When data science recruits autistic people

Auticonsult is one of the first IT consulting and services companies in France to specifically employ people on the autism spectrum for missions related to IT development and data exploitation. Its coaches made the Serenicity start-up’s teams aware of autism and accompanied these atypical employees at every stage of their mission.

The data sector is currently experiencing a real boom. There is a strong demand for recruitment, but there are not enough candidates trained in data exploitation and analysis in this market. These jobs require a strong knowledge of mathematics, statistics and computer science, but also rigor, analytical skills and memory. These are skills in which autistic people excel. However, their difficulties in social interaction require a specific support in the professional environment. Working in a group, leading a team, meeting deadlines and managing stress are all obstacles to their professional integration. Training in business communication and on-the-job support are therefore essential. To alleviate the difficulties of consultants on the autism spectrum – which reside mainly in the social and communication areas – Auticonsult offers a coaching service to its clients.

Co-founded in September 2015 by Flora and Franck Thiébaut, along with Manfred Moll, this IT consulting and services company is one of the first in France to specifically employ people on the autism spectrum. The company is a subsidiary of Auticon, which launched this social enterprise model in Germany in 2011. It currently has 16 branches in 8 different countries (France, Germany, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Italy, United States, Canada, Australia) and more than 210 autistic consultants on staff. According to Flora Thiébaut, clinical psychologist and co-founder of Auticonsult France, the qualities of autistic people represent a real added value for the world of work, and particularly in the fields of information technology. “Precision, relentless logic, speed of execution, ability to concentrate, pattern recognition and ease in spotting errors are among the qualities that distinguish our consultants”, she confided. They are able to respond in an efficient and innovative way to the needs of the IT department in areas such as big data and development, cybersecurity, testing and software migration. Their strength?

A different view of data

For the executive, people on the autism spectrum have special cognitive abilities, a keen sense of detail and a quirky outlook that allows them to quickly make choices and manipulate computer programming like nobody else! “Computer scientists on the autism spectrum are able to find recurring algorithms in a pile of chaotic data,” says Flora Thiébaut. She believes that having autistic and non-autistic professionals on mixed project teams opens up perspectives and often significantly improves work performance. The consulting group’s autistic employees are deployed on client projects that match their skills and expertise, and they work as part of the client’s project team.  Specially trained “job coaches” provide autistic consultants with in-company communication training and job coaching.

The group also provides companies with autism awareness services and ergonomic adaptation of the job if necessary. These coaches then remain available as advisors to the autistic employee, his or her manager and colleagues. Cyrille Elsen, CIO at Serenicity, a cybersecurity company targeting SMEs and VSEs, testifies to a successful collaboration with the auticonsult teams. By being accompanied by professionals, we manage to establish contact with people with incredible cognitive abilities,” reports the former CIO of the Casino group. “This first experience of collaboration with Auticonsult lasted two years, which was quite exceptional because in general we call on consultants for short missions and sometimes it doesn’t always work out as we would have liked,” he added.

At Serenicity, the focus was on coaching

According to him, it is exactly the opposite that happened during Serenicity’s first collaboration with these talents endowed with an extraordinary cognitive strength that allows them to develop very complex algorithms. “In remote mode, our autistic collaborator managed to design an AI module dedicated to cybersecurity and provide a deliverable,” says the executive. However, to make it work, the company organized itself to integrate its consultant as well as possible. It readapted some of its processes, sensitized its teams who were willing to play the game and especially listened to the advice of Auticonsult’s coaches. If the need arises at the beginning of the mission, these mentors intervene, for example, to help people make the various journeys to the workplace.

They can also act as mediators between the client and the consultant, offering the individual support that consultants need to be productive at work and guiding them on the technical or functional aspects of their assignments. For the manager, it is the establishment of such an ecosystem that makes it work. Without support, we can quickly be confronted with complicated situations that can put teams at risk,” warns Cyril Elsen. “Now it’s management like any other with employees who have particularities like others within a company,” concludes the CIO. 


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