Make the Future Podcast Transcripts
We are currently working on the transcriptions for the remaining episodes.
- Season 2 - Episode 1
- Season 2 - Episode 2
- Season 2 - Episode 3
- Season 2 - Episode 4
- Season 2 - Episode 5
- Season 2 - Episode 6
- Season 2 - Episode 7
- Season 2 - Episode 8
- Season 2 - Episode 9
- Season 2 - Episode 10
- Season 2 - Episode 11
- Season 2 - Episode 12
Welcome to the second season of the Make the Future podcast. I'm your host, Jacques Beauvais, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Ottawa. Join us as we have conversations with different thought leaders about current issues facing the engineering industry. Let's explore the future of technology and innovation and how through creativity and collaboration we can make the future.
They say the future is coming, but that's not true. The future is already here. And it's relentless. It's not going to wait for you to catch up. How will we live in this future? How will we make sense of it? To define our course, we need a new perspective. One that engages our curiosity. That activates our imagination. One that defies the conventional. To own the future, we need to do more than just see it. We need to make it.
[01:13] Jacques Beauvais
As for many Faculties of Engineering across the country, equity, diversity, and inclusivity, are really important to us. We feel that it's important within our faculty, in the way we train young people, but it's also extremely important and we're concerned about when they go and hit the job market afterwards, what's going on in industry, in organizations, these are really important issues and they're starting to reach a critical point right now where we need to be very active to find solutions to help out on that.
And in the Make the Future podcast, it is intending to be looking at where we're going down the road the next few years, what are the lessons learned by our alumni and friends out in industry. We've been talking with some of our students and some very recent graduates about what their perspectives are on what's going to happen in the tech industry, and what their hopes are and their aspirations, so we thought it would be really interesting to have a conversation with Thusha Agampodi, who's the Engineering Manager at Magnet Forensics, to join me for some conversation with some really insightful and interesting people. So, Thusha is here with me now. Hi Thusha.
[02:29] Thusha Agampodi
[02:30] Jacques Beauvais
So Thusha, you've been involved very recently. You organized the event of Better Together, why did you do that and what did you get out of it?
[02:40] Thusha Agampodi
I've been attending a lot of women in tech events, around Ottawa. And one of the things I noticed is that we were hearing some great women leaders, but often the audience was all women, which is great, I think there are times when women need safe spaces to discuss their ideas and to feel heard. However, I felt like we needed men in the conversation as well, and all genders, so that was the thought behind the Better Together event where we invited leaders from all genders to come together and talk about gender equality.
We focused a lot on creating inclusive work environments, because one of the things I do, I've been doing some high school visits to talk to students about getting into STEM-- especially young women-- but it was important to me that by the time they got to the workforce, that we had created environments where they felt included. So, that was the reason behind the Better Together event, and we had a great conversation there, and we had a lot of leaders from Ottawa.
[03:54] Jacques Beauvais
When you're going to the high schools, what kind of a reception do you get when you're talking about these issues? Do they already feel them, or are you meeting young people who are concerned? Do you get the impression that they have not reached a point where they're concerned about these issues?
[04:14] Thusha Agampodi
I think it depends on what grade. Some of the visits I had were Grade 9, and you can already tell. One of the first surprises to me when I walked in to these high school classes was the fact that the rooms were 50/50 when it comes to gender diversity. I'm not used to walking into a room and seeing that half the room be women. But when we talked about engineering, you could kind of see their eyes light up when we talk about the impact we can have, with engineering.
I talk about the impact I have with my job, and I think perhaps, they don't have awareness into the type of impact you can have in these fields. I can tell from the questions I get from them after-- that they didn't realize that you can have an impact on society in these fields. They also do ask questions about what the day-to-day work is like, you know-- "are you sitting in a cube all day writing software?"
I get questions from the girls in classes about "how much collaboration there is, and teamwork" and such. I definitely think getting more role models out there to high schools makes a big difference in just increasing awareness of the impact you could have and also the different types of positions that are available.
[05:53] Jacques Beauvais
And you can give them some good examples, because from discussions that we've had before, I know that at Magnet Forensics in the Ottawa office, you've been able to at least progress the balance of gender diversity in your group right?
[06:08] Thusha Agampodi
Yes, I've been working very hard to do that. I think... it takes a lot of effort. And that work's never really done. You have to constantly keep at it in terms of-- you know if I hire women, then just making sure they continue to feel heard and included. I do think having a female leader has gone a long way, it makes a difference in attracting more women into the team as well.
[06:42] Jacques Beauvais
And you're right because that's one of the concerns that I have in the Faculty of Engineering here at uOttawa too. It's not just attracting them, we have to work hard to make sure that we provide an environment that is welcoming and respectful and gives them a voice so that they can feel that they can have an impact and really prepare them for later on in the workplace.
