Microsoft plans to hire workers with autism

The visitor's center at Microsoft's campus headquarters in Redmond, Wash. - 

Aaron Michael Cohen says he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome when he was a child, and says it’s given him very specific skills.

“Well, I’m good at math and I’m also good noticing patterns,” he says.

Cohen has put those skills to work. Now 27, he’s a data analyst in the IT department at Freddie Mac and looks for irregular patterns that signal a problem with company computers.

These are the types of skills that make Cohen very popular in the tech world. It’s no wonder Microsoft is now reaching out to the autistic community for potential hires as part of a pilot program.

“This is a smart move on Microsoft’s part,” says Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC.

He says Microsoft is getting a two-for-one deal: it gets some nice PR and finds essential workers.

People with autism fall across a wide spectrum. Some have unique skills, like Cohen, including attention to detail, which is essential for programming tasks like coding.

“Even if a code is off by one space, or one period, that could throw the entire code and it can throw the entire program off,” Llamas says.

Microsoft might have to make some adjustments. Workers with autism may not like the open-plan office, where everybody can hear everybody else. But, if they’re happy, they’re loyal.

“They’re far more likely to stay as long as they’re getting the right kind of understanding and are in the right kind of culture,” says Samantha Crane, director of public policy at
the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Microsoft isn’t giving interviews about the program yet because it is still in the pilot stage. But in a blog, the company says the disabled workers it has already hired have a quit rate of only one percent. Microsoft plans to start the pilot program in May, with about 10 candidates.

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