Aut’hentic colleague

20 April 2022

One of our colleagues went on maternity leave at the end of last year. She was replaced by Dorssen: 22 years old, model builder and meticulous tester, who has autism. This is how Dorssen and we experience an inclusive workplace.

Dorssen, consultant at Passwerk - with autism

Hi Dorssen! Let's start with a standard question: how have you experienced working at DNS Belgium up to now? And would you like to come back later?

The work as a tester is very pleasant. Software testing may not seem very exciting in itself. And yet it remains interesting, because I am constantly testing different things. I'm always learning new things which means I continue to grow. DNS Belgium's work is important and, in my opinion, has a positive contribution to society. What we do here is necessary to make every .be domain (web address or email) function. At the moment I'm working on a project to make the .be part of the worldwide web safer, while trying to minimise the impact on its freedom. That gives me satisfaction. I definitely want to come back! 

Passwerk introduced you to us. Can you share anything with us about other work experiences? What was your best or worst work experience? 

This has honestly been my best work experience to date. I used to be a 'inside sales adviser' (that wasn't through Passwerk). It basically meant selling things over the phone. It didn't suit me at all. Because I'm not an extrovert, but also because I prefer giving something positive to people. I'd rather not bother them by selling them something they don't need. 

Sales are not your thing. Where do your strengths lie then?

I have a passion for IT anyway and I am very thorough, which is a very good combination. By nature, I focus on small details. I also have an intuitive understanding of all kinds of programs. That also plays to my advantage as an IT professional or tester.

We're all human beings and everyone deserves equal rights and opportunities. Sometimes we need an active countermovement to get rid of prejudices and stereotypes.

Do you feel (professional) obstacles because you have autism or can you turn that into an advantage?

No, I don't see any obstacles or feel any prejudice. In previous jobs, I sometimes felt like an outsider. There were difficulties in communication, colleagues treated me condescendingly, and I also had a hard time in the sales position. It really wasn't pleasant. But that experience has been completely different at DNS Belgium. Thankfully! 

What can we do at DNS to encourage diversity among our staff? Do you have any ideas about that?

Well, that's a tough question. To be quite honest, I don't have any brilliant insights or strong opinions on this. We're all human beings and everyone deserves equal rights and opportunities. Sometimes we need an active countermovement to get rid of prejudices and stereotypes. That's all I can say on the subject, I'm afraid :)

Kevin, buddy and first point of contact

Hi Kevin, you've been a test engineer at DNS Belgium for more than 10 years now. An experienced hand like you is the ideal buddy for a temporary employee like Dorssen. How exactly did you support him? 

When a new colleague starts at engineering, we normally don't really work with a buddy system. Training a new colleague is a team effort. But in the cooperation with Dorssen, it seemed handy to have a ‘single point of contact’. It immediately created clarity: one person to whom Dorssen could turn with all his questions about the job. 

This year, of course, there was an additional difficulty, due to the obligatory home working period. Communication was less straightforward because of the distance. But thanks to Slack a colleague is always nearby. Every day at 9 a.m. we have a stand-up, which is a video call to discuss the progress of the work and any new assignments. Basically, we go over what's on the agenda for the day.

Is there a difference in working with someone on the autism spectrum? Or do you see a difference in the cooperation with Dorssen compared to the colleague who worked in that position? 

Dorssen is a junior tester, this is his first work experience as a test engineer. We don't need to make a comparison with the colleague he's replacing because she's been with us for 7 years. But if you compare Dorssen with another junior, there is no difference in terms of technical skills. We do check in with him sooner, because he's less likely to ask for help and always tries to find a solution himself. And that's a good thing, that's how you learn the most. When it takes too much time, it's more efficient to ask a colleague for advice. Quick check-ins stimulate this. 

In a meeting with various colleagues Dorssen is usually quieter. If he has questions, he's not likely to ask them in group. Perhaps because it's a little more difficult for him to assess when the moment is right to check something. But we were able to easily anticipate this by proactively involving him in the discussion and making sure everything is clear to him. Nothing insurmountable!

In what aspects does Dorssen stand out for you? 

When Dorssen tests he is particularly focused and he maintains that focus throughout. Not everyone can do that. Many would lose focus much sooner. 

Increasing diversity is not easy

Guy and Nan, you are Team Lead Engineering and HR Manager at DNS Belgium. When one of our colleagues told you she was going on maternity leave at the end of 2021, you started looking for a replacement. How did you find Dorssen? 

