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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Autism success stories – Bram Cohen


Autism success stories – Bram Cohen
This week’s autism success story looks at internet entrepreneur Bram Cohen. This is the latest in a series of guest articles looking at success stories from Autism Care UK who provide autism support services and autism care homes across the United Kingdom.  

Who is Bram Cohen?

Born in 1975, Bram Cohen is an American computer programmer, who has Asperger’s syndrome. Like last’s week success story Satoshi Tajiri he may not be a household name, but like Satoshi his ground breaking invention shaped the modern landscape, although Cohen is yet to have a theme park made based on his idea. Bram is the author of BitTorrent protocol, a system for sharing large files over the internet. Some estimates suggest that BitTorrent accounts for between 30-50% of all internet usage. As well as BitTorrent protocol and his business BitTorrent, his other achievements include co-authoring Codeville and co-founding CodeCon.

In the spotlight.
Now based in San Francisco with his wife and three children, Cohen grew up in New York. Aged just five, Cohen says that he learnt the BASIC programming language. Whilst attending high school he qualified for the United States Of America Mathematical Olympiad.  He studied at SUNY Buffallo, but dropped out of college and spent much of the nineties working for a succession of dot com companies, including MojoNation.
In 2001, Cohen quit MojoNation to begin work on BitTorrent and unveiled his ideas at the first CodeCon conference which alongside his roommate Len Sassaman created to showcase technology projects. BitTorrent came to public prominence as users utilized its ability to quickly share files as a way to share movies and music. Cohen claims that he has never violated copyright law using his software, but millions of people did as its popularity grew.  However, it wasn’t until the age of 29 that Cohen decided to form a business built around his software.

Bram’s experience of Asperger’s.

Like many with Asperger's syndrome, Cohen is rooted in the world of objects and patterns, puzzles and computers, but leaves him disoriented with everyday human interactions and he admits  social conventions that ease everyday interactions can still elude him. For example he doesn’t like to shake hands or make small talk, often the staple of office relationships, and he often plays with a Rubik’s cube. He is also prone to the odd outburst of unwelcome candour.  
He cites his childhood as one of loneliness and isolation. Despite being able to programme in three languages he could not comprehend and decipher the social hierarchies that make up teenage life. "I was picked on a lot," he says. "There was something obviously wrong with me. But it wasn't acknowledged until I was much older that something had always been off-kilter. Were I to have to redo high school, I would just drop out immediately."
Although no longer CEO, Cohen's original concept has taken him a long way taken him a long way and his software is be used by a global audience of millions.

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