‘Not just a job’: Neurodiverse find careers in AI tech at Northern Virginia company

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Data labeling or computer annotation may seem mundane, but for Cody Hart, who is neurodivergent, it adds value to his life.

“I live for myself in a way that I really didn’t have the freedom of four or five years ago,” Hart said.

Before being hired at Enabled Intelligence in Falls Church, Virginia, he was struggling in his grocery store deli job.

“They talk to us, you know, like everyday people, which is not something that I would get very often when I was younger. When ADHD and other neurodivergents weren’t very well understood,” Hart said.

The AI technology company provides data solutions for the U.S. defense and intelligence community. The company announced Wednesday plans to recruit 100 AI data annotators who are neurodiverse, like Cody. This includes people on the Autism Spectrum, ADHD, Dyslexia and more.

“One of the things that we found is, this work requires a lot of detail orientation, hyper-focus, pattern recognition, puzzle-solving skills and analytical skills, that we found that a number of folks who are neurodiverse have almost superpowers in,” Enabled Intelligence CEO Peter Kant said.

Melwood, a nonprofit providing jobs and opportunities for people with disabilities, is partnering with Enabled Intelligence to help get workers ready through a 14-week boot camp. Hart is also a Melwood program graduate.

“IT certifications, really the soft skills of how to work in a workforce with an employer, as well as an immediate entree into an incredible job in a field with great career potential advancement. It’s not just a job. It’s the starting point of a real career,” Melwood President & CEO Larysa Kautz said.

Three Virginia Democrats helped make it possible. Congressman Don Beyer, who went back to college to learn how AI works, spoke to employees Wednesday. He and senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, helped secure $307,000 in federal funding to support Melwood’s Neurodivergent Workforce Initiative.

“All the people and organizations that were involved in leading me to this job, you know, are all just small examples of how important these kind of programs and these kind of services are for people like me,” Hart said. 

(Editor’s note 4.25.24 at 6:40 a.m.): This story has been updated to reflect that senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner were not present at the event but did help secure funding. 

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