Neil, a neurodivergent Principal Software Engineer at Northrop Grumman, shares his story about finding a meaningful career in the United Kingdom.
Northrop Grumman is committed to supporting neurodiversity and fostering an inclusive environment for all employees.
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, though my abstract reasoning is in the top 2%. I found the UK education systems ill-informed and unprepared for the neurodivergent population, though it probably did not help that I was an atypical divergent. In the 80s, 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 at answering questions in class, but the worst at any written work. Luckily, his wife was a special educational needs teacher who suggested I get assessed. I’m hopeful, however, as the education system seems to be improving based on recent experiences of friends and family.
Finding My First Career Opportunity
My first assessment was too late to get extra time or assistance for A-Level exams; I didn’t do very well. In my gap year I saw an advert for an Assistant Scientific Officer at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment (RSRE). I 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 20s. I took that route because the research I conducted opened an opportunity on the course. I was also worried I would grow bored with degree studies as my work was on another level.
Rising Through the Ranks
During my time with RSRE and its transition to QinetiQ, I rose to the rank of Principal Scientific Officer. My work tended to be collaborative and at the cutting edge of cybersecurity. My research team and I used semantic web technology for the military and industry, most often working with other companies and universities across Europe and the US. I have also done research in other fields, including public warning. In that field, I changed the UK approach from one based on risk type (e.g. flood) and population distribution to one that is user centric. I developed a framework for situational warning by considering why people would want an alert and which outcome they would need. 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 the way I think is that less of it is 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 trained me to use coping mechanisms and given me 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 thinking aloud isn’t just allowed, it’s encouraged! I have received several Northrop Grumman recognition awards and challenge coins for contributions to innovation.
‘I really believe 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 neurodiversity and how eager it is to explore what can work. In one of our new offices we’ve incorporated design changes such as specialised Audio Visual equipment, quiet areas, and walls and tables we can write on. The walls and tables make a big difference exploring ideas together on a large surface. The quiet booths haven’t been as popular and are being reviewed to find improvements. This positive approach encourages fuller involvement from all employees. It also sends a signal that the company is serious about leveraging the value of diversity, rather than merely spouting a corporate line. It’s palpable that we do this to improve all that we do, because we’re passionate about delivering better performance and value, rather than simply trying to be heard saying the “right” things.
The Northrop Grumman United Kingdom office continues to expand and seek diverse contributors to Define Possible with us. Click here to search for jobs in the UK.
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