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Melbourne IT experts boost career prospects of people on spectrum

Posted on 3 August 2017 under News

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Huge success: the EPIC Testability Academy.

Two IT experts are helping boost the career prospects for autistic people through an innovative new software testing program.

EPIC Testability Academy (ETA) is the brainchild of Dr Lee Hawkins and Paul Seaman, both of whom are passionate about increasing workplace diversity while filling a gap in their sector.

They speak with excitement about joining forces with disability not-for-profit organisation EPIC Assist.

“Both Paul and I have been involved in community-based events around software testing in the past, and were looking for a new opportunity to give back,” Lee says.

As the inaugural 12-week course draws to a close, both men reflect on what has been an insightful teaching experience.

A focus on what people can do

“Society tends not to look at the differences people who are not ‘mainstream’ can bring to the workplace,” Paul says.

“We were very interested in creating opportunities for those that may have struggled in the past.

“For some reason, there is a focus on what people with disability can’t do, whereas for everyone else there is a focus on ability and what they can do.

“That’s a strange bias and one that robs many workplaces of the chance to tap into new ways of thinking.

“Sure, there are some things that people on the spectrum are challenged with, but that’s true of everyone.”

The team say these types of programs also strengthen the IT sector.

“As more and more aspects of our lives are impacted by software, building up the skills of the next generation of software professionals is a critical and ever-expanding challenge,” Lee says.

“There is still very little treatment of software testing as a challenging, intellectual endeavour in formal higher education IT courses, and we see this as a big gap to fill.

“The role that humans have to play in excellent software testing shouldn’t be underestimated.”

The skills and enthusiasm exhibited by the students has impressed the pair, both of whom have not previously taught or worked alongside students on the spectrum.

“As this is new ground for us both, we didn’t quite know what to expect, but the students have grasped new concepts quickly and been willing to be actively involved in discussions,” Lee adds.

“Another thing we’ve noticed is the students’ ability to ‘think outside the box’. Software testing is not the rote, repetitive job people think it may be, so it’s been great to see the students come up with highly creative ideas and solutions to problems.

“I think it is this ability to think differently that will be of great value if they choose to pursue careers in software testing after this course.”

Emphasis on practical skills

Both Paul and Lee have dedicated their time and expertise free of charge, with countless hours also committed to planning and creating the curriculum.

EPIC Assist also provided hands-on support during classes, and contributed to other costs associated with ETA.

“Our aim has always been to give students a broad basic knowledge of software testing, with an emphasis on practical skills and hands-on testing over theory,” Paul explains.

“We’re really looking forward to our next group of students and applying some of the lessons learned from our first ETA course.”

People on the autism spectrum who are interested in participating in the next ETA course can visit, email  or call EPIC Assist on (07) 3857 5085.