Autism Advantage at eBay

We recently welcomed our October cohort of Autism Advantage data analyst students, a group of autistic adults being trained for well-meaning careers in Silicon Valley and beyond. Although last week was the just the first week of the six-week cohort group, our students are already tackling data sets, practical skills training, and are engaging companies throughout the tech sector.

On Friday, we recapped our first week by bringing together both alumni and newly-enrolled students for an afternoon visiting the corporate headquarters of eBay. In addition to a tour of the campus and a briefing on eBay in general, our Autism Advantage students spent time with two of eBay’s data scientists to learn how the company applies data to improve the experience for both its customers and its team members. eBay team member Jessica Sweeney helped us arrange our visit as part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Data scientists Dr. Rebecca Carter and Dr. Katie Meger walked our Autism Advantage students through several data applications utilized by eBay. One engagement that students particularly enjoyed was spotting which parts of the eBay homepage were static and which sections were populated by data-driven algorithms. Doctors Carter and Meger even walked students through their own personalized eBay home pages to show how data is able to show visitors items which may interest them. “That large power tool may surprise you,” said Dr. Carter pointing at an electric drill populated on her customer page. “However, my husband and I love renovating our kitchen, which is why that shows up on my screen. That’s the type of item I am likely to buy.”

 

 

As both women work with eBay’s people teams, they also explained how eBay uses data to enhance the employee experience while retaining talent. As a large, Silicon Valley company, tech startups are at times acquired by the e-commerce platform company. During the session, eBay’s data scientists were able to show how they use data to predict employee retention in those cases. That allows eBay to develop strategies to ensure that it is able to retain highly-skilled talent when their companies merge.

In addition to presentations by eBay, Autism Advantage used the opportunity to have one of our alumni present data sets to our current set of students and eBay employees. We’ve begun to do that during each of our company visits as it models for students the progress they can expect to make in the program and models for companies the breadth of autistic talent in Silicon Valley.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. If your company is in the Bay Area and is planning an employee event for this month, let us know. One of the ways our Autism Advantage students grow is by seeing the practical work of industry colleagues. We’d love to arrange a visit. Simply email Jack at: jack@buzzhero.io.

 

Autism Advantage at Pivotus Ventures

Last week, Autism Advantage brought together both alumni and newly-enrolled students for an afternoon in Menlo Park visiting Pivotus Ventures. Through our visit, we learned how the innovative company is disrupting the traditional banking space to improve services for customers.  Over the past 10 years, have spent billions of dollars moving people toward online and mobile banking. While this method has provided many conveniences, Pivotus recognized that this shift has left a customer service gap which the market hasn’t addressed yet.

Our trip to Pivotus was eye-opening. We learned that Pivotus is helping financial institutions to position themselves to meet various customer expectations.  Specifically, their platforms are helping reintroduce the personal banker experience back into the equation in order to increase customer transactions and customer satisfaction. One of the ways Pivotus is doing this is by leveraging a software platform that Tinderizes the search for a personal banker and allows a central point of contact for all one’s banking needs.

Chief Product Officer Soren Bested took the Autism Advantage students and graduates through a deep dive into how their product will revolution the banking experience by reintroducing personal relationships and trust into virtual banking. He shared his experience with moving to America and the profound effect his personal banker had made in his own life.

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Oren Goldsmidt, President of Pivotus Ventures, shares with Autism Advantage students the Pivotus “Flash Presentation” wall. The wall is used by employees who give brief, five-minute presentations on topics they love. Our students and staff loved the concept so much that we plan to incorporate the practice into our October cohort as a way of strengthening the presentation skills of our students while allowing them to share topics they love.

Our Autism Advantage team then met with Oren Goldsmidt, President of Pivotus Ventures, to hear more about Pivotus’ vision of the future and how they intend to increasingly scale their products to meet future market demands. He provided an extremely insightful question-and-answer session on the topic of how and where automation can be integrated into a product whose main goal is personal connection.

Following our discussion with Oren, one of the recent cohort graduates presented data findings to Pivotus Venture employees as well as new enrollees in the Autism Advantage program. The presentation centered on the machine learning model he developed, a model which won our Autsim Advantage Hackathon to most accurately predict the success of a video game based on a provided data set. Connecting alumni, students, and private businesses is key to developing neurodiversity in Silicon Valley and beyond. We were excited to learn of Pivotus Ventures own work in innovation, and we’re thankful for the opportunity to visit with their leadership and staff.

Welcome October Cohort!

Our October cohort of Autism Advantage data analyst students started on Monday. These are autistic adults being trained for well-meaning careers in Silicon Valley and beyond. We’re incredibly excited to welcome them.

