Reflecting expanding efforts to expand the tech workforce by tapping the unique skills of the neurodiverse community, an Australian diversity startup has launched a series of self-driven learning modules designed to help people on the autism spectrum explore whether they might be well suited for a cybersecurity career.

Developed by local startup Untapped Holdings with the support of AustCyber and a host of corporate and university interests, the Genius Armoury platform comprises five online modules including an introduction to cybersecurity; threats and exploits; networks; digital forensics; and cybersecurity tools.

The platform also offers guidance about education and employment options – reflecting the support of founding corporate partners BHP, DXC Australia and Splunk as well as La Trobe and Curtin universities.

Having received $220,000 in funding during the latest tranche of AustCyber’s Projects Fund, Untapped CEO Andrew Eddy said many autistic people didn’t understand the career opportunities available in cyber – but “when explained, there was often a high level of interest in the type of work undertaken in these roles.”

Genius Armoury was designed as “an autism-friendly, deep-dive learning experience into the world of a cyber security analyst,” he said, “to spark interest among this cohort.”

Its ties to DXC’s Dandelion Project make it the latest in a series of industry-driven partnerships aimed at helping bring autistic people into the cybersecurity industry, where their talents are uniquely suited to problems like problem solving, attention to detail, and repetitive pattern-based analysis.

Growing desire to engage with those on the autism spectrum has fed support for programs like Curtin University’s Autism Academy for Software Quality Assurance (AASQA), which will this year provide five $5000 scholarships for autistic students to undertake cybersecurity-related VET training.

Such efforts are not only designed to benefit the skills-hungry cybersecurity industry, but are also targeted at the 31.6 per cent unemployment rate amongst autistic Australians – which, Untapped notes, is three times higher than that of people with a disability and nearly six times as high as those without a disability.

IT’s all about community

Efforts to empower autistic people have been welcomed by people like Adam Mico, a longtime data analyst who this month took up a job with data-analysis firm Keyrus.

“Before the Internet age, there was less to do and less for me to be excited about generally,” he said during the recent Tableau Live conference. “I found myself doing the same things and digging into one topic really, really significantly, and making sure that I was at a place where I could be comfortable with myself.”

Yet with a range of unfriendly responses from neurotypical people around him, Mico said, “I realised that I had to mask in certain ways, and not really show my true self; after years of doing data analysis, but not knowing I was doing data analysis, I realised that when I act this way it turns certain people off.”

Programs targeted directly at autistic people offer an important way of breaking down these barriers and helping them engage with tech-related industries in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Community support has made all the difference for Mico, who says he is “surprised that I can be part of a community that inspires so many people, and it is exciting to see a new person pop up each day.”

The growing community of autistic tech workers “is probably the most inclusive community and kind-hearted community I’ve been a part of,” he said, lauding his new employer’s efforts to engage with the community more proactively, “and I feel that I’m wanted there. I never really felt that way, pretty much anywhere, before Tableau.”

Analyses suggest there are likely many more people like Mico struggling to find their ideal role: Aspect (Autism Spectrum Australia), for one, recently estimated that 1 in 70 Australians – over 353,000 people – are on the spectrum.

The broad range of symptoms and often-difficult diagnoses make it hard to track autism within a population, noted Aspect CEO Adrian Ford, who suggests that “we are likely getting better at recognising and diagnosing autism in people of all ages.”

As diagnosis improves, intervention programs like Genius Armory will play an increasing role in helping others tap their strengths and find meaningful employment that leverages their special talents.

“It was not just the [Tableau] tool that helped me with my career,” Mico said. “It helped me immensely, personally, because I just feel like I have something important.”

“And I always will have an important thing to look forward to, and be part of, and have some strong personal impact that will continue probably for the rest of my life.”