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Businesses Programming Idle

Autism Traits Prove Valuable for Software Testing 180

Back in 2009 we ran a story about a Chicago based non-profit company that trained high-functioning autistic people to be software testers. Two years later Aspiritech has grown to offer services in Belgium, Japan and Israel. Autistic debuggers are used by large clients like Oracle and Microsoft and have proven to be so good in fact that companies are now recruiting to meet demand. From the article: "Aspiritech's board of directors includes social service providers, therapists, a vocational expert and a software engineer. The nonprofit also received start-up advice and consultation from Keita Suzuki, who has co-founded a similar company, called Kaien, in Japan. Aspiritech has hired and trained seven recruits with Asperger's syndrome. These recruits have since worked on software-testing projects for smartphone and cloud-computing applications. Aspiritech now offers functional-, compatibility- and regression-testing, as well as test-case development, with experience in cloud-computing platforms including Salesforce."
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Autism Traits Prove Valuable for Software Testing

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Is just recruit people who bought minecraft. It's really part of the same population set, but these one's are already used to using computers for 10 hours a day doing the same repetitive thing over and over.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ... but these one's are already used to using computers for 10 hours a day doing the same repetitive thing over and over.

      And you hit up Slashdot how many times a day?

  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @08:02PM (#37619498) Journal

    Autism Traits Prove Valuable for Software Testing

    Not to mention for con artists scamming gullible parents of children with autism into believing widely used vaccines caused their kids' disorder, rather than the genes they pass on to said children.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Those people seem pretty dedicated to scamming themselves.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by RobinEggs ( 1453925 )
      We don't have the faintest idea, when you get down to it, what causes autism. There's a whole damn pile of candidate genes, but none of them have been linked to a mechanism or even definitively linked to a particular mutation or other defect within the gene itself.

      We know about as much about autism, really, as alchemists knew about chemistry. Just because we understand genetics and ecology on a limited level doesn't mean we've made even one firm, proven conclusion about the source of autism.
      • Re:And.... (Score:5, Informative)

        by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @08:51PM (#37620532)

        But we do know that autism isn't caused by vaccines.

        • by jamesh ( 87723 )

          OTOH, reactions to vaccines do happen, and in some cases can be fatal. If a reaction was near-fatal, it could cause brain damage (eg heart stops beating for long enough that bits of the brain starts to die) and the resulting mental disability could share symptoms with autism. One case would be all the nutjobs need to 'prove' their link.

          The way I see it, even if there was a 1-in-a-million chance of something bad happening as a result of vaccination, it is more likely that something bad will happen if you don

        • by Lennie ( 16154 )

          I'm sure it is possible to find at least a few cases where it might be the cause.

          But that doesn't justify stopping with vaccines.

          The vaccines safe a lot of lives.

          If there is one thing people can do is to find a gen which helps predict the cause of these cases and test for the gen before vaccination.

      • Re:And.... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Diamonddavej ( 851495 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @09:03PM (#37620680)

        Dozens of identical/fraternal twin studies, initially carried out in the 70s, prove unquestionably that autism is up to 92% genetic. While it's been hard to point to specific genetic anomalies that cause it, it does not invalidate its genetic roots. The genetics of autism is more nuanced and complex than we realised, as are other inherited conditions, it's not genes but also involves e.g. copy number variations.

        Bailey, A., Le Couteur, A., Gottesman, I., Bolton, P., Simonoff, E., Yuzda, E. & Rutter, M. 1995. Autism as a strongly genetic disorder: evidence from a British twin study. Psychological Medicine 25(1), 63-77.

        Glessner, J.T., et al., 2009. Autism genome-wide copy number variation reveals ubiquitin and neuronal genes. Nature 459(7246), 569-573.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          No, unfortunately, if only it where that simple. Womb environment cannot be separated from genetic or epigenetic influence via these methods which only conciser one generation, or even for grandparent/ parent/ child traces, particularly because all three can be multi-generational. Womb environment can appear to have affects 2 generations after the trigger if you are pregnant with a girl at the time of the trigger (as eggs are formed during gestation not after birth). Epigenetic effects although non genet

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by rla3rd ( 596810 )
          And the most recent twin study proves that autism is largely environmental.

          "But surprisingly, mathematical modeling suggested that only 38 percent of the cases could be attributed to genetic factors, compared with the 90 percent suggested by previous studies."

