Posts by Jack Hogan

Head of Partnerships for Buzzhero

Autism Advantage at Autodesk

One of my favorite locations in San Francisco is the Autodesk Gallery, a space which showcases pioneering design and engineering. It’s a wondrous place filled with projected lights, fascinating textures, and amazing stories. Each item featured in it was built using Autodesk software and they range from skyscrapers, to sports cars, to special effects in Hollywood films. In short: it’s really cool. That made it a perfect place to convene a gathering of Autism Advantage data analyst alumni last week.

Jason Rosenberg, Senior Manager of Audit and Advisory Services for Autodesk, led a tour of the Autodesk Gallery for our alumni. The experience enabled them to see data analysis beyond numbers and mathematical models and through its end-expression in forms ranging from 3D-printed running shoes sold by Under Amour to the digital worlds created in films like Avatar.

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An Autism Advantage graduate examines a 3D printed shoe built by Under Armor.

Following the tour, our group continued to the Autodesk offices themselves where they met with Autodesk Data Analytics Program Manager David Wentworth and Senior Director of Audit & Advisory Services Scott Schulze. Wentworth and Schulze discussed professional development, current industry trends, and how Autodesk data teams help the company drive innovation. One particularly innovative project they are working on is the use of data to analyze and identify risk areas within travel and entertainment expenses.

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The meeting also allowed two of our data analyst training program graduates to present their research and analysis of machine learning models to Autodesk. The work they presented was built during their time in the Autism Advantage training program.

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This wasn’t our first engagement with Autodesk. This spring, Autism Advantage staff volunteered with Code2040’s Tech Trek, an alternative spring break for black and Latinx computer science college students which facilitates peer-bonding and visits to Bay Area companies. During this year’s Tech Trek, Autodesk sponsored a community reception for Code2040. It was one of the many ways that Autodesk makes its space and staff available to those solving for diversity gaps within Silicon Valley.

When individuals graduate from Autism Advantage, we continue to engage them by providing professional support and networking opportunities. That not only helps the individual grow in their career, but helps to build neurodiverse community and culture within professional circles. Partners like Autodesk are a key part of that. The company may feature many cool things in its gallery, but joining Autism Advantage to enhance the development of autistic talent in Silicon Valley is just as amazing and cool.

Autism Advantage at DC “Tech Week”

We’ve had an amazing series of meetings in Washington this week. Thanks to Accenture, key members of our Autism Advantage staff were able to collaborate with some of the nation’s leading Goodwill operations as we collectively work to build tech career incubators in underserved communities across the country

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Trish Dorsey (Expandability/Autism Advantage), Sheila Kates (Accenture representative and the mother of an autistic son), and John Marble (Expandability/Autism Advantage, who is autistic).

From the Goodwill blog:

What seems natural from each of these events is the partnership between government, business, and nonprofit organizations to solve our country’s challenges…the results are empowering for people, communities, economies and keep the country as a whole competitive in a cutting-edge realm

We were able to leverage this opportunity to demonstrate the results of our Autism Advantage training program with key business and social enterprise leaders. The week in DC also allowed our staff to strategize about scaling sustainable models of autistic employment training beyond our current training set. That’s great for Autism Advantage and great for companies seeking to fill talent gaps with qualified workers. We also found a benefit to having both autistic and non-autistic staff represent us in Washington as it allowed us to model how mainstreaming autistic talent into the workplace produces positive results. This week was certainly productive for us. Thank you to Accenture for ensuring our participation. We can’t wait to take the investment you made in our week in Washington and return it with quantifiable program results.

EY Hires Students from Expandability’s Autism Advantage Program

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The Directors of EY’s Center of Excellence explaining personal brand to the Autism Advantage Program

Our Autism Advantage Program not only aims to train autistic talent for the workplace, but to place them with leading companies upon graduation. We graduated our latest cohort in May and began placing participants with companies where their skills were particularly well-matched. Three of these graduates recently accepted positions with professional services firm EY (formerly Ernst & Young) where they will apply their analytical and professional skills as account support associates in EY’s Dallas office. In 2016, EY found success with a pilot autistic talent initiative pioneered in its Philadelphia office. Eager to scale that success, EY began working Autism Advantage.

“This is about recognizing the talent of autistic individuals and offering support that allows them to successfully integrate their skills within the workplace,” said Teresa Tatum, EY Assistant Director and Account Support Associate Manager, who is also based in Dallas.“Through our initial pilot, EY found that supported autistic employees contribute equally alongside co workers. Their experience allows them to offer their teams innovative solutions and creative insights that would have otherwise been left undiscovered. From a business perspective, it is a strategic measure that increases productivity and reduces operating costs. We are fortunate that  programs like Expandability’s Autism Advantage, allowed us to seamlessly hire qualified talent. Their advanced work skills, professionalism, and enthusiasm to work, are ideal employee attributes.”

Chris Morris is one of our three Autism Advantage Program graduates who will join EY in Dallas. He noted how executive coaching from companies like EY helped him develop his talents.

“There was a psychological benefit to the Autism Advantage program beyond the training,” said Morris. “It was in all the companies who came in to coach. Companies saw something in us and seeing that they were interested in recruiting from our class really brought my confidence level up.” Morris, who holds a computer science degree from Providence College and a teaching degree from Columbia University, had struggled to navigate the corporate hiring process before joining the Autism Advantage program, relying instead on a patchwork of jobs such as rental property maintenance.

“I remember the detailed feedback I received from Visa and CA Technologies on my data presentations and for the first time it felt as if my skills were validated,” said Morris.

The sentiment expressed by Morris was also found among other graduates, along with their families.

“I’m a parent who has been with my son through many disappointments, including ineffective autism programs,” said Joyce Fiaccone. “So, I wanted to express my appreciation for Expandabilty’s Autism Advantage program.” Fiaccone’s son, Daniel, will now join Morris and fellow graduate Ben McGahee in Dallas after all three accepted positions with EY.  “It was a valuable experience that translated into a huge opportunity for Daniel, as well as for Chris and Ben. I know EY is very invested in making their program a success. So, I’m assured that all three are now in great positions to develop meaningful careers”. Her son Daniel agreed.

“Trust issues have been an obstacle for me,” said Daniel. “I never had a real friend until middle school, so I learned to keep to myself. By your mid-30’s most people are more focused on their careers, so it can be even harder then to make connections. In the Autism Advantage program, we get a place where we can just be us. That gives us the space to relax and dig deeper into our personal strengths. I discovered that I’m actually a great presenter and I’m good at public speaking. I now know how to personally pitch myself.”

Autism Advantage provides training and post employment support to candidates like Fiaccone, McGahee, and Morris so that they can translate their skills into careers. We also provide connections between program members and hiring managers so that companies can seamlessly hire from this trained talent set. That model is proving a success for companies like EY and a rapidly growing number of companies seeking to follow that success.

Our next six-week cohort begins on June 19 and will center on those skilled in data analytics. Interested candidates can find information on Autism Advantage here. If you are an employer interested in observing our cohort training, becoming one of our visiting corporate speakers, or in hiring from our skilled cohort class, Jack@buzzhero.io or Katee@expandability.org.