Per­so­n­et­ics: Up to the chal­lenge

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By MAX­INE LIPTZEN DOROT

Jobs in gen­eral are dif­fi­cult to find to­day, but hav­ing a spe­cial need makes it that more dif­fi­cult. Meet Per­so­n­et­ics. It’s not easy to get a job th­ese days, es­pe­cially if you’re a per­son or have a fam­ily mem­ber deal­ing with a spe­cial need. Most em­ploy­ers are wary of hir­ing peo­ple facing daily chal­lenges and this makes it nearly im­pos­si­ble for them to en­ter the job mar­ket. En­ter Per­so­n­et­ics, a Tel Aviv soft­ware company which, a year and a half ago, de­cided that peo­ple high on the autis­tic spec­trum would be per­fect for their Qual­ity As­sur­ance Depart­ment. They be­gan hir­ing peo­ple on the spec­trum and the rest, as they say, is his­tory.

Per­so­n­et­ics is a fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy soft­ware company founded eight years ago. With banks in North Amer­ica, Europe and Asia us­ing its tech­nol­ogy, they pro­vide their re­tail and busi­ness cus­tomers with cus­tom­ized in­sights on their per­sonal fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion.

About two years ago, to find a way to im­prove the qual­ity of the company’s soft­ware, David Govrin, one of the founders of Per­so­n­et­ics, had an in­no­va­tive idea.

“I knew that peo­ple on the higher func­tion­ing end of the autis­tic spec­trum had par­tic­u­lar strengths be­ing able to do the spe­cific type of de­tailed and rep­e­ti­tious work the company needed in this area, so why not hire a team of adults on the autis­tic spec­trum? This would solve our soft­ware qual­ity prob­lems, and at the same time give job op­por­tu­ni­ties to spe­cial needs peo­ple who have a hard time find­ing work. The ini­tia­tive came strictly out of a pure busi­ness need, not to un­der­write a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion and not as a so­cial ex­per­i­ment. Is­rael is the first Per­so­n­et­ics branch that hires work­ers on the autis­tic spec­trum and we’re very ex­cited to do so.”

Shlomit Becker, a New York na­tive who has been liv­ing in Beit Shemesh for over 25 years, is the head of the team. The mother of a 20-year-old son on the autis­tic spec­trum, Shlomit is al­ways re­search­ing news in the field and is very in­ter­ested in what’s go­ing on. This led her to save a Magazine ar­ti­cle from sev­eral years back that re­ported on a pri­vate qual­ity as­sur­ance course, AQA, given to qual­i­fied high-func­tion­ing peo­ple on the autis­tic spec­trum. While work­ing at IBM, she heard about a new AQA team to be made up of peo­ple on the autis­tic spec­trum be­ing planned in Per­so­n­et­ics. She ap­plied for the po­si­tion to head the team, was ac­cepted and left IBM.

“I knew this was go­ing to be a chal­lenge and a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity for ev­ery­one in­volved,” she said. “I couldn’t wait to start.”

That was 18 months ago and since then, the team has grown from four to nine peo­ple and has ex­panded to in­clude work on au­to­matic test­ing. Cur­rently, all team mem­bers are young men, most of them on dif­fer­ent lev­els of the spec­trum. Although the jobs are not gen­der spe­cific, it is dif­fi­cult to find suit­able girls for the group. The em­ploy­ees are all be­tween 23 and 32 years old. Some work full-time, nine hours a day, and oth­ers work part-time, six hours per day. Some mem­bers came from Roim Ra­chok, an in­no­va­tive pro­gram de­signed to train adults on the autism spec­trum in pro­fes­sions re­quired by the IDF and the civil­ian mar­ket, while oth­ers came from the above-men­tioned AQA course. One came from EFFIE, a non­profit group that helps peo­ple with Asperger’s syn­drome, and another learned QA at John Bryce School.

Dotan Lavy, 32, is a mem­ber of the Per­so­n­et­ics team and very happy to be a part of it.

“Af­ter work­ing eight years at Part­ner, they down­sized,” Lavy said. “I was of­fered a part-time job there, but that wasn’t what I wanted. I en­rolled in the Univer­sity of Ariel and got a de­gree in Elec­tri­cal En­gi­neer­ing. I couldn’t find work in that field so I went to the John Bryce School and learned QA. Then I got this job in Per­so­n­et­ics where I learned what it meant to ac­tu­ally work in QA, like ask­ing ques­tions and how to work more ef­fi­ciently. Be­fore I started work­ing here, it wasn’t al­ways easy for me to un­der­stand ev­ery­thing de­manded of me or to ask when I needed to, but

be­ing here has made it eas­ier to know just how to work in a work en­vi­ron­ment. My self-con­fi­dence has also grown and now if I want to ask some­thing be­cause I’m not sure or don’t un­der­stand it com­pletely, I can ask. I’m not afraid. I also like that I get along with the oth­ers in my group; there are peo­ple my age that think like me and I can so­cial­ize with. Ev­ery morn­ing, I wake up hap­pily know­ing that I have a re­ward­ing job to do in a work­place that re­ally feels like a sec­ond home.”

