Two MIT Grads Founded A Startup That Almost Exclusively Employs People On The Autism Spectrum
A new start-up company is tapping into a largely underutilized resource, employees with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The company is called ULTRA testing and it is a software testing company founded in 2012 by two former MIT roommates, Rajesh Anandan and Art Shectman. Anandan has always believed that people with disabilities are an underutilized, but talented group. He is not wrong. Many talented people are shut out from jobs that they are qualified to do because employers can’t look past their disabilities. This is especially the case for individuals with ASD who although many have average to above average IQs and research suggest that they have heightened abilities in pattern recognition and logical reasoning, they often do poorly in job interviews which test their social skills rather than their work abilities. Anandan and Schectman founded ULTRA on the belief that the characteristics that make individual with ASD have trouble in traditional working environments makes them perfect for this job. For instance individuals with ASD partake in repetitive behaviors. This job is to test the same thing over and over again on multiple devices. For a typically developing person this task would become boring quickly, but for ULTRA employees the repetitiveness of the task keeps them focused. The company finds its talent by posting job openings on advocacy groups such as the Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership. Due to such high employment among the Autism community, the company can receive 150 applications in only 72 hours. So far the company has ten testers who make between $15 to $20 per hour and work part time. By the end of the year ULTRA expects to make $1 million dollars in revenue and add 15 to 20 new testers. In three years they plan to expand to between 250 to 300 testers. But employment is not the only thing that ULTRA is providing to these individuals with ASD, they are also providing these individuals with a place to make friends and have fun. One employee, Mark Leslie, recalls "When they first started inviting me to come into the office, or to a drinks night they have every now and again, I would just kind of say, 'You know, I'm kind of a little bit nervous because I’m kind of socially awkward, and Art Shectman just kind of looked at me, and he was, like, 'Mark, have you seen our team? Everyone’s socially awkward.'"
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