Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Run/Walk for Autism

Well, I'm last.

So there's a few entries to catch up on over time. First, an event.

One year ago this past October, I volunteered at the Triangle RunWalk for Autism, sponsored by the Autism Society of North Carolina, who I have worked with since early 2013. It's rather interesting to see families come together for any cause, but the way they take over Moore Square for the race is rather cool. Now I was at it again.

Difference this time is that I was a runner, so I got to combine my running ambitions with the chance to help the cause. I was captain of a small team for the event that branched off the House of Hops Running Club. At least I didn't have to show up at sunrise this year, but even as a runner I kept looking out for members at the event who I knew or worked with previously. I somehow didn't find too many folks that I was close with at first glance, but I was also trying to stay around my team for the event.

Then we got to the actual race. Once again, recognized something new as a participant. The instructions were much more clear and not "implied" as they often are at races. This includes having to step between the cones for your chip time to start and instructions on where to expect the turns, including the bend at Person Street. Maybe there were a few high functioning competitors like myself, so they wanted to pay mind to I've said before, we're pretty smart people but do need things explained on occasion. Though I didn't quite notice if there were noise markings closer to the speakers, which blasted music as most races would.

As for the run itself, I didn't expect to PR (personal record) after a buffet dinner at Tyler's tap room last night, and two beers to boot. Somehow my body was ready and the ladyfriend's electrolyte tablet kicked. My chip time was 22:32, enough for a 7:15/mile pace. Some run fixations I typically have didn't take hold until the second mile, such as looking at my watch to check my pace considering how well I started. Funny thing is that it didn't even slow me down. They also had the usual encouraging spectators at the event.

Basically, what I like about the event is that it brings folks together for the awareness of autism, but they make the event friendly to those on the spectrum. Many of them are participants (and children to boot), who are in the event for fun or cheering on their own family who run as a tribute. It was great to be on the running side this year, and now I need to figure out which side to be part of again...well, once I'm cleared to run again, but that's another story.

Now I have a lot more to catch up on with the blog...

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Education Interest

I'm back.

So I was away for a month as I changed jobs and started migration of this blog to a new website. On top of that, a robust social life continues. Generally a lot of things that I could try to use as an excuse for not blogging.

The job I decided upon was a position with an educational testing company for their data integration and reporting needs. A database developer, officially. It really came down to comfort in the job and upside. So maybe this was a good moment to talk about another fringe interest.

I really like dissecting some data for class structures related to K-12 education. Once I learned in middle school that I was going to have classes for each individual subject, I was intrigued by the classroom combinations possible. I wondered what would happen if a student took an additional elective or jumped ahead in math another year.

My fascination was taken to another level with high school. Now that you could choose your courses, what varieties could a student have now? Imagine a student advancing two levels in math, and the types of Advanced Placement courses that could be taken. What if you can choose someone on an art track who eventually does AP Art History to close out, or the science enthusiast who jumped a year ahead but went for just another Honors Chemistry section and could then jump to AP Physics? So many combinations and prerequisites, including the system for grade point average. Honors weighted one way, Advanced Placement another? I began comparing school districts and wondered. I even get to check out demographic data like this for state test scoring reports that states and districts request.

College...that's a beast I never had time to fully tap into with all else happening. I looked at the catalogs of some of the schools I wanted to apply to, and wondered about cliques of students taking different majors. What kind of classes could they take together? How tough is grading? My imagination ran wild at times. I won't get to touch on this again since my job involves K-12, but that may be for the best!

That is a glimpse into my fascination with school courses and even my job. I think I may be able to apply some of it for something good...when the situation calls for it, of course. A lot of what I have been doing relates to test scores, but can expand on this based on the districts. Really, that's how I know I have a shot at really loving this job more than the ability to use my honed skill set. Another victory in this case.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Young Aspie Parent (An Intro)

Well, Father's Day just came and went. Mother's Day was last month. Since the start of May, a few friends have announced that they are expecting their first (or even next) child. One thing that I've always believed is that the most challenging responsibility there is would be fatherhood. You're essentially setting up the next generation by becoming the guiding light.