Guy: This story actually started a few years ago. A colleague-engineer was planning to take six months leave for the birth of her second child. We didn't want to lose a tester for six months. That's when we called in a Passwerk consultant for the first time. When the same colleague announced that she was expecting her third child, we didn't have any qualms about covering her absence in the same way.

Was it a conscious decision to start working with Passwerk or was it more of a coincidence? 

Guy: It certainly wasn't a coincidence. In 2010, I contracted the first consultants through PassWerk at my previous job (Verizon). At that time Passwerk was still a starting company. I was immediately charmed by their concept. In the end, I worked with about five consultants during that period. And it wasn't a bad choice. Some of them stayed for quite a few years. I'm still in touch with some of them now and again. 

When DNS Belgium was looking for a test consultant, I immediately suggested that we 'shop around' at Passwerk. It took little effort to convince my colleagues. What makes Passwerk so good is that they help you look for a suitable profile. Manual testing, test automation, etc. depending on the requirements, they look for the best 'fit'.

When we have a vacancy for a software developer, we mostly receive CVs from male candidates of the same ethnicity. I myself have not seen a single female applicant in recent years. That is such a shame: more diversity would make our team even stronger.

How does DNS Belgium want to bring together a more diverse group of employees? Which initiatives are still planned? 

Nan: We want to increase the diversity in our company and for that we are clearly taking initiatives. Dorssen, who is a consultant at Passwerk is a case in point.

At the end of last year we were advised by Katrien Van der Heyden (sociologist, gender and diversity expert). With her insights, we started on a diversity plan. With these actions, our employee group should be a better reflection of society. For us it's not only something we wish for, we really want to enrich our organisation.

Guy: Increasing diversity is not easy. If we have a vacancy for a software developer, we mostly receive CVs from male candidates of the same ethnicity. I myself have not seen a single female applicant in recent years. Kind of strange and also frustrating because we're convinced that more diversity makes our team even stronger. It’s difficult finding that diamond in the rough, especially when you’re looking for an experienced engineer.

We already note a change in our internships: lately we've attracted a more diverse group of students. Last year, two students from Ghent with Russian roots, Khava and Vlad, did an internship in our scrum teams. A student with South American roots just joined our team for a few months. 

We really hope that the market of Software and Ops Engineers in Belgium will be more diverse soon. And meanwhile, we look for alternative ways to encourage that diversity. In this way, Passwerk is a step in the right direction and a unique concept.

The fact that there are differences between people can be a great enrichment for a team. It sets in motion a whole new dynamic and teaches us to look at things from different perspectives.

Katrien, Job Coach at Passwerk

When do your consultants come into their own? What does an employer have to take into account?

The feeling of being accepted for who you are is important for every person. Openness, friendliness and positivity are the basis for making someone feel good. If you feel good, you're also able to perform well. And that applies to everyone, whether you have autism or not.

Some tips to better accommodate an autistic employee: 

  • It is best to limit stimuli at the workplace.
  • It is important to keep asking questions.  
  • Give space in a conversation to think and formulate sentences.
  • Predictability works well for them. 
  • Clear communication is important: for example, explain your expectations and social rules. 

Autism may be a familiar concept to many people. But their idea is often determined by films, series or a specific experience with someone with autism. That is why we try to paint a realistic and personal picture of what autism is and where the needs of our consultants lie. We do this with an updated introduction and job coaching. This way, an employer knows in advance how he can start working in an autism-friendly way. Only then does one of our consultants start.

What does diversity at the workplace mean for you? How can employers implement it?

Diversity at the workplace should actually be a no-brainer. From a sociological point of view, it can be explained that we’re somewhat wary of people who think, are or act differently. After all, we unconsciously seek out people who we can identify with. It's hard to change this. Passwerk is convinced these efforts pay off! The fact that there are differences between people can be a great enrichment for a team. It sets in motion a whole new dynamic and teaches us to look at things from different perspectives

It makes me very happy as a job coach to see how people at DNS Belgium see diversity as a strength for an organisation and know how to implement it as something natural. Passwerk shares this idea of inclusion like no other. Guy and Kevin focus on Dorssen's qualities and turn differences into opportunities for growth. As a result, Dorssen will soon be able to look back on a positive work experience and face the next one with more self-confidence.