Fredericton, New Brunswick-based, Professional Quality Assurance Ltd (PQA) is a leading independent solutions provider of quality assurance and software testing services.
PQA’s offerings include test design and execution, test automation, performance testing, security testing, quality assurance consulting, content verification, process set up, and more. Co-CEO and President Keith McIntosh says the company’s clients now range from small mom-and-pop websites to some of the most recognizable brand names in the world.
PQA has been headquartered in Fredericton since its inception in 1997, but has expanded to include offices in Moncton, Halifax, Calgary, and Vancouver. The company’s services have expanded as well, and Opportunities NB (ONB) recently spoke to Mr. McIntosh to find out more about PQA’s latest initiative.
ONB: Thanks for taking time for us, Keith. We’d like to begin with a discussion of your latest offering, the recently launched aboriginal training program. What was the motivation behind this initiative?
McIntosh: I’ve long believed that software testing, at an entry level, was something we could use for people as a point of entry into the broader ICT field. New Brunswick has a growing ICT sector, and we don’t always have enough trained people to do the work that’s out there. What people don’t realize is that there actually aren’t enough skilled IT workers to keep up with demand. We want to help create more people that can do the work that is already here in-province. So that’s the first reason for the initiative.
Secondly, we see our First Nations communities as a population that’s not participating in the workforce like it could be. Unfortunately, there are high unemployment rates in many of these communities, and we’d like to help with that. So we have an ICT sector in need of more software testing expertise, and communities in need of work.
With this new program we can do all of the training on-reserve, train people reasonably quickly, make New Brunswick more competitive on a world-wide scale, and bring new revenue into the province.
I don’t see much of a downside to it, to be honest.
ONB: Who’s creating the curriculum? Is it all happening in-house at PQA or being done externally?
McIntosh: It’s being handled by PQA directly. We’ve hired an instructor to deliver the material and they’re working with one of our senior testers who’ll serve as a subject matter expert in the classroom. The curriculum covers all pieces of the testing world that we deal with on a daily basis at PQA. We have a pretty solid understanding of what’s required to do testing well, so we believe it’s a very strong curriculum.
We’ve invested a lot of our time and money into creating this curriculum. That’s fine with us because we think it will not only bring real benefits to the province, but be something we can deliver to communities right across the country. The vision is to create upwards of 2,000 to 2,500 testers within our organization doing outsourced software testing from First Nations communities across Canada. They’ll come out of our course ready to hit the ground running.
In fact, the first 10 people that went through the course this fall have already started working for our company under the new PLATO (ProfessionaL Aboriginal Testing Organization) banner. They’re all interning first, some with the Government of New Brunswick, others with PQA’s private sector clients. They’ve come straight from the classroom and are already doing meaningful work as part of their internships before starting work with us at PLATO.
ONB: What’s your team’s relationship been like with ONB?
McIntosh: The ONB team has certainly been helpful. I don’t always know what to ask about or what’s available to us in terms of financial help and programs, and that’s where your Business Development team has been great.
One thing your team did that was massive for us was getting me in front of the Province’s Chief Information Officer and important IT directors so I could present this aboriginal testing initiative. It’s so important to be able to tell that story to people like that.
Moving forward, we see this as a resource for the Province of New Brunswick itself. Not only will we be able to do work for the government, but your team at ONB will have it as something they can talk about with potential clients looking to invest and locate in New Brunswick. To be able to tell companies about this homegrown resource here for them to take advantage of for their testing needs, that could be huge.
Right now part of our request of your team is increased publicity, and with help getting the message out there.
ONB: Happy to oblige! So where are PQA’s customers now, beyond New Brunswick?
McIntosh: Everywhere. We have a major client in Dublin, another huge one in Los Angeles. We do a fair amount of work in Boston, and we get plenty of contracts now in British Columbia. The Calgary and Vancouver offices give us the option of creating relationships with companies that don’t operate in the Atlantic Region. Much of the actual work, however, comes back to New Brunswick. That’s going to be a key for PLATO, being able to do work for major multinational clients right here in our First Nations communities. We’ve already started by hiring a new salesperson to focus on the Toronto to London area. They’ll be looking for work to send to New Brunswick specifically for PLATO.
ONB: What have been the biggest challenges you faced getting PQA to the point it’s at now?
McIntosh: To be successful here in our field, you have to be able to sell outside the region, since it’s such a small province. So I’d say building the necessary relationships outside the province was a big initial challenge; that takes time and patience.
And as I mentioned earlier, finding the right people is still a challenge. The landscape has changed so much since we first began operations. We’ve seen local companies spring up and get acquired by the likes of Salesforce, Cvent, and IBM all in the past few years. So many good companies have arrived in our IT sector since we started in the 1990s that the pull on resources has become that much stronger.
That brings us back to PLATO. How do I hire good testers here? I’ll create them. And we’re not creating skilled workers simply for PQA; if other companies in the region end up hiring some of our students, I’ll still consider that a success. That’s the goal, to become another New Brunswick resource.
ONB: We had a great chat with Jason Peters of Nation2Nation Consulting about JEDI, the Joint Economic Development Initiative. JEDI has been involved with PLATO’s launch as well, tell us about that relationship.
McIntosh: They’ve been a tremendous help with this. JEDI helped us secure some of the necessary financing for the training course’s launch, promoted the program in First Nations circles, and played a role in recruiting for the first class. They’ve really helped us connect with those First Nations communities.
The goal of PLATO is to be owned, operated, and staffed by aboriginals. I own it now but the intention is to find partners within the aboriginal community to take over its ownership and leadership. I already have a company, and PQA is currently enjoying some record-setting months. That will keep me busy enough so I want to hand PLATO over to others at some point.
ONB: What’s your best piece of advice for entrepreneurs in the region?
McIntosh: We certainly have our challenges, but we can’t simply complain about them. There ARE people here that are willing to work with you to help you succeed. There is a great workforce here, and it’s on us to find new ways to best leverage it. We need to get over our negativity; a ‘the sky is falling’ attitude is something we simply can’t afford to let take hold here.
People in NB are open so don’t be afraid to talk to them. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. I should stress though, be specific when you ask. Don’t waste people’s time with bad questions. Don’t ask “how do I start a business?” ask things like “how do I get into the Toronto market?” Ask for help when you know exactly what you need.
Whatever you’re thinking right now, think bigger. We often don’t think big enough in New Brunswick. I’ve just put 10 people through PLATO, and I’m already thinking about a nationwide operation.
ONB: What would you say is a key advantage of doing business from New Brunswick?
McIntosh: If you’re looking to do business with the East Coast of the United States we’re in the absolute best place to do it. Speaking as someone who has an office in Vancouver, it’s so much easier to work with this continent from New Brunswick than it is from British Columbia. Access to government and other business leaders is a big plus here obviously, but the time zone factor is an underrated asset. We’re in exactly the right place to do business with New York, Washington, Boston, etc. and positioned well to work internationally with Europe. Geographically, you couldn’t be in a better place in North America if you’re looking to do business overseas.
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