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Home This Software Company's Key To Success? Hiring Testers On The Autism Spectrum
In 2012, Rajesh Anandan founded New York-based ULTRA software testing company with fellow MIT grad Art Shectman with the goal of creating a commercially viable company staffed by individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

We spoke with Anandan about the focus and attention to detail that makes certain ASD candidates uniquely suited to QA work. He also took some time to explain his company's mandate to view their staff's unique skillsets as a competitive advantage rather than a disability.

iVIllage Canada: What was the inspiration behind ULTRA?
Rajesh Anandan: My wife is a child psychologist who has done a lot of work with kids on the Autism Spectrum. She came home from work one day and wondered aloud why we spend so much effort focused on what kids on the spectrum were not good at (e.g. social interactions) but so little time on what they could be great at. Art and I launched ULTRA to unlock the incredible talents of high functioning individuals on the Spectrum, and we aim to do that by building a highly competitive, commercially viable company that can go to scale.

Why does a for-profit model work better than approaching equitable employment from a charitable standpoint?

It will take a combination of for-profit and non-profit approaches and models to address the inequities in opportunity faced by individuals on the Spectrum. It'll require more inclusive education systems, more vocal advocacy, smarter training and coaching, appropriate work environments and jobs. The latter is what we're focused on, and when it comes to creating jobs, we believe a for-profit model is more likely to achieve impact at scale.

What makes someone on the Autism Spectrum uniquely suited to QA work?

Good software testers need to be extremely detail-oriented and sensitive to pattern differences, able to tolerate repetitive tasks, and be persistent in executing those tasks through to completion. While not everyone on the Spectrum would fit that profile, our experience has been that we're more likely to find these natural abilities by focusing on talent who are on the Spectrum vs. a Neurotypical population.

How do your job interviews and employee assessments work? How do you go about finding people on autism spectrum who will have the right skill set if you can't work off of their CV?

ULTRA's recruiting process does not rely on resumes and job interviews. We use a combination of online games and simulated exercises, coupled with a Skype interview and weeklong training to assess cognitive ability, behavioural traits, and ability to work as a member of a remote team. To identify potential candidates, we work with a number of non-profit service providers and advocacy groups, including ASTEP.

What kind of growth have you seen among your employees? Have they had success in transitioning to other companies? How do you feel/would you feel when your staff gets poached by another company?

For some team members, ULTRA and software testing represent a long-term interest and opportunity. For others, ULTRA provides a springboard to pursuing other careers. One of first testers was a physicist who had not worked for five years after he graduated from university at the time he joined the ULTRA team. After a year and a half of working with us, he was able to get a job as a network engineer at a Fortune100 company -- that was a first "graduation," a cause for celebration, and I hope the first of many more to come.

What would advice would you want to give parents who have kids on the Autism Spectrum about how to prepare them for the workforce?

Our experience has been with young adults who are on the high functioning end of the Spectrum, and for that talent pool, the greatest determinants of success seem to be behavioural traits like persistence (to work through challenging situations), enthusiasm (to maintain a positive attitude) and humility (to be able to accept that someone else might have the right answer) -- this is probably true of anyone, whether your on the Spectrum or Neurotypical. We've found that these traits are much more important drivers of success than small differences in cognitive ability, and we hope that's good news for parents as they can play an active role in helping their kids in this regard.

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