Editors Note: As a blind person myself this story is terrific. For disabled people in some countries, remote work is a fantastic way to get a job and this company’s experience shows how successful this can be for all parties.
Back in August 2014, we put up an ad looking for developers, along with an online code test link. They had to pass this test before we would call any candidate in for a video interview.
Note: Our team is entirely remote so this is a perfect opportunity for him as he does not need to travel to work
One candidate that scored stellar results, was an individual from Indonesia named Herwin Haliman. In the video interview, my co-founder Jason, Herwin and myself spoke about code, work experience, his family and other general life topics. He then paused and went quiet for a moment, with hesitation clear on his face.
Jason and I were not sure why he paused but we thought it could have been because of an internet lag. Herwin then said “By the way, I need to tell you guys something about my condition”.
Us: Condition? Oh what condition?
Herwin: I’m actually blind.
Us: Huh??? What do you mean?
Herwin: I have 0% vision in one eye, and only 10% vision left in my other eye
Jason: Wow! You mean you did the entire code test using a screen reader?? (Jason was once mentored by a visually impaired coder while fixing an accessibility bug for the Mozilla Thunderbird project)
Us: Wow! That’s freaking awesome!
Jason then proceeded to the next stage of the interview which was the live code interview. In the background, Jason and I continued our chat about how amazed we were that he could do so well. Also, it was our first interaction with a visually impaired coder so we were heaps excited!
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We concluded however that we would judge him just like every other developer and only accept him if he passed our evaluations — just like every other developer.
Not surprisingly, he did well in the interview and was a definite pass for Jason. We then proceeded to accept him.
To be fair, we did take a while to send him the contract as we were bogged down by other tasks. Herwin started to get into a panic and started sending me messages about how dedicated and hard he will work despite his disability (even though we have no doubt about that from his interview and code test performance and never expressed it). I believe it is a culmination of anxiety and fear from his experience in past jobs or interviews. I assured him there was nothing to worry about and we were just busy.
Some questions we get from others who hear the story are:
Did we pay him less than others?
No, Jason and I agreed that we should pay him the same rate as everyone else of his level. If we did the opposite, that’d have been a gross disservice not only to him but to ourselves as well.
Did we make him work extra hours and slave drive him?
No, totally not. There’s no reason to do so when he is coding as fast as (if not faster) than everyone else. We even let him take time off in between to take his young daughter to school and back, to take her for medical checkups when needed etc.
He started work and contributed to our projects right off the bat. His work was good, needed minimal code review and covered lots of corner cases which most developers missed. He performed as expected of any developer who performed like him in the interview.
A month later, we started pivoting to build MomoCentral– a real-time freelancing platform of handpicked developers and designers. Herwin was worried because it’d mean that now he works directly with clients, instead of our project manager who liaises with the client. He was worried clients would judge him again based on his disability and outright reject him before even talking to him.
“Would I get fired if clients keep rejecting me?”
His words still ring clear in my memory, the same fear and anxiety we had seen from him earlier. I assured him that there’s no such thing and we’d continue his employment even if we can’t secure him any clients.
On our side, we kept matching him to companies requesting for Android developers. We spoke of our experience working with him and vouched for him. Some clients were apprehensive but we just kept going. One client in particular, Soh Chong Kian(CK), the awesome CTO of Spini, decided to give Herwin a chance and interviewed him. He proceeded to confirm Herwin and they started the collaboration together.
In the early days, we monitored the collaboration and communication between CK and Herwin closely to help mitigate any shortcomings there may be. E.g: Herwin can’t exactly see details and text in pure image mockups easily as he uses a screen reader to interpret things. Hence, it took a while for CK to understand how to communicate certain tasks to him.
A quick tip I learnt as well:
For pure coding tasks not involving anything visual, the screen reader can read it as per normal. Hence, no limitations here.
For more visual tasks where most of the details of a screen and its interactions are in image mockups, the screen reader won’t be able to read it. A visually-impaired coder can zoom in on the image and make out what is there but it’d help tremendously if you added some text (separate from the image so a screen reader can pick it up) to describe some features and interactions of the screen.
Month after month, CK continued extending the engagement with Herwin. Fast forward to now, CK’s been working with Herwin for over 1.5 years!
They met a few months back when Herwin came to Singapore for an eye checkup.
To date, the Android app that Herwin has built with CK’s team has hundreds of thousands of users. Not bad eh? Most startups don’t even have half as many users 🙂
We hope this post inspires more people to judge visually impaired developers not by their physical disability but by their skills and experience. You shouldn’t discriminate them just because of their visual impairment but should instead interview them, work with them, assign them tasks, etc just like you would with any other applicant to your company.
Special Kudos and BIG Thanks CK for giving Herwin the chance to work with your team at Spini!
Herwin, thanks for having faith in us and believing in what we do! To many more years of work together 🙂