The challenge of special needs: Personetics, a Tel Aviv software company

Jobs in general are difficult to find today, but having a special need makes it that more difficult. Meet Personetics.

SHLOMIT BECKER – here with Dotan – couldn’t wait to get started. (photo credit: Courtesy)
SHLOMIT BECKER – here with Dotan – couldn’t wait to get started.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jobs in general are difficult to find today, but having a special need makes it that more difficult. Meet Personetics.
It’s not easy to get a job these days, especially if you’re a person or have a family member dealing with a special need. Most employers are wary of hiring people facing daily challenges and this makes it nearly impossible for them to enter the job market. Enter Personetics, a Tel Aviv software company which, a year and a half ago, decided that people high on the autistic spectrum would be perfect for their Quality Assurance Department. They began hiring people on the spectrum and the rest, as they say, is history.
Personetics is a financial technology software company founded eight years ago. With banks in North America, Europe and Asia using its technology, they provide their retail and business customers with customized insights on their personal financial information.
About two years ago, to find a way to improve the quality of the company’s software, David Govrin, one of the founders of Personetics, had an innovative idea.
 “I knew that people on the higher functioning end of the autistic spectrum had particular strengths being able to do the specific type of detailed and repetitious work the company needed in this area, so why not hire a team of adults on the autistic spectrum? This would solve our software quality problems, and at the same time give job opportunities to special needs people who have a hard time finding work. The initiative came strictly out of a pure business need, not to underwrite a nonprofit organization and not as a social experiment. Israel is the first Personetics branch that hires workers on the autistic spectrum and we’re very excited to do so.”
Shlomit Becker, a New York native who has been living in Beit Shemesh for over 25 years, is the head of the team. The mother of a 20-year-old son on the autistic spectrum, Shlomit is always researching news in the field and is very interested in what’s going on. This led her to save a Magazine article from several years back that reported on a private quality assurance course, AQA, given to qualified high-functioning people on the autistic spectrum. While working at IBM, she heard about a new AQA team to be made up of people on the autistic spectrum being planned in Personetics. She applied for the position to head the team, was accepted and left IBM.
“I knew this was going to be a challenge and a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved,” she said. “I couldn’t wait to start.”
That was 18 months ago and since then, the team has grown from four to nine people and has expanded to include work on automatic testing. Currently, all team members are young men, most of them on different levels of the spectrum. Although the jobs are not gender specific, it is difficult to find suitable girls for the group. The employees are all between 23 and 32 years old. Some work full-time, nine hours a day, and others work part-time, six hours per day. Some members came from Roim Rachok, an innovative program designed to train adults on the autism spectrum in professions required by the IDF and the civilian market, while others came from the above-mentioned AQA course. One came from EFFIE, a nonprofit group that helps people with Asperger’s syndrome, and another learned QA at John Bryce School.
Dotan Lavy, 32, is a member of the Personetics team and very happy to be a part of it.
“After working eight years at Partner, they downsized,” Lavy said. “I was offered a part-time job there, but that wasn’t what I wanted. I enrolled in the University of Ariel and got a degree in Electrical Engineering. I couldn’t find work in that field so I went to the John Bryce School and learned QA. Then I got this job in Personetics where I learned what it meant to actually work in QA, like asking questions and how to work more efficiently. Before I started working here, it wasn’t always easy for me to understand everything demanded of me or to ask when I needed to, but being here has made it easier to know just how to work in a work environment. My self-confidence has also grown and now if I want to ask something because I’m not sure or don’t understand it completely, I can ask. I’m not afraid. I also like that I get along with the others in my group; there are people my age that think like me and I can socialize with. Every morning, I wake up happily knowing that I have a rewarding job to do in a workplace that really feels like a second home.”
OFRA LAVY, Dotan’s mother, is also delighted.
“His self-confidence has improved tremendously, so much so that he got the push he needed to leave home,” she said. “He and a friend have just moved into an apartment in Ramat Gan, within walking distance from work. Up until now, Dotan was living at home in Tsur Yitzhak – an hour and a half drive to work each way, totaling three hours on the road and sometimes even more, depending on traffic. It was a long, tiring trip and now he can walk to work, which is wonderful. All this and the fact that Personetics has become his family, and ours, can’t be beat.”
Another member of the team, age 30, added that none of his previous workplaces had treated him with respect and some even looked down on him.
“I’ve had other jobs, but the conditions weren’t good for me, like having a quiet place to work in,” he said. “My bosses weren’t understanding and didn’t take into account what I needed. They couldn’t ‘get me’ and it just wasn’t comfortable and it was difficult to work. Job interviews were also a big obstacle since they were almost impossible to pass. Many employers would say ‘no’ on the spot or not have the courtesy of getting back to me. Here at Personetics, it’s just the opposite. I’m respected, treated as a professional and my needs are taken into account. Our team sits in a quiet area of the office but we’re not isolated; we’re just away from the hustle and bustle of the office. I get a chance to use my brain and show what I’m capable of doing. For the first time in my life, I enjoy going to work and there are some great side benefits, including the delicious food we get here.”
Becker said she believes that an important part of the success of the team is the involvement of Talia Haas, an occupational therapist from Roim Rechok.
“Talia comes to the office to help the team adjust to the work place environment and to help them deal with social difficulties (a feature of autism) and any other problems that may arise,” Becker said. “Talia and I also meet weekly so that I can learn more on how to guide the team members through some of their difficulties and make our department work the best that it can. Her participation in the project is a crucial for its success, especially when you consider all the challenges that these employees may face, like OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), depression and anxiety, all of which can affect their work. They might get stuck if a task is not totally clear, and for some, as much as we try to help them become more and more independent, there are some areas where they will always need guidance and management to keep them going. Overall, however, they do a great job and the quality of our software has improved dramatically since this department has opened.”
Yishay Schwerd, vice president of research and development, is proud of the team as well.
“They’re a great success,” Schwerd said. “I’ve been heading R&D for many years, and I am sure that having standard QA people would have failed in these demanding tasks, and that only a team of people on the spectrum could succeed in getting this job done right and they have! Hopefully, other companies will follow Personetic’s lead because any way you look at it, this is undoubtedly a win-win situation.”