Will Kennedy's journey into the world of coding began in childhood, sparked by a fascination with video games and a chance encounter with an HTML book. Through participation in robotics competitions and coding contests, he honed his skills, eventually landing an internship at WiseTech in 2023 while pursuing his computer science degree. Will is now an associate software engineer at WiseTech, and he finds purpose in tackling intricate challenges and contributing to meaningful projects.

In honor of Neurodiversity Celebration Week (18 – 24 March), Will shares insights into his journey of self-discovery navigating a diagnosis of autism and ADHD. He shares the impact of his diagnoses, the importance of fostering inclusivity and understanding in the workplace for neurodiverse individuals, and advice for those considering similar career paths.

Can you share how you discovered your passion for programming?

When I was a kid, we had a library in my home and when I was about eight, it was a Sunday morning, and I was browsing through it. I found this book related to making websites in HTML and I realized that this person was clearly crafting something with computers.

I was obsessed with video games - I loved Pokémon Yellow at the time - and I rushed into my parents’ room, and I asked my dad if I could make video games with it; he gave me this very reluctant “yes”. My dad programmed in 1981 and in a totally different world of technology to what we have now, so he didn't have any idea.

From that, I learned how to code which is very congruent with other loves - like math and science and just problem solving in general. I always get the same rush and exhilaration from building a robot or fixing a car or dismantling a microwave or writing code.

Coding stuck with me because it was one where I could express my creativity freely, and there was no upfront cost attached to it. The tech industry was performing very well - and continues to perform very well - so there was a lot of exciting opportunities, outreach programs, etc. for me to get involved with.

You joined WiseTech as an intern and are now a software developer, what do you enjoy most about your job?

The first is that I get to solve fascinating problems daily. I'm able to contribute in a quite substantial and obvious way to a product that solves a bunch of problems for consumers. It's a real-world application and my skills actually improve people's lives and the world.

The second thing is that WiseTech’s culture is incredible and the people I’ve met here are incredible. I get to interface with all of these really cool people who are just lovely and accommodating, and it's just a fantastic place to work. So, it's equal parts the people and the problems.

Can you share a bit about your journey of self-discovery regarding being diagnosed with autism and ADHD?

When I turned 18, I had been having a lot of difficulties in my final year of school and it culminated in me not handing in this significant assignment. It was worth 40% of my grade in physics and I realized that something was seriously wrong.

It didn't matter how much I understood that I needed to get this assignment done and it didn't matter how anxious I was about the result, there was just something that impeded me and I couldn't overcome it.

In the past, teachers had asked me if I'd received psychological help or a diagnosis, and I had always brushed it aside because I was prideful of being intelligent and functional, and there was nothing that could possibly be “wrong” with me.

But that attitude was a tremendous hindrance because it barred me from seeking the support that I needed. So, when that and a combination of things in my life happened, I realized I needed to seek help.

I wasn’t expecting to be diagnosed with autism or ADHD, I was quite convinced that I had generalized anxiety disorder or – maybe - bipolar disorder; I can say I was surprised by my diagnosis.

Learning that has taught me a lot about myself and how my brain functions, and that my indolence, as I previously thought, wasn’t indolence. It was me struggling with the condition and not having the tools to support myself or to educate other people in my life and how they could effectively support me.

What impact has your diagnosis had on your life?

Initially it had a very negative impact, because these are conditions that are neurological in nature. I don't have sufficient serotonin in my prefrontal cortex, I didn't have this sort of socio-cognitive development at the correct stage. So, I felt like I was never going to escape it - which was quite disheartening.

Unlike other mental health conditions, they may be curable in the long term, but there isn't any evidence to suggest that there's a cure for neurodivergence like ADHD and autism – which is crushing when they can present so many obstacles to your daily life.

However, I realized that I had lived with these conditions my whole life , and I had pursued all my passions, I had friends and family who I love very dearly and vice versa. This whole time I had been carving out my own path with these conditions in tow. That realization gave me more agency in my life, not less.

It didn’t mean that there were things that I would never be able to do. It just meant that there was a unique challenge that I had to address, and that's okay. It also gives me things that are quite unique to myself and are advantages.

As much as it is horrible to sit there and fixate on something for 14 hours straight and forget to eat or drink, it also means that by the end of that 14 hours, I've probably achieved quite a lot. That sort of obsessiveness has cultivated lots of my interests and helped me develop so many passions and projects that I'm proud of.

Have there been any tools or strategies that you’ve implemented that have helped you manage your symptoms?

ADHD medication has been quite a valuable tool for me. It's not something that I want to take every day though because it does have some side effects.

But on days where I've lost my keys, my coffee has been heated up in the microwave four times, and I must leave the house in 5 minutes and I’m still not ready, medication makes everything a little bit more manageable.

Apart from that, I’ve made some simple changes to my life that have made things so much more effective. For example, doing my washing – in the standard way – is something insurmountable to me; so, I have strategies in place to help me do this. I removed the doors on my cupboards so that I have visibility of my things, and it just makes it so much easier to remember to get things done. I also set hard boundaries with myself to stick to my habits, especially when I’m taking my medication regularly.

By default, if I get a task, I put it in my reminders app and then it goes on a white board, and then it goes on the other four whiteboards I have around my house. So, no matter where I go in my house, I will never forget what I need to do because it’s written somewhere that I can see.

WiseTech has offered a lot of accommodations that are tremendously helpful as well. My People Leader calls me for five minutes at the start of every day and asks me what I'm going to do that day. This means that I have designated time to plan my day, which is just so invaluable.

Do you think your unique traits provide an advantage to you in your career as a software developer?

Programming has been my hyper fixation for the past 11 years, it’s something that I think about pretty much every day. It's the thing that I am constantly contemplating because it's something that I really love and get a lot of joy out of at a very fundamental level.

