Putting the Unique Talents of People with Autism to Work
Qualitest is working to change high unemployment level in the U.S. for people with Autism by helping people with autism fulfill independent and productive lives while filling much-needed technology positions.
“What makes someone different isn’t always a limitation… sometimes that thing that sets us apart, uniquely equips us to do something great!”
— Monica Dean, News Anchor, NBC7 San Diego
The unemployment level in the U.S. for people with Autism is at 85%. NFAR, a nonprofit organization, and Qualitest are working to change that by helping people with autism fulfill independent and productive lives while filling much-needed technology positions.
The National Foundation for Autism Research’s Technical Training Program is an intensive 7-month program specially designed to teach those with High-Functioning Autism to become software quality assurance engineers. NFAR places graduates from its training programs in professional internships with local tech companies in the San Diego, California area.
Recently, Monica Dean, a news anchor with NBC7 News in San Diego, featured NFAR graduate and star Qualitest employee Stephen Kay as part of an ongoing series called “Inspiring San Diego.”
Elle Gee, Qualitest’s VP of Delivery in the West Coast, U.S., shared her experience of working with the NFAR program and welcoming Stephen to the Qualitest family.
How did you prepare to welcome Stephen?
We took a QA approach to this relationship. We researched and developed a strategy to make sure we had plans in place to deal with any issues that could come up. Steps taken included a session to inform our team about Autism and the spectrum. We went into it with an open mind.
Did you have to make any arrangements once Stephen started?
Actually, we hardly had to make any changes. Most of it is just common sense and common courtesies. It only required improving on and enhancing what we were already doing.
What was that?
For example, we assigned him an on-boarding buddy, which is something we do for all new starters. With Stephen, all we needed was to ensure we partnered him with the right buddy.
Working with Stephen helped us reinforce our feedback and communication practices, which led to the betterment of the interactions of the whole team.
How did it help improve your team’s communication skills?
It led us to be more clear and precise in our feedback. We realized it was essential to understand the context of each action and not just to focus exclusively on the outcomes.
When it comes to communication, many people just look for eye contact, which is not something that comes naturally to people on the spectrum.
Usually, in our day-to-day interactions, we go by appearances and assume everything is understood. But we came to the appreciation that it’s much more productive to make sure everyone is on the same page, by asking people to communicate back what they understood.
Honing in on these communications skills has made everyone’s life easier, and our projects run smoother. It truly enhanced our community.
So how did Stephen do?
Well, let me put it this way, the internship was supposed to last for three months, but we hired him as a full-time employee after just two months.
It’s not a huge surprise; Stephen is very detail oriented, which is one of the best skills a tester can have. Having someone like him, that can run a test case over and over with the same focus is a massive asset to us.
Today, after almost half a year with Qualitest, Stephen is just like any valued member of our team; having him as our colleague has enriched us all.