[07:04] Thusha Agampodi
If you tackle one element of it, then you kind of actually get the rest of it-- If you start building an inclusive environment for one group, then you actually start thinking about building an inclusive environment for everyone. So, I'm actually hoping that that will happen, and I've seen that happen with my team anyway.
[07:28] Jacques Beauvais
The tech industry in some ways, because it's a bunch of scientists and engineers working on technology, there's-- for many years there's been the appearance that from their perspective that technology is gender neutral. And it's never been the case. The exponential growth in the number of applications where we're using AI tools has raised a lot of concerns in a very public way. And I think it's raised the awareness that those biases are really important, they are making a difference-- a negative difference in a lot of people's lives.
[08:05] Thusha Agampodi
I'm a little concerned-- I know there's a lot of talk of using AI when it comes to hiring. Because there's a lot of bias already, in terms of resumes and the interview process, and then there's talk of using AI to alleviate some of it. However, I'm glad to hear that these conversations are happening about the bias that exists in AI because I'm a little nervous that we are going to replace the bias that we have in the manual process with AI that would also have a bias.
[08:39] Jacques Beauvais
Yeah, and up to a certain point, because we are training the AI. We are actually codifying, solidifying, even entrenching the biases that we have. Because once we've trained the system, using-- literally-- our biases, then it's even more difficult to extract it out of there. So it might be really interesting to talk with Parinaz Sobhani, she's one of our PhD graduates in engineering from 2017.
Right now, she's the Director of Machine Learning in the Impact Team at Georgian Partners in Toronto. So she's both working on the AI front, and she's also working on the investments front in the VC field-- and could probably give us an interesting perspective about AI today and the biases that we find in that type of tool development, that type of industry, and those fast-growing startups.
[09:32] Jacques Beauvais
[09:35] Parinaz Sobhani
Thank you, thanks for having me.
[09:37] Jacques Beauvais
So maybe start a little bit a background question Parinaz, we see that on Twitter you did mention that one of the reasons that you decided to join the industry was because you really wanted to make a real impact rather than chasing citations. And I’m curious to see how your experience has turned out over the last few years.
[09:57] Parinaz Sobhani
I’m been working on real world problems. Problems that are important for our society and for the business and the tech industry of Canada. And actually I think, I’m useful, why? Because especially because I’m working with start-up companies.
And working for a start-up or with a start-up companies is very different compared to working for big corporation. Big corporation like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, they all have a giant machine learning and AI team. So you might not as dutiful or impactful because there are so many smart people working in these companies.
A couple of years ago, when you were talking about bias, we were like "why? We are working on mathematical solutions, optimizations, techniques. Where does biases come from?" And you know, the main ingredient of any machine learning, or AI system is data. Where is this data coming from?
This data is normally coming from humans. Humans behaviors, human historical data, or you actually and explicitly ask humans to annotate or label your data. And as you know, as humans, we all have our biases. And of course, when the ingredients of your systems are biased, the system-- even if you are using mathematical optimizations, the system ends up to inherit all our biases, and problems.
For the problems in data. And it's not an easy problem, building the first system is not an easy problem. Why? Because even identifying all these sorts of bias is not easy. Even if you make it human behaviors, it's so hard to attribute the behavior to like a potential bias, or so many other things out there. So when we are building a first system, first of all, we have to identify what kind of a bias we have. I can give you a couple of examples.
[12:11] Thusha Agampodi
That would be great.
[12:12] Parinaz Sobhani
I can give you an example of a couple of biases.
[12:13] Parinaz Sobhani
For example, sometimes the bias is coming from lack of having enough data of a particular microsegment of the population. For example, you are building the parts of a system, but you might not have enough data, historical data, of people of color. That's one of the problems. So historically, we haven't collected enough data from people of color for any reason. So then, you build this system, and this system is going to make more mistakes for this microsegment of the population.
Why? Because the system is kind of blind to this microsegment of the population. So even as developers--, we didn't make anything wrong, but we don't have access to enough data. And we didn't think about it. Because there might be some potential solutions and we can actually go look for such data out there, but we were completely unconscious about not having the representative dataset. That's one possible source of bias.
The other source of bias is part in representation. For example, we are building a hiring software system. When we are building the hiring system, what really matters is the qualification of the candidate. So the demographic information shouldn't really matter. It shouldn't really matter where you are coming from, what your gender is, what your ethnicity is, what your religion is-- and basically shouldn't use any of such information.
Then you are representing a candidate. So you might say, "Easy, easy. I'm going to bring up all the information about your gender, your ethnicity, like any direct information. I am not going to use those information." But it is much more complex. Why? Because there are so many other attributes that they have encoded in our demographic indirectly.