          This study would disagree with you.
          http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/health/research/05autism.html [nytimes.com]
          • So you're saying that the diagnostic criteria the ASD's are so broad that it covers disorders caused by genetic and environmental factors?

            Or that the ASD symptom set is representative of disorders which can be caused by BOTH environmental and genetic factors?

            Sounds like the criteria need to be re-written.
      • Re:And.... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @09:04PM (#37620696) Homepage

        Science only very rarely shows that some hypothesis is correct. More often, it shows that every other tested hypothesis is wrong, and that the one that's left is just the most likely.

        The "vaccines cause autism" hypothesis has been tested, and is shown to most likely be wrong. The "magic space fairy causes autism" hypothesis hasn't yet been tested, or the "too many hard sneezes while pregnant causes autism" hypothesis, nor a few hundred others. We have such a long way to go...

    • By the way, there is a very interesting Sci-fi book called The Speed of Dark [amazon.com] where Autism is central to the story (In terms of Sci-fi, it's a near future type of Sci-fi, so it really isn't about science-fiction if that's what you're looking for). This same idea reminds me of that book. All the analysts had a particular form of Autism.

      The audio version is quite good. I actually didn't read the book, but just listened to its full audio version.

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @08:05PM (#37619578) Homepage Journal

    do well at software testing. That's really the story here. Autism is irreverent. This very idea is based upon a lot of wrong information about people with Autism.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Wish I could mod you up.

      Hollywood's sensationalism has brought us the comic-book idea of what is essentially "game balance" in real life. In real life, you don't gain magical super powers just because you're blind and you aren't somehow a super-genius just because you're shy, introverted and obsessed with details. Autism is not a romantic backstory about how a young boy was crippled at an early age and then developed his mental powers to overcome this weakness. One does not gain flaws for points to spend on

      • It doesn't make you a genius, but it does make you valuable in certain fields. The cytotechnologists who review Pap smears and kick all the remotely abnormal ones to a pathologist are people with a desire to do a repetitive job requiring attention to detail. Accountants, too.
    • Yeah my son plays piano and we attended a graduation ceremony where every child played one piece. One boy spent the whole time fiddling with a bit of string attached to his father's bag. When it was his turn to play his parents prompted him to walk down to the front of the room where he stood for a bit, clearly put off by the number of people there. After a moment he sat down at the piano and played like practically nobody I have ever heard before. Then he finished, walked back to his seat and continued to

      • I don't even that this is autism. I think its asbergers.

        The way you're saying that, it doesn't really make any sense. Think of it like a line between "normal" and (stereotypical) autism. Asperger syndrome is somewhere between them.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism_spectrum [wikipedia.org]

        • The term "spectrum" is a bit misleading and gives the impression of being one-dimensional, like an "autism score from 0-100". The very page you've linked to shows it's a bit more multi-dimensional than that. Essentially, there's a collection of different symptoms (say, ABCDE), and if you've got some of them, you have a Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD). If you've got ALL of them (ABCDE) you've got a really bad case of utterly low-functioning autism, but that's fantastically rare. If you've got ABC but no
    • by msobkow ( 48369 )

      Asperger's is a mild form of autism. One of it's characteristics is that the people who have it focus very intently on what they're doing for extended periods of time. As a result, they make excellent programmers and testers because they'll put in hours without even realizing the time has gone by.

      In a sense, Asperger's is almost the reverse of ADD.

      • The interesting thing is that it's common to have both.

        • The interesting thing is that it's common to have both.

          The really interesting thing is that parents can ignore the cognitive dissonance of accepting that their precious snowflake can lurch between having autism and the ability to spend twelve hours staring at a ame of minecraft because they enjoy it, and ADD where they can't sit still and read a book for five minutes because they don't enjoy reading.,

      • by MarkRose ( 820682 ) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @03:34AM (#37623160) Homepage

        I wouldn't say it's the reverse. They're more like expressions of the same thing. With ADD, attention is side tracked in many different ways. With Asperger's Syndrome, the attention is stuck on a few special interests. That can work fantastically well if the aspie finds the topic at hand interesting, but can be fantastically awful if the topic is uninteresting. Myself, I have a great deal of trouble focusing on anything I'm not interested in and usually find my thinking returning to my special interest de jour. One trick I use when faced with a boring task is to find a clever or more optimal way to do it, since that challenge can make it more interesting. In either case, the challenge is what makes it easy for me to get in the zone and work at something for hours, but being interrupted while in the zone is frustrating and I'll usually avoid getting in the zone if I'm likely to be interrupted within an hour or two and my output will be low. I often wonder what it's like to be "normal" and to be able to get stuff done while only being half focused (not in the zone).

