Engineers · Aspergers

Have you ever worked with someone who has Asperger's Syndrome?

Frank Braswell

December 2nd, 2015

Take a look at "Peter Thiel: Asperger's can be a big advantage in Silicon Valley"  http://read.bi/1XHDbfs 

Since people (engineers) with Asperger's don't fit in the normal business culture, and can drive partners and managers nuts with their social behaviors and obsessions, how can you harness and productize their creative energy in an entrepreneurial setting?

Rob Mitchell Senior Java Software Engineer at Direct Commerce

December 2nd, 2015

My 24yo son has been dx AS since early on and I can relate working through a variety of "life projects" with him. The saying goes, if you've met one person with AS, then you've met one person with AS - meaning the spectrum is quite wide and no two are exactly alike.

As far as recommendation and traits, I can also draw on my experience as a Software Engineer Manager to tell you that having some level of compassion and empathy goes a long, long way.

Find out what what this person likes and dislikes along with a means for them to change their mind. Discuss concrete check-in mechanisms and whether perhaps email 1x or 2x per day would be better than face-to-face. Make sure you ask and get answers about their work environment e.g. light, dark, noise, heat, cold, drinks, etc. Any previously unwritten social things need to be reexamined e.g. 4:00pm beer o'clock on Thu, etc.

AS people are, in general, very much like neurotypical people but with some distinct differences. Find those differences (and they might change over time) and optimize them. I find my son is super-dependable, gentle, and curious as he's an early childhood educator and, yes, he has already earned his undergrad degree from a local university.

Oh, one more thing, my wife's an expert in this area and has told me that quite often an AS person may be aware or at least exhibit other idiosyncrasies e.g. anxiety or depression or hypersensitivity. The more you're aware as a manager, the better off you'll be helping folks reach their potential.

This is a special top and anyone who'd like more info, I'm happy to collaborate.



Pam Founder Founder at tilt365.com

December 5th, 2015

Pierce, Rand and Frank,  love your sentiments here.  Yes, we are all more complex and unique than we realize and contain a family of personalities inside us. There's an Aspie persona inside all of us in varying degrees. I have found that once we realize that what we might perceive as social awkwardness in our fellow Aspie tendencies is really something we can't help..(it a wiring that is unique)..then we can be more compassionate with those who have more of this set of traits on the spectrum.  In myself, I playfully call it "attention EXCESS disorder" .....and tell people that I may not hear them if I am engrossed in something deeply. If we could all learn to chuckle at ourselves more, then we will naturally be more kind to others too.  

Hugh O'Donnell Project Coordinator Values into Action Scotland

December 8th, 2015

HI
I work for a charity in Scotland that provides training and advice to employers working with people on the spectrum.  My one contribution to this discussion is to say that there is almost no general way to do thing and the key to success is to get to know the individual rather anything else.  Having the right support at the right time for the individual and the employer at the right time is critical.
 

Pierce Wetter Front End Principal at Skyport Systems

December 2nd, 2015

Well, its like managing anyone. You have to adapt to their communication modes and styles. 

Here's a counter point from NyMag arguing that we're over diagnosing AS to refer to people who just have less social skills: http://nymag.com/news/features/autism-spectrum-2012-11/

Peter Thiel is talking about "a mild form of Aspergers", which I think gives better perspective. Different people have different skills, you have to manage accordingly. Living in Silicon Valley, it seems like all the engineers here have AS in the broad definition used in DSM-IV, which NY-Mag seems to indicate DSM-V will narrow down to mean more what I call "TV Aspergers", something closer to "mild-autism" than the "kind of a geek" we use it to mean now. 

Managing artists was probably the most challenging thing I've had to do because I had to give them creative freedom, but I also had to time box them so they don't spend too much time seeking perfection. Too little time though and they would be frustrated. So it took some interaction between us to learn that I needed them to do good work, but I only wanted a certain amount of apple polishing. 


