Working in Tech with Autism: Katherine’s Story

This is Katherine. She is a Software Quality Analyst working with Vancity, a Presidents Group member. Katherine says she “gets paid to break things for a living.”

Katherine was connected with Focus Professional Services, an organization working to normalize neurodiversity in the workplace. Through some tests, they determined that Katherine had an aptitude for working in tech and provided additional training.


Transcript for this video:

[Katherine Shadwick] In very, very unassuming words, I get paid to break things for a living.

Software quality analyst is responsible for the quality of a piece of software from its inception to when it gets delivered to market.

So that includes helping think of what the business needs out of the software, what the user will get out of the software, how the user will use it and potentially break it.

It’s problem solving with a unique twist. I’m trying to find issues, but I’m also solving a problem that the business has.

I always felt different. I basically was bullied all throughout lower levels of schooling. I always felt like I didn’t connect with the people my own age.

Getting my diagnosis in high school for autism spectrum disorder, it was a relief that I now had something that I could label all of the things that I did that was weird.

Being on the autism spectrum does impact my communication. I don’t always give or get nonverbal communication like a neurotypical person would.

I think it was 80 to 90% of all communication between humans is non-verbal. So if I’m only picking up on 50% of that nonverbal communication, I’m missing out on a lot.

I’ve always really liked tech. I was programming in high school, but I went into university for a different field.

After university, I was getting rejected with a bunch of job offers. I don’t do well in the traditional interview setting.

So I would apply to a job, get to an interview, and then immediately disastrously fail interviews.

[Heather Linka] There is a very high unemployment rate for folks on the autism spectrum. Actually, it’s higher than any other underrepresented group. And this is due to the very unique employment barriers that exist for folks on the autism spectrum.

The mission at Focus Professional Services is to normalize neurodiversity in the workplace, to make it so that hiring people on the spectrum can just be a normal way of doing things and to make all of our processes inclusive.

We help them get training in technical skills if there’s any gaps. And then we help them get into meaningful technical jobs.

[Katherine Shadwick] What makes me good at my job is I am a focused problem solver that’s very creative in how I approach things.

Everything is interconnected by a web. Until you can find those connections, you might not know that thing A has an effect on thing B.

The moments of satisfaction that I get is when I discover a bug that nobody else has thought of because I’ve approached it from a very oblique angle on trying to get it.

[Heather Linka] People on the spectrum can be extremely capable valuable members of our community and our teams.

As far as tech is concerned and the work that we do, we see that people on the spectrum can be up to 140% more productive than neurotypicals.

They bring real honesty, a really unique perspective, and they have really unique problem solving abilities.

So there is this sort of untapped talent pool and these really great capabilities of folks on the spectrum.

[Katherine Shadwick] Neurodiversity in the workplace is very important.

Something I would say for people who are ASD that are interested in tech is, go for it.

A lot of tech companies nowadays are way more willing to work with neurodiverse people than they were in the past because they see the value in how we as individuals see the world and how we as individuals can bring value to their companies.