        • An off-topic question:

          In your comment, you used the word "aspie", which I've heard a few times before. Is it appropriate for folks who are not autistic to use the term, or is it similar to use of the "N-word" by some black folk?

          Just curious :)
          • by sosume ( 680416 )

            The term 'aspie' refers to someone presumably diagnosed with the Asperger syndrome. Most visitors here would fit that description.

            • Yes, I know. My question was whether it was only appropriate for persons with Asperger's syndrome to use the term, much like it is now somewhat only appropriate for black people to use the word "nigger".
              • Yes, I know. My question was whether it was only appropriate for persons with Asperger's syndrome to use the term, much like it is now somewhat only appropriate for black people to use the word "nigger".

                I guess so. If others around me call me an "aspie", it bothers the crap out of me. I just hate the term, not because of what it means, but because of the sound of the word. I know, I know. I'm weird. I hate the word "inappropriate", as well. It's because it was overused on me when I was in school. Call me a bad kid or a jerk that isn't following the rules all you want, but don't call me a repetitively used term that isn't necessarily true -OR- fitting of the components.

                If someone else wants to be cal

            • The term 'aspie' refers to someone presumably diagnosed with the Asperger syndrome. Most visitors here would fit that description.

              Self -diagnosed normally.

          • The autistic equivalent of Nigger is "Neurotypical". Most autistics realize that social skills are hard, but the lack of social skills makes us far better than NTs at other stuff.

          • I much prefer the term aspie to aspergian. Some kind of shorthand must be used in lieu of "a person afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome." I would not be offended if someone used the term aspie at all. As the thread has shown, others may be. I think a lot depends on context. If someone is trolling, then yes, it can be derogatory, but my own default feelings about the term are positive.

          • Agreed with MarkRose, I don't see it as an attack like the N-word would be. It is a descriptive word that happens to describe me.

        • Meanwhile, in real life, people have to do a lot of uninteresting stuff. It's called being an adult.

          It may come as a surprise, but most people would love to be able to sit down uninterrupted and get "in the zone" but in reality thereare children, co-workers,bosses, customers and so on.
          • by spiralx ( 97066 ) *

            Yeah, and people should just turn that frown upside-down and get on with things! And people who suffer traumatic events should just gosh-darn get over it and move on with their life.

            It's good to see that mental health problems are nothing more than childish behaviour!

    • by aXis100 ( 690904 )

      Sure, you can train someone to be a good software tester, but it is so mind-numbingly boring that most people loose focus eventually, take shortcuts and miss those edge cases that is the whole point of software testing.

      I guess they are saying that people with Autism have a capacity for detailed, repetitive work that far exceeds regular people.

      • Which is what psychologists say as well.

      • Software testing is not boring. Most people ignore or don't understand what is software testing. They just think it's just about using a software following a given written scenario (the test case). That's only a small part of the job, and when it's repetitive you have to automate it.

    • by Diamonddavej ( 851495 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @09:40PM (#37621076)

      Autism is not irrelevant. Cognitive style of autism can be positively used in employment, once a workplace understands autism's specific strengths. The most salient features are Weak Central Coherence and Need for Routine. If workplace adapts to the autistic cognitive style, everyone will benefit. There is too much focus on deficits rather then splinter skills and cognitive strengths.

      Weak Central Coherence - means autistic people are detail obsessed, they observe smallest parts and elements of the environment, and construct the overall picture from individual parts. This is ideal for identifying and spotting anomalies in software, identifying mistakes, dealing with information. For example, it's been known for years that autistic people are far superior in locating hidden features in the Embedded Figures Test.

      Need for Routine - repetitive and otherwise boring tasks are soothing, enjoyed and relaxing. Furthermore, attention is not lost nor mistakes made, when autistic person is engaged in repetitive tasks.

    • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @09:55PM (#37621216) Homepage

      Autism is irreverent.

      Man, I don't go in for formality either, but I don't think autism is any more irreverent than any other disease. ~

      • It's not a disease.
        A disease can be cured.

        This is a personality type which happens to have trouble with a lot of things normal people take for granted while being strong in other aspects which may or may not be helpful.

    • This very idea is based upon a lot of wrong information about people with Autism.

