NYC Start-Up Combats the Autism Unemployment Crisis
Ultra Testing, a NYC-based software testing and quality assurance startup, has taken steps to combat the autism unemployment crisis. According to a recent report by Fast Company.com, Ultra Testing employs over 60 workers remotely across 20 states. 75% of those employees are on the autistic spectrum. “The best part of Ultra is working with a group of peers that understand my needs,” Jaimie Davila, a woman with autism who has been with Ultra Testing for three years and now works as its lead QE tester, was quoted as saying. “We’re doing the same work as any other quality engineering firm, but in my opinion, we are doing it better and more effectively because of our workforce.”
Despite its small size, Ultra Testing has grown an average of 50% year-over-year since its founding in 2013. According to Fast Company’s report, 60% of the company’s revenue comes from Fortune 500 clients, while the rest stems from hyper-growth startups. The company has also earned an honorable mention in Fast Company’s Word Changing Ideas awards for its innovative employment and talent management strategies. The company was founded by M.I.T. graduates (and college roommates) Rajesh Anandan and Art Shechtman, who both realized the untapped potential of autistic individuals in the workplace. “Individuals on the autism spectrum are more likely to have strengths around pattern recognition, logical reasoning ability, enhanced focus, and so on,” Anandan’s wife, who has worked with autistic children at a community mental health clinic in Oakland, California, was quoted as saying.
Anandan acknowledged that, while not everyone on the spectrum has those abilities, “those very abilities are exactly what you would look for in quite a few roles, especially around quality engineering or quality assurance.”
Currently, only 35% of 18 year olds with autism are attending college, and only 15% find employment after graduation. As a result, almost 80% of young adults with autism are only working part-time. Some of these statistics may be attributable to the interview process, which can present a major challenge for individuals on the autism spectrum, who struggle with social and communication difficulties. Maria Scheiner, the president of the nonprofit Integrate Autism Employment Advisors and a collaborator of Ultra Testing, noted this problem. “One of the biggest challenges, if you think about the interview process, is that it is a process that is largely dependent upon one’s social communication skills, and that is an area where many people—not all—but many people on the autism spectrum struggle,” Scheiner was quoted as saying by Fast Company.
Scheiner said her company is considering doing “more skills-based interviews, as opposed to pure question-and-answer interviews.” “[Candidates] may not be as adept at verbally describing to you what they might do in a certain situation, but if you give them a workbook in Excel with a problem, they’re going to blow you away with what they can do,” she said. Scheiner has worked with Ultra Testing to help the company develop a more inclusive recruiting process. This includes a week of paid, remote work, where candidates are given feedback on areas like “coachability” and “learning agility.” The company also uses communication tools like Slack, which allows employees to offer anonymous feedback about how they’re feeling.
Scheiner believes that in some ways, this unique recruitment approach is more effective than more traditional methods, even for non-autistic job candidates, and that it might even be adopted by other companies in the future.
“In the past 18 months—not even two years—we’ve seen a significant shift in general attitude among the employers we target in terms of interest in neurodiversity hiring,” Scheiner said. “And almost every other month, I read about another company like Ultra Testing being started somewhere.”