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March 26-29, 2012, Software Test Professionals Conference, New Orleans
July, 14-15, 2012 - Test Coach Camp, San Jose, California
July, 16-18, 2012 - Conference for the Association for Software Testing (CAST 2012), San Jose, California
August 2012+ - At Liberty; available. Contact me by email: Matt.Heusser@gmail.com

Monday, October 20, 2008

Asperger's Syndrome

A fried of mine recently sent me this article, with a subject like something like "An Aspie comes out of the closet."

The reason? I'm one of a small community of software testers who are diagnosed (or self-diagnosed) with Asperger's Syndrome, an autistic-spectrum disorder.

The way I explain Asperger's is this: My brain chemistry is a little different than most people. Growing up, I had problems dealing with people: They lied. They said things they did not mean; what kind of shoes you wore mattered more than any of your ideas. Far from a meritocracy, it really mattered in school how far you could kick a ball, how good you looked, and how quickly you could respond to a put-down. In short, I was a nerd.

As such, I turned to computers for escape. Computers made sense. If the computer did something wrong, it was because I screwed up the programming.

I earned a degree in Mathematics, which is the most objective field I know of - answers are right or wrong. Period. Even if you don't bathe for a week and have no social skills, if you're smart, you can do well in Math. (1)

Eventually, later in life, I realized that, well, people matter more than things. Having a room full of toys and no one to share them with is no fun. To be successful in any relationship, including the workplace, you need to understand people. So I got into people, psychology, and relationships. I forced myself to learn.

I used to feel bad about this -- right up until I read the very same story in a book by Jerry Weinberg called Quality Software Management. And I do mean the very same story.

It's a true story for both of us -- and, I suspect, for my friend who sent me the link that started all this. This means I have problems reading people, understanding social clues, and responding quickly with words - in the moment. (Such as: Off the cuff jokes) Ironically, that's part of why I got into public speaking -- in public speaking, you pick your words in advance, and you can practice them over and over. Ditto for writing.

So I wasn't surprised in 2001 when I read a description of Asperger's in Wired Magazine and said "that's me." Yes, there is more to the diagnosis than that, but I'd prefer to keep that part private.

The classic description of an Aspie is a "little professor" - someone who is seriously, seriously involved in particular subject area and (sometimes) has problems relating outside of that subject area. As a young person, I craved a structured envrionment that made sense; one of the reasons I loved playing cadet was that I knew who to salute and how to march and how to wear a uniform - the rules were explicit and written.

And those who knew me as a cadet also new that I ... needed a little help socially.

In the 1940's, someone with Asperger's might they collect stamps, or coins, or have a model train collection, or maybe knew every single baseball stat for a particular team. Today, Aspie's are more likely to write code, test software, play with CSS style sheets or design aircraft.

The end result of all this is that I'm not typical. Duh. No one is really average in every way. If I had my choice, at the beginning of my life, to be an empty suit with great social skills or someone who was able to generalize, abstract, create, and do wonderful things ... I don't think It'd be a tough choice.

For centuries, it has been ok for artists to be a little bit weird - In fact, I remember one graphic designer who used to wear flip-flops to work (that he promptly took off) combined with some sort of odd faux-prisoner outfit.

That little spark of oddity about the creative person on a bad day is the same thing we credit as the spark of genius on a good one. News Flash: Techie folks can be creative too.

What I'm trying to say here is - I may have Asperger's Syndrome, or it may be what they called "Disgraphia" when I was in Grade School - or it may be something else.

I don't believe it's the kind of thing to be hidden, but I've never made a post on it.

And when I got that email, well, the time seem right.

Regards,


--Matt Heusser
Footnotes:
(1) Yes, I bathed. Gosh, it's an expression!

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Matt, congratulations on going public. I'm proud to have inspired it. Many people have said that I'll have a hard time getting work if I tell everyone I have Asperger's. But I really feel compelled to tell people, and see how I can help people who are struggling with Asperger's but don't know it yet. After all, Asperger's is what makes me a good tester. I'm sure I'll find a way some day to tell my story.

-an Aspie tester

Anonymous said...

"someone who is seriously, seriously involved in particular subject error"

Ahh...the tester's Freudian slip!

Chris said...

Matt, thanks for your post. I hope it'll inspire other testers who have Asperger's.

Philk said...

brave post, Matt, well done for writing it

Seems you made the right move going to testing though, I was reading this article about a Danish testing company where 75% of the testers are Aspies

http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5869.html

Jesper L. Ottosen said...

Thanks for sharing Matt - You are even more a good role model.

"The specialists":
http://www.specialisterne.dk/html/english/community/Community.html

Gerald M. Weinberg said...

The problem here goes even deeper than Asperger's, though that's deep enough for many of us.

The problem is the people (and I don't know if they have a label, who find it necessary to slap labels on people they don't understand--and than say there's something wrong with that label.

Kent said...

Thanks for the post.

As someone who has been doing QA for 8 years, and recently received a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome it really hit home.

Anonymous said...

'm 1 of 'em either.
i spent most of my time in math and sciences since i was very young and was one of the top competitors in high school math competitions.

surfrider2000 said...

Matt, thanks for your post. I just started a blog myself (http://aspieteenager.blogspot.com/). I'm struggling to connect with my son at this moment. It's been a trying Christmas wrt helping him properly read people's intention. It's created hardship for him at school as well as at home. Thank you for your post.

Anonymous said...

good post


http://www.envrionment.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

There is a mistake in the start of the article. Friend it must be. Rest the article is very nice.
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Anonymous said...

Another Freudian slip: And those who knew me as a cadet also new that I ... needed a little help socially.

Gaige Clark said...

Hi there, I just wrote a very intense rant/speech with my ideas towards this subject. Please check it out! I believe I have Asperger's but I'm not sure yet. I see it as being smart. Smart makes you not the same as all the idiots. Socializing with them is nearly impossible and it's terrifying. We are interested in real things while they enjoy sex and pleasure and food to an excess. I do too but my life is much more than that! Check it out! http://www.wrongplanet.net/postp4188819.html#4188819

Gaige Clark said...

Hi I wrote a very intense speech on this subject, please check it out. I believe I have AS. But I think AS results from intelligence and since intelligence is rare it can cause all sorts of problems with people. We are designed to be social. Since society rejects us for being weird or different we become reclusive and stuff. Just check this out tho! http://www.wrongplanet.net/postp4188819.html#4188819