OFRA LAVY, Dotan’s mother, is also de­lighted.

“His self-con­fi­dence has im­proved tremen­dously, so much so that he got the push he needed to leave home,” she said. “He and a friend have just moved into an apart­ment in Ra­mat Gan, within walk­ing dis­tance from work. Up un­til now, Dotan was liv­ing at home in Tsur Yitzhak – an hour and a half drive to work each way, to­tal­ing three hours on the road and some­times even more, de­pend­ing on traffic. It was a long, tir­ing trip and now he can walk to work, which is won­der­ful. All this and the fact that Per­so­n­et­ics has be­come his fam­ily, and ours, can’t be beat.”

Another mem­ber of the team, age 30, added that none of his pre­vi­ous work­places had treated him with re­spect and some even looked down on him.

“I’ve had other jobs, but the con­di­tions weren’t good for me, like hav­ing a quiet place to work in,” he said. “My bosses weren’t un­der­stand­ing and didn’t take into ac­count what I needed. They couldn’t ‘get me’ and it just wasn’t com­fort­able and it was dif­fi­cult to work. Job in­ter­views were also a big ob­sta­cle since they were al­most im­pos­si­ble to pass. Many em­ploy­ers would say ‘no’ on the spot or not have the cour­tesy of get­ting back to me. Here at Per­so­n­et­ics, it’s just the op­po­site. I’m re­spected, treated as a pro­fes­sional and my needs are taken into ac­count. Our team sits in a quiet area of the of­fice but we’re not iso­lated; we’re just away from the hus­tle and bus­tle of the of­fice. I get a chance to use my brain and show what I’m ca­pa­ble of do­ing. For the first time in my life, I en­joy go­ing to work and there are some great side ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing the de­li­cious food we get here.”

Becker said she be­lieves that an im­por­tant part of the suc­cess of the team is the in­volve­ment of Talia Haas, an oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist from Roim Re­chok.

“Talia comes to the of­fice to help the team ad­just to the work place en­vi­ron­ment and to help them deal with so­cial dif­fi­cul­ties (a fea­ture of autism) and any other prob­lems that may arise,” Becker said. “Talia and I also meet weekly so that I can learn more on how to guide the team mem­bers through some of their dif­fi­cul­ties and make our depart­ment work the best that it can. Her par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pro­ject is a cru­cial for its suc­cess, es­pe­cially when you con­sider all the chal­lenges that th­ese em­ploy­ees may face, like OCD (ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive dis­or­der), de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety, all of which can af­fect their work. They might get stuck if a task is not to­tally clear, and for some, as much as we try to help them be­come more and more in­de­pen­dent, there are some ar­eas where they will al­ways need guid­ance and management to keep them go­ing. Over­all, how­ever, they do a great job and the qual­ity of our soft­ware has im­proved dra­mat­i­cally since this depart­ment has opened.”

Yishay Sch­w­erd, vice pres­i­dent of re­search and de­vel­op­ment, is proud of the team as well.

“They’re a great suc­cess,” Sch­w­erd said. “I’ve been head­ing R&D for many years, and I am sure that hav­ing stan­dard QA peo­ple would have failed in th­ese de­mand­ing tasks, and that only a team of peo­ple on the spec­trum could suc­ceed in get­ting this job done right and they have! Hope­fully, other com­pa­nies will fol­low Per­so­n­etic’s lead be­cause any way you look at it, this is un­doubt­edly a win-win sit­u­a­tion.”

(Pho­tos: Irina Lyu­bi­mova)

AT PER­SO­N­ET­ICS, Dotan Lavy (left) is free to ask ques­tions.

Clock­wise from top left: PER­SO­N­ET­ICS CEO David Govrin. COO DAVID SOSNA. OC­CU­PA­TIONAL THER­A­PIST Talia Haas. SHLOMIT BECKER – here with Dotan – couldn’t wait to get started. YISHAY SCH­W­ERD, vice pres­i­dent of R&D: Proud of the team.

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