Most days, Austin Hawks takes the 7:30 a.m. train into town, then a public bike to get to work at 8:25 a.m. He logs in to his laptop and checks his email to see how his workload is shaping up for the day.
On a typical day, he has a fairly long list of to-dos, un-assigning or editing rights for users who need different levels of access to the company’s important systems. Getting this right is critical for Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), responsible for administering health care benefits and driving increased access to affordable care for members across its five health plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Some days, for Austin, it can feel like detective work.
A job in information security for one of the largest health insurers in the country – and in an office in the iconic Aon Center in downtown Chicago – didn’t come easily for Austin. Returning home after studying business management and IT in college, finding work was surprisingly difficult. He was used to moving at a fast pace – and accomplishing what he set out to. Austin is a quick study and known for his close attention to detail. But the job search was a challenge, bringing out anxiety during interviews in a way that masked his natural curiosity and aptitude. He knew this was one of the challenges of being on the autism spectrum, but he was determined not to let it hold him back from the career he’d been preparing for all this time.
Things started to come together in January of 2019, when Austin heard about CAI’s Autism2Work Job Readiness Training program – an eight-day intensive job interview designed to allow adults on the spectrum to show their strengths in a supportive environment and prepare for work in a corporate setting. His team was asked to solve a problem using Lego® Mindstorm® Robots, so together they made a pinball machine that would help an employee with autism acclimate to a new company. The training also covered emotional intelligence, agile methodologies, professional communication, and how to use a kanban board and the Microsoft Office® product suite.
When Autism2Work offered Austin a job, he took it and immediately went to work in access management with the Information Security Fulfillment Team at HCSC, which needed support in access management. His role was to help employees access the systems they need while protecting members’ data. The company’s partnership with CAI was part of its efforts to create an inclusive environment in which employees feel empowered and recognized for their unique talents while engaging in meaningful work. The company placed a second Autism2Work associate in its customer service operations team.
In his second week on the job, Austin was quickly mastering tasks that typically take much longer to learn. His work focused on reducing the backlog of access management issues. And within three months, he was working with several identity access management tools and Microsoft SharePoint®, executing tasks that are critical functions in the company’s security division.
Austin possesses a special combination of strengths: precise attention to detail and an ability to understand the big picture. He takes opportunities to explore innovative ideas, ask questions and pose creative solutions. His curiosity is evident now that he has found a place where he is confident and where he knows his work is valued.
On a weekly basis, Austin meets with his Autism2Work team leader Kgomotso “Rhee” Kgopolo to discuss books, including Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs by John Doerr, and related topics of interest. He also meets with senior health technology leaders at the company to discuss career development goals.
In his spare time, after he takes the evening train from the Aon Center back home, Austin studies for an information security certification test to prepare to work in emerging areas of security like encryption and blockchain. For Austin, the days are full of purpose, making his way toward the career on which he has set his sights.