Autism in Tech..

At VMware we have a private slack channel for neurodiverse employees. One day someone asked if anyone in the group was at a P5 or higher (these are professional levels inside VMware). Unfortunately it was only myself and one other individual who said they were. I’m a P7 (Senior Staff), the other happened to be a VP. I was asked to share my story so I figured I’d share it here just in case it could benefit anyone else as well.

For the longest time I knew I was different. Growing up I was never really close with anyone, I had a singular friend at a time because that’s all I could handle. When someone else came along I moved on to that person leaving the previous friend behind. This pattern followed me into adulthood. 

People in general have always been a mystery to me, I don’t understand emotions, I can not read people and I’ve been told I lack empathy. It’s not that I don’t like people but I never know what to say to them, and feel anxious and am awkward in social situations such as parties. I usually either end up somewhere quiet by myself or at my wife’s side. 

While I realized I was different I didn’t think I was that different or it was a problem. My wife through the years would joke, or so I thought, and tell me she thought I had Aspergers. I always shrugged it off. That was until sometime in 2017, several things I had seen on TV shows and movies, like Scorpion or the Accountant, made me stop and re-evaluate as I could relate to those characters, even see myself in them. 

I did some research and found that they don’t actually diagnose Aspergers anymore, but the symptoms were very much me. I made an appointment to find out for sure which Courtney attended with me, for support but also to keep me honest. I think I could probably fool anyone into thinking I was neurotypical, I’d been doing it my entire life with varying degrees of success. At the end of the two hours he confirmed our suspension, I am a person on the autism spectrum. I see and interpret the world differently than the typical person. At 40 I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

It was both a relief and a gut punch in one blow. I now know why I have no friends, don’t pick up on emotions, have a lack of empathy, why I’m a nice guy but am off in my self consumed world. It would have been easier to hear, no you’re just a self centered asshole, that I could fix, this well there’s no cure. Sure I can work on learning social cues and picking up on emotions, etc, but I’ll never be neurotypical. And that is pretty damn scary to realize at 40.

This wasn’t a formal diagnosis, after I let all that sink in I found a doctor who could perform a formal diagnosis. It took a little over 6 months to get in to see her for an initial consultation. She believed I had what would be Aspergers and had me come back a few weeks later for the formal tests, my wife had to come and answer a bunch of questions as well. I was there for four hours in all. A few weeks later I received the letter in the mail, I was officially diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

So with that out of the way, how did I make it to the Senior Staff level? Well I’ve been in IT since 1998 and made it to this level in 2019, it took a lot of time, it took a lot of constant learning. Much like my journey to become a VCDX, my journey to this spot in my career has taken a lot of hard work. By no means am I saying a neurotypical person can get to this level easily, it’s a hard spot to get inside of VMware, but for someone on the spectrum I think it was much harder.

I tend to get fixated on one thing, I always have. Once I start something I have to finish it, and not just say it’s done, but actually do it to a level I’ve set in my mind or I can’t move on to the next thing. This has both helped and hurt me in my career. It’s hard being in this industry and have a single focus at times. When I started in 1998 it was all about Novell Netware, from there I moved on to Windows NT then obviously into Active Directory and I branched out and did Exchange and SQL. Still keeping up with those, I changed my main focus to Citrix Metaframe for a few years, then I saw my first vMotion and was blown away. Still being the Citrix guy at a large oil company I continued on down that route until one day in early 2007 when our team lead asked all of us senior guys what we wanted to do to next. My options were take over Active Directory or Virtual Infrastructure. Since that point I’ve been 100% VMware focused and ended up joining the company in April of 2012.

When I joined VMware I was a Senior Consultant in PSO. I loved this as I got to work on one project at a time for one customer at a time until it was finished, I was perfect for me. The down side was the social interaction, I could fake it for about 8 hours a day but it was exhausting, and at that time I had no idea why. The other downside was the 4 or sometimes 5 days a week I was away from home, by this point in my life I had 3 little kids at home.

After 18 months I moved into technical marketing which again was a great gig, I got to work with engineering and PM’s on the vCloud Suite, travel to places like Japan and Malaysia to talk to the field for Tech Summit’s, present at VMworld and Partner Exchange, it was a great time and one that forced me out of my comfort zone into things like public speaking which I always avoided.

Around two years later I joined the VMware Validated Design architecture team. This was like a dream team of architects and still to this day some of my fondest memories at VMware. We all were passionate about what we were building and the customers using it and I believe it showed in our work. While I was on this team I was promoted to a Staff II.

I was on the VVD team for just over four years when I had two different Senior Directors from the same business unit ask me if I was interested in a Senior Staff position they had open. As scary as it was to leave the VVD team I took the position which I started on October 1st 2019. It’s been a fun ride and one I probably wouldn’t change much of. I’m still in the Telco and Edge Cloud business unit at VMware and continue to challenge myself both technically and as a mentor and leader, the last two being the hardest for me.

I really hope this helps someone on their journey. It’s been rough but rewarding at the same time. Advice? I’d say use your differences to your advantage, if like me you have the nagging urge to finish things use it. Start to learn a new skill, you won’t stop until you finish it, how do you know when that is? I use exams and certifications as that judge, which probably explains why I have so many. 😊 Whatever you need to do to fell like you “finished” it, just keep staying current in your skills and learning new ones and the rest will come. Companies are starting to see the value our differences bring and even run hiring events targeted at those on the spectrum. Keep being yourself, don’t try to fake being someone your not, that never works out.

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