By Chris DeGrazio
Cydney Agno, of Vallejo, Calif., joined NCRA in 2021. She agreed to be interviewed for the JCR Weekly‘s New Professional Profile, an ongoing series that highlights the newest members to the court reporting and captioning fields.
CD | How did you get interested in court reporting?
CA | My stepfather used to serve as a CEO of the administrative department in the courts a couple of years ago. He would always relay to me what the court reporters would tell him in court: “Since she plays the piano, she’d do great.” Court reporting sounded boring and unappealing to me for years, until I had jury duty one day. I was picked to be one of the 12 on the jury panel. The court reporter happened to be sitting directly in front of me, and her machine was one of my favorite colors, a sort of pastel pink. I tried one semester soon after that, and the rest was history! I knew just after the first day of class that this is what I’d be doing for years to come.
CD | Who or what inspires you?
CA | My mother, my sister, my brother, and also some influential speakers: Brene Brown, Eric Thomas, Pastor Tim Ross. These folks remind me about compassion and to live a life sparked full of passion and authenticity.
CD | What’s something you’ve learned in your first few months of reporting?
CA | I learned that organization and having a schedule are key! It’s a matter of sink or swim. I was able to get away with some procrastination in school. In the life of a court reporter, that literally will make or break your business — how much revenue you’re bringing in, how much time you get to spend with loved ones, self-care, etc. Staying organized and having your workweeks planned is imperative. Balance is an extremely important game to learn. If you don’t achieve balance, you’ll burn out from work (true story one too many times!).
CD | Where’s your favorite place to edit?
CA | Probably the most common place people bring their work … I love coffee shops. Something about being around other “focused and busy” folks give me motivation to stay on my A game, sort of. Lol.
CD | Do you have a mentor?
CA | Absolutely. I have many mentors in work and just life in general. I think it’s important to have that because it enables me to never stop learning, constantly creating an environment for self-innovation.
CD | What do you enjoy most about court reporting?
CA | I enjoy the freedom I am gifted with in this career. There are so many different avenues in court reporting. So far I’m loving the freelancing world. I love creating my own schedule and having the privilege to schedule a depo and not have to schedule a depo on certain days according to my own needs, not solely a company’s needs.
CD | Where do you see yourself and your career in five years?
CA | I see myself owning my own home. I see myself doing realtime and also having already obtained my license for another state(s).
CD | How did you feel both going into your first assignment as a reporter and coming out of it?
CA | I was anticipating that I was going to be incredibly nervous. However, I believe the fact that the attorneys were so kind and the fact I knew I had mentors who would help me at the drop of a hat of my SOS signals is what ultimately caused me to feel confident and comfortable.
CD | What is your next goal?
CA | My next goal is to take on more and more doctor depos. I’m beginning to love them. I also am working on organizing my time better so I can continue to achieve more balance. Learning and juggling this balance never stops for me!
CD | What is a long-term goal?
CA | A long-term goal is to continue to grow in achieving cleaner writing so I can finalize jobs sooner and book more depos in the week. I also want to be writing realtime.
CD | Where’s your favorite place to proofread jobs and why?
CA | In bed! I get to have my assistant (my Dachshund), King, help me proofread, along with snuggles.
CD | Do you have any advice for reporting students?
CA | My advice is to increase more self-compassion versus self-criticism. It’s easy to be hard on yourself while you’re building speed. I’d say strive to enjoy the journey and not limit the entire school experience to “getting to the next speed level.” Of course, that’s ultimately the goal. But absolutely spend more time patting yourself on the back because this career is not for the faint of heart. Celebrate yourself along the way without guilt of where you currently are! It takes a special person to show up every day and persevere in school.
With that being said, stay disciplined in your speed exercises, but also take breaks from your machine. Engage in activities that create joy. You’ll look back and be grateful for the journey instead of school being a complete hamster wheel. Looking back, I wish I’d spent more time celebrating myself and less time being hard on myself. Once you become a new reporter, you’ll feel like you’re in school all over again! So learn to embrace the journey now. You’re exactly where you need to be, brick by brick.
CD | What’s something that you’ve learned in the field that you didn’t learn in school?
CA | How and when to properly communicate to attorneys/deponents to repeat themselves for the record. There is a cadence and rhythm you only gain through experience. I’ve also learned formatting and styling when it comes to the transcript. There are “school transcripts” and “reporter transcripts.” There are important skills to learn outside of school that aren’t in a book, only found in the thick of reporting.