With that, there are two words that a woman could tell me which would be worse than my nightmares: "I'm pregnant."

Why is that so scary? It's kids!
I don't want kids right now.
Are you really going to be one of those "I'm never having children" pricks?
No, I don't want kids right now, and may not ever. However, I'll do my best to avoid being a douche when talking about it. Having a child at this time in life scares me because I'm not ready. Then I think to myself when I would be ready to unleash my spawn on the world, and how long it may take.

So it made me think about how a person on the spectrum who just turned 30 could fare if parenthood were thrust upon him. The challenges of trying to raise a child when you hardly understand the body language and will definitely be giving up any sense of control. That's my concern about being a parent...the part that mandates we be empathetic. While I've mentioned enough times that I've improved my social abilities, I'm unsure I could handle it at this point when my world isn't quite settled down. Granted, this is a problem that some neurotypical people face also. However, the way I would handle this stress could involve some of my tantrums from when I was younger.

I've been so focused on other aspects that family is something I could not attach myself to, and my experience with little children has made me rather squeamish. For some reason I really can't deal with babies for the same reason I struggle with pets, and that's the communication barrier. Plus, not getting much time around them.

There's still too much to consider if it comes to someone with my abilities having kids, which would run on over too many entries. I'll be talking about this more over a few entries into the beginning of next month. One entry will feature perspectives from those on the spectrum with children. One entry will discuss the aspect of logic in "researching" child rearing. Plus a piece on more of what I don't understand, even my own upbringing. There's a lot worth mentioning about kids.

As of now, I just had an excuse to use that image.

Monday, June 15, 2015

"Keep Going"

Even Aspies have to keep going beyond their doubts.

As some of you are aware, April was the start of the SQL New Blogger Challenge. It was a blog every Tuesday during the month. At one point I had sent out a tweet where I referenced the blog challenge having ended.

I was taking it literally, as the challenge was issued for the month of April. Very much something I would do. However, the point of said challenge was to keep blogging, as notable names (Dwain Camps and Steve Jones, who runs the incredible SQL Server Central) in the professional network pointed out:
Okay, so this was me being very literal and believing the actual 'challenge' was over, per the original blog. The thing is, to keep going was the actual challenge subtext. While I always expected to become more consistent with blogging, the point of the challenge, from how I now interpreted this, was to get bloggers started during April and see critiques. Still, the point was also...don't quit. There's always more to talk about. During the month of May, I had hit a dry spell and fell down on the challenge of continuing, taking it way too literally for my own good. So it felt like my motivator was gone, but obviously it's good to blog for more than therapy - rather that others can get perspectives.

It got me thinking about how "keep going" is a motto that should apply to me often at this moment. Particularly as I go through a challenge for a new opportunity since the old one ended. I did not expect the job search to take me past the end of my severance from my previous job, but then I found myself among greater numbers of competition, and with less total opportunities that fit me. My frustration has increased after going 0-for-6 during the in person interview phase and finding myself not qualified enough for some positions.

Still, keep going.

After talking with a couple peers from my profession, I'm about to schedule my 70-462 exam for the MCSA. Yes, SQL Server is on 2014, and we just got the 2016 preview, but it was pointed out that having certification now could work in my favor during this period between jobs. I've noted a few times before that I tend to think about all the accolades too often. However, I definitely can follow the advice here. If I can hustle my way through the final two exams, then this will help greatly, as I haven't heard on when the SQL Server 2014 exams will start. As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm working on some C# and perfecting my Python in the meantime. I am not even close to mastering them, but I've kept going this way I could expand my skill set. More languages will be coming, for sure. The hope is that I can use these skills to be a data architect across a full stack.

Work is one area of perseverance. There is also the I was struggling to find a way to get support groups started in the Triangle area. The person who was originally going to help me had dropped out a while back, and I put the project on hold. However, I then got some traction after getting connected with a person in Cary and another in Fayetteville. Problem now was trying to get some interest from others on the spectrum who often turn to the online forums more than in person discussions.

