Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

Summary: Aspiritech, a Chicago-area start-up, is embracing Asperger's Syndrome to take advantage of the perceived technical advantages many say the condition provides.

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Aspiritech, a Chicago-area start-up, is embracing Asperger's Syndrome to take advantage of the perceived technical advantages many say the condition provides.

Aspiritech, a non-profit software testing firm hires people with Asperger's syndrome exclusively, then trains and employs them as software testers. Though a non-profit, Aspiritech performs for-profit work for Websites, software developers and application designers. The company performs compatibility testing, functional testing, regression testing and test-case & test-script development.

Aspritech founder Brenda Weitzberg, told ERE's Todd Raphael that employees with Asperger's syndrome are the perfect software testers.

The proof of concept came from Danish company and recent research from Harvard Business School and others showed that the strengths of people with Aspergers and high-functioning autism actually make them superior at software testing. They're ability to focus, good memory, their high intelligence, their strong technical skills, their ability to detect details and also to stay focused over lengthy periods, really makes them ideal for software testing work. People w/ Aspergers can become ideal software testers.

That's not news. Researchers have speculated that some of the qualities and behaviors associated with Asperger's syndrome can be benefits to have as a software developer. High intelligence, a strong memory, attention to detail and extreme focus are good traits to possess in the trade. And characteristics of a life studying and working in technology are appealing to those with Asperger's. From a 2008 ComputerWorld article:

Why do Asperger's individuals gravitate to technology? "Adults with Asperger's have a social naiveté that prevents them from understanding how people relate. What draws them in is not parties and social interaction, but work that allows them to feel safe, to feel in control," explains Steve Becker, a developmental disabilities therapist at Becker & Associates, a private practice in the Seattle suburb of Des Moines, Wash., that conducts ongoing small group sessions for adults with AS, among other services.

"What's better for that than a video game or a software program?" Becker asks. "When you're designing a software program, there are rules and protocols to be followed. In life, there is no manual."

Rumors often fly about the high occurrence of Asperger's among the children of Silicon Valley and even some of it's greatest stars are rumored to be afflicted.

But other behaviors like an inability to multi-task or read non-verbal cues were seen as unfit for the workplace and unwelcome on a job interview, Weitzberg told ERE.

It's illegal to ask an applicant about a medical condition including mental health conditions, hiring managers are attuned to behavior during the interview. While many may be turned off by what they see while interviewing someone with Apserger's, if the job is in software, the interviewer should think again, said Barbara Bissonnette in the same ERE Podcast.

From a recruiter's perspective, people w/ Asperger's really are the specialists and technicians in the workplace. There are lots of jobs where you need skills methodical detail, oriented in their work. We're predicting a real shortage in the next decade of skilled workers. Here we have a talent pool that is underutilized of people who can be filling in some of the gaps in the right kind of jobs with the right kind of support.

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Topics: IT Employment, CXO, Software

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  • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

    I can see it now Having ?Rainman? coding a major project, then have it run over and he can?t watch Judge Wapner, the ensuing 4 and a half hour tantrum should be enough to fire this person. But if the company tries to, they will get hit with a discrimination suit.
    Rick_K
    • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

      @Rick_K Very harsh Rick, only mildly funny, and completely unfair. Technology has traditionally been a field where someone smart or highly specialized can succeed very well over someone more social that just makes a good sale of themselves or a concept. We've all seen the kind of debacle that can come out of hiring the Aaron Barr's of the world. I personally see the advantages of a technician that only cares about the technology and not the politics.
      Socratesfoot
      • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

        @Socratesfoot <br>I have dealt with a few individuals that have Aspergers. When the ridged schedule is upset, even in the slightest way, it can lead to a tantrum. Have you ever seen someone that will hurt their mother over a power failure? How about someone that threatens teachers when they are told to give another child a turn on a computer? These are things I have seen first hand, and I understand that not all of these people are that bad, it only takes one to cause a lot of harm
        Rick_K
        • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

          Well, HI THERE, Rick_K! I see that you are totally determined to take a sour point of view. I have Aspergers and *I* know how to spell rigid ...
          IT is already full of Aspergers. I have had a successful career in this field and over the years I've earned a small fortune.
          Charlo555
      • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

        @Socratesfoot Depends on how team oriented the project is. Personally, I get pissed off when software specs change because it costs me time and money... Imagine how pissed off someone whose disorder includes an extreme resistance to change would get by something silly like a new requirement.
        snoop0x7b
      • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

        @Socratesfoot Have you actual had to work with people with significant Asperger's? Especially the no respect for other people's issues/feelings/mood part?

        You'd have to hire a handler for each batch/individual. And any form of discipline required to get them to follow certain standards (say ease of UI presentation, or corporate policy in code or features, as 2 examples) would likely either be ignored or result in massive upsets.
        mist42nz
    • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

      @Rick_K You're basing your opinion from a movie, dude. Really? Get out more.
      TheSkatergirl
      • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

        @TheSkatergirl
        No I am basing my opinion on a person diagnosed with Asperger?s syndrome. This is a person that would watch the same TV show over and over if he could. This is the type of person that would restart a video game if he was not winning, even though he was only playing by himself. If the outcome was not the same each time he couldn?t handle it. He could quote entire paragraphs form a book he read years earlier, but often never got past a certain part of any particular book. So unless the diagnosis was wrong (blame the doctor), then my assessment is indeed accurate.
        Rick_K
      • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

        @TheSkatergirl : please don't feed the troll. This time, this guy is not a technology troll but rather someone who can't distinguish between extreme cases of autism (as depicted on Rainman) and an Aspergers (affectionately called Aspys).

