~Rumi

All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there...Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul? I cannot stop asking. If I could taste one sip of an answer, I could break out of this prison...I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way. Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.

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22 March 2009

World Autism Interviews: Isaac Dealey/Dallas, Texas





Isaac Dealey was born in Dallas, Texas. He has been working in the software engineering field since 1994. He is currently an Adobe Community Expert for ColdFusion. Isaac is building a new company called Autelligent Laboratories. Check out Isaac on Twitter: (Twitter/datafaucet).

Interview with Isaac

E: Please tell us about Autelligent Laboratories.

Isaac: Currently, the employment rate for those of us diagnosed with Asperger syndrome is less than 20%. What this means is that we have a population of people who want to work, who are perfectly competent, yet due to the challenges of our disability we aren't working. Addressing social challenges is important for all of us, however, there is another side to autism in which we are naturally better fit for certain kinds of work.

To borrow an old analogy, we want to put square pegs in square holes. Also, work is very fundamental to a positive and productive lifestyle. Over the years, there have been numerous studies showing that having a rewarding job improves morale, which in turn, improves physical health and other aspects of life as well.

Autlabs will offer challenging and rewarding technical jobs that will keep employees on their toes and continually learning. We feel that by creating a positive work environment in which autistic people can excel, we will provide excellent value to our clients while showcasing the many talents of our employees. We will also achieve significant strides toward resolving many other issues in the autism community, such as communication challenges and social anxiety.

Tentatively, Autlabs' mission statement is "A workplace that works for everyone," which actually works for our clients as well since we'll be primarily developing business software.

E: What is the driving force behind the reason you decided to create Autelligent Laboratories?

Isaac: I'm a father of three beautiful children. Fundamentally, my first goal is to make the world a better place to live in. On a personal level, I feel that Autlabs is the best way for me to make use of my talents in a way that fills a need that's currently under-served. There are a handful of companies that have started to seek out autistic workers although the ones I've seen are either on another continent or are within an established company. Autelligent will be the first company I'm aware of designed from the ground up to nurture the talents of autistic workers.

E: What are your current goals with Autelligent Laboratories?

Isaac: We hope to achieve sustainable growth over the next five years, as well as to have a small handful of offices. We also hope that as we grow and discover structural and organizational models that work well for us that we'll be able to pass these models on to other companies as well. We don't want to be a monopoly on autistic talent. We just want to learn how to fill the need and give that knowledge back to the community.

E: How can the Autistic community both become involved with and help you with your project?

Isaac: We expect to be involved with the community on and ongoing basis, so we'll have various projects and initiatives in which the community can provide input and help the company grow. We started this from the very beginning by sharing our proposed name to gain public feedback. We also created a survey in which we offered several potential names and let people rate each name on a preference scale. Autelligent was rated highest. Autlabs is currently crowd-sourcing for a company logo. We will be announcing other ways people can help us as we evolve.

We encourage anyone interested in helping us to visit our website and make contact with us. Spreading the word about our organization via blogs and favorite forums, that are receptive to our mission, is also welcome and appreciated. We have particular interest in hearing from potential investors, as well as sales and marketing professionals.

E: What skills should potential employees posses?

Isaac: Skills can be taught. What's more important, if you're interested in working with Autelligent, is that you be interested in computers and software, plus have a strong desire to learn and excel. Software is among a handful of careers in which continual learning is absolutely essential. I've been engineering software for over a decade and I can tell you that I'm still leaning new things regularly--it's a requirement. Everyone who works with Autelligent will find the work both challenging and rewarding.

E: Will Autlabs be able to provide on-the-job training?

Isaac: Yes. Employees will learn a lot about software development during their tenure at Autelligent. I hope as well that all of us will continue to learn valuable communication and life skills in addition to job-specific skills.

E: What roadblocks are you currently facing, as far as establishing Autlabs?

Isaac: None so far. I expect the company's development to be both rewarding and challenging. So far, everybody we talk to loves the idea and is eager to help in any way they can. We're still in the planning stage. We have some intellectual property, and we need to raise some capital for market research and business planning.

We anticipate some potential wrinkles to iron out once we start hiring our sales staff. People who enter into a given profession often have similar personality types. If you know Meyers-Briggs or Kiersey Temperament Sorter this may sound familiar to you. Certain personality types lend themselves well to certain types of jobs. Autistic people tend to have personality types that are literal and detail-oriented, which is compatible with engineering. In my experience, sales professionals tend to be at the opposite end of the personality spectrum and so there can be a bit of a challenge seeing eye-to-eye between engineers and sales professionals. This happens to some extent in every engineering company and we're confident we'll iron those wrinkles out early on.

