By Ryan Hendry, Software Developer at the North Ireland Civil Service
Interestingly, I was originally asked to write this from a graduate’s perspective, but because I didn’t graduate, I sort of can’t!
I spent two years as a Law Student at Queen’s University Belfast, and I really enjoyed my two years there. I felt I learnt a lot socially, and I also met a very good group of friends, who I am still close with even though we have all went down our different career paths.
My decision to leave University was because I felt that the course I had chosen (Law), wasn’t a great fit for me in the end, and it wasn’t something I could see myself getting a career in. So I decided to leave, and pursue what I really wanted to do.
From a young age I’ve always been fascinated by computers, and technology in general, so it was natural I would gravitate towards that. My current full-time job is as a software developer in the Northern Ireland Civil Service, a job I’ve been doing for almost two years, and I absolutely love it.
A lot of young adults who are Autistic, do worry about the future, and that’s completely natural! I worried about my future too. Everyone does, it’s part of life! Something that is very important to emphasise is that, whilst the decisions you make when you leave school as to what road you go down, be it university, further education, or straight into the world of work, that decision is not one that you have to stick with for the rest of your life. If you find your chosen path isn’t to your liking, you can simply find another one!
In life, you will never know how you will find something until you try it. For me, while I always liked the idea of university, and I did enjoy my time there, ultimately, it wasn’t the correct path for me, so I decided to go down a different one. I remember, the hardest bit about leaving was actually talking to my parents about it! At the start they didn't think I should leave, but when I explained to them that it wasn't a knee-jerk reaction to something, and that I had considered it for a while now, they accepted my decision, as they could see it was what I wanted to do.
I do think, for Autistic people at university who then find it isn't for them, there is a fear of leaving in case they are labelled a failure or seen in some way as less capable than their peers, which is why I'd like to share what I learnt from my experience, to show that just because you started down one path, doesn't mean you can't change course and excel in a different path.
1. Key question to ask yourself is ‘Do I enjoy what I’m doing?’
My advice to anyone who is unsure about the next step to take, is to do what you enjoy doing. If you enjoy doing something, it’s much much easier to keep at it when you have difficult times, and it’s also much more rewarding. And it’s completely fine to not know what you want to do! It took me until I was 21 to even have a vague idea of what I wanted to do, at 18 I wasn’t even sure what I wanted for dinner that evening, let alone what I wanted to do for the rest of my life!
2. Talk to people in the industry about their work
A great way of finding out more about a certain career path, is to talk to those who have went down that path before you, they will be able to tell you about their experiences, and it’ll help you decide for yourself if a certain career is suitable or not. During my time at University, I used LinkedIn as a way of connecting with professionals in the line of work I wanted to pursue, and this proved extremely useful when I wanted to get in touch with other IT professionals in order to find out more about what it is like working in the IT Industry. I found listening to their stories helped me decide upon my decision to pursue a career in IT, and I was very glad I done so.
3. Remember that employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments
A big concern a lot of people have, and understandably so, is how employers will help to support you in work, and this is something I talk about quite regularly. Employers are legally obliged to provide reasonable adjustments in both your job interview, and in the workplace, in order to ensure that the environment is suitable for you. If an employer doesn’t do this, they are breaking the law!
I also know some people are worried about putting down the fact that they are Autistic on a job application, as they are worried that it may count against them. My advice is that, whilst it’s a decision entirely up to the individual, I would urge you to put it on your application form. If an employer is aware that you are Autistic, they are legally obliged to ensure that any interview or selection process is in an environment that you find comfortable in.
For example, in my work they allow me to wear headphones during work because I find loud noises distressing. Other adjustments include things such as my phone at my desk not ringing as loud, the installation of door stoppers on the doors in our office to prevent them from slamming, and the ability to step away from my desk at particular times, for example when the fire alarm is being tested, so I don’t need to put myself into situations I find more stressful or difficult to cope with.
If you’re at the start of a new job or are considering changing career paths, I hope my story has encouraged you to explore new opportunities and pursue what is right for you. Remember that change is not necessarily a bad thing and there are steps you can take to manage this transition well.