Autism & Employment: the Technology Consulting Industry

We know there are many different paths to a STEM career, and other STS contributors have written about approaches to your time at college, how to obtain a variety of skills that benefit future employees in STEM, and about STEM workplace environments. At the same time, getting a peek into the day-to-day experience of STEM careers can be harder to come by for students. Guest contributor Venkat Rao runs Assistive Technology Blog and frequently writes about technology and disability. Here he shares his own path to meaningful employment after college, and he gives insight for autistic students into the skills and responsibilities needed to work in technical consulting, plus links to common software used in the field. Read on to learn more. See his bio for additional ways to keep up with what he’s exploring and writing about. Thanks, Venkat!

For students about to graduate from college, the entire process of searching for jobs (and getting one!) is pretty nerve racking. Many students try to find jobs and internships in their area of expertise, and apply for various roles without really knowing what they are signing up for.

I don’t know how it is now, but when I was graduating with my MBA in 2007, I was lost.

I was aggressively focusing on “business jobs” – finance, marketing, accounting related jobs that asked for a fair bit of experience even for entry level roles. What I didn’t realize back then, as a nervous job seeker, was that all the skills I had learnt in school – group projects, presentations, writing papers – are equally applicable in various other fields!

Fast forward twelve years, and now I work for a consulting company, and I absolutely love what I do! My company often hires graduates fresh out of college, and besides the fact they have a degree, mostly looks at what kind of skills someone brings to the table. I work directly with some of them – a creative bunch of people who blow my mind every day with their creativity and talent. I love working with them, and I’d like to believe they like working with me too! We all work together to solve problems businesses face on a regular basis, remove all sorts of roadblocks for them, and enable them to succeed even more.

Transforming businesses

In the two paragraphs above I know I haven’t really revealed much about exactly what I do, and what consulting (or professional services) really means. In recent years, you may have heard some buzzwords like “digital transformation”, “artificial intelligence”, “cloud solutions”, etc. All of these buzzwords translate to something much larger, sophisticated, beautiful, and real! There are a set of technologies and solutions that consulting companies “implement” (this is something you will hear a lot in the consulting world) for their customers to automate a lot of manual processes they have, reducing roadblocks and smoothing out communication between them and their customers and anyone they interact with. Using various technologies, techniques, and methods, consulting companies pretty much re-invent the way businesses operate. The end result always is to transform the businesses. If one were to look at a before and after photo of a business, they can easily tell there are significant differences in the “after” photo.

Do you have interest in transforming businesses, and helping them become more efficient and profitable? Would you want to work for a technology consulting company and participate in various activities, tasks and projects for clients? What kind of skills & people does a consulting company look for? Read on to find out.

What is Consulting? (or Professional Services)

The consulting (or the professional services) industry provides businesses with the knowledge and ability to be a lot more productive and efficient than they already are, and ultimately increase their profitability and growth by rethinking and redefining their business processes, automating many tasks, and providing visibility into many areas of their businesses to make better decisions.

How is all of this done?

Each engagement with a customer is considered a project, and depending on the complexity of a project (the number of users a client has, their geographical locations around the world, the kind of processes they have, etc.), many people with different skills are involved. Each project has a start date, end date, and a budget (number of hours allocated for tasks allocated for all major tasks). Projects must be completed on or before the agreed upon end date and must not exceed budget.

Let’s learn about the people and skills involved in a project.

Business Analyst
At the beginning of a project, it is very important to understand what the client’s pain points are, and what needs to be improved. This is the job of a Business Analyst (BA).

Some of the tasks a BA does are:

  • Gather requirements, understand business needs, pain points, future needs, identify opportunities for improvements
  • Facilitate meetings and asks the right questions to get all the details
  • Document all of this and pass it on to other team members
Skills needed: Written and verbal communication, inquisitiveness, problem-solving abilities, facilitation
Functional/Application consultant
Goes through documentation and builds the solution
  • Is very comfortable with the product being used to build the solution (Dynamics 365, Salesforce, etc.)
  • Uses building blocks available within the product that do not require technical skills (like coding)
Skills needed: Creative and analytical abilities, reading comprehension, problem solving skills
Technical Consultant
Same as functional consultant but uses technical skills for coding features that cannot be built by the “building blocks” available within the product.
  • A technical consultant “extends” a solution through programming
Skills needed:Creative and analytical abilities, reading comprehension, problem solving skills, technical skills (coding)
Data migration Expert
Many times, customers are moving from one software to another for various reasons. When that’s the case, their existing data needs to move from their previous product to new product.
  • A data migration expert understands existing data, cleans it up where needed, and moves all of it either through excel files or sophisticated data migration tools.
Skills needed: Creative and analytical abilities, problem solving skills, verbal communication, knowledge of specific “ETL” (extract, transform, load) solutions
Data Integration expert
In many instances, information from a solution needs to go to other software. For example, if a sales person uses Dynamics 365 or Salesforce to create an order for their customer, that information  [customer name, items ordered, quantity, cost, taxes, etc.] need to be sent to people who take care of accounting/finances of the company.
  • A data integration expert does exactly this. They “integrate” at least two solutions so information can flow from one to another and vice versa
Skills needed: Creative and analytical abilities, problem solving skills, verbal communication, knowledge of specific “ETL” (extract, transform, load) solutions
Report specialist
Typically, this person builds reports that are used by customers to see performance of individuals or teams, get a sense of how healthy the company’s finances are, and to make decisions.
Skills needed: Creative and analytical abilities, problem solving skills, knowledge of reporting tools
Project Manager
It is evident that there are quite a few people involved in a project. Who makes sure that everything gets done in a timely manner? It’s the Project Manager (PM)!
  • A PM tracks all the tasks/milestones of a project and makes sure everything is completed on time
  • Communicates everything (updates/roadblocks/issues) to customers
  • Makes sure the project is within budget. If more budget is needed, communicates to the client with justifications and reasons.

As a project progresses, the customer is kept in loop. The Project Manager gets regular updates from every team member and conveys them to the customer. Regular feedback is received from customer and changes are incorporated throughout the duration of the project.

Your strengths and interests

As you can see, there are various people and skills required to make a project, and eventually the customer, successful. Depending on your strengths and interests, you can choose the right role for your skills to take off! Once hired, many employers provide training to college graduates and give them a taste of everything described above. After (or even during) training, employees can decide what path they want to choose. Wearing multiple hats and performing multiple roles in a project is also possible.

To learn more about solutions that consulting companies implement, visit the following links:

Don’t let “first impressions” of these solutions overwhelm you!

With a little bit of training and self learning, you will get comfortable with these solutions in no time.

Questions for Venkat?
Let us know in the comments.

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Venkat Rao is a technology enthusiast who runs Assistive Technology Blog. Venkat is a Practice Director for a top technology consulting  company based out of Minneapolis, MN, and works with many creative minds to implement Power Platform solutions for their customers. In the evenings and weekends, he writes about assistive technology, explores Microsoft technologies that can be beneficial to people with disabilities, and tinkers with his 3D printer he just bought!

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