E: You emailed me privately to express your appreciation after reading a blog of mine geared toward spreading awareness and understanding of uneven skills in autistic people. Please share your views on why this is such an important message to impart on a grand scale.

Isaac: Among the autistic community, it seems reasonably well known that people on the autism spectrum have a tendency to become deeply engrossed in special interests, in a way that allows us to learn those interest areas very quickly and even acquire mastery in a very short period of time. For myself, software has always been one of those areas. And yet, there are other areas in which things that come naturally to other people elude autistics. Quite often, these are social skills that others start learning as babies. So while I'm a professional Adobe Community Expert, I still find "small talk" challenging. We can learn these skills with practice, but to some considerable degree, it's the stigma associated with a lack of social grace that results in autistic employment rates being so low.

So it seems obvious that, if a person is competent to work, especially if they've developed mastery of a skill, then being socially ungraceful shouldn't prevent them from working anymore than being color blind or having a hearing loss. I'm not saying that all autistic people would be great programmers--we're not all interested in software. But if a person is interested in something and they're good at it, they should receive fair compensation for their time, irrespective of their personal challenges.

We can all take a lesson here from the world of classical music. It used to be a commonplace belief that women were not very good players. The maestros didn't believe they were being prejudiced or sexist and also believed their auditions to be fair and objective. Once the maestros began giving truly objective auditions by putting up a screen during auditions, so that the hiring panel could judge the music and only the music, they began hiring a lot of women. Before the screen, women made up only 5% of orchestra players. Today, women are much more fairly represented, making up nearly 50% of orchestras in the States. So these orchestras had been discriminating against women--and others--not deliberately, but rather accidentally because they were unaware that their expectations biased their decisions.

I think we need to consider our values, and "put up the screen" so to speak so that we can focus on what's important. And most specifically for me, that means giving technology jobs to competent and passionate technology workers irrespective of their social finesse.

E: You received a diagnosis of Asperger's a few years ago. How did this change your life?

Isaac: Oh gosh. I think there's a good reason why one of the most popular websites in the autism community today is named Wrong Planet. For the first time in my life, I feel like I'm on the right planet. Having a diagnosis allowed me to learn and truly understand a lot of things that I've struggled with since I was very young. Like work in software engineering, I expect to be learning about autism for the rest of my life. The difference is that before the diagnosis I was totally lost. Now I have a compass.

E: Is anyone else in your family on the autistic spectrum?

Isaac: My father is not diagnosed, but I have a strong feeling that he is on the spectrum. There's a history of engineering in my family. All three of my children express different kinds of behaviors that set off all kinds of warning bells in my head. I have to be careful that I don't let concern drive me and to just continue to support them to achieve the goals they set for themselves. My oldest daughter, Alex, wants to be a writer and has particular designs on working with the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Hopefully, she'll get her opportunity.

E: Has your diagnosis been well-received by your friends and family?

Isaac: Yes, my friends and family have all been very supportive. I saw a blog entry from a marketing executive at Adobe that blew me away. Here was a person I had never met, as we knew each other by name only, and she was taking time out to do what she could to help me succeed.

E: Tell us about your city.

Isaac: A friend of mine once said of Dallas, "It's one big string of restaurants." I realized that's a pretty accurate description when I heard a radio DJ later say that we have more restaurants per capita than almost any other city in the U.S. I'm not quite sure what that means for Autlabs, but I guess our employees will be fed well.

There's actually a statue of my great-great grandfather in the city square downtown. George Bannerman Dealey was the editor and later owner of the Dallas Morning News. He did a lot of great things for the community, like opposing the Klan during their heyday. Now it's my turn to give something to the community.

E: What advantages does your city offer as a location for Autelligent Labs?

Isaac: There's a good technology base here in the Dallas Fort Worth area with the telecom corridor in the north Dallas area. It's also a bustling metropolis in general and that's good news for any software company. It means we can find clients next door although I'm sure we'll have clients across the country and around the world as well.

E: For fun, what are some myths about Texas that you would like to dispel?

Isaac: We're not all conservative Republicans. In fact, oddly enough, although the majority of voters in Texas are Republicans, the majority of voters in our state capital, Austin, are democrats. Granted, Austin is sort of a "weird central" much like Portland, Oregon. Go figure.

Click here to visit the Autelligent Laboratories Wiki.







2 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this important interveiw. Well done!

    It is great that Isaac is providing these opportunities. The fundamental areas where people diagnosed on the autism spectrum have difficulty are missing in places where help is provided for people to learn what will help in jobs.

    If public agencies will work with people like Isaac to see how companies can benefit from the abilities of people within this population, more people will recognize their strengths earlier and have a better idea what type of work they want to enter. Too many abilities and the people who have them are being wasted.

    ReplyDelete