In honor of National Disability Employment Month, we interviewed Max, a member of The Arc of the Midlands. A young man with autism, Max’s passion for technology recently led him to pursue and ultimately secure a position at the technology giant Microsoft. Let’s catch up with him to see how his journey to one of the top employers in the world started as well as learn some of his secrets of success.
Max’s path to competitive, integrated employment began at The Arc, and its affiliate, The Arc of the Midlands in South Carolina. Tapping into the parent organization’s The Arc@Work IT training program, Max was quickly connected with two additional organizations: first, Specialisterne USA, the U.S-based affiliate of Specialisterne Foundation. Specialisterne USA mission is to create 100,000 jobs for people with autism in North America, and second, Provail, a Seattle-based agency that assists businesses in hiring and training qualified job seekers with disabilities. Armed with these resources, Max embarked on a hiring process that would lead to the opportunity of a lifetime. He first participated in phone interviews with The Arc of the Midlands, then completed some reading tasks from Specialisterne, and finally, submitted a short project demonstrating his programming abilities. Once this stage was completed, Max flew to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington where he participated in a two-week evaluation period. During this time, he completed short programming assignments, as well as was informally interviewed by several hiring managers. This gave Max the opportunity to showcase his skills and assess fit with various Microsoft teams.
On the last two days of the evaluation period, Max had formal interviews with two hiring managers where he fielded more technical questions. Normally, this would be followed by an additional swath of analytical problems. But, in one of the interviews, the manager voluntarily waived this additional step, explaining “…it was unnecessary…to do a whiteboard problem….as [he] had assessed [his] skills between the informal interviews and reviewing [his] coding assignment”. This manager further advised “The whiteboard problem is one of the most widely used ways to assess a software engineer’s problem-solving skills, and skipping it (especially at Microsoft’s level) was a complete shock”. Even Max’s fellow candidates were amazed!
Shortly after the conclusion of the evaluation period, Max learned that both hiring managers extended a job offer! After much consideration, he accepted the position in the Core Operating System – Windows Fundamentals Division, primarily because of his interest in operating systems development. Shortly after officially accepting, Max eagerly began the on-boarding process.
Max now spends his days coding and engaging in problem solving sessions on Microsoft products. Often, this involves a number of cross-team meetings and lengthy discussions of new features. It is these moments that excite Max the most because he loves “designing and implementing complex solutions to complex problems”. For him, it’s “like solving a puzzle”.
Max is quick to credit The Arc of the Midlands and The Arc@Work for his success in his job search. Beyond guiding him through the initial interview process, staff connected him with rehabilitation services in his new state, and provided him with various resources and training prior to his interview. When asked to advise other job-seekers with disabilities, he comments: “Persistence is the key. Keep working on and refining your strengths and unique skillsets, as you’ll improve on them a lot quicker than your weaknesses…..You’ll eventually find an organization that recognizes your abilities and will hire you.” The new Microsoft hire further implores those currently in the job market to take advantage of all the support The Arc and its chapters have to offer: “[P]lease use resources like The Arc that help people with disabilities. They are more understanding of your situation than any other group out there, and will help you with your job search and your life in general.”