Megan Roddie, Senior Security Analyst at Recon InfoSec, LLC, chats with Selena Templeton, host of Diverse IT on ITSPmagazine, about her personal experiences as someone with Asperger’s Syndrome working in cybersecurity and how companies can be more inclusive towards neurodiverse folks.
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In my conversation with Megan, she shares her story about getting into cybersecurity and how having Asperger’s Syndrome has both helped her and been a bit of a challenge. At age 14 she started taking college courses and at 16 she decided to get a math degree (and a minor in digital forensics) just because she liked math. Not only was she in college at the age of 16 and living away from home, but she was doing this with Aspergers.
She’d never thought about cybersecurity until one year when she had no summer plans and learned about an intern program at the Texas Department of Public Safety; it was just something to do during the summer, and when she got there she learned about cybersecurity with almost no background or knowledge and fell in love with it.
I asked Megan for her definition of neurodiversity and Asperger’s Syndrome, and she started out by telling me that she’s had psychologists and special ed teachers tell her she’s using the wrong terminology, but on Twitter there is a large and supportive Autistic community who were saying: “Why are all these people telling us what we should and should not call ourselves?”
And it doesn’t help that Asperger’s is no longer an official diagnosis in psychiatric practice; as of the publication of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 diagnostic manual [note: link opens a PDF] in 2013, it is now included in the single diagnosis “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)”. So Megan uses the terms Aspergers, Autism, and High Functioning Autistic (HFA) interchangeably.
It varies from person to person, of course, but Megan provides some characteristics and direct examples of herself as an HFA:
She does best with as much routine as possible, no surprises
She finds it difficult to interpret things like social behaviors and social nuances, so give it to her straight
Her emotional reactions to normal things are 10x greater, like throwing a tantrum when her car breaks down rather than saying ‘oh bummer, I guess I’ll call a mechanic’
Her need for objectivity is related to her very logical brain and works very well with computers
Her passion for what she does goes to the extreme, so she can stay focused for long periods of time
She can get very obsessive about things, especially certain topics, but with focus she can funnel that obsession towards becoming an expert on a subject
By the way, because of this obsession or attention to detail, the Israeli Army’s Visual Intelligence Division hires people with Autism (who would otherwise be disqualified for military service) to look at hourly satellite images to spot the slight differences that may indicate potential enemy movement.
Megan provides some advice for how companies can be more inclusive towards HFAs:
Job descriptions can turn an HFA off because they take the language very literally, so if it says ‘two years experience in XYZ required’, and she has only 1.5 years, it never occurs to her to apply anyway. The language is too specific for someone who thinks objectively (zeros and ones): they’re either qualified or not based on exact numbers; they either have 4 years experience in this specific subject or they don’t.
College degrees. Companies tend to require college degrees, but many neurodiverse individuals aren’t suited for the 4-year academic environment, so they’re automatically discounting a lot of folks who didn’t go to college but are self-educated and could have the same, if not more, knowledge than a college graduate. Getting rid of the educational requirements and focusing on the actual skills and knowledge of the individual is important.
Interview processes are biased towards people who have strong social skills, so for someone like Megan who tends to fidget or has difficulty making eye contact, she can come across poorly. Plus, a bad interviewer can make the interview worse for neurodiverse people by not looking past that, by not focusing on their skills and experience – especially if the job is never going to require them to interact with customers or even a lot of other employees. Ideally, the job interview for neurodiverse folks would be an actual hands-on interview, rather than an artificial sit-down, face-to-face, Q&A interview.
To learn more about neurodiversity, Autism and Asperger’s:
About Megan Roddie
Megan Roddie is a Sr. Security Analyst with Recon InfoSec. She recently graduated with her Master’s in Digital Forensics and also holds her GCIH and GCFA. As a 21-year old with Asperger’s Syndrome (High Functioning Autism), Megan offers a unique perspective in any topic she discusses. Megan can articulate her struggles and how small modifications in daily life have made her successful.
Find Megan on Twitter.