Episode 7: Opening Doors in Tech for the Autistic Community

Hello listeners, and welcome back to Tech Forward! As you know, this podcast addresses all types of diversity in the tech world, including neurodiversity. This week, I spoke with Oliver Thornton, CEO of Coding Autism, about just that. At Coding Autism, an autism-specialized coding bootcamp, autistic adults learn the necessary skills to obtain employment within the tech industry.

For Oliver, this is a very personal endeavor. Diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at the age of two, Oliver worked hard to overcome many of the challenges associated with life on the spectrum. He came to think of Asperger’s syndrome as his “secret weapon” for success, especially when combined with his entrepreneurial mindset.

The major goal of Coding Autism is to reduce the high unemployment rate within the autism community. Autistic adults have an 80% unemployment and underemployment rate, regardless of academic credentials, intellectual capabilities, and skill sets. Learning about these trends was Oliver’s primary motivation to develop the startup concept behind Coding Autism.

Stigma, unfortunately, plays a large role in that statistic. The “social” aspect of the traditional interview structure can feel confrontational to autistic candidates, which makes the interview process challenging. Lately, Oliver notes, there has been a shift towards a more technical approach in interviews, which allows autistic candidates to demonstrate their skills to potential employers.

Some employers have developed hiring initiatives that maximize the potential of what an autistic individual can bring to the company. SAP began their autism hiring division — which provides programs in both training and retention — in 2014. Their goal is to have at least 1% of their workforce comprised of individuals on the spectrum by 2020. This reflects the global rate of autism.

With Coding Autism, Oliver took a “tech first” approach because so many characteristics of autism lend themselves to careers in software engineering, quality assurance, and cybersecurity. By focusing on characteristics such as attention to detail and analytical thinking style, Coding Autism aims to maximize the potential of what an autistic individual can bring to the workforce. The laser focus of the bootcamp model is also advantageous to autistic learners, who might have been discouraged by more traditional academic models.

Thank you again to Oliver for joining me this week. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Coding Autism, and for autistic adults everywhere seeking meaningful employment. See you next week!