Still, keep going.

Turns out there are already a couple of them out there from a social standpoint, and I have attended a couple of the meetings to get interest. I got word that the Wake County regional libraries can host us as long as I choose one day out of the month. We're now attempting to set it up with some funding to have a meeting in August/September, since I've reached at least double digits for people interested. I was also able to pivot back to the ability to talk with parents of children, just as I had done once last year. I've been asked to speak at the Autism Society of North Carolina's Transition to Adulthood series for Wake and Orange Counties, after contacting the organizer. To be proactive is to win.

I think back now to my childhood. When I was diagnosed, the doctors believed I had smarts, but may end up dependent on others because of motor skill deficiencies. I had even less of a grasp on sarcasm then (it's just a tenuous grasp now), and I struggled with interactions outside of my family. Basic tasks like eating did not always come easy, as sad as it could be.

Still, keep going.

I eventually learned how to adapt, and channeled that into a college degree, a profession, and writing a blog about this stuff. My parents were able to push me to observe what others did, so I had an idea on customs and how to do basic tasks for myself. If anything, I became more "normalized" in a sense. We know that story.

You also now know the moral of this blog post, as much as I dislike calling them morals on here.

Time for me to keep the blog up more regularly.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Career Update

So after being consistent all month and blogging as part of the SQL New Blogger challenge, I let myself down and had yet to post another blog until one month later. Not exactly the best way to help with readership. Then I found inspiration yet again in a break from the job search.

I've been consumed in the job search and figuring out some personal affairs, which has distracted me from entries so far. The unfortunate fact, however, is that this year is not the same as last year. When I went through last year's search, I had a job ready for me in the middle of May. This time I find myself either too advanced for the entry-level positions, a year or two qualifications short of most senior positions, or beat out by more competition when there is a perfect mid-level position. An analogy that I've considered for the job search is a basketball player with a good shot selection who is a sixth man. In 2014, that's what I was; didn't get a lot of opportunities, but made more of them when I had the chance, and landed that interview fast. In 2015, I've been maximizing my network more and have played like a full-time starter, and now my offense has faltered with the heightened level of competition.

Now this is where I instead ask the questions.

One question I have, as someone on the spectrum, is how do people show off a portfolio of work from previous gigs? I've realized that my own attention span issues and fixations on data itself have held me back a little when trying to figure out the ambiguities in my job responsibilities. Even though job performance has never been an issue, I've prevented myself from selling my skills by my inability to define my previous projects with concrete examples on a technical level.

Better question: how does one sell new skills? I've started to brush off the Java playbook after never having to use it for years, and I simultaneously played around in C# for a little. This was upon my realization that my skill set was more concentrated this time around in spite of my skills with data visualization tools. I asked various recruiters and took a crude sample from job boards to see which skills were most in demand, and that's where C# and Java came up most, especially for positions I began targeting.

That's all the questions, but then there's the self-doubt on if I should talk about Aspergers to anyone. For the record, this is the first entry I am sharing with my LinkedIn network, which will come with some risk. There's the question on if people believe I will be too literal for a hire, or whether I'll be able to show that I am just as normal as the next person. There's a great book about work among the autistics called The Autism Job Club, which has made for a great reference with its six strategies. It's been a confidence booster, knowing that with the changing technologies I can transform myself with some patience. If anything, you the LinkedIn person who may be reading this could have more to ask me. I'm not sure.

Then there's the ever-escaping process on how to contact others when you are the type who doesn't know how. I've been doing it with those I'm comfortable with, but then those on my network who I have not contacted in a while (or sporadically contact) has made for a different story. I do not like to blindly ask "is there anyone I know at Company C?" for that seems desperate. However, this assumption could be incorrect. It may be good if I ask who is at a job and could be an introduction. Or to proactively write an endorsement. I've learned a helpful strategy is to comment on a LinkedIn post or even reintroduce yourself there, and then see what happens without sounding like you are the needy one. For instance, I can ask what help is needed on a project. There's a tip in Anthony Hines' Job Search Survival Kit where you increase your LinkedIn presence, and he is right. It's really more a question of how to do it.

