that has been her mission ever since.
Mission At MissionSide
Today Jessica oversees the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) segment for Tactis. This means she looks after contracts that fall within the contact center realm. She also helps lead corporate functions like human capital.
When asked about the favorite part of her job, she explains how, in her career, she has worked variously for small, medium, and large businesses, all in the pursuit of the same kind of work. To her, being in all three size businesses is very different, but the reason she likes to navigate back to small businesses goes back to her love of building something, and the sense of accomplishment she gets from building a product from start to finish. “In a large company,” she says, mixing metaphors, “you are given a swim lane, and told to keep the bus between the ditches, and this is what you are doing. It is already decided for you. You don’t have much of a trajectory to decide a fate for yourself. You just have to keep steering.”
Her apt comparison continues, “Whereas with a small business, you get a chance, the creative liberty to build something. Ultimately, this goes back to me as an artist, in that I love to create, and I love to create something from the beginning to the end. That’s what I love about this job, creating a process from scratch. Seeing it actually work. Being given a chance to make it work better. Improving upon that and learning from that. You don’t get that when you work for larger companies.”
A Census Like No Other
Her biggest – and most fulfilling task to date – was working on the 2020 Census. It was also her biggest learning curve. “The big hiring for the Census started in March 2020,” she explains, “but March 2020 also coincided with the start of the Covid-19 global epidemic. It was then that it became real for everyone. While the CDC was bringing out info and guidelines on how to interact with people, we were trying to hire people,” she says. In other words, Jess was tasked with hiring 1,200 people (that’s like the population of Warren) in 13 days, in person, in two buildings. “And this is for a call center,” she reminds us. “When you see pictures of a call center, it is very much that. It’s a cubicle farm. Nobody saw the writing on the wall. This could not have come at a worse time.”
What Jess, and Tactis – and the whole US government – were reacting to was, the fact that conducting a census is written right into the United States constitution. It must be done. “Having lived through that,” she continues, “really framed my mind to make sure that moving forward, we are having those upfront conversations with our clients about appropriate planning and making sure that how you are planning to work is possible in all-situations. It’s not as simple as a snowstorm. It was a great opportunity in ‘shift’ in the government’s state of mind about how work can be conducted,” she says, “I do think that how the census looks and is conducted in 2030 will be greatly different and very much shaped by the events of 2020.”
With the census behind her, Jessica continues with her role of chief problem solver within the halls of Tactis, albeit remotely. Summer is spent at the lakes on the Minnesota border. Fall is taken up with football tailgating. And winter – which she does not mind since she says she knows no different – is spent doing winter sports. Which? All of them. And when asked if she is excited about the next chapter in Tactis’s growth, she has two words, “You betcha!”
Tactis is a full lifecycle customer experience agency working for organizations across all points of communication, combining human touch with digital expertise to create outcomes that matter. By delivering high-touch solutions that span marketing, technology, and human interactions – through leveraging data and embracing technology – Tactis generates transformational customer experiences that ensure companies own the high-expectation, high-attention moments from which truly human experiences can emerge. For more information visit www.tactis.com.