EPIC collaborates with IT experts to boost career prospects for people with autism

Friday, 23 March 2018

Two IT experts are helping boost career prospects for people with autism through an innovative new software testing program. EPIC Testability Academy (ETA) is the brainchild of Dr Lee Hawkins and Paul Seaman, both of whom are passionate about increasing workplace diversity while filling a gap in their sector. Once the men joined forces with EPIC Assist, it was full steam ahead.

“Both Paul and I have been involved in community-based events around software testing in the past, and were looking for a new opportunity to give back,” said Lee.

As the inaugural 12-week course draws to a close, both men reflect on what has been an insightful teaching experience.

“Society tends not to look at the differences people who are not ‘mainstream’ can bring to the workplace. We were very interested in creating opportunities for those that may have struggled in the past,” said Paul.

“For some reason, there is a focus on what people with disability can’t do, whereas for everyone else there is a focus on ability and what they can do. That’s a strange bias and one that robs many workplaces of the chance to tap into new ways of thinking.”

“Sure, there are some things that people on the spectrum are challenged with, but that’s true of everyone.”

The team say these types of programs are also beneficial for strengthening the IT sector.

“As more and more aspects of our lives are impacted by software, building up the skills of the next generation of software professionals is a critical and ever-expanding challenge,” said Lee.

“There is still very little treatment of software testing as a challenging, intellectual endeavour in formal higher education IT courses, and we see this as a big gap to fill. The role that humans have to play in excellent software testing shouldn’t be underestimated.”

The skills and enthusiasm exhibited by the students have impressed the pair, both of whom have not previously taught or worked alongside students on the spectrum.

“As this is new ground for us both, we didn’t quite know what to expect. But the students have grasped new concepts quickly and been willing to be actively involved in discussions,” said Lee.

“Another thing we’ve noticed is the students’ ability to ‘think outside the box’. Software testing is not the rote, repetitive job people think it may be, so it’s been great to see the students come up with highly creative ideas and solutions to problems.”

“I think it is this ability to think differently that will be of great value if they choose to pursue careers in software testing after this course.”

Both Paul and Lee have dedicated their time and expertise free of charge, with countless hours also committed to planning and creating the curriculum. EPIC Assist also provided hands-on support during classes and contributed to other costs associated with ETA.

“Our aim has always been to give students a broad basic knowledge of software testing, with an emphasis on practical skills and hands-on testing over theory,” explains Paul.

“We’re really looking forward to our next group of students and applying some of the lessons learned from our first ETA course.”