:: inspire :: create :: FlashGoddess.com ::  
Flash Goddess
May, 2003
Jessica Speigel
urban couple collage
urban couple collage
old country collage
old country collage
claudia & claire e-commerce system from Flash MX: Application Design & Development
claudia & claire e-commerce system from
Flash MX: Application Design & Development
multi-player tag game from Flash MX: Application Design & Development
multi-player tag game from Flash MX: Application Design & Development

Jessica Speigel

The first name that usually comes to mind when discussing women who work with Flash is renowned designer, coder and author Jessica Speigel.
Jessica is co-founder of We’re Here Forums, an incredible resource community with over 50,000 members and receives upwards of 8 million visitors per month. Jessica has been referred to as “a hub in the Flash design community”.

How do you explain the amazing success and popularity of Were-Here? You and Aaron have created an environment where thousands of people connect daily. What do you think you’ve done at Were-Here.com that has made your forum such a success and kept it that way?

Well, it’s hard to put my finger on just one thing. I think a lot of it had to do with being in the right place at the right time in the beginning, but I think what kept the wheel turning was how Aaron and I chose to run the community. We always tried to foster a supportive community where helpful, kind people were elevated to moderator status, rather than choosing moderators based on their name or reputation alone. We also don’t put up with abusive behavior. It’s so important when building a community to create an atmosphere where members feel safe to share their thoughts without fear that someone will come along, throwing around insults indiscriminately, and have nothing done about it. I think that’s why we can manage to have political and religious conversations with people from all over the world with extremely different views successfully. People know that threads like that are welcome, as long as they don’t become abusive, so people share their thoughts in a much more constructive manner.

That being said, I try and always take into consideration a person's intentions (as much as I can know anyways) when sizing up their actions or words, before and after the fact. I also don't always take into account a person's reputation, because any event can be twisted around to sound bad or good, depending on the description and the person doing the describing; and most importantly mistakes are a part of life. Not giving a person another chance to do right is the real mistake you can make. Aaron and I always kept that in mind when it came to the were-here community. People were banned at times when they clearly violated the rules; abusing other members, posting inappropriate material, etc. However, a person that contacted us to explain himself is never refused a second chance. A third chance would be pushing it, but it did happen, depending on the situation. 99% of the time, the people who were given another chance never repeated the original behaviour and went on to become very valuable members of the community.

The most important thing is to treat people fairly.

When you launched the site in 1999, did you ever expect it to grow to the enormous capacity it has? Could you give us a little history of how it began?
Really, if you had asked me this question three years, eight months ago, I would have laughed. I never expected or intended for the site to grow as it did. Originally, Aaron registered the were-here.com domain name as a personal site. At the time he registered the domain, we were both members of the Flashpad community at flasher.net. After we had been members there for about a year, the site suddenly went down and never came back online. It happened that Aaron was testing out bulletin board software for a client when that went on, so we decided to create a small resource site. I wrote a bunch of tutorials, based mostly on the questions I answered most frequently on Flashpad. The people we interacted with on Flashpad started migrating over and the rest is history! I must say that I kind of miss the old days though. I enjoyed the days where I could personally answer every question posted to the forums.
What inspired you to create this site?
I know this sounds suspiciously wholesome, but I really just wanted to help people just getting into the industry. I started my career through the community. I learned everything I know online from resource sites and made contact with potential employers in the same fashion. It was important to me to give back to the community that had helped me get started. It’s so nice to see someone that’s been helped through the community make it and then make the shift from student to teacher. It’s a great process of learning and sharing the gained knowledge.
The site had some down time. What happened?
Aaron and I had some personal as well as financial problems. We were in the middle of moving hosts and kept our account active with the current host while the new server was being set up, but the new host never could get our server set up to spec, and we double paid for a couple months. Then we got er in a different light than themselves, but really both groups are exceptionally creative. I remember when Flash 4 introduced ActionScript, and there was a huge buzz among the community pitting programmers against designers, asking who was going to win. I think we’re going to see a lot of really well-rounded people come out of this industry and Flash continues to progress.
Do your technical abilities give you greater control over your Flash design? If so does this help you achieve the results you’re aiming for?
I believe so. Really, what’s helped me the most is knowing exactly what Flash can and can’t do. I know it sounds weird, but knowing the limits expands my creativity so much. That’s the kind of person I am, give me a rule and I will automatically figure out a way around it. It’s just the way my brain works.
Who has been your artistic inspiration in your professional work?
It’s so hard to name just one! Todd Purgason (http://www.juxtinteractive.com) has always influenced my style. Additionally, Christine Smart (http://www.beingsmart.com) has always inspired me with her artwork and all around craftiness. I also love Jenny Dean’s (http://www.visualade.com) style, it’s so minimalist and fun! There are so many people doing such amazing things with Flash right now. I don’t think I could name them all if I tried!
Name the first five non-Flash related things that enter your mind, and tell us a bit about each.