I can give you an example. I'm gonna ask you which social media are you using. And you might think that it doesn't reveal any information about my gender, or my ethnicity. But they can tell you, that if your answer is I’m a Pinterest user, then with 98% likelihood you are a white woman. So it's not as easy as saying that you will remove all these directly representing demographic information problems.
So there is a great problem, this is another source of bias in representation. So you can imagine there are so many different types of bias in the data, and then actually identifying that the system is biased or not is-- I call it a bug. It's like a bug in any software system. It's more similar to the security or privacy bug.
And you can imagine, identifying and detecting the security and privacy bugs are one of the most difficult kind of bugs that you can have in software systems. So it really needs quality assurance. It needs to have standard practices. And these technologies are practically new. We don't have these kinds of practices yet. And most of the time because we don't have diversity, working on these problems, most of the time people don't even think about it.
[15:52] Jacques Beauvais
But I have two questions that came out of what you said, and one of them is-- you mentioned that the development teams were not necessarily that diverse. What I want to ask is that-- It's been in the news a lot in relation to AI, but does the notion of bias and lack of diversity, potentially in the teams, is that really a new problem? Or does the AI technology, has it brought a very bright light to shine on the issue? Or is it really a new problem?
[16:27] Parinaz Sobhani
As humans we are all, we know, all the existing processes that are actually run by humans, they are also biased. So if I'm actually applying for mortgage, or for a loan, and I'm going to talk to an officer, there is a possibility that this officer is racist or sexist, and I might not get that loan. Right? Not because of my qualification, or my application, but because of the possibility that the officer is racist or sexist. But why it's even more important for the AI system?
Imagine that-- if you are an officer and you are sexist or racist, how many people are you going to deal with on your daily basis? Maximum ten, maybe twenty people. Right? Imagine that one of the banks, they build an AI system and they put it in for auction and it is racist or sexist. Then how many people can be impacted by such system? It's going to be in the masses of thousands per day.
So the magnitude and the impact of such racist or sexist system are much higher and more significant compared to having an individual in our system who is racist or sexist. That's why we should have more... we should have a better governance, we should have a better quality assurance, for such a system, because the magnitude and the impact of the system are much higher.
[18:03] Jacques Beauvais
So it's not just highlighting the problem, there's actually also a magnitude issue.
[18:09] Thusha Agampodi
And since we're talking about diversity, I think it's important to hear from someone who has a numbers of years of experience in the industry.
[18:18] Jacques Beauvais
That would be really interesting. And I think one person that we've been having a lot of conversations with recently, at the university, is Julia Elvidge. She's a tech business leader that's working with early stage companies. She's been an advisor, a mentor, an investor, and a board member, and she could probably bring to our discussion, really important insights.
Julia, just to give us a bit of a background into the discussion; you've been in Ottawa for a few years now, you've seen it go through different phases, and you've seen Ottawa today as now recognized as one of the technology hubs in Canada.
And you were also, at Chipworks you were part of a company that actually interacted with a lot of the other companies. Could you talk a little bit about how you've seen the Ottawa Kanata North evolved over the years and how has it evolved also, in terms of the people, in the companies, and also what you've seen evolving over those years.
[19:19] Julia Elvidge
I actually graduated electrical engineering and ended up in Toronto, to start with, with a company called LSR Logic. It was involved in integrated circuit design, and it was a great opportunity. Had a lot of fun. I just love microchips, and it was so new that we had to actually teach the industry how to make chips.
At some point, I got the opportunity to move to Ottawa and run the design centre here and that was such an exciting idea. Ottawa was the place to be, there was the Nortel’s, the Newbridge’s, the Tundra’s, the Mitel’s, all of them working with LSR Logic at that time. And involved in building their own application specific chips. And so I was just ready to say yes. And exactly that week I found out I was pregnant. And I didn't know what to do, I wasn't sure whether to bring it up or not. I actually did, they said "Great, we'll make it work."
And I commuted weekly, between Toronto and Ottawa for the first few months-- up until I was eight months pregnant. And it was a great experience, because I sort of moved into Ottawa and realized how right of a decision it was for me to be there. There was so much opportunity. There was so much growth, it was so much excitement.
And now this was an electronic semi-conductor town. And it also was a town where I could actually have a life beyond work. It was a town where I knew I could get home to my kids within 15 minutes, not an hour and a half. Which was what I was living in, in Toronto.
There was a lot of learning, across companies, movement across companies. We went through employment bulges, where Nortel was offering huge bonuses for people to come and work. We at Chipworks, we were trying to come up with ways to recruit.
I remember we took a chip truck into the middle of Kanata and handed out chips that, at the bottom the paper said, "Come work for us!" once they finished their chips. That's what it was all wrapped in.
[21:55] Thusha Agampodi
That was very clever.
