November 2nd, 2020
Years ago, I wrote something that received some surprising criticism. I’m dyslexic, and I decided to post an update without using any of the writing tools I typically use, just to show people how useful they are. Despite the fact that I introduced the post by explaining it was an example of how challenging writing can be for someone with dyslexia, someone responded by pointing out all my spelling and grammar mistakes.
Thankfully, most people understood my message: Yes, dyslexia can make some things harder for me, but using the right tools can be transformative.
I really like using my own experience to help others find and use the right tools for them. For more than 25 years, I’ve been championing the benefits of neurodiversity in the tech space. Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences are recognized and respected just like any other characteristics that differ from person to person. Dyslexia is one example of neurodiversity; ADHD is another.
The way I think and process problems is critical to my role at Google, as I need to see the bigger picture in a very complex landscape. Over the last few decades, I’ve been a part of mentor groups as well as neurodiversity roundtables and events where we talk about what challenges and benefits there are for those who have different communication and work styles, and how we can all best excel together. I also partner with Google Cloud and Google Workspace customers through our Office of the CTO program, or OCTO, to help bring some of these learnings to people outside of Google who use our products.
Working from home has presented hurdles for all of us, myself included. I’ve found it difficult to live without a whiteboard or develop ideas when collaborating with others. But I’ve also learned a few things that have helped me adjust, and helped me and my teams. I wanted to share some tips and tools I’ve learned over the months (and in some cases, years) that can be especially useful while many of us continue to work from home.
- Personally, I’ve found that using the online version of Jamboard and a Pixel Pen during remote meetings—of which I now have plenty of—has been a game-changer. Having a virtual whiteboard in front of me that my colleagues can also see helps bridge the disconnect between us. It’s amazing how engaging it can be seeing a solution coming alive, and how discussing it can enrich the outcome. This is especially critical with complex problems.
- While having your camera on during every meeting can become painful, it’s incredibly helpful for many people. I need to read body language; it often helps me know if I need to speak slower or move a little more quickly through a presentation. (Of course, I fully understand when this isn’t possible!)
- Using captions in Google Meet is always a good idea. For me, being able to match the words that are being spoken to those typed out below helps me not miss important details, and also means I can take notes. Captions even correct speakers’ grammar mistakes, which helps with my note-taking. While captions are only available in English right now, we’re actively working to bring them to more languages.
- This might sound a little obvious, but using Smart Compose and grammar suggestions features have definitely improved my writing abilities. If I’m struggling with how to write a sentence, Smart Compose can suggest ways to complete it, which saves me time. (And is especially helpful with words like “where” and “were.”)
- The fifth and final tool that’s worked well for me is using more than one screen. I’ve found that a single screen feels very restrictive to me. I normally have three screens since I jump between tasks a lot. Many neurodiverse people like myself find it difficult to stay focused on one thing for very long. Having my work “scattered” around on different screens feels sort of like having papers all over a desk; I can pick up pieces in parallel without the need to stop and start what I’m doing. Basically, being able to easily move between the different things helps me find a flow.
Some of these things more specifically serve neurodiverse people, while others can help anyone. But the idea is that when we’re more empathetic and attuned to what everyone on our team needs, we’re better able to perform as a group.