When a leading technology company and a leading institution of higher learning partner with each other to make things better for an unfairly marginalized segment of society, there is cause for celebration. Particularly if you are a neurodiverse individual (autistic, for example) aspiring to a career in technology. The cloud industry is growing rapidly and Goggle is a key player with their Google Cloud services. To their credit, they have chosen to proceed in a way that is mindful of inclusivity and of the talents that people with autism bring to the table, and they have wisely decided not to go it alone in meeting the challenge.
As such, Google recently announced the launch of the Google Cloud Autism Career Program. The program's purpose is not merely to hire but also to support more autistic talent in the Google workforce. To that end, they are collaborating with experts from the Stanford Neurodiversity Project which advises employers on opportunities and success metrics for neurodivergent individuals in the workplace. Stanford will also coach applicants and provide support not only for them but for their colleagues and managers as well, once they join the Google Cloud team.
The Stanford Neurodiversity Project works toward the establishment of a culture that values the capabilities of neurodiverse people and empowers them to develop their identity and daily living skills. It trains talented individuals for successful inclusion in the workforce and seeks to disseminate its methodology on a global scale. The end goal, which is also that of the Neurodiversity Movement in general, is to reveal the strengths of neurodivergent individuals and leverage these strengths to increase society's capacity for innovation and productivity.
The Google/Stanford partnership makes perfect sense, considering that products that are intended for use by everybody everywhere, including the Google Cloud services, are best designed and built by as wide a diversity of people as possible. The Google Cloud team is therefore optimized when neurodiverse and neurotypical people work side by side. Ideally, the team would reflect diversity in other respects as well (race, ethnicity, nationality, gender identity, etc.).
Rob Enslin is the President of Global Customer Operations for Google Cloud. In the company's formal announcement of the Google Cloud Autism Career Program, Enslin speaks of Google's intent to train and empower as many as 500 Google Cloud managers and others involved in hiring processes "to work effectively and empathetically with autistic candidates and ensure Google’s onboarding processes are accessible and equitable.” He added that the Autism Career Program also aims to “break down the barriers that autistic candidates most often face,” citing the traditional job interview as a common impediment to an autistic candidate's efforts at getting his foot in the door, because of the lack of accommodations which would enable the candidate to showcase his strengths. For example, allowing for more time for the interviewee to respond to a question or permitting him to answer the questions in writing. No unfair advantage in this case. Rather, the elimination of an unfair disadvantage.
As an autistic individual, I can attest. Back in my high school days when I took the SAT's, my verbal score took a beating as a result of time running out well before I could finish. Many reading comprehension questions toward the end of the verbal portion went unanswered. In retrospect, it was foolish of me to decline the offer to take the test untimed, choosing instead to be evaluated on the same terms as my classmates. Had I chosen the untimed option, I would not have been granted an unfair advantage. I rejected a necessary accommodation and paid the price on a high stakes exam.
Conversely, I had a music history professor in college who, out of the kindness of her heart, remained in the classroom with me until I completed her exams, sometimes long after time had expired and everybody else had left, no matter how long I took. As a result, I was able to prove the true extent of my knowledge of the topics the exam questions raised. Her flexibility and understanding meant the world to me, knowing that I worked significantly slower than most and that she could have enforced the same expectations equally for everybody in her classes but instead chose to exempt me. I felt understood and valued at a time in my life when I often felt misunderstood and marginalized.
It goes to show that "equal" does not always mean "equitable,” the latter being of critical importance to those of us who are neurodivergent and trying to get by in an essentially neurotypical world. Equity in this case results from accommodations like those my music history professor provided me and those provided by the Google Cloud Autism Career Program, allowing autistic individuals to succeed when they otherwise would face a high probability of not succeeding.
Neurodiverse people have lots to contribute to the workforce, though too many of us remain either underemployed or unemployed due in large part to absent though necessary accommodations. Our experiences are novel and unique. Our capabilities are substantive and are therefore of great value to companies. I am a successful information technology solutions consultant, mostly because of my work ethic, attention to detail and sense of loyalty to my company of 25 years and counting. In addition, I consult on a part time basis with another technology company, working closely with nonautistic individuals who appreciate my point of view, listen to what I have to say and incorporate my feedback into the design of the product offerings. The Google Cloud Autism Career Program, the Stanford Neurodiversity Project and other organizations with the same mission are helping to make my reality the reality of many deserving neurodiverse workers. Thank you!
Sam Farmer wears many hats, among these father, husband, musician, computer consultant, and autism spectrum community contributor. Diagnosed later in life with Asperger’s Syndrome, he writes blogs and articles, records coaching videos, and presents at conferences, sharing stories, ideas, and insights as to how one can achieve greater happiness and success in life despite facing challenges and adversity that often interfere in these pursuits. To learn more, visit samfarmerauthor.com.
“A Long Walk Down a Winding Road: Small Steps, Challenges, & Triumphs Through an Autistic Lens” is available on Amazon and can be purchased at all major booksellers.