Neurodiversity - Northrop Grumman Provides Environment for Success, Hear from One of Our UK Colleagues

Neil, a Neuro Divergent and Principal Software Engineer at Northrop Grumman, shares his story about finding a meaningful career in the United Kingdom.

Northrop Grumman is committed to supporting diversity and fostering an inclusive environment for all employees.

Neuro divergent at Northrop Grumman​​​​​ Neil, a Neuro Divergent, has a successful career as a principal software engineer at the Northrop Grumman United Kingdom location.

I have specific learning difficulties, the most impactful being: a reading age of 10 years with a recall ability somewhere in the bottom 2% of the population. But on the plus side my abstract reasoning somewhere in the top 2%. I found the UK education systems ill-informed and unprepared for the Neuro Divergent; probably not helped by me being an atypical divergent. In the 80’s when I passed the 11+ exam I was excluded from going to my local Grammar School as my teacher thought it was a fluke. I wasn’t assessed until my A-Level Chemistry teacher noticed I was amongst the best answering questions in class, but the worst at any written work. Luckily his wife happened to be a special educational needs teacher and she made the suggestion to him that I should get assessed. But I’m hopeful that the education system seems to be improving over time from my friends’ and family’s experiences.

Finding My First Career Opportunity

My first assessment was too late to get extra time or assistance for A-Level exams; so I didn’t do too well. In my gap year I saw an advert for an Assistant Scientific Officer at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment (RSRE), applied and was successful. So in the end I never took a degree and instead later undertook a Post Graduate Diploma in Computing for Commerce and Industry in my 20’s. I took that route because the research I had been conducting opened up the opportunity on the course; also I was worried I would have gotten bored with degree studies as my work was beyond that level.

Rising Through the Ranks

During my time with RSRE through to it becoming the company QinetiQ I rose to the rank of Principal Scientific Officer and led teams conducting research. My work has tended to be collaborative and at the cutting edge of Cybersecurity using semantic web technology for the military and industry, most often working with other companies and universities across Europe and the US. I have done research in other fields including public warning. In that field I changed the UK approach from being based on the type of risk (e.g. flood) and the population distribution to one which is user centric. I developed a framework for the situations people would be warned in by considering why they would want to be alerted and what outcome they needed. It sounds obvious in retrospect, innovation is often like that; but my work was included in UK Parliamentary debate and changed National Resiliency Policy. Understanding the fields of Civil Contingency and Disaster Management led to new work synthesising it with my Cybersecurity research.

Thinking Aloud Is Encouraged at Northrop Grumman

I think what is different about my thinking is much less of it tends to be conscious than it is for other people. A bit of my brain lets me know there’s an idea that can be reached, often without making it clear what the idea actually is and to get it out I have to interact with people. Having poor working memory but good abstract reasoning has given me a certain type of training to get coping mechanisms and confidence to think aloud. I hear my ideas for the first time along with everyone else and I do my most productive thinking in discussion amongst other people. I think through other people as it were, as well as alongside them. At Northrop Grumman I have found that thinking aloud isn’t just allowed, it’s encouraged! I have received several Northrop Grumman recognition awards and challenge coins for contributions to innovation.

"So I really do believe that our work culture and practice reflects what our corporate values say about inclusivity and encouraging individuals to make themselves and our company ever better; it’s empowered excellenteering."

I’m really proud of how much Northrop Grumman wants to support diversity of thought and how eager it is to explore to see what can work. In one of our new offices we’ve incorporated design changes such as specialised Audio Visual equipment, creating quiet areas and having walls and tables you can write on. The walls and tables make a big difference exploring ideas together on a large surface. But the quiet booths haven’t been so popular, they’re now in review to see what can be improved. This positive approach encourages fuller involvement from all employees and sends a signal that the company is serious about leveraging the value of diversity rather than it being merely corporate blurb. It’s palpable that we do this to improve all that we do, passionate to deliver better performance and value; rather than it being an exercise in trying to be seen to be saying the ‘right’ things.

The Northrop Grumman United Kingdom office continues to expand and we seek diverse contributors to work on what matters with us. Click here to search for jobs in the UK.