It's been a case of patience, and I am definitely thankful for my network giving me the support necessary, but now I'm thinking I need to use it more while thinking of ways to help those folks as well. I'll still be finding my way for a while, but I like to believe I'm learning from each job search.

Be patient, self, and keep grinding.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Autism and Information Technology: Big Data for Diagnosis

The final installment of this month's Autism and Information Technology series, and the last part of April's blog challenge (plus Autism Awareness Month). My last three entries were focused more so on people with autism getting into the IT field for careers, including my own journey and my current job search. This time, why not reverse it.

So how can advances in information technology benefit those on the spectrum? Well, that's a long topic in itself, but a one technology had me curious to say the least. At the end of March I attended a conference called Data4Decisions. One of the sessions at this conference was on big data and analytics transforming life sciences from a patient perspective. A focal point of the presentation came from the Duke University Medical Center, where they discussed a new algorithm to diagnose autism through the toddler's behavior and other data gained on this in-hospice app. The data gained from this technology would be used to interpret if a child could truly be considered on the autism spectrum.

As we were told at the forum, the behaviors could be mapped to various questions and screening tests. Then the big data part comes into play, which is where I get curious as to how the data is used and programmed. I went through some tests as a child but not to this extent. While I don't know what programming languages are being used here, the data model at hand is another complex question.

Naturally, I wonder if this technology could be adapted to adults, so that we can understand each other in our interpersonal relationships. Many adults have been diagnosed later in life, particularly over the last decade. There is potential to tweak the algorithms and develop the app to use more verbal functions and continue to break through with big data. With the new $9.75 million grant in place for Duke's entire Information Initiative, the possibilities continue. It's how data and information technology can be used to help not only detect if a child is on the spectrum, but how to understand the child as well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Autism and Information Technology: New Efforts for Kids to Code

So here's chapter three in the blog challenge series. It's a bit rushed since it's the blog challenge and I haven't given myself time to write, but I knew I should still write anyway, or more accurately to advertise for something worth your time and money that I came across.

A man in Edinburgh, Scotland was concerned that his autistic son would not have the opportunities that most NT people would receive. It is true that most diagnosed autistics are often unemployed or underemployed (I guess I just became part of that statistic, but I've been successfully employed for most of my life). So he started a new effort to help kids with something where demand and aptitude are definitely there.

Thus we now have this great Indiegogo project to empower kids around the world on the spectrum to become master coders. There's a few reasons this project is pretty essential.
  • It's a practical skill. As I mentioned in a previous entry, the spectrum tends to be a logical place. Code is about logic. In this case, the teens get a head start on technology that may not always be addressed in school.
  • The employment problem gets resolved. People can figure out whether it is better to be self employed or under an employer, depending on how the person works. There are new ideas for apps that come out every day. Now they can start making these a reality, much like some of my good friends have done with plugins and apps in their local communities.
  • The kids get some soft skills. The chance to work with these teachers and other students in a one-on-one environment will help with that key communication component. It will help when it comes time for, say, collaborative projects.

For those following with the #SQLNewBlogger challenge, how does it relate to data? Well, the data is a big deal today. If they learn some languages for apps, then they can take a huge step to becoming a modern DBA. I would think this helps in environments increasingly using open stacks, Java technologies, or even anything NoSQL. A good point for discussion among the professional family.

I really want to see how far this can go. Any donation helps!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Autism and Information Technology: Back on the Job Hunt

I'll be pivoting slightly in this blog challenge series, as I now need to publicly address a turn in my career and how I'll be doing things a bit a style that neurotypical people may relate to anyway.

At this time last year I found myself looking for a new job after company cuts. Turns out that only one year later, I find myself back in that exact situation. This time, I essentially worked myself out of the job when it was revealed that one of the interface engineer positions was eliminated. My main project responsibilities were shifted to a different team after it was determined that support could just maintain what I helped to build. The other factor working against me was being the greener member of the whole team. People originally expected me to stay a long time (as did I, naturally), but when someone had to go, current experience trumped my potential. I've tried not to be bitter about that, as business is about the bottom line.