        @Rick_K: dude, Am an Aspy, working as a technical architect on a Fortune 500 company. With time we learn all the social conventions the world has and start avoiding things people feel are "unnatural" or "strange". When alone, we rejoice ourselves with our differences from the "rest-of-the-world".

        As for "tantrums". I've seen far worse reactions from "normal" people under stress than from myself. Maturing makes you control your feelings. Don't expect a 20 year old to handle stress the same way a 40 year old can, Asperger or not.
        cosuna
      • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

        @cosuna
        Well said. As a father of a child who was diagnosed with it at a young age, I enjoy hearing "success" stories such as the one you just shared. Thanks for doing so.
        PolymorphicNinja
      • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

        - double post removed -
        PolymorphicNinja
    • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

      @Rick_K I think that perhaps you are confusing Aspergers with other types of autism or developmental disorders. Aspergers is an autism spectrum disorder, but is considered very high functioning, characterized by high intelligence. The ability to focus tightly on one thing is another characteristic.

      Check the quote from the Wiki article below:
      "The hypothesis that individuals with AS are predisposed to violent or criminal behavior has been investigated but is not supported by data."

      I work with somebody who likely has Aspergers. He's awkward, but a diligent and highly effective employee.
      bkfriesen
      • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

        @bkfriesen Not necessarily "characterized by high intelligence" there are stupid aspies out there (and there are smart ones as well)...
        snoop0x7b
    • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

      @Rick_K coming from someone who works with a broad range of children on the autism spectrum for a living, I would like to know if you're basing this off one person, or autism as a whole. There are several different meanings to the word autism, and asperger's. Each person is completely different from the next. Yes, someone might have a negative reaction to change. However, there are several children/adults who can handle situations appropriatly, they just come off as socially akward. If you don't give that person a chance to succeed in what they're good at, and give them a chance, then what are they supposed to do? Live in group homes their whole lives? I appreciate companies giving these adults the chance to succeed, and to do something with their lives rahter then just sit in the dark, watching movie after movie. There are children I work with who will be in a home their entire life, not able to have the chance to be independent. Cut them a break.
      shoff_k
      • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

        @shoff_k Thank you!
        Statistics show that roughly 80% of people with Asperger's Syndrome are unable to sustain full time employment or are employed full time.

        This is mainly due to our inablity to function socially.

        People like people who are social and that is often valued higher than ability, competence and work ethic, especially in the workplace.

        I am a 43 year old female with AS. I work as an analyst for a federal agency. I am outstanding when it comes to my work.

        Socially, I am not good at all. I don't understand people. They are illogical and irrational. They say one thing and mean something completely different. They ask a question then freak out when you give an honest answer.

        It is like I have been dropped into a foreign country and I do not know the language or culture.

        It has been a struggle here. I feel like an alien most days.

        But I have a very good husband who accepts me just as I am. It helps SO MUCH to have a support system. He is my only friend.
        Stephanie_Mayberry
  • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

    Asperger's or just your basic stereotypical introverted,nerdy tech personality traits made you a great programmer in the 80's Today with social networking not so much. You have to understand the clients you are programming for. Unfortunately 2011 America is an extremely uncomfortable place for those with these personality traits. It is a multitasking,social networking/24/7 in you face place these days. Keeping track of a lot of mobile devices is not a good thing if you are a bit klutzy. I wonder if these the fact that we are not using and frying these talented people out is one reason we are going downhill? A field like Marketing Research seems good for this.
    edkollin
  • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

    .
    bkfriesen
  • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

    .
    bkfriesen
  • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

    Anyone who has intimate knowledge of a person with asperger's knows that the aspergian has an extraordinary ability to focus on one task for hours and hours compared to their neuro-typical counterpart. The attention to detail is unmatched by anyone I've ever known. their brains are wired differently and I would assert that they would be better suited for the technology field as they are not ruled by emotions--they operate on facts and information.

    Social skills can be taught and the examples given here only referenced children. However, I've had some tyrannical bosses who did not have asperger's--they were just idiots who ranted when they didn't get what they wanted when they wanted it.

    I think Aspiritech is on to something big and they will reap their benefits for years and years to come.
    TheSkatergirl
  • RE: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

    If you guys want to make a difference in life stop trolling. It only reveals your undiagnosed Aspergers selves. You are the ones having melt downs here because everyone doesn't agree with you. <br>Firstly this company is actually doing it so it must work. <br><br>Secondly not everyone with Aspergers has meltdowns. <br>Thirdly Rainman was a betrayal of a high functioning autistic person not Aspergers. <br>Lastly people do things because they like to do them and many ( not all) Aspergers people love code. <br>I have Aspergers and i have meltdowns but I would never hurt anyone and i don't lie well. many aspergers people don't have meltdowns <br>Comparing a child to an adult is patently unfair. Did you never do anything you regret as a child? We may make glaringly inappropriate comments but it is mostly about the size of your nose. <br>Diagnosed Aspergers means that we get the help and training we need to become MORE appropriate and good workers.<br>Piling insult on top of insult does not mean anything bad about people with Aspergers Syndrome. It just shows someone who never learned how to deal with life on life's terms. <br>Many jobs can be done better by people with Aspergers who certainly would rather be working than watch some TV show
    newnoz