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Autistic Consultants Test Software

Will Collett has worked at Auticon for about two years and has loved his experience with the global technology firm where he does software testing and manages the company’s U.S. operations website. But what sets Collett and Auticon apart from other tech consulting firms is that he and many of his co-workers are autistic. “I just love the fact that we have an opportunity to grow,” Collett said in an interview at the firm’s Woodland Hills office. “You don’t have to worry about being your real self with other people when we all have at least one thing in common.” Headquartered in Berlin, Auticon GmBH entered the U.S. market two years ago with the acquisition of MindSpark Inc., a Santa Monica company that hires adults with autism and other developmental disabilities to test software for various companies. Rebecca Beam, who works out of the San Fernando Valley as president of the U.S. division, said that typically software developers will outsource their quality assurance and testing responsibilities to companies in India, China or the Philippines. “We help them keep it onshore and we employ individuals on the spectrum,” Beam said. Potential employees of Auticon start with a four-week training program where they learn manual software testing and are introduced to automated testing, which involves coding and more advanced technical skills. After graduating from that program, they are brought on for a 250-hour paid internship, in which they take what they learned in the classroom and apply it to practical projects. “They are paired with another autistic analyst as their mentor so that they can work side-by-side and show how what they learned can be applied,” Beam said. Paige Binsley, one of the newest interns, said she did not have a technical background when she learned about Auticon. She had graduated from USC with a degree in biology before finding out she was on the spectrum. “As an intern, I am learning the ropes and adjusting,” said Binsley, who lives in Westlake Village. “I am assigned to a project, so I am in daily meetings and assigned tasks for that.” The training program is free for the students, but there is no promise of being employed when they complete it, Beam said. To be considered for the program, a person needs a high school diploma and must undergo an assessment process to determine their ability, cognitive skills, coachability and how well will they do in a classroom setting, she added. Matt Fitzpatrick, who started working full-time for Auticon in August, said that as a quality assurance analyst his job is to get on a website and try to break it by figuring out the weaknesses. “We had one website where when you hovered the cursor over the text, the text turned invisible. You couldn’t read it,” Fitzpatrick said. “They had to put a hotfix on it. Hopefully nobody noticed other than us here.” “We are looking for any type of little bug that could exist in software,” Beam added. A month ago, Auticon received a capital investment of $2.95 million with a significant portion coming from an investor group led by Ferst Capital Partners, in Montreal. This investment will support Auticon in expanding its North American footprint, with new offices in Columbus, Ohio and Salt Lake City. The Woodland Hills office opened in the summer. It is one three Auticon facilities in the Los Angeles area, with the others in Santa Monica and Culver City. Between the three offices there are 45 employees, with 35 of them on the spectrum, Beam said. “The company has invested in getting us up and running here and we will continue to grow out this office,” she added.

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