ADHD isn’t really about not being able to focus. It's about not being able to regulate how much focus you dedicate to a specific activity.

So, being so deeply in love with software engineering and programming, means that it occupies my mind constantly. The downside is obviously that if there are tasks that I’m not passionate about, like paperwork for example, they are going to fall by the wayside.

So, in many ways, it's helped me because my work is my passion and it enables me to follow that pursuit, but also because I can offer a unique perspective to different problems. Because it's something that I think about so constantly, it means that I come back to problems all the time and can come up with new solutions. Those are the sort of things that my neurodivergence empowers me to do.

What's something that you wish more people understood about neurodiversity?

I wish more people recognized that neurodivergence is a hyper expression of normal problems. Being late, losing things or having awkward social encounters are normal things that everyone experiences.

But people who are neurodiverse experience those things to a level where it impacts their lives - and it's important to respect and treat that with compassion.

It’s important to be wary of saying “yeah I’m late sometimes too”, because when someone is expressing a symptom of their neurodivergence - it's not just that they’re late once or twice. It’s that they’ve been late to everything, every day for their life and it has been a persistent issue for them. It can add – unknowingly – to the stigma that neurodivergence is simply ‘laziness’ or ‘stupidity’ because other neurotypical individuals have similar issues and ‘deal with it fine’.

It’s similarly important to realize that neurodiverse people offer a unique perspective. They've led a life that is different to neurotypical people, and they have unique experiences that they can draw on.

There is strength to diversity - including the diversity of neurodivergence. Their atypical thinking and unique challenges enable neurodivergent peoples to provide valuable input.

How do you think companies can create a culture that's inclusive of neurodiverse people?

I think WiseTech is a fantastic example of this. The first thing is to allow people the opportunity to ask for certain accommodations in a judgment-free way. I have expressed at various points of my career that I am neurodiverse, and I have specific challenges and unique needs that can be addressed in specific ways. So, it's a matter of offering that support rather than mandating it or forcing it on people in a standard corporate way.

I think having outreach – like this interview - which lets people in the workplace know that there are neurodiverse people around you, whether you’re aware or not, who may need unique support and need to be treated with empathy and respect is invaluable to providing neurodiverse people with place they can feel included and excel.

It further tells other neurodiverse people in that workplace that you're not alone here, that there are other people like you, and that there are other people who need those unique accommodations. It’s okay; there’s nothing to be ashamed about.

How does our hybrid model support you to do your best work?

It’s easy to get over stimulated in the office. There's lots of people around, conversations happening, keyboard clattering, etc., although I have found that a good pair of noise cancelling headphones does wonders - and I am far less distracted and overwhelmed, and I do really enjoy the social interaction in the office.

When I work from the office, I get to learn lots of new things, I get to see lots of different interesting problems and I can help people with problems that they're struggling with. It still teaches me lots of things and gives me lots of value in that sense.

Working from home is really convenient in the sense that there's no conventional sense of lateness. The hybrid model works really well for me because if I’ve woken up and gotten distracted by something before work, there'll be a Teams notification reminding me of a meeting which avoids the issue of me being late to work or to a meeting.

What do you think needs to be done to break the stigma around neurodiversity?

When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t say anything about it to anyone because it's uncomfortable to potentially have people be judgmental or to belittle your condition or tell you that it's not real or that it's not an excuse. All those things were very worrying, and I didn’t want my honesty and straightforwardness about having these conditions to tarnish my professional reputation. But I've come to realize that people are more accepting than I thought, which is a phenomenal thing.

I think the way for us to lessen the stigma around neurodiversity is to just have more education about it and to have more accurate representation of neurodiverse people in the workplace and in social settings. The words ADHD and autism elicit a very specific notion in people's minds, and they don't necessarily accurately reflect all neurodiverse people.

When I tell people that I’m neurodivergent, they look at me a bit strangely because I'm quite sociable, I make eye contact and I smile, which diverges from their perception of what a person with autism looks like. But I still have sensory issues, I have a level of social anxiety, and I sometimes make inappropriate comments because I don't identify the way that I'm supposed to respond to a given situation.

It's important that people recognize that just because I don't look like in a conventional sense, what you expect an autistic person to look like, that I still am one and that I still might exhibit those symptoms, even if it's not as immediately identifiable.

I think having representation with things like this interview is valuable, and I think that having more neurodiverse people in workplaces speak up about it is valuable because it creates a culture of inclusivity.

17-year-old me would not imagine me being here in any way, shape or form. It would have been a foregone conclusion that everything that I had done from the moment of my diagnosis to the end of time was going to be a failure. It would be valuable if the 17-year-old me met the current me, and I could tell him, “Don't worry. It's okay. It will pan out much better than you expect. This is not going to be forever your doom.”

What advice would you give other neurodiverse people considering pursuing a career in tech?

The important thing to remember is that if you’re neurodiverse, typically speaking you’ll be extremely invested in a specific subject matter. Your passion for what you’re pursuing will shine through to employers, colleagues, friends, family - everyone. You do not want to be employed by places that do not recognize your unique talents, respects your passion, and supports you to perform your best.

WiseTech understands and appreciates the real value that you will bring to the workplace and there will be people around you who will support you and will also cherish the input that you provide. So, just go for it.

I know that that is scary and I understand that you may have concerns about whether or not you will work well in this sort of environment, but I promise you if you are passionate and dedicated, which I'm certain you are, then that will be the thing that everyone takes away.

No one is going to be too concerned about whether you make a second too long eye contact, if the handshake is too firm, or if you're 15 minutes late to a meeting occasionally. If you really do love what you do, anybody will be accommodate you easily.