An insight from our morning icebreaker activity: Beyond English, our students speak ASL, Ethiopian, French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Nepali, and Spanish.

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.

Congresswoman Speier & Autism Advantage Discuss Innovation in Workforce Development

Members of our Autism Advantage team joined U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14) this morning for a press conference at the College of San Mateo. The purpose of the event was to discuss how innovative efforts in workforce development can increase the number of good jobs with good wages in the Bay Area. Representing Autism Advantage was program alumnus Liam Tyler. Tyler graduated from the Autism Advantage data analyst cohort his spring, using the program to sharpen his data skills while polishing the workplace soft skills and navigation which will help ensure his talents are matched with a successful career.

“I knew I had more to offer and how hard I could push myself, but I never was given the opportunity to show someone I could. That’s where Autism Advantage came in.,” said Tyler, speaking from stage alongside Congresswoman Speier. “They were the first organization that helped me believe that my disability could be proven to my advantage and that disclosing it to my employer could show them sides of me that other people may not know.”

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The importance of providing platforms which allow companies to access talent from outside traditional hiring practices was echoed by Congresswoman Speier.

“The Bay Area is the innovation hub of our country. We are lucky to have some of the lowest unemployment rates, but that doesn’t mean that the economy is great for everyone, especially against the backdrop of the sky-high cost of living here,” said Congresswoman Speier in announcing the press conference. “The Bay Area job market suffers from a disconnect between employees’ skills and employers’ needs. If we connect the dots, we will create good jobs with good wages.”

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AJ Thomas, Director of Talent Development for Ten-X, speaks at the press conference alongside Congresswoman Jackie Speier.

“As an employer in Silicon Valley, our challenge really isn’t about growth,” said AJ Thomas, Director of Talent Development at Ten-X,  who also spoke at the conference. “Our challenge is about uncovering talent who currently exist in our communities who need to be maximized. That talent can come from traditional universities, but that talent can also come from technical programs, trade certification, and apprenticeships. All of those channels have talent which we want to bring into an organization like ours.”

Autism Advantage solves for Silicon Valley talent gaps by recruiting, training, placing, and supporting autistic talent. Graduates have gone on to work in critical-need positions with companies like SAP, EY, and Visa, as well as government agencies such the Department of Homeland Security.

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Autism Advantage graduate Liam Tyler.

While Autism Advantage staff was on hand to speak with members of the public and the press, having a program graduate like Tyler formally represent Autism Advantage within the program is emblematic of a key to the program’s success. Unlike traditional bootcamps, where support ends upon graduation, Autism Advantage continues to support graduates and their new employers as they grow in their careers. Autism Advantage may be building the pipelines of autistic talent which Silicon Valley needs, but it also provides a platform and network to grow alumni skills and connections. By engaging alumni, and incorporating graduates as volunteers in our work and mentors to new students, Autism Advantage is helping to build Silicon Valley into a hub of autistic culture and skills.

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In addition to Tyler, Congresswoman Speier was joined at the press conference by San Mateo County Community College District Chancellor Ron Galatolo, Ten-X Senior Director of Talent AJ Thomas, Open Access Founder Karen Fullerton, SAMCEDA Public Policy Associate Christina Fernandez, and Digital Marketing and Media Program graduate Dorothy Davis. Most speakers represented organizations which are partners of NOVA, the federally funded workforce development agency that has served a consortium of cities in northern Santa Clara County since 1982.


bikeride1Hey! Our friend Kenneth is riding his bike this July for 100 miles from Washington, DC to the Atlantic Ocean. He decided to do this on his own to raise awareness and funds to train autistic adults through Autism Advantage. We think that’s awesome and hope you do to. You can support his effort by clicking here. Check it out!

BNY Mellon Models Collaboration as Key to Innovation and Success

A primary outcome of our Autism Advantage program is in having taught our students to effectively use their autistic traits as an advantage in the workplace. Doing so allows them utilize their unique perspectives, experiences, and talents to help their employers and teammates solve for complex problems. Innovative environments require many perspectives. Teaching our students how to use their skills to collaborate and compliment the skills of others helps grow innovative environments along with their own career success.

Two weeks ago, data analytic students from our most recent Autism Advantage class visited the BNY Mellon Silicon Valley Innovation Center in Palo Alto. This allowed our students to understand and anticipate new trends in data application. More importantly, it modeled for them how innovative environments thrive by fostering collaboration between different skill sets.

