In 2015, Denis Carignan was living in Atlantic Canada when he attended the Governor General's Canadian Leadership Conference and made connections with emerging leaders from across Canada. The conference mixed attendees into study groups where everyone learned about each other and shared what it meant to be Canadian. Here, Carignan met Keith McIntosh, Founder and CEO of Professional Quality Assurance Ltd. (PQA Testing). The two began to discuss what it would take to bring more Indigenous people to careers in software testing.
Carignan moved back to Saskatchewan in August 2015 and by September, he and McIntosh reopened the possibility of working together. “Our idea is to use software testing as a gateway for bringing Indigenous Canadians into real and sustainable careers in Information Technology.,” shares Carignan. “A lot of testing work gets outsourced, but what if we can keep this work from going offshore and creating jobs in northern Saskatchewan, British Columbia, or Alberta? If we can do that, we can create hope and change lives.”
He continues, “We came up with the idea to use Keith’s 20+ years of entrepreneurial and business expertise to create an Indigenous-led and Indigenous-staffed software testing services company. At the same time, PQA Testing developed a training curriculum that would allow it to provide industry-based professional training and mentorship programs to help create an Indigenous testing workforce. The concept centres around the need to create and sustain jobs--training is great, but the training program has more meaning if the result is a full-time and salary.”
Following the software testing footprint of PQA Testing, McIntosh created PLATO Testing: the first-ever Indigenous-led and staffed software testing company in the world. Established in 2015, the program developed quickly across Canada, with locations landing in Sault Ste. Marie, Edmonton, Vancouver, Miramichi, and Fredericton. In July 2019, the training program launched here in the province, and training started with eleven Indigenous testers.
PLATO Testing Sask is a partnership unique to Saskatchewan. It is the result of a business partnership between Saskatchewan-based FHQ Developments and PQA Testing. This majority-Indigenous-owned IT services business is based in Regina, providing a full stack of software testing services to clients while also training and developing Indigenous software testers for long-term technology careers.
Carignan shares, “We’re investing in people in Saskatchewan to develop a skillset for Indigenous people in technology.” The partnership with PQA provides direct access to a college-accredited software tester training program, as well as technical coaching and mentorship from experienced industry experts.
From manual functional, automated, load, security, and more solutions, PLATO delivers full testing services across several different verticals. Being a testing-only company spotlights their specialization and allows partnerships with other consulting firms since there isn’t direct competition. “New technologies can have a lot of risks, so we ensure that it works well every time,” Carignan explains.
“All of our folks are well-trained,” Carignan says. “To become a tester, we deliver 820 hours of training in testing methodology, strategies, estimations, and evaluations.” After the classes graduate, they are provided with initial placements to get professional experience and receive support throughout the process with engagement and senior resources. The training program acts as an introduction to IT, but people have also branched into areas of development, business analysis, and more. “If we can be part of somebody’s career path from where they were to where they are now to want to be in the future, we’re happy to be part of their story,” Carignan smiles.
“Our testers get to combine both their Indigenous identity and professional life,” Carignan adds. “They have the opportunity to work in a non-typical profession for Indigenous Canadians.”
PLATO Sask Testing works with clients across the board, ranging from larger corporations to startups. While they are focused on testing and training, they plan to take that training model to recruiting, software development, and other jobs in IT in the future.
The company has received support from the Ministry of Immigration and Career Training and have gained access to programming such as the Canada-Saskatchewan Job Grant. Innovation Saskatchewan sees exciting opportunities for PLATO Sask to bolster the tech labour market.
Not only has there been such a willingness for training, but there is also a large potential workforce, and PLATO Sask Testing has created several jobs for Indigenous Canadians internally and externally as testers graduate from the program.
“The take up we’ve had in Saskatchewan has been unique to Canada,” Carignan shares about the success here. “We’ve been able to provide services to government ministries, crown corporations, and private businesses. We’re excited to be creating an Indigenous impact locally.”
Founders: FHQ Developments Ltd and Professional Quality Assurance Ltd.
Incorporation Date: February 2019
Employees: 14 (jobs created – but not all are PLATOSask employees)