So I find myself, an autistic and an IT person, as a free agent again. I succeeded last year, but this time some aspects are a bit more difficult to navigate. In the last year since joining my company in June, my skill set has expanded. I'm still mostly within the Microsoft stack, but they also used some open stack technologies and other in house solutions. So I picked up some Hadoop and Python along the way for various reasons. I did not do as much on the reporting side versus the job I held from 2011-2014, but I still did work with SSIS and integration. There were even some simple DBA-style tasks in there, particularly involving login security and tuning for our production environments. However, it still wasn't quite enough work doing these new things for the health care industry. It's as if I can say "yeah, I started some of this, and even did a script, but that may be it." Or, as I was told, I can let others know how easy it is to train me; the hard part was getting used to the minutiae of the industry I had switched into.

Naturally, I go through the phase of asking: what the fuck have I actually accomplished anywhere? I think about how those of us on the spectrum have accomplished big things, but then I go through the wallow where my attention deficit tendencies may have cost me in the past. I compare it to other friends and notables that have not gone through the same thing, regardless of career title. However, this year it occurred to me that I can adapt to trends just like everyone in my profession. Which has allowed me to approach the job hunt differently.

Continue with what I started learning, while picking up skills in other languages.
Not just Python, Hadoop, or other data visualization tools. I'm actually going to dust off the Java and continue to enhance my Linux abilities during my off time when not searching for jobs. Not saying I'll learn everything at once, but I'll see what I get through. I found myself impulsively taking advantage of deals on StackSocial where I figured skills would be necessary. I bought a Linux bundle (where I can fool with it on my virtual box) and one with multiple languages, which should help me do cool things like create mobile applications and even help build better data. I know some of this may be an Aspie impulse, depending on who you are.

Go to every SQL Server training session I can.
Face it, I have to bring up MSSQL because of the origination of the blog challenge, and also that's where my greatest strength has always been since I got a big boy job seven years ago. My debate was always, after taking the 70-461 exam, whether I should take the last two for my SQL Server 2012 certification, or if I should wait for SQL Server 2014 instead. Regardless I am still eager to get the MCSA on my record sooner than later once I figure out the path I wish to take. The good thing is that with a lot of the Microsoft technologies starting to wane (though Azure seems to be the reinvention effort), I'm at least most proficient in the one that will always seem to live on. In the meantime, I'll be attending a few training sessions to pick up skills. I have to stick with the free stuff for now.

Freelancing again.
I did a project for someone in Houston last spring/summer while looking for more permanent work, and I'm looking at going that route again with those I find in my network. Now it's already been noted that it's not my strong suit, but some of the connects I made at fairs and conferences allowed me to thrive some more. I've mentioned many times that I'm a spectrum person who thrives off experience, and this is a perfect opportunity. I also will continue to work on my brother's website, allowing me some Wordpress opportunities if this goes well.

Autism volunteer efforts continued.
Yeah, this is also how I am keeping myself busy, in addition to all of the above, and even the occasional ride share effort. I'm now more motivated than ever to get that GRASP chapter started in the Triangle, especially now that I have someone who will help with the effort. I also might make a turn-and-burn trip out of state to talk with autism researchers (not giving details yet). It's like I'm moonlighting as an Asperger advocate, which will also come in handy with a new story to tell. On some of the Asperger forums, many of us realize that we have all lost jobs, or failed to make ourselves irreplaceable. So my hope is that I can give them yet another story on how I keep getting myself hired, especially for fellow IT people.

These steps are all over the place, and it's getting them settled and broken into those Will Freeman style segments that will count. Always tough for the Aspie to start, but easy for the Aspie to complete. Information technology is an area where it's easy to get hired and easy to get laid off, and the question is how someone on the spectrum handles it. Considering how recently I went through the same thing, I feel okay about this.