Solomon Gilbert 

Job title: CEO, Co-Founder, and Head of Security Division

Where do you work: Ferox Security

How long have you been in work?

I first started ‘hacking’ when I was around 12. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenging elements and puzzle solving opportunities that brought to me. It wasn’t until around 15, however, that I began to realise that I could make a significant living from it. Motivating myself to make that transition from doing it for fun to a more professional context was very tricky, and took a lot of time to achieve. Subsequently, I first started working semi-professionally when I was 16. This was mostly in a self-employed capacity; providing domestic computer security and IT-related jobs for local businesses and friends rather than anything too significant.

It was around May in 2015 that I started Ferox Security, and began operating under that name a few months later, working towards larger and larger clients and building up my portfolio. I had already discovered and reported a number of vulnerabilities I had found, and due to the misguided but useful reputation Asperger syndrome has with IT and computer security, I found that people were more open to employing me at a younger age. I have now been working for around five years in a professional context, and work on a variety of aspects of the cyber security industry. I also work as an advocate whenever I can for autism awareness.

When did you receive your diagnosis?

When I was incredibly young (around three years old), I was diagnosed with a condition called DAMPS; a condition that describes some autistic and attention deficit characteristics without being prevalent enough to be considered autistic. Later on in life, I was unfortunately denied the help and learning support I needed by my school due to the fact that I lacked a formal diagnosis for any kind of autism spectrum condition. I had become increasingly more aware of how incompatible my way of learning was with the teaching methodologies at the time, and just how much I needed that help. This disparity led me to apply for a further assessment and official diagnosis at 16. After waiting for around two years, I was finally seen and diagnosed. In the time I was waiting I also received therapy both privately and through CAMHS in order to try and manage my difficulties within school. Unfortunately, by the time I received my diagnosis for Aspergers at 18, it was too late and I had been expelled from my education.

How has disclosing empowered you?

Disclosing my condition has always been about empowering others, rather than my own empowerment. The decision to disclose can be a very double edged sword: sometimes working to help gain resources and facilities for me to thrive and develop with the same opportunities as everybody else; and sometimes it can lead to criticism, other’s perception of an ‘unfair advantage’ in my industry – which is, of course, completely untrue, and a very specific stereotype that can sometimes impede my personal progression. Overall I feel as though once the original threshold of nervousness about disclosing is overcome, the feeling of liberation achieved when I came to realise just how accepting and nurturing other people can be is my main source of empowerment.

Do you have any advice about how someone should disclose and how colleagues can support this?

I feel as though there follows a particular mindset when deciding whether someone should disclose. This mindset is often based upon worries of other people’s change in perception of you, and can certainly tangle you up in all kinds of negative thoughts, which can sometimes lead you to forget what really matters: the sort of person you are. Having ASD can often become ingrained within your personality, with autistic traits complementing and walking side by side with personality traits. It’s important to remind yourself whenever you disclose that the disclosure doesn’t and shouldn’t change the sort of person you are. I would also say that in my experience, if someone’s perception of you changes negatively once you disclose a diagnosis, the best way to prove them wrong is to continue being yourself – showing others that your condition doesn’t change you as a person.

What strengths do you bring to the workplace?

I am currently in the unique position of being both a historic perpetrator of cyber crime, and a current advocate of cyber security. Due to the large amount of potentially vulnerable autistic young people becoming involved in cyber crime, I view my position as a way of being able to translate and work as a middle-man between the police and those young people, working to try and come up with preventative measures the UK can employ to stop cyber crime. I have also had the privilege of being involved, albeit briefly, with the Parliamentary Commission on Autism. My current strength is absolutely as a bridge between autism in the cyber crime world and the police. My abilities and expertise within this field have earned me a number of accolades – most recently being shortlisted for the Young Digital Leader of the Year award.

Why should businesses employ more autistic talent?

While I don’t believe that one should enforce the stereotype of those with autism having ‘special abilities’ as it were, I would definitely agree that the methodologies and thought processes of those on the spectrum lend themselves very well to highly specialised work, specifically within the capacity to think objectively and in an unbiased fashion. This can be hugely useful in the scientific communities and within research.

As the collective societal understanding of autism grows, businesses are increasingly able to realise the potential that employment of those with our condition provide. I don’t believe that prospective employees should be hired on anything but their merit, work ethic, and expertise; qualities in which businesses have previously failed to recognise within the autistic community due to the stereotype of the condition. As the public perception changes, businesses will come to realise the potential that those with ASD have to offer.

What should businesses be doing to be more inclusive?

The National Autistic Society is helpfully able to provide an array of resources to businesses that require extra facilities to incorporate autistic employees. This is an absolutely huge step in providing inclusivity and equal opportunity. Unfortunately, it is much more difficult to change the collective social view of the condition. It is for this reason that my main piece of advice to those businesses wishing to become more inclusive is to foster an open and shared social working environment in which concerns can be raised by autistic employees without fear of prejudice. Small group and team building activities designed with the aim of demonstrating the difficulties of being autistic may be a good idea.