After proving his own, Tony helps others find their value in the workplace
In high school, Tony was a strong academic performer. He was good at memorizing things, tested well, and was gifted at demonstrating his knowledge. But, when he got to college, despite being a good student, he failed nearly every class and fell into a deep depression. The pressure of keeping up with sometimes-unspoken expectations, meeting new people, and navigating campus life on his own was just too much.
That’s when he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder that often manifests as difficulties with social interaction and nonverbal communication. At first, he says, he was dismissive of the diagnosis, but over time Tony came to terms with it, using it to understand what he was going through.
Today, Tony is reflective about his younger self. “The notion that people on the spectrum want to be isolated is often not the case,” he says. “I faced a lot of challenges when I was younger and undiagnosed, with no idea specifically how I was different or how to handle school. I came up with some poor coping mechanisms and forced myself to be introverted because it was easier than dealing with and processing all the things going on around me. Since then, I’ve realized I’m actually an extrovert. It may have been easier to isolate myself, but it wasn’t good for me.”
For a while, his attempts at getting back on his feet faltered.
When Tony saw a new major advertised at the local community college to prepare people to work in technical roles at a nearby nuclear power plant, he enrolled in the program. A job opened for an instrumentation and control technician at the plant, and he quickly put his name in. But, he says, despite having excelled in the class, he bombed the interview. “They asked a lot of questions to gauge technical knowledge, which is to be expected for a job like this, but I stumbled over them even though I knew the answers. It was a challenging process, and I was really disappointed when I didn’t get the job. I was left aimless with 2 associates degrees in nuclear engineering technology and no place to use them.”
Tony worked at a gas station and then Panera to make ends meet and get his bearings. “I knew those jobs wouldn’t satisfy me as a career,” says Tony. “They weren’t intellectually stimulating, and I felt a lot of despair thinking I would be stuck in this cycle and not be able to go anywhere.”
Then, Tony heard about CAI Neurodiverse Solutions, which was preparing to host a Talent Discovery Session (TDS)–a 5-day workforce development and competency assessment designed to prepare neurodivergent individuals to succeed in the workplace. “Almost immediately, I knew this was the program for me. I loved the Talent Discovery Session,” says Tony. “The majority of the time was devoted to building programmable robots, starting with solo projects, then pairs, and finally a 4-person team. We also went over workplace expectations and etiquette, which was a good refresher for me.”
Upon completion of the TDS, Tony was offered a job working as a Quality Assurance Analyst on a team for a large financial services firm. His special aptitude for problem-solving immediately translated into valuable workplace skills. “CAI Neurodiverse Solutions doesn’t just find a neurodivergent individual, slot them into an open position, and see how it goes,” says Tony.
“It’s really about supporting that person so they can excel in a specific role. I cannot say enough about how this experience encouraged me to grow – so much more than if I stayed at home with my family.”
After a year, Tony was asked to join a new team with a large pharmaceutical firm, where he works today, writing and executing automated test scripts for SAP software. “I love problems and figuring out what’s missing,” says Tony. “I am very detail-oriented, so I enjoy digging into something to solve it. In other contexts, this would be considered nitpicking, but in QA work, this is a helpful skill to have. I’m looking for the smallest thing that might otherwise get overlooked–trying to find tiny things that might not be immediately obvious and see if they are indicative of a bigger problem.”
Tony’s technical prowess, positive attitude, and friendly demeanor make him a highly valuable associate. “Tony is a huge asset to the team,” says Jim Esbensen, CAI Team Lead. “He has a very positive attitude towards work and holds himself to a high standard, which shows in his work ethic and productivity. Tony is the first to volunteer to help when it’s needed and always does so with a smile.”
For Tony, helping other people get to the solution brings another level of satisfaction.
When his team grew from 6 to 17 people, he stepped up to fill a leadership role, serving as a subject matter expert in SAP and Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) software for newer teammates. “When I saw there were some issues with the scripts the team had been assigned,” he says, “I reached out to my teammates who were working on similar things, and we came together to identify the problems we were facing and how to solve them. We figured out exactly what we needed in place for the scripts to work as intended and built a template we could follow. Now, the output of our work is so much better than if we had worked independently–and we can get much more done as a team in a single day than if we had been toiling away individually at our desks.”
This curiosity and desire to solve problems runs through Tony’s work. “Tony has a natural ability to understand complex and technical objectives and never shies away from tackling the most pressing needs on the team,” says Esbensen. “His contributions to the standardization process laid the foundation for simplifying the automation team’s workflow and his desire to help is unwavering.”
Working with a team has helped Tony grow personally and professionally. “The experience I’ve accumulated since I began working with CAI Neurodiverse Solutions allows me to influence and improve the workplace experiences of other people and leaves me feeling integral and wanted on this team. It feels like my work is twice as effective since I get to see other people’s successes, too.”
Today, Tony is a champion of the value of meaningful employment. “Working for CAI Neurodiverse Solutions is easily one of the best ways for neurodivergent individuals to find their niche, acquire useful workplace experience, and further a real career, instead of feeling trapped in jobs that aren’t intellectually stimulating,” he says. “Nowhere else has made me feel this excited to come to work each day or given me a path forward limited only by my own drive to succeed.”