CD | Why did you choose to become a court reporter or captioner?
CA | It takes me back to being on that jury panel in court. At the end of the first day, I felt I wanted to be a part of the process of facilitating in the fight to bring justice for families in our society. I also have great dexterity from playing the piano since I was a kid, and I’d consider myself somewhat of a wordsmith. I love learning new words. Also, I enjoy the freedom aspect of freelance reporting.
CD | What was the hardest part of transitioning from school to the real world?
CA | Adjusting to constantly get clarification from speakers in the room (how and when), and also the duration of writing. Wow, that took a while for me to gain endurance. Endurance in school versus endurance in depositions is quite different. I became accustomed to how the instructors in school would speak. Some attorneys/deponents speak fast and in a curt manner, going back and forth, while some speak slow yet use heavy medical terms in long-winded answers.
CD | What is the ultimate goal in your career?
CA | My ultimate goal is to be highly functioning each week with stellar time management and organization, especially when planning for vacation. I’m still learning this. It’s quite a transition to going from the “employee world” to being your own business. I want to have a solid dictionary. I want to eventually try out captioning, specifically captioning for hearing-impaired students in school. I haven’t decided if I want to ultimately work in court.
CD | If you could sum up your first year in one word, what would it be and why?
CA | Self-innovation. I was receptive to change, and despite feeling uncomfortable, I was dedicated to reinventing myself to adopt new ways of writing, communicating, etc. I asked for help a lot and was constantly challenging myself to put into practice and execute what I was learning. I still am.
CD | What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started out?
CA | That all the mistakes and “failures” are part of the journey. These moments/lessons are indispensable in becoming the person and court reporter I am on my way to becoming. I’ve learned life is not a matter of attaining or achieving, but of who we are and what we become. I’ve learned how to be more kind to myself, stepping off the performance-based ladder.
CD | What’s your “can’t live without” item in your steno bag?
CA | My adorable Lumi II, of course!
CD | What was life like as a student?
CA | I always felt like I was failing. However, in retrospect I was, in fact, improving. Again, I do wish I spent more time celebrating the small and big victories. Building speed was rough. However, the support team around me is what made it worth it!
CD | What did you do to remain positive and motivated?
CA | Reading tons of self-development books. Also walking away from my machine (up to a week at one point) helped me stay motivated! Gaining a healthy relationship with my writer really prevented me from throwing it out the window, as I can recall. Haha! Spending time with loved ones, traveling. Also, having a lot of hobbies helped me stay grounded and afloat. Having steno buddies helped me tremendously in staying positive and motivated.
CD | What is your biggest challenge as a new reporter?
CA | Time-management.
CD | What’s the coolest experience you have had working in the profession?
CA | Meeting, connecting with mentors and students who understand the steno world!
CD | What is your next goal?
CA | My next goal is to manage my time better while also learning to write cleaner.
CD | How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
CA | I don’t … Just kidding. I’m constantly planning my workweek to gauge how much time I will spend on pages and when jobs are due. I color-code everything on my calendar. I also am learning that staying more present while with loved ones is essential to achieve a healthy work-life balance. I’ve learned the importance of shutting work-mode off when it’s time to have fun, expressing and discovering myself in other areas of life. Learning new hobbies and also going on spontaneous mini road trips for food brings lots of sanity for me.
CD | What are some of your favorite time-saving practices, techniques, or gadgets?
CA | I love my Excel spreadsheets. I log everything in them and have various spreadsheets for different areas of my business. Also, the night before a job, I like to get familiar with all the parties listed in the deposition notice and create a job dictionary. This saves a lot of time.
I love my adjustable pullout keyboard tray at my desktop. It helps tremendously while editing pages to adjust the angle of the tray for comfortability of my wrists. I also love my Bose SoundLink Micro Bluetooth speaker. I use this during Zoom depositions. I can hear everyone crystal clear. It’s also waterproof (for those who tend to get down and dirty in the thick of it all, like myself!).
Also, I’ve learned when getting clarification for something I didn’t hear, instead of asking them to repeat the entire sentence/statement, I read back the last tag or phrase that I got, and they pick up where I left off.
Cydney Agno is a freelance reporter and can be reached at email@example.com.
Chris DeGrazio is a freelance reporter in Fort Pierce, Fla. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.