Interview with Keith McIntosh, Founder of PLATO Testing (read original)
FREDERICTON, NB - In the last few months, we at PQA Testing have started talking about a new business initiative.
We are very excited about the potential impact this idea has. The reception we are receiving from everyone we speak with is also very encouraging.
I wanted to share some of these details and invite you to participate and help make this idea bloom.
What Is PLATO Testing?
PLATO Testing is a new software testing company delivering outsourced testing services.
The result of PQA Testing's Aboriginal Software Testing Initiative, PLATO Testing is staffed by Aboriginal peoples from across Canada and provides a viable alternative to offshore testing centers, competing on price and winning on service and accessibility.
Where Did the Idea Come From?
The idea for PLATO Testing was a result of a personal journey. This past summer (2015), I was chosen to participate in the Governor General's Canadian Leadership Conference which focused on the role that leaders across Canada can play in inspiring and implementing innovation in their organizations and communities. During the conference, the Truth and Reconciliation Report was released. That Aboriginal people in Canada are a fast growing population that are simultaneously experiencing under employment and lower entrepreneurial opportunities than they could have was highlighted in some of our subsequent discussions about the report.
I started thinking: How can I change this at home in New Brunswick? Across Canada?
I run a software testing company, PQA Testing, and I have always endeavoured to create employment opportunities in New Brunswick, in Canada. Over the years, we have had challenges finding enough good people to fill the roles. We could go offshore, as others have done, and find a partner in another country to give us greater scalability, but I have always believed that we can do that within Canada. I have been looking for a sustainable way to do that.
The opportunity I saw when considering these challenges together is that, if we could provide an on-going training program to produce qualified software testers, we could create an independent company especially designed to provide good employment opportunities with solid career paths in an energetic growth industry for our Aboriginal communities.
This led to the development of PQA Testing's Aboriginal Software Testing Initiative and, ultimately, the creation of PLATO Testing.
Why Software Testing?
Across Canada, there is a chronic shortage of appropriately skilled resources in the IT industry – a sort of "right-skills-at-the-right-time" situation. And, there is a lot of need for testing support on software projects; frequently cyclical needs that are difficult for an organization to address with just in-house resources.
There has also been a lot of impetus in the IT industry to send work out of the country, to outsource to offshore companies, in order to capitalize on low hourly rates and access the large pools of resources.
To solve this; all we need is an internet connection and a stream of people trained on how to test software. This is over simplifying by a great deal, of course, but I know that this idea can work. It is already working, from the pure business perspective, in the form of PQA Testing.
In creating PLATO Testing, I believe we can replicate a lot of what we have built at PQA Testing: the strong value propositions, the flexible engagement models, the attentive project management, the cohesive teams, the domain knowledge curation…the passion for testing.
Why a Separate Company?
If my only goal was to take advantage of the nationwide tech talent shortage in Canada, I could grow PQA Testing any number of ways. Believe me, we are already working on that and PQA Testing has developed a lot in the last few years.
But, the vision with PLATO Testing is to make a difference at the social level as well – to try and change the world for the better, through the founding, growth and operation of a viable business.
Many companies and individuals look for ways to make their spending do more, considering the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) instead of pure profit. If there is an opportunity to make an impact in the community, while still getting the same value for the dollars spent, companies are frequently more than glad to take that option. So, why send our dollars and business offshore when we can keep it here and make a needed difference in Canada?
We want PLATO Testing to have its own identity, built on a purpose that will permeate the whole company. We want to provide the potential opportunity for employee ownership. We want to make visible, tangible impacts in the communities the company's staff is drawn from.
Good business that feels good.
Why the Name "PLATO"?
Plato was a disciple of Socrates, and we believe in the Socratic Method of teaching; engaging in dialogue to try to reach understanding while exposing and dispelling error.
Plato also founded an academy of learning in Athens, just as the PLATO initiative prompted the foundation of an academy for producing employable software testers drawn from the Aboriginal communities across Canada.
What Has Happened So Far?
This summer, PQA Testing partnered with the Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI) to jointly fund PQA Testing's Aboriginal Software Testing Initiative. We developed the curriculum and training materials, hired a teacher and a fulltime lab assistant and offered the first session in September 2015.
The training program is six months long, comprised of four months of classroom / lab work and a two month paid internship. The students from that first class are now on their internships with various clients of PQA Testing, and are expected to officially join the work force at the end of February 2016.
Feedback has been enormously positive. There has really been an appetite from the people we have talked with to see something take root and grow that will be "for good" in so many ways.
What Are the Next Steps?
We are fully engaged in the strategic planning for PLATO Testing. We are looking at how we are going to ramp-up fast enough and simultaneously minimize the pains of big-bang growth.
By the end of 2016, the goal is to have PLATO Testing established and capable of employing all future graduates of the training classes. There are also leadership and management positions to fill by that time.
In 2017, the company will look to expand operations to other areas of the country. Discussions are already underway in Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
During this period, PQA Testing will continue to actively support PLATO Testing with sales and business connections, training and testing leadership.
In the short term, we expect to graduate 2 more classes of testers between now and the fall of 2016. We will be looking to get those students out into the field for their paid internships, starting as early as August 2016.
How Can I Help?
First and foremost, we want to get the word out. We want as many people as possible to know about PLATO Testing. We want them to know what we trying to do, what our motivations are and what value PLATO Testing can bring to organizations across North America. We want people to see the good that this initiative can do for our communities and for the IT industry.
Follow us for updates. Spread the word on social media. Talk about us at networking events.
Point companies our way that might want to be early adopters of this initiative and provide projects for paid internships where we can show the graduates that they and their work is valued.
We are signing Client-Partners.
Can My Company Be a Client-Partner?
A client of PLATO Testing would be a technology company or a business with an IT organization that is currently outsourcing, or has previously outsourced, some part of their software testing needs. A company that can leverage remote testing as part of its project teams.
Client-Partners can imagine being involved with PLATO Testing over the long term, helping us make this work. Client-Partners will help define the scope of the training, and will help us incorporate domain-specific training from their businesses into our training curriculum.
If you think your company might like to take part in shaping the future by supporting PLATO Testing, I want to talk to you.
Changing the world, one project at a time.
Keith McIntosh, Founder