      Well, it probably does depend on the kind of autism someone has.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Wasn't this an episode of Ghost in the Shell?

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @08:15PM (#37619832)

    Now out side debuggers / testers do have there up's and downs but at times having ones that are in the same place as the people doing the coding is better with less trun around time.

    Now I hope that they are being payed for the long hours with full over time pay.

    • I would say that testing your own code is the worst thing to do, as you know how it works and will (possibly subconsciously) input data which will either work, or bomb out gracefully. By all means to some quick debugging yourself, but you need fresh eyes to test your system properly.

      It just so happens that aspies seem to perform this task remarkably well.
      • I would say that testing your own code is the worst thing to do, as you know how it works and will (possibly subconsciously) input data which will either work, or bomb out gracefully. By all means to some quick debugging yourself, but you need fresh eyes to test your system properly.

        It just so happens that aspies seem to perform this task remarkably well.

        I found a bug in a Java servlet at a fortune-500 company that a TEAM of over 50 software engineers spent MONTHS of time and hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment to try and find it, in order to fix it. Really, they only allowed a memory leak to last longer until the garbage collect cycled into a non-stop loop.

        I found the bug in less than 5 minutes. Guess what happened to me after I found it? Anyone who didn't guess that I was "let go for mysterious reasons" doesn't have Asperger's ;)

      • I would say that testing your own code is the worst thing to do, as you know how it works and will (possibly subconsciously) input data which will either work, or bomb out gracefully.

        Testing your own code should *always* be the first step in the testing process. Ideally, stepping through it line by line. It's precisely because you know how it works that you are the best person to do this. Knowing it will soon be handed over to a testing team can help eliminate any inherent bias you may have, but even if it doesn't, it should increase the quality of code that is being tested later in the process.

    • Now I hope that they are being payed for the long hours with full over time pay.

      I wish...unfortunately, many jobs in technical fields are exempt employees.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    http://www.deredactie.be/permalink/1.1086311 if you speak Dutch, since they advertised in the local paper for people with autism.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have asperger.. I'm glad that there's more & more peeps who see that its not a disability; but rather a unique way of looking at the world.

    Its really not the same worldpicture you 'normals' see... I can really get upset if i see 'wrongs' in this world. Just as i feel in a way that it's the same as seeing 'wrongs' in software or hardware. I wont be able to put it behind me; or just to buy something to make me feel good... Or just accept that my boss says its the rigth thing; or that there's no money or

    • Your Asperger's apparently does not extend to grammar or punctuation.
      • Actually, learning to leave mistakes in writing and "just write" is a big part of coping as a kid. I'd bet the GP that typed that could tell you every typo in the post. From memory. Getting past the errors is what Asperger's kids in particular cannot get over. They have mini panic attacks over every little mistake. It looks like ADD because they cannot process past life's little hiccups and retreat to something routine and familiar, like meaningless facts.

    • How old were you when you were diagnosed?
    • However- getting to that level makes losing a job feel like a divorce.

  • Seriously, I'm pretty sure Autism traits are just generally valuable in many programming and computer related situations, and it is not at all uncommon for engineers to have some basic Autistic traits. I kinda thought this was common knowledge.

    Still, it's nice seeing an effort to integrate some of those have have more social issues into productive jobs.
  • The title says it all. It's just a logical extension of division of labor, really. Forget the current reprogenetics tendencies and the development of genetic screening of embryos; in short order we'll be making better workers. I can just imagine the advertisements for workers with genes turned off for boredom for repetitive low skill tasks, soldiers with atrophied brain areas responsible for emotion, and all the other goodies. Welcome to the new utopia/dystopia (depending on whether you're an employer or e
  • by Flere Imsaho ( 786612 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @11:23PM (#37621910)

    Maybe it's just me, but this reminds me of focus from Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky.

    • by Geminii ( 954348 )
      There are definite similarities, to the point that I wonder if Vinge was only slightly exaggerating the "in the zone" focus known to people who really get into their work while hours slip by. Artists, programmers, people who build toothpick replicas of battleships - it can happen to almost anyone.
  • By specifically using high functioning autistic people, you are already making the exemption that invalidates the whole concept. High functioning means that they can more or less function in a normal environment, doing normal work and living a normal work. Over 10% of the IT workforce I've been in the last 10 years, has been high functioning autistic people, including administrators, DBAs, penetration testers, indeed software testers, and even a team leader. Come back when you can use every "rain man" offer
  • It's about a hundred dollars...

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