My Journey at SAP
“What is Autism? We don’t hire people with autism.” That is the answer I got from many companies in India while I was searching for a place of employment. My name is Asha Sreedhar and this is my story of how I came to be in SAP Labs India.
I did my schooling and college in US where I graduated with a degree in Office Administration with a Medical Administrative Assistant Specialization (with Phi Theta Kappa Honors). I worked many jobs in hospitals and clinics but had a hard time maintaining employment due to intensive customer service and multi-tasking. In my previous job, my manager suggested me to start pursuing a new career in the IT Field as a software tester since she observed that I am good with computers and also display good attention-to-detail skills.
I came to India in April 2014. When I first started interviewing for a job, many companies didn’t know what autism and they were hesitant to continue the conversation and learn about the condition. Every time I made the attempt to explain and give more information about autism I found these companies had showing little interest and no empathy.
After completing the software testing course and internship from an institute in Bangalore, India, I started searching for software testing jobs in different companies by making trips to the offices and even by calling them over the phone. It was extremely difficult as companies again didn’t know what autism was and told me that I needed a college degree in computer science along with other skills like programming languages (Java, Python, .Net, etc.) instead to get a job. Not only that, it was also very competitive to get a job in this industry as there was already a large pool of candidates who had more qualifications and skills than me. I felt like giving up and moving back to US.
As Enable India were the training partners for the SAP Autism at Work program, the Employability Training which started in March 2015 saw us attending them both at Enable India and SAP offices. It was fun and I was the only female participant. We were like a family and used to laugh, joke around, and play pranks on each other.
I completed the training in July 2015 and I was one of the first candidates to be selected for SAP Labs in Bangalore, India. After joining SAP, the trainers from Enable India gave a sensitization session (which focused on basic understanding of autism and how to work with people who have autism) to my teammates and manager. I also created a Self-Advocacy PPT about myself and presented it to them. My manager and some of the team members were all shocked to learn that I have autism and other teammates didn’t know about autism (since they were hearing about it for the first time).
My employment journey started at SAP, where I work currently as a quality associate. My mentor and teammates first gave me an overview of the project by watching some videos to understand how the industry functions and works. After that, they asked me to practice testing the sections for functionality defects and raise defects using a tool. There used to be meetings with the manager regarding my job performance and also feedbacks from the colleagues about my testing skills. I have been receiving job promotions from 2016 till today where I am moving up to a different testing level and also learning new skills. My job contributes to ensuring that the product is stable and tested thoroughly without defects. My manager, mentor, and teammates are very amiable, understanding, concerned, encouraging, and supportive of me. They always meet up with me and check to see if I have any problems with work and offer support from their side. They always include me in team lunches and events. I always receive appreciation for my work.
In the wake of the lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic, we have online meetings as an integral part of “Work from Home.” Once, when I had a meeting with my manager on April 2nd 2020, I told him that it was World Autism Awareness Day and Month. He arranged for a team meeting online and asked me along with my teammates to dress in blue. He asked my teammates to guess why we had to wear blue so only one colleague guessed correctly that it was World Autism Awareness Month and started talking about it. My experience with SAP so far has been wonderful and I always look forward to attending office each day. I enjoy working with my teammates and learning new things as well.
During office hours, I like to help out and participate in many autism events within SAP where I give speeches and host events. I sometimes go out with the Autism at Work Team to different organizations during office hours and see what they do and also give speeches about my life with autism and my work life at SAP Labs. I am also part of the Autism at Work Yoga Program where I practice yoga with a trainer and other candidates thrice a week. On weekends, I like to visit many organizations with my mother to give speeches to parents with autistic children about my life with autism. We also give them some tips and advice when they ask me questions about what to do with their children. I am one of the advisory board members at Eka Educational and Charitable Trust. It aims at empowering young adults with special needs by providing appropriate training and placements for jobs. I am also a member of the Rotary Club in Bangalore where I go and help out with volunteer activities on weekends.
The diversity and inclusion for any organization is important as they need to take an initiative to get educated about hiring people with autism and focus on what they can bring to the table like their skills, strengths, talents, etc. If the candidate is not suitable for a job at the company, they can be guided on where to go and what steps to take in order not to feel bad and left out. After candidates get hired for a job at the company, the supervisor/manager should hold monthly meetings with them to check how their work is going and offer help or support if they have problems. If the job is not working out after their probation, the manager and organization can work with the employee to transition them to another department (based on their skills and interests). In order to improve social interactions, they can meet for team lunches every month. The company can organize autism events every year and invite everyone to come and learn about autism. They can create and provide opportunities to employees with autism to participate in extra-curricular activities in the workplace. I was encouraged to host the Autism Summit Event in SAP in November 2018.
SAP is role model in leading this way by hiring people with autism and gives them a chance to participate in many autism events where the candidates can give speeches about their life and also about what they do at the company. The Autism at Work trainers at SAP hold monthly meetings with us to see how our work is going and whether we need any help or support from their side if we have problems. We also meet for team lunches here and there.
Today, I am proud to work for SAP Labs and hope to continue doing so in the future.
Team Photo for Ethnic Wear Day at SAP Labs
Asha hosting corporate panel discussion at India Inclusion Summit in November 2019