Pierce Wetter Front End Principal at Skyport Systems

December 4th, 2015

Hmmm... I'm struck by how many  "do this for Aspies" items actually work on everyone

No one can multitask. It's a myth. And context switches are expensive and stressful, aspie or not. 

I remember talking to a friend of mine with OCD, and I asked him, "What makes you OCD? I like having things organized, clean, etc."

He answered "you can leave the house if its messy, even if you don't like it that way, its the C in the OCD that's my problem; the compulsion vs. just a preference". 

Recently I've been listening to that old classic, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" in the car. It almost seems like its written for aspies, but it dates back to 1936. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Win_Friends_and_Influence_People

In the process of doing some eldercare stuff in the last week, I really made an effort to follow the principles, especially:

1. Express appreciation. Several times I was ready to strangle various health care people but by saying thank you for what they were doing instead of criticizing them for what they weren't, I got better results. 

2. Remembering peoples names. I wrote down the names of the nurses and everyone else and started greeting them. Pretty soon they were falling over themselves to help me. 

Anyways, a classic that helped me. See the principles here:


 


Frank Braswell

December 2nd, 2015

What I'm hearing is that managers who invest the time and energy into understanding "aspies," can successfully channel that creative energy into the corporate goals. It does take effort, perhaps a lot of effort, to make it work, and keep everyone happy and motivated. Peter Thiel says they are good people to hire, but doesn't get into the details on how to manage their creativity, or leverage it successfully to come up with the next disruptive technology.
God bless you both, Pierce & KD, for taking time to understand AS! It is a 2-way street, but because of lack of social skills, aspies don't usually know how to express or discuss their relationships with others or to corporate priorities and goals. As managers who have chosen to learn about AS and apply that to your management skills, you may be among as rarefied a group among managers as aspies are to the general population. 

Frank Braswell

December 2nd, 2015

To Pierces point that "all engineers have AS to varying degrees," it is referred to as a spectrum disorder, and the symptomatic markers can vary significantly. However, I think Peter Thiel isn't talking about the "average" engineer, and I think as managers you can identify pretty quickly aspies who are off the charts on the analytical and creative side.
As an engineer, I've found very few people like Thiel describes over my career. I've also adjuncted a few engineering courses at local Taylor University and have observed only a very few of the engineering students that might fit into Thiel's description.
Since aspies, like myself, tend to be extremely introverted, and lack business skills, how can they successfully connect with business entrepreneurs through various founders sites to bring their ideas to market?

Rob Mitchell Senior Java Software Engineer at Direct Commerce

December 2nd, 2015

Also, just a great resource for all things related to AS is the website Asperger/Autism Network (AANE) - I can tell you first-hand they're great. 

Stephen Palmer Grand Master, Sovereign White Knights - 6 Peaceful Orders

December 2nd, 2015

President George W. Bush has it, but for a long time only his mother knew he had it; his father became aware of it when George Jr. was Gov. of Texas; so he got some folks that he knew to handle him in all circumstances [In reality, George H.W. was President with GW just a proxie.] Richard Cheney made sure G.H.W. stayed in control in the background.
People with this syndrome have a difficult time making a descision, but once made cannot revisit the process, and trudges forward knowing it was wrong in the first place. Such a person cannot and will not change the direction even if it kills him. Such a person has no feelings about others, and very little self-awareness. At least this has been my experience.

Kanwaldeep Arneja Products & People

December 2nd, 2015

I have. I had to read up on such books to understand how I can work best with him as he was certainly much smarter than me.

Best thing is to let them be. Don't interrupt when their creative juices are flowing, rather channel. Approach them with precise clear questions , like what is 2+2. You will always be an idiot to them so never take it personally, due to obvious reasons. They are best tools for getting prototypes in place and they have an amazing throughput. Just need to find out what excites them and set up a mutual protocol on how they are going to deliver otherwise they will keep working on priorities that do not align with team goals.

Best people-experience of my life so far.