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NCSA intern accepts opportunity through Microsoft’s Autism Hiring Program

Sol Robinson, an NCSA intern with the Blue Waters project who graduated this past December, has just landed a software engineering position with Microsoft’s Xbox team, located at the company’s headquarters in Seattle, WA.

Sol will be joining Microsoft’s diverse and inclusive workforce as they strive to hire more individuals with differences to make Microsoft stronger. Sol, for one, accepted an opportunity through the Microsoft Autism Hiring Program, which Microsoft began in 2015 through their Global Diversity and Inclusion initiative.

“I’m on the autism spectrum, so I subscribe to the DRES (Disability Resources & Educational Services) disability newsletter, and I was basically just looking for jobs in Chicago because that’s where my family is. And then I saw the Microsoft Autism Hiring Program and I thought, ok, I’ll go try that. And then I went and got a job apparently!” Sol recalled. However, not everything in his life has been this easy.

“I think it’s making up for the fact that my childhood was not exactly great, because growing up on the spectrum in public school was not fun as a child. But I think karma has kind of balanced it out, so it’s just like, now everything else will be awesome! Everything else will be easy.”

Though he makes it seem easy, Sol has logged countless hours developing and perfecting his coding skills, sometimes working up to 30 hours a week for his internship alone, where he developed a web app to view diagnostic data from the Blue Waters supercomputer and chart it various visually logical ways in order to extract meaning from the data. The opportunity at NCSA came about after an airport conversation Sol’s father and Blue Waters Director Bill Kramer had about job and career opportunities for people with autism.

“When we learned of the opportunity to have Sol work with us back in 2015, we met with him and saw a lot of potential,” said Mike Showerman, one of Sol’s internship mentors. “We quickly were able to find ways to communicate and work together effectively in a way that met both of our needs. Sol was great at taking our prototypes and proof of concept software to develop more structured and full-featured solutions. It was great to get a chance to watch his skillset and effectiveness grow as his projects progressed.”

“I really like working, and I like coding. I learned almost all of my coding skills here at NCSA. I would usually end up learning the same things again later in school, but I learned them here first,” Sol reflected about his experience as an NCSA intern. “Not everybody can get a job where they actually get to do real projects and learn as they go and the work isn’t critical enough that they need it immediately so you would already have to know what you’re doing, but it’s also complicated enough that you actually learn a lot.”

Though he credits his internship for developing his coding skills, Sol’s passion for coding took root several years before coming to the University of Illinois. He can trace his fascination with computers back to a very young age, recalling years of messing around on his father’s computer, intrigued by file systems and the mysterious world of computer architecture. When he reached middle school, he took over his father’s website, doing all the HTML coding himself. In high school, he found himself on his school’s web development team and loving the coding class they offered as part of their curriculum.

Now, armed with a degree in computer science, Sol is ready to embrace the urban lifestyle of Seattle, and turn his passion into his full-time occupation with one of the world’s top software developers. Congrats, Sol!

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