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Joyce Peacock, BNY Mellon Silicon Valley Innovation Center Engagement Director, provides an overview of the company to data analytic students of the Autism Advantage program.

Joy Peacock, BNY Mellon Innovation Center Engagement Director, provided our Autism Advantage students with an overview of the work of BNY Mellon since its first component was founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1784. Peacock also detailed how the company intersects with the technology sector and how BNY Mellon utilizes its Silicon Valley Innovation Center to conduct applied research and leverage open source and techniques to deliver strategic components for the BNY Mellon digital cloud. Like all innovative environments, collaboration between skill sets and diverse perspectives is key to its success.

Emphasizing the center’s collaborative process was Prakash Arunchalam, Lead Data Scientist for BNY Mellon. Arunchalam demonstrated the growth of data application into new areas, and how successful employees are ones who are skilled in translating the work of one area (such as data) into solutions for a variety of projects and departments. Arunchalam did this by providing our Autism Advantage students with an overview of machine learning along with a thumbnail perspective of how his team combines advanced machine learning and optimization techniques with “big data” to develop innovative financial services products for their clients.

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BNY Mellon Lead Data Scientist Prakash Arunachalam demonstrates concepts of machine learning and data utilization for data analytic students of the Autism Advantage program.

The session with BNY Mellon was held immediately ahead of a MeetUp event in the center convened by the Silicon Valley Financial Services Cloud Meetup Group. Founded in 2014, the group connects professionals across a broad spectrum of technology to share ideas, learn from subject matter experts, and track technology pertinent to modern financial services clouds. That evening, the group hosted a panel discussion on deep learning with Umair Akeel (Partner at CTO at Bessemer Venture Partners), Vivek Kumar (Director of the Advanced Technology Group at Dolby), and Dr. Adrian Kaehler (Founder of the Silicon Valley Deep Learning Group). There, our Autism Advantage students listened to how each panelist used their experiences to train and grow talent in deep learning.

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Autism Advantage students join the Silicon Valley Financial Services Cloud Meetup group to listen to a panel on the development of deep learning.

Our Autism Advantage students also leveraged their time at BNY Mellon to gain additional knowledge through informally networking with members of the Silicon Valley Financial Services Cloud Meetup Group along with BNY Mellon employees. Meeting future industry colleagues allowed them to model best practices and grow connections which will allow them to mature as employees throughout their career. Thank you to BNY Mellon and to the Silicon Valley Financial Services Cloud group for hosting us. The small investment of time you gave to our Autism Advantage students ensures that their future employers will one day be able to thank you as well.


bikeride1Hey! Our friend Kenneth is riding his bike this July for 100 miles from Washington, DC to the Atlantic Ocean. He decided to do this on his own to raise awareness and funds to train autistic adults through Autism Advantage. We think that’s awesome and hope you do to. You can support his effort by clicking here. Check it out!

County Federal Taps Autism Advantage as Wise Investment

No more charity, please. At Autism Advantage, we’re all about wise investments. One of the things I’ve loved most about basing our program in Silicon Valley is the ease at which the technology sector understands autistic workforce development as a crucial investment rather than as a charity.

For over 65 years, County Federal (Santa Clara County Federal Credit Union) has supported the rapid growth of Silicon Valley by providing financial solutions to the educators and service providers supporting the technology sector. County Federal is a credit union that understands the importance of financial independence and community investment, and we are excited to welcome them as our most recent community partner.

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County Federal’s commitment to Autism Advantage was witnessed by tech executives from across Silicon Valley at our most recent commencement ceremony. There, credit union representative Rachael Moreno stood alongside our data analytics training program graduates as she presented the program with a direct funding check on behalf of County Federal. However, County Federal’s investment in our students doesn’t end there. Like many of the executives in the room, County Federal has also provided input and feedback to students as they’ve sharpened their data presentation skills. That’s been crucial to their success.

We tremendously thank County Federal for the funding and coaching which the credit union has provided. We are also thrilled that County Federal will be deepening their investment in our program by providing financial literacy and financial independence coaching to students in future training cohorts. That’s huge. Autistic adults and their families routinely report financial independence and independent living as top concerns, yet few resources exist to help them solve for them.

Working with County Federal, we’re able to leverage their expertise in order to increase the return they’ve invested in our students. A small investment at the front-end of an autistic person’s career will scale to success throughout their entire life.


bikeride1Hey! Our friend Kenneth is riding his bike this July for 100 miles from Washington, DC to the Atlantic Ocean. He decided to do this on his own to raise awareness and funds to train autistic adults through Autism Advantage. We think that’s awesome and hope you do to. You can support his effort by clicking here. Check it out!