Wednesday, 3 September 2008

How to win friends and influence people

I'll say upfront that my Asperger Syndrome (AS) is on the milder end of the scale. I'm not a shut-in, I don't live with my parents, I'm not a virgin, I can get a bus if I have to, I can go to new places if I need to. In fact I live on my own, I have a good job and always have had, I drive quite a desirable and expensive car, and I have a girlfriend (chicks dig fast cars).

I don't want to pander to stereotypes, but…yes, computers are my thing. I've been blessed in that from a very early age I've always known that I've wanted to work with computers. It's been a blessing as there are so many people who just don't know what they want to do with their lives and they drift from career to career, being the master of none. Not for me. One aspect of AS is that you often have concentrated and singular interests and computers is it for me. From year dot I have been fascinated by computers. Not just fascinated but very good at it too. You see, another aspect of AS is your thinking and problem solving processes, they're often "out of the box" and that helps immensely with computers.

There were always computers in my house. My dad had one and when I still thought Father Christmas was real I too had one. Sure, I played games and pretended it was helping me with my schoolwork, who didn't? But I also delved into programming and really tearing the thing apart (not literally). I've always had a great need to know how things work at the detail level. I don't just want to know what works, I want to know why it works and how it works.

At school age I continued with computers in my spare time cos there were no computer classes available at my school. After school I went on to study programming at university and in the first year I didn't learn anything I hadn't already taught myself. I stuck university out and graduated top of the year and have had a small string of programming jobs since.

Computers are still obvious to me, and while my skills have been described in all manners of hyperbole I still see computers as easy and simple. I've never met a problem I can't solve and often come up with wild and varied solutions. I'm methodical and pay a lot of attention to detail. No mater the company I work for I always rise quickly to the top and I'm always the "go to" guy when you have a problem you just can't solve. Am I super intelligent? No, my brain is just wired differently. I sometimes get frustrated that my co-workers can't see the solution to problems that I often see as obvious, but I'm always just glad to help.

Not to say that work is plain-sailing. Not by a long shot. I have the obvious problems of eye contact and social issues (my boss has told me at annual reviews that he feels I am aloof). I'm also a big procrastinator and don't deal well with changes in tasks. Once I start something I like to finish it, but the nature of my job means that I can be pulled off something to work briefly on something else then have to go back to what I was doing. I hate having to deal with people on the phone and I also get bored very very easily and spend a lot of time just goofing off and mucking around. If I'm doing something new and interesting I can stick at it, but a lot of the time I'm working at a much-reduced rate cos I find what I'm doing boring and I'm easily distracted. Funnily enough that is something my teachers always wrote on my report card…easily distracted. I felt at university too I struggled really badly with subjects I wasn't interested in or didn't see the use of.

I couldn't do without work though. If I won the lottery I would still work. It aids my social world quite a lot, cos if you think about it you can have occasional 5 minute chats here and there at the water cooler or wherever. You can go to lunch with people if you want, take breaks with them if you want, and go for a drink after work if you want. It allows me to be as social or as ant-social as I want. My workmates and my girlfriend are really the only people I ever deal with.

So you can have AS and have what some might consider a successful life, but there is no guarantee of this at all. I was lucky in that I can make a career from my interest, but your special interest might be the cigars most loved by Winston Churchill, and if it is you're kinda screwed.

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