Only one year ago, PLATO Testing was launched with the vision of building a team of Aboriginal software testers across Canada backed by PQA Testing’s 20 years of expertise and experience. Since then, PLATO Testing has graduated over 50 Aboriginal people through the Software Tester Training Program, and now employs Aboriginal software testers from coast to coast.
We interviewed our leaders to get their view on PLATO Testing’s growth and the impact it is making. Check out what Keith McIntosh, Denis Carignan and Christin Wiedemann had to say:
Keith McIntosh – Founder & CEO of PLATO Testing, Founder & Co-CEO of PQA Testing
As the Founder of both PLATO Testing and software testing industry leader, PQA Testing, how do you feel about PLATO Testing’s rapid growth over the past year?
I am very happy with the growth of PLATO so far but not surprised. It seemed like such an obvious opportunity when we started. The industry needs people; Indigenous Peoples need jobs. The thing that I am happier about is the effect that it has had on PQA. The support for the initiative from the PQA team has been amazing. The new PLATO team has been accepted and welcomed wholeheartedly. The growth has not been without bumps, and I think all of us have learned a whole lot of things we didn’t know we needed to know.
Now we need to learn how to truly scale the operation and how to sell the services differently than we did in the past. We have communities in every province asking to have PLATO set up near them. We have corporate Canada opening their doors to talk to us about how to engage. In 2017, we expect to be opened in at least three new centres. It’s going to be a busy year.
As your vision for PLATO Testing became a reality, was there a specific moment when you realized the significance of the social impact the company is creating?
At the company BBQ this summer, I had a woman come up to me and tell me how grateful she was that I had created PLATO and given her partner an opportunity. She told me how much it meant to her and her family. It is pretty clear that the impact of PLATO extends far beyond the 35+ employees. I have talked to people across the country who tell me the idea opens doors for them, and they see that it can be part of the solution; giving hope and opportunities where there were none. PLATO can inspire a whole generation of young people to go further in school and look for job opportunities in places they would not have in the past.
PLATO Testing completed multiple training courses in Miramichi and Fredericton, NB, and just last month in Vancouver, BC, graduating over 50 students. What is the next step for the training program?
There are two answers to this. Hopefully we will be running courses in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec in 2017. We may not get to all of them this year but certainly will do our best. The second answer is that the training will be extended. We have partnered with CCNB to have the current course certified and all future grads will get a college certification. We will be working with CCNB to create advanced courses in testing, automation, and test leadership. Eventually, we hope this will lead to a Diploma level program.
Denis Carignan – President & COO of PLATO Testing
As a Cree from Pasqua First Nation who has 20 years of experience in executive leadership with the Federal Government, what’s something new you’ve learned since joining PLATO Testing and the private sector?
It is quite an adjustment to move from a very large organization with clearly defined structures and comprehensive policies and guidelines to a tech start-up that was created from an idea. The great awakening for me has been the ability to approach obstacles, challenges and opportunities differently. Our newness allows us to be creative, nimble and more inclusive. At the same time, the experience of having worked for so long in a large organization allows me to apply slightly different lenses to the management of PLATO Testing. Hopefully, this experience, combined with the wealth of private sector experience within PLATO/PQA, will help yield a stronger organization as we grow and expand.
How has PLATO Testing been received by Aboriginal communities across Canada?
The responses I’ve heard across Canada have been universally positive. The notion that a Canadian company has been created that trains and employs Indigenous Canadians in Information Technology is viewed as being incredibly innovative. Indigenous and non-indigenous people alike comment on the PQA/PLATO model of business incubation specifically. The fact that this effort is being championed by a private company is something that is regarded as a true demonstration of leadership, and something that can provide a roadmap for other businesses to follow. Most people are intrigued by the idea that an idea borne less than two years ago has already blossomed into a living and operating business.
What would you like PLATO Testing to achieve by the end of 2017?
Our collective goal is to have PLATO Testing solidify itself and its reputation as a viable professional testing organization in Canada. Yes, we represent a unique social impact organization, but we are a for profit software testing service provider first. Our success will be won through our collective determination to provide excellent results and client satisfaction with every job we do. This commitment at all levels will get us to where we want to go. In terms of specifics, I would like to see our sales exceed $2.5 million through engagements across Canada with regional and national organizations. I would also like to see our PLATO Testing footprint expand to Ontario and the Prairies so we can truly say that we are a national business. We are well on our way!
Christin Wiedemann – Co-CEO & Chief Scientist of PQA Testing
You’re a big advocate of increasing the presence of women in the Tech industry, and more specifically, within the software testing community. Is this something that PLATO Testing plays a role in, and if so, how?
I have been working to promote and support women in STEM for over 15 years now, and I see diversity and inclusion as core values that I want to penetrate everything that I do. In terms of PLATO Testing, we strive to ensure that we select a diverse group of students for each class, and we look at many different aspects of diversity: gender, age, background etc. It is also very important to us that we create a work environment that is inclusive and supportive. Currently, women make up over 35% of our team, well over the ICT industry average of 24%, and we continue to strive for a balanced workforce.
In your experience, what are some of the challenges of making PLATO Testing viable and attractive to potential clients?
For PLATO Testing, one of our challenges will be to be at the right place at the right time. There is so much growth potential across Canada, and we need to be strategic in developing our expansion plan. The biggest hurdle in capturing the large-scale software testing work that currently goes offshore is having a large enough team of skilled testers to do the work. That’s one key reason why we’re growing so rapidly.
What do you think PLATO Testing’s effect will be on the software testing community over the next five years?
One lasting impact that I hope PLATO Testing will have is to prove the value of appropriate training in general, but for testers in particular. In our program we teach the foundations of testing, but our focus is on developing critical thinkers who are capable of continued learning on their own. Naturally, I also want to see our testers advancing their careers and exploring new opportunities both within and outside of PLATO, and being active and outspoken members of the larger tech community.