Personal Accounts of Being a University Student with HFA/AS

Diane, diagnosed with autism:

Back to Diane's first degree

UC Santa Barbara
>From Jan., 1990 to Apr., 1993
Got my MS in Computer Science while working full-time

I will not go through each year individually since all the years were very similar. I decided to get my master's degree in 1989 and applied to UCSB and got accepted. I started classes in January, 1990 (I also started seeing the man who was to become my husband right around then, so it was a special time for me). My main motivation for getting my master's degree was that I wanted to leave Delco Electronics because I absolutely hated the work (I programmed only in assembler language, and I wanted to do C programming, because that's what I learned in college, and most other companies used C). I didn't have faith in my job-finding skills to just start sending out resumes and get a job that way. I also still had a desire to work for Hewlett-Packard and thought at the time that they only hire from universities (it turns out that that's not quite right, they do frequently hire people already working at other companies).

The first two quarters, I was all excited and had the energy to take two classes per quarter, in addition to working 40 hours a week (although I did cut a lot of corners in that the entire time I was getting my degree). However, it was extremely difficult, and every spare minute was spent studying for my classes, yet each time I would successfully complete a class, I was very thrilled. I managed to get A's and B's again. During 1991, I had to cut back to one class a quarter, because I just couldn't handle two classes and work full time. I still spent all my spare time studying. I think the only reason I was able to keep it up for 3 years and get my master's degree was that my relationship with my husband (we got married in 1992) was developing during that time and that kept me going. I couldn't do that again, today.

Also I hated my job and just did the minimum possible, and never worked overtime (and often cut corners on the 40 hours a week as well). I had to take most my vacation days and use them for assignments. Several times I considered quitting work and going to school full-time, but that would have required getting a student loan since I had almost no money saved up. Also I didn't want to give up the benefits I had, such as medical insurance and the 401K (I had recently started contributing to that). Today, I am amazed that I got through it because it was so difficult and time-consuming.

Going to the university while working full time was quite a different experience from going there as a full-time student and living in the dorms. I didn't get to know any of the students and did all assignments alone, and if I needed help I needed to go to the professor or the TA (teaching assistant). (As an undergraduate I frequently consulted with other students about assignments and often got help that way. ) This was an added burden, because it meant taking time away from work to meet with them, since their office hours were always between 9:00 and 5:00, or I would have to stay late at class to meet with them.

In 1993, I did the on-campus interview with Hewlett-Packard again which again went very well. The guy I interviewed with was very nice and we hit it off well. Soon after, HP called me for a site interview in San Diego (I was expecting to move, but had been hoping to move to the Pacific Northwest, but to work for HP I was willing to go anywhere). In Feb., 1996, I flew down to San Diego to do the interview. HP actually let me fly down the night before and stay in a hotel (I flew in and out the same day in 1985), and the hotel I stayed in was very fancy, and in walking distance of HP.

The boss I would be working for met me first, and we got along immediately and I felt very comfortable with him (we are actually friends to this day). I interviewed with three engineers, who all asked me difficult technical questions (I didn't think I answered all of them correctly), but I must have, because that night, when I flew home, they called me and told me I got the job! I was very, very happy. We set the start time for me to start working at May 1, 1993.

The final thing I had to do to complete my masters degree, after I took all the necessary classes, was study for the exit exam, which, that year only, they allowed me to take the Computer Science GRE exam and exceed a certain score. The Computer Science GRE exam is very difficult, and the one time I took it before I didn't do too well. I also had the option of taking an exit exam written by the university, but I looked at some of the previous year's exit exams but they were even more difficult than the GRE, with many of the questions covering topics I had never heard about. So I decided to take the GRE. I spent several weeks reading computer science textbooks and answering practice questions in order to study for it. When I finally took the exam, and got my score later, I had barely passed (one point less, and I would have failed and wouldn't have gotten my master's degree).

I also had the option of completing a master's thesis, but I didn't want to do that option due to the extra work, since I was already working full time. I had decided from the start not to do a thesis. Also, writing a thesis would have been very difficult for me since, due to my autism, unstructured tasks don't come easily.


Looking back on my life and my college career, and now knowing I am autistic, I am able to look back and see how my autism affected my decisions in college. For one thing, I was about 20 before I really decided what I wanted to do in college, and I finally graduated at age 25. I also now see how my autism affected my social skills and interviewing skills in college. However, all-in-all, I'm happy that I made the decisions I made, because going through college has given me a very good career.

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