Flourishing in the right environment
Jacobus had worked his way up to being the Senior Technician at a retail chain for batteries and specialty electronics. He was known by everyone across the region’s franchises as the go-to technician; he could fix anything: hardware, phone screens, battery packs, and more.
“I am naturally curious,” says Jacobus, who goes by “Jaco” to those who know him. “So, when my parents gave me a screwdriver at age 7, I started disassembling my toys. That’s how I learned about flywheels and circuit boards and everything else. I knew taking things apart meant I had to put them back together, and I learned a lot in the process.” What Jaco didn’t learn by doing, he learned by researching. His co-workers nicknamed him "Jacopedia."
When he maxed out what he could learn in the technician role, he knew he was ready for a new opportunity. But one of the characteristics of Jaco’s autism spectrum disorder is risk aversion, and he wasn’t sure where to start. Anxiety kept him from looking for a new job.
What Jaco needed was an advocate in the workplace. “Companies are not always sure how to accommodate neurodivergent individuals. For many, it’s easier to hire someone who fits the norm. But, as someone who is neurodivergent, I know I have a unique skill set to offer, and I know that, when provided a chance and the right work environment, I am highly productive.”
That’s when a family member referred him to CAI Neurodiverse Solutions. Jaco saw right away that it provides the support that would allow him to showcase his skills and jumpstart his career in a way that he doubted he could do on his own. He liked that the program deploys teams of qualified neurodivergent individuals and provides ongoing skill development, workplace support, and mentorship.
“As someone who is neurodivergent, I know I have a unique skill set to offer, and I know that, when provided a chance and the right environment, I am highly productive.”
After successfully completing the required training for agile development and scrum work, CAI offered Jaco a position as a Quality Assurance (QA) analyst working with a team at a large pharmaceutical firm. When he started, he was learning the 3 main software applications the team uses: SAP, Worksoft, and ALM. And his ability to learn quickly was evident. Soon he was working at advanced levels and mentoring others on the team. “If I can learn something and then practice it,” says Jaco, “I can absorb it very quickly. You give me a practical situation that has layered requirements, I can learn what I need to do to meet those requirements.”
Jaco believes his specific aptitudes matched the job almost perfectly. “Neurodivergent individuals think about situations in a different way,” he says. “We make good analysts because, when we look at data, we find patterns. We love predictability and strive for it, and patterns are predictable. The key thing I bring is a keen attention to detail. If someone brings me a problem, I treat it like a forensic crime scene. That attention to detail really helps when I work on scripts; I can pick out little mistakes that others miss.”
His ability to acclimate quickly caught people’s attention. “Jaco is confident, knowledgeable, and dedicated,” says his CAI Team Lead Rory O'Brien. “He excels at discussing the task, identifying potential risks, and adjusting his work accordingly. He always delivers high quality, highly technical work on time.”
Shortly after starting his role, Jaco became the designated team expert on Worksoft, which the pharmaceutical client uses to automate QA testing. He wrote scripts so the computer can run tests for the team without human input. “I am a relentless researcher. I do whatever it takes to find an answer. I loved this job because it offered me a lot of opportunities to solve problems. People came to me when they couldn’t find a solution,” Jaco says. However, over time, Jaco felt ready for a new challenge in the next step of his career.
Doing what he knows best – flourishing in new environments – Jaco transitioned to a new project with a global financial services firm, pivoting from QA testing to exploring a new area – software development – within the IT Metrics & Analytics Department. A wearer of many hats, some of Jaco’s responsibilities included writing Python scripts to query, collate, transform, and export data from reporting sources; building Power BI reports; and developing database materialized views to support those reports – all while mentoring other team members.
When asking Jaco his favorite part about being a Software Developer, he says “There are so many problems to creatively solve. So many opportunities to help others on the team grow their skills and excel.”
His team lead on his first project – and an advocate Jaco looks to for professional support – says Jaco knows something about everything. “Whether it is the arts, music, history, computers, or video games – he has the ability to explain it like a college professor,” says Rory. “In the times of COVID-19, when everyone is isolated, a conversation with Jaco makes you feel connected. There’s something special about that, and it’s why it makes him an integral part of the team.”
Jaco says working with CAI is the reason he has been exposed to opportunities to grow and learn new skills. “Getting to work with other neurodivergent individuals makes it feel easier to fit in. It removes a lot of stress that people like me experience in other environments.”
Jaco’s new career path led him to begin a full-time position as a mid-to-senior level Software Engineer in May 2022, hired directly by the global financial services client he worked with through CAI. Beginning as a technician at a retail chain to becoming a high-level software engineer, Jaco demonstrates hard work paying off.
“I showed an ability to learn quickly and adapt to a new situation,” he says. “And that is what is prized.”