The Autism Spectrum and Software Testing
Who’s to say what makes the perfect tester? Just like any other job, it takes all types of people to make the IT world go...
Who’s to say what makes the perfect tester? Just like any other job, it takes all types of people to make the IT world go round. Some are perfectly organized, while others need to be surrounded in clutter to operate well. There are those who need to be in a busy group environment, and others who need to work in quiet solitude. What does unite them is the characteristics they share: an intense attention to detail, great memory and even greater focus, strong technical skills. It’s undeniable that these characteristics are very helpful, perhaps vital, to find in a software tester, but most applicants may or may not possess all of these qualities. However, there is one huge part of the population who epitomize all of these qualities, and it’s a group whose talents are still largely untapped.
Researchers have been speculating about this fact for years, but the testing world has been paying a lot of attention to people with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) – and what used to be considered Asperger’s syndrome especially – and with good reason. The qualities listed above are almost always found in people with this particular disorder on the autism spectrum. Brenda Weitzberg, founder of Chicago-based Aspiritech, used research from Harvard Business School and various international groups to create a non-profit which employs people with HFA to perform everything from compatibility testing to test-script development. The possibilities of tapping into such a market benefit not only companies but is also a huge boon to the testers themselves, as prejudice and preconceptions often make it difficult for even high-functioning individuals on the autism spectrum to find satisfying work. Because those with HFA can also find social interaction stressful, having a more solitary tech job like testing can be incredibly beneficial.
Their desire to get the job done, as well as to learn and explore, and ability to focus on seemingly repetitive tasks are all paramount to anyone working in a job like testing.
As to the benefits they offer as testers to companies, it should be obvious from the qualities mentioned earlier. Their attention to detail is typically very strong (sometimes bordering on compulsive), and their prowess for remember and implementing methodology can also lend itself very well to following a task list, like a script. Their desire to get the job done, as well as to learn and explore, and ability to focus on seemingly repetitive tasks are all paramount to anyone working in a job like testing.
However, it is important for any company looking to employ someone one the autism spectrum to keep a few things in mind. For example, though some are perfectly capable of getting their job done with little to no outside help, some people HFA may need supervision or assistance. Also, in companies where social interaction is a large part of the office environment, it will often be necessary to make accommodations for these individuals so that they can work in a quiet space, potentially away from other coworkers (as said above, many people on the autism spectrum find social interaction very stressful, and therefore are probably not eager to work in the same room as many others). It is sometimes a good idea to also mention to fellow employees that their new coworker has HFA, as if they are not aware they may misinterpret someone with HFA as rude or antisocial. Whether or not to inform employees is a decision to be made on a case-to-case basis, and one which should come from close discussion on the matter between managers and the individual themselves. Finally, remember that we’re talking about a very wide spectrum of people here; just like with any group, it can be damaging to paint with broad strokes here. People on the autism spectrum are varied in their talents and desires, so they aren’t universally interested in technology. This is all just to say that there are often certain characteristics inherent in people with HFA which often make them excellent software testers.
Here at QualiTest, we think it’s incredibly meaningful that companies like Aspiritech are part of our industry. Working with individuals with HFA is not only enriching to the company but also has the potential to positively impact the lives of those living with these disorders. Offering on of these individuals a job which is perfectly suited for them and can allow independence as well as satisfaction and comfort is the highest form of corporate social responsibility most companies can hope to achieve. However, more than that, it’s a way for us to aid in breaking down barriers that are faced by so many high-functioning individuals on the autism spectrum and truly improving the quality of life enjoyed by these folks.