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Microsoft launches pilot program for hiring autistic workers


Microsoft is looking to recruit yet another type of diverse employee. The Redmond, Wash.-based technology giant said Friday that it is piloting a program focused on hiring people with autism for full-time positions in the company's headquarters.

The program was announced in a blog post by Mary Ellen Smith, Microsoft's corporate vice president for worldwide operations. Smith wrote that in addition to the general advantages of a more diverse workforce, Microsoft is getting behind the effort because "people with autism bring strengths that we need at Microsoft ... some have amazing ability to retain information, think at a level of detail and depth or excel in math or code."

Microsoft plans to first launch the program with about 10 candidates, a Microsoft spokeswoman told The Post. It will be working with Specialisterne, a training and consulting firm based in Denmark that helps match autistic workers with jobs. The Danish company began doing that for another big software company, SAP, in 2013, finding employees particularly suited for jobs that require great attention to detail, such as software testing or debugging. Specialisterne has also worked with the tech company Computer Aid, Inc. on similar hiring efforts.

While Microsoft's move appears to show a willingness to hire diverse talent, they also may find highly entrepreneurial talent in the process. As billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel recently said, according to The Post's Matt McFarland, "many of the more successful entrepreneurs seem to be suffering from a mild form of Asperger's where it's like you're missing the imitation, socialization gene." Asperger's Syndrome, which Thiel was referencing, is a high-functioning autism spectrum disorder.

What's more, Microsoft's move appears to demonstrate the real need that the tech industry has for certain kinds of talent. In a 2012 story titled "The Autism Advantage," the New York Times Magazine featured Specialisterne (which is Danish for "the specialists") and profiled the firm's founder, Thorkil Sonne. Sonne saw a potential fit between tech companies — who he'd seen struggle to find workers who can perform specific, intense and sometimes tedious tasks — and autistic workers, many of whom lack traditional social skills but have extraordinary abilities for memorizing and concentrating.

Sonne founded Specialisterne after watching his 7-year-old son replicate the page numbers on a map of Europe from a road atlas, the Times reported. But he isn't the only one involved in bringing more autistic workers to big tech companies, or the only one in that space who has a personal link to the idea.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the head of SAP's initiative has two children with autism. And Smith revealed in her Microsoft blog post that her son, now 19, is also autistic. She writes that the day her son was diagnosed, she and her husband were at a loss for words. She is now proud of the unique advantages her son, a college freshman and part-time employee, has to offer. "What we learned over the last 15 years was to find our voice."

Read also:

Why shades of Asperger's are the secret to building a great tech company

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