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Commitment to help support people with disabilities

Microsoft launches a pilot program for hiring autistic workers


Microsoft is looking to recruit yet another type of diverse employee. A new piloting program focuses 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. The technology industry has already been doing pioneering work to help educate children with autism.
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Microsoft plans to first launch the program with about 10 candidates. The effort was announced in a blog post by Mary Ellen Smith, a corporate VP who has a 19-year-old autistic son. 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.

In 2014, Microsoft added coverage to its self-funded insurance plan to cover a pricey but promising therapy for autistic children. That move was followed by a number of other tech companies, including Intel, Qualcomm, Apple, Cisco Systems and Oracle.

The tech industry has been working to bring awareness around autism and also to develop products that help. The iPad and other tablets combined with specialized software have been a particular boon.

Applicants interested in the positions can email their resumes to Microsoft at msautism@microsoft.com.

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