Microsoft hiring program recruits employees with autism


REDMOND, Wash. --Microsoft knew it was on to something when it announced a new hiring program. The company was flooded with 700 resumes, all from people with autism.

"Some of these resumes were just amazing," said Jenny Lay-Flurrie, the company's Chief Accessibility Officer. "PHD's, masters, college degrees who were working in supermarkets stocking shelves."

But the applicants couldn't land jobs in their field. That included Kyle Schwaneke. Schwaneke has a mind for numbers, systems and shapes, but he says he never fit in in school.

"I felt like that was going to be the rest of my life," he said.

When he was 12-years old, he was diagnosed with Asperger's, on the autism spectrum.

"Everything sort of fell into place," Schwaneke said. "A lot of my behavioral quirks became more understandable."

Schwaneke earned a technology degree and got a job as a game developer, but the company went under.

"I, after about a year and a half, burned through all of my savings and I was essentially looking for a jobs at Target, Sears, Radio Shack," he said. "It was getting to the point where I was either going to have to take a job with a lot of physical labor or move back in with my parents."

That's when he heard about a new program at Microsoft, recruiting employees with autism for jobs in coding and development.

It's a mission that Lay-Flurrie is clearly passionate about.

"There are people with disabilities who have amazing skills. I mean, kick-can't say that word skills," she said.

She should know. Lay-Flurrie is deaf and has an 8-year old daughter with autism.

"We want to help make this a more inclusive, a more accessible environment and company, where you can bring it and you can deliver great things and show your strengths and be who you are everyday. Just come to work and be who you are," Lay-Flurrie said.

Microsoft sought help developing its hiring program, and recruiters are now sharing what they've learned with other companies. "It's our responsibility in some way to be part of that culture of sharing so we can improve," Lay-Flurrie said. "There is so much talent out there that we have a responsibility to work together to go get it. There are over a billion people with disabilities in the world. It's not a minority."

Part of opening Microsoft's doors to autistic employees required changing the interview process. In the final stage, applicants are on campus for two weeks, allowing more time to relax and show their skills.

"There was a sense of camaraderie among the applicants," Schwaneke said. "We knew that this was different than anything we had encountered before, and a lot of us had a really good feeling that this was going to be the opportunity that would allow us to excel."

Kyle is one of 11 employees to come through the autism hiring program so far. He landed on the Xbox team

"I bring a passion for my work. I love what I'm doing, I have a blast doing it."

Kyle has to meet the same standards and earns the same benefits as other workers. Entry level at the company pays in the six figures.

He might even hold an advantage. His autistic mind, with it's love of math, systems and shapes, is right at home.

If you are interested in applying to the Microsoft Autism Hiring Program, send your resume to

Microsoft is also has a scholarship program directed towards students with disabilities. The $5,000 scholarship is for students who will focus on computer sciences or related fields in college.

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