My ongoing employment journey as an autistic technologist   

An auticon employee details his journey to find employment

If you’re reading this specific blog post on this specific website, I could assume that you’ve read the statistic that 75-85% of autistic people are unemployed or underemployed. You might be, or know, a college graduate with a fancy degree that cost enormous amounts of money and time, but despite that, can’t get a job, because of difficulties during the interview.

Conventional wisdom says that if you get a relevant degree and you’re qualified for the path you want, that you can, with the right amount of effort, build your career. That was the deal, wasn’t it? But unfortunately, for the overwhelming majority of people on the spectrum, that isn’t the deal, because an unwritten social-skills tax is hidden in the fine print at every level. This is a tax many of us struggle to pay, particularly during the interview phase.

As for me, I’m 22 years old, and although I’m not a college graduate, I am autistic, and I’ve felt the sting of a bad job interview many times over. However, I’m also employed, at a job with a promising career path, because auticon saw me for what I can do, as opposed to orbiting what I cannot. This is the ongoing story of my employment at auticon, during the most consequential, tumultuous year of our lifetimes

When I applied, my only qualifications for the job were an autism diagnosis, a halfway-decent head on my shoulders, a keen eye for detail, and a high school diploma. My only prior “professional” experience was a summer job reorganizing shelves at a big box store, where I didn’t even last three weeks. Despite this, auticon needed new talent, and I was lucky enough to have heard about them at the right time.

So, I applied and was accepted into a several-week training course, passed it, and by January of 2020, I was hired for an internship. Not even six months prior, I had thought that stocking shelves and trying not to meltdown would be my lot in life. Yet, all of a sudden, I was in an actual office, where it didn’t matter that I was young, or lacked experience, or didn’t even have a college degree. All that mattered was that I knew how to test software, and that I’m really good at it.

Suddenly, the promise of “if you can do the job, you can get the job” was meaningfully realized, and I began a daily routine I had once only dreamed of: making my living by sitting at a desk in a dark, quiet room, pushing buttons on a keyboard. Then, of course, the pandemic hit, and before long, I found myself doing all of the above, but in my pajamas.

I live very far from my local office, and I didn’t drive, so I had to commute via the city bus. When the pandemic started to explode in March, I was frightened of public transportation, and I hesitantly expressed those concerns to my manager, expecting to get told to suck it up. But, the very next moment, without any further questioning, or any hesitation, I was given permission to work from home, effective immediately. One of the team leads even helped pack up all of my stuff, and drove me home in his car, that same day, just so I wouldn’t have to take public transit or come back to the office again and put myself at risk needlessly.

That was the day when it all clicked for me; the day that I fully understood that this is more than a job. I learned that even a young, inexperienced intern with a month and a half of experience, means more to his leads and supervisors than merely a name on the payroll. The tired, corporate rhetoric of “we’re in this together” that commonly decorates soulless motivational posters on blank gray walls, suddenly had seen life breathed into them. The lesson I learned that day is something I’ve since taken to heart with my career, and as the entire company gradually moved to working from home, auticon never once broke from that promising precedent.

I’m not going to pretend that it was all sunshine and roses, though. It wasn’t. We all had difficulties making the adjustment to working from home. The delays in resolving any technical difficulties I had, the isolation, the drama as my entire family also struggled to adjust, and the dramatic news on the TV each and every day, would be enough to drive any autistic technologist mad.

But, I had excellent support, and no room was ever left to doubt that this ship was well-steered, and that I would be okay. I didn’t join auticon with the awareness that I would be coming up at the epicenter of the most impactful year in its history, but considering that I did, I knew I had nothing to fear. Weekly meetings were arranged where I would check-in with a job coach, and an open avenue where I could discuss what was bothering me, ask for help, or just vent, was always there, a click and a half away.

After many months of diligent work and steadfast dedication, applying myself in an environment where I had the ability to, I received word that my internship had ended, and I was promoted to Analyst I, the first tier of fully-qualified employ at auticon. Looking at my future, I know that the next steps will involve expanding the skillset I’ve built as much as possible. I’ve already diversified my expertise into AI engineering, writing (of course), website and software certifications, and data stewardship, with much more to come.

The positive impact this career has had on me, materially and mentally, cannot be overstated. The extent to which auticon devotes itself to accommodating every individual, from the Senior Analyst to the intern who sits in the corner, is honestly bittersweet, because as wonderful as it is, I’ve come to understand its necessity for the autistic worker. Though I celebrate auticon’s pioneering spirit and awareness of how essential these support structures are, and how essential autistic workers can be if allowed to excel, I mourn that such things are still a minority in the working world today.

The journey I took from training to Analyst I has already fulfilled me so much, but seeing what lies beyond, and knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that my best days on this job are yet to come, fills me with joy and hope that, thankfully, I was no longer all that deprived of in the first place.

Daniel is a part-time college student who graduated from Bridges Academy in 2016 and joined auticon in 2020. He has prior experience as a seasonal intern at W Machine Works, as well as several other summer positions ranging from receptionist work to retail. His job at auticon is the first step in his burgeoning career path as a technician, allowing him to work within his interests, play to his unique strengths, develop his skills, and climb the ladder of success. 

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