Science – Been doing a lot of thinking about science recently. Especially quantum theory. I’m reading this great book right now that speculates about how free will could be proven via quantum phenomena. It also goes into quantum processes in the brain and how God could work in the world through quantum uncertainty while not breaking the laws of nature.

Religion – Been doing a bunch of research on Judaism lately. I was raised in a religious household, but kind of left it behind as I grew older. I’ve been trying to get back to my heritage and learn about my tradition. I’m even learning Hebrew again. I was almost fluent when I was younger, since I started learning it in preschool, but I’ve forgotten a lot of it over the years. I remember the alphabet and how to read it, but not a lot of the grammar and syntax anymore. I can understand a few words here and there, but not anywhere close to where I used to be. It’s such a beautiful language too and it would be a shame to not relearn it.

Education – I really want to go back to school and get my degree. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time now, and I’ve decided that it’s time. I really want to finish up as much schooling as I can before I settle down and have a family (even though that’s a long way off). Now I just have to figure out what I’m going to study!

Meaning & Consciousness – I know that’s kind of an abstract thing to say, but I’ve been wondering how human consciousness interprets and seeks out meaning in different things, language in particular. I remember when I was a little girl, I was baffled by the fact that I couldn’t look at something that was written without reading and understanding it. I would try to remember how the characters looked before I learned how to read to no avail. It’s really interesting to me how a mind will seek out meaning in the smallest things and relate them to the person’s experience. It seems as though human consciousness is hardwired to seek out meaning. To me, that proves the existence of a higher consciousness. Maybe that ties into spirituality, but I’m really in awe of the entire process. When you see meaning in everything, there’s no way to be unhappy with life.

Interior design – My walls are hospital white and none of my furniture matches, enough said!

Being self-taught, do you have any advice or tips you could give to those starting to learn Flash?
Get involved in the community! Ask a question when you’re confused, but more importantly, try and answer all the questions you can. I’ve always found that teaching others is a wonderful way to learn yourself! Besides, it gets you karma points. Learn from what others have done in the past, and try to improve on their work. There’s no reason to rebuild the wheel, but things can always be improved. Share your source when you’re done so others can benefit from your learning process. Last but not least, RTFM cover to cover before you begin. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense or sink in right away. It’s not really important that you understand it the first time around, but rather that it’s in the back of your head when you’re working with Flash, and you’ll remember vaguely reading something that relates to what you’re doing and be able to find it in the help later.
It’s fantastic that a woman in her twenties has accomplished so much! What’s next for Jessica?
In the immediate future, I’m doing a big contract job for Microsoft that I’m super excited about. Going to be working with the team that makes my favorite piece of MS software, Encarta Encyclopedia! That should be a lot of fun! I’ll be saving my pennies and getting back into the classroom after that!
If you could say one thing to the goddesses out there, what would it be?
Keep on truckin’! It’s so important to have a big, representative group of all the Flash babes out there so when a little girl says to her mom, “Mommy, when I grow up I want to make things move!” Her mom can look to the FlashGoddess site and show her how many female Flash developers and designers are out there to inspire her to be great. There should be no reason for a girl to think that only boys are smart enough to do all the “confusing” technical things. Smart is sexy!

Thank you Jessica for taking the time out for the interview and for your invaluable contribution to the Flash community!

And thanks to the Flash Goddess members who assisted me in compiling the questions, CHILL, Galaxygoo, Kim, Kristin and Warangel!