Zach describes his experience of working as a systems engineer for Fortune 500 companies as "stressful." Not because it included setting up hardware and software and building databases–though that required technical prowess. And not because the companies required what Zach calls “five nines,” which means 99.999 percent uptime–or less than 7 minutes of downtime a year.
When Zach quit his position, things became bleak for a period. He found it easier to isolate himself at home rather than put himself in the challenging position of going back on the job market, so it was several years before he found the determination to reassert himself into society.
Zach was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as a teenager, and though it was tough to accept at first, it gradually started to make sense to him. As a child, he had been a data sponge, quoting from memory “The Guinness Book of World Records” and easily putting broken things back together. He had done well academically, but he always had trouble reading people. He felt his brain wasn’t built to understand the unspoken language other people use when they engage with each other, and he found it difficult and exhausting to process social cues and discern people’s intentions.
“He has not only delivered on critical projects and created numerous efficiencies in the way we get work done, but he has also mentored several team members.”
Zach was determined not to think of his diagnosis as a weakness, and after a period of unemployment, he rebounded. Zach found a local vocational rehabilitation resource center where he could get involved and meet new people. Soon, he was teaching programming and other computer-related skills to community members. It was there that he first heard about CAI’s Talent Discovery Session (TDS), a 5-day workforce development training and competency evaluation designed to prepare neurodivergent individuals for success in the workplace.
The TDS served as a good fit for Zach, offering him the chance to make new friends and engage in intellectually stimulating work, which he had been missing during his stint of unemployment. “Learning to work as a team with people who have similar talents and skill levels was really valuable for me,” Zach says. “The training helped me acclimate to the expectations of the job so I could get my gears going again.”
Directly after completing the TDS, CAI offered Zach a position as a quality assurance (QA) analyst for a large pharmaceutical firm. When he started the job, one of the first things he did was automate the repetitive parts of his work. “I showed my manager several different tools that could automate the keystrokes I was using to move data from one application to another,” says Zach. “I didn’t want to write the same thing over and over again, so then I created a database and a template to do the parts of my work that would have taken me 2 – 3 days to do.”
Soon, his colleagues and managers began to see Zach’s penchant for efficiency. They understood that if he was given a task that required repetitive action, he would soon have it automated. It’s a talent he brings to his team: the ability to figure out how to get work done more quickly as opposed to blindly doing it how it’s always been done. “If something’s not working, I find a way to make it work,” says Zach. “I see possibilities others may not see.” And the result is not only faster but is more standardized and prevents mistakes.
“Zach has an innate ability to see both the big picture and produce the detail necessary to get projects completed and launched,” says his CAI Team Lead Vipul Patel. “From deciphering code to ad-hoc automation, Zach’s technical passion, focus, and unique analytical capabilities help him clearly understand project objectives while mapping solutions that are often minimalistic in effort and highly effective in achieving the desired outcome.”
Today, Zach puts his talents to good use building business process models and writing material for testing those business processes. He excels at work, he says, because it requires creative thinking. For Zach, every project is a new problem, which gives him the opportunity to figure out a way to do something more efficiently. “Zach is a true, value-add team player,” adds Vipul. “He has not only delivered on critical projects and created numerous efficiencies in the way we get work done, but he has also mentored several team members. He brings a fresh perspective to his work and is usually among the first to make himself aware of the goals, strategies, timelines, and critical dos and don’ts.”
Zach says he knows people from his earlier work experiences may have tried to support him, but it felt as if they were outsiders looking in. “CAI Neurodiverse Solutions team members look ahead for roadblocks before they happen,” says Zach. “They reach out in unique ways and solve problems in unique ways. They know my weaknesses and my strengths and look ahead to take care of me. In other places, nothing is done until there’s a problem. Here, they are clearing the road for you.”
In his role, Zach says he can be himself at work and stress less about hiding the circumstances of his diagnosis from his coworkers. “There is an understanding in this environment that we all have talents and that really makes work that much more enjoyable.”