Mark Mattson finds his way with CAI's Autism2Work program

People who know Mark Mattson know him as a gifted thinker and an outspoken advocate for himself. But, during moments of pressure, he sometimes feels his mind overload with information. The words come too fast, and he gets flustered. It’s a pattern that became clear in childhood and revealed itself again when Mark was searching for a job after college.

Mark discovered early that his ability to learn and assimilate new information quickly was especially alive when it came to IT – and the idea of a job at the intersection of technology and project management was an exciting prospect. In school, he was deliberate and driven, pulling together just the right components so he could offer true IT project management competence to an employer, including mechanical engineering, economics, business management, and marketing. “I want to lead projects that shape the future,” he says. “I want to leave a legacy.”

After graduating cum laude from the Drexel College of Business with a degree in Business and Engineering, Mark interviewed for a number of positions, confident that his academic credentials, aptitude, skills, and professional demeanor would help increase his chances of getting hired. Even so, opportunities did not pan out. “It isn’t as though I didn’t practice or study for my interviews,” he says. “I did so extensively, but I think people who aren’t familiar with autism may read my body language as a lack of confidence, even when I am confident. The truth is, being put on the spot for an interview is not where I shine. The work is where I shine.”

For Mark, part of the problem was anxiety. “I’m very driven and very personable, but I just don’t make the best first impression in a traditional interview – and that definitely compromised my chances with a majority of opportunities.”

It was when Mark was feeling discouraged in his job search that he found CAI’s Autism2Work program – and he knew almost immediately it would be a good fit. “Often, companies are looking for someone older or more experienced, and they offer less of a range of opportunities with rigid requirements. What stood out to me was the incredible opportunity CAI offered. I want to be in control of my own destiny, and I liked that there was a lot of different types of work to choose from.”

Mark called CAI to inquire and found out about the upcoming Job Readiness Training (JRT) scheduled the following month in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The JRT is a 60-hour, workforce development training and competency assessment designed to prepare candidates to be successful in the work environment. Mark says he saw it first and foremost as an opportunity to grow. “I wanted to establish myself as a professional and a leader, so I jumped at the chance to build my skillsets and learn new things.”

At the JRT, Mark collaborated with other JRT participants in a team setting and was able to learn about the A2W culture, the specifics of A2W roles, and new skills related to automation. “To be honest, the JRT was more interesting than I expected it to be,” says Mark. “The leaders made me feel welcome from day one – and it boosted my confidence that I could be successful in this job because we practiced programming robots, which I was able to learn quickly despite not having as extensive a background with it.”

After the JRT, CAI offered Mark a position working with the A2W quality assurance team that supports a large pharmaceutical company, standardizing test scripts for the company’s enterprise resource programming application. From the outset, he brought a meticulous attention to detail and structured discipline to his work, which showed in his productivity levels. His work ethic immediately caught the attention of his managers. “Mark is an extremely bright professional who is highly driven and focused on delivering quality work,” says A2W Team Lead Rory O'Brien. “He’s great working with the team and mentoring peers. He’s able to break down complex assignments into manageable components, which is a technique that has helped many of his teammates increase their productivity and accuracy.”

“I want people to look at me and say ‘this guy can be trusted,’” says Mark. “And I like being able to contribute to everyone’s success because the success of the collective team is paramount. That’s why at work I get up, I see what I can do to be an asset to others. I believe being a leader is really being a support. So I make myself available to people and do what I can to help.”

As he showed consistently strong output in test script standardization through the Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) portal, Mark was transitioned to the script automation team, working with the company’s Worksoft Certify and ALM applications. “Mark was determined to begin automating,” says O’Brien. “In an extremely short period of time, Mark was excelling at automation and delivering quality scripts.”

With script automation, Mark says he can watch assembled scripts in action, which he relishes. “I also love being able to take ownership of my work and build something that will make a tangible impact on future endeavors.” But the real thrill, Mark says, is knowing the work of the A2W team is critical to the company’s core business. “A pharmaceutical company needs to focus on and invest in research and development – not on auditing or report generation. Because my team automates and streamlines these kinds of business functions, we allow the company to focus on what it does best.”

If it weren’t for A2W, Mark imagines he may still be stuck in a turbulent job market. “At A2W, the people are what make it a success,” he says. “They take time to understand and relate to me, which is imperative to working with someone like me. I want to be the best at what I do – the A2W program staff understand what makes me tick and know the right things to say: this is what you’re doing, this is where we need to go.”

Mark is forthright when it comes to his journey and where he is today. “I want people to know me as someone who does things the right way and someone who makes a difference,” says Mark. “When I couldn’t find a job, I wasn’t sure how I would achieve those goals. With A2W, I am firmly in control of my own destiny.”