[21:56] Julia Elvidge
But that was how crazy it was. There was just not enough great talent to go around. So Chipworks later on became a company that... was fighting for that talent. And we were one of the companies that was bringing a lot talent in internationally to the area. And you saw a lot of that. People coming in from all parts of the world and becoming really a part of the economy here.
Ottawa's changed now. It's a little different. It's not as electronics, it's not as capital-intensive in terms of the innovation that's happening here. But I love the startups, I love the chemise, I love seeing that growth happening. There's a lot of excitement about the next Shopify. And the growth that we're seeing here in Ottawa today.
[22:58] Jacques Beauvais
Do you feel that the ecosystem, if I can call it that, or the types of companies-- you talked about the big players in the early days. My sense-- because I've left for thirty years and I've come back, is that it's a lot more diversified. That's the impression I have but I'm not sure.
[23:17] Julia Elvidge
No, I totally agree. I mean it was very dominated-- sorry, I was a University of Waterloo grad, so--
[23:24] Jacques Beauvais
[23:26] Julia Elvidge
Everybody went to Nortel. And now it's not. I mean, you see there's so much choice. So many small to medium companies that are doing really interesting things. And it's great from an employee standpoint to be able to try out different companies. There's still some of the big guys. We still have our Cienas, our Ericssons.
[23:54] Thusha Agampodi
I think I've noticed that too, and I know, like our headquarters is in Waterloo, and they've noticed it there as well, as the big companies like Blackberry, started downsizing, then what ended up happening is that the environment around all the leaders, all the tech leaders who left these big companies, started their own companies... so there's a lot of startups around, and I’m noticing that in Ottawa as well.
As well as Nortel closed down, and then Blackberry downsized in Ottawa as well. You can definitely see that all those talented folks, who were at those companies were going and starting new things, which is great for the tech hub here.
[24:35] Jacques Beauvais
Julia, to come back to this, is diversity a problem in technology companies in Canada today?
[24:41] Julia Elvidge
From an international employee's... I see people from all over the world working in Kanata's tech teams, and I don't see in the tech team level, a white dominance right now. But you know, that's still a problem at the more senior management levels. And that needs to change.
I really think that our gender issue is very severe, hasn't changed in decades, and really does need focus right now. There are just not enough women in technology, the stat of 27% of women to men in tech is too low. And that's for STEM, that's not engineering. For engineering it would be even lower than that.
I did electrical engineering many years ago, we don't need to get into details, you know. I was six women of a graduating class of 110. You know, electrical engineering itself really hasn't changed that much. Maybe it's ten women out of 110. Maybe it's 15, it's still not good enough.
There's certainly... change is happening. I think that it's not happening fast enough. The problem is just getting them into engineering, even. It's not about getting them to graduate, I think the biggest one is getting them into it.
I've certainly tried to get girls, as in high school and previous interested, in the robotics, the semi-conductor chips, nanotechnology, AI... that's some of the work that's been done here at U of O, it's at Carleton, it's throughout. You see a number of different programs-- there's a lot of different programs. Technovation, Virtual Ventures, there's summer programs here that I was involved in as well.
They're all great, and they're all making a difference, but at some point, I want to talk about my time with eight girls here this summer. Because I asked them a question, and I was very surprised by their answer.
Why there weren't more women in engineering? This was a special class for software engineering. There were eight girls, grade 9 to grade 11, and the quietest girl jumped up right away and said, "Because people think they're incapable." Word for word.
The second, little bit older, said, "Because men don't want to hire them." And then the third, probably grade 11, said, "Because they're worried they're gonna get pregnant and not stay at the job."
And it's just like, oh my gosh, you girls are way too young to have these impressions. And I was horrified, actually. I was heartbroken, and horrified at the same time. Because I really thought that that's what we knew 20 years ago, I would have expected that answer from grade 9s to grade 11s 20 years ago.
But why now? I'm really surprised with now. Now I did ask earlier, how many of them were there voluntarily. And I think only three out of the eight were there voluntarily. Their parents had put them in this program. But they were... kids don't do things if they don't want to at least try, so they were at least somewhat interested.
But it was... it surprised me that they still had these impressions of the barriers, because I would say the opposite. I would say there's men there, out there right now, that really want to hire women, but they can't find enough women to hire. And it's something I think will help in the future. But that's coming back around to your question. That's the big diversity issue, I think, in Canada right now, with technology companies and it is gender.
[29:14] Thusha Agampodi
I agree, I think that's what got us started in this conversation to begin with when I collaborated with uOttawa on the Better Together conference, which was really focusing on gender diversity. I care about diversity as a whole, but I do fully agree with Julia that getting more women into tech is a big issue, and I've been reading a lot about why, and how do we tackle this, and I don't have answers, but I can talk a little bit about the things I've noticed.
Definitely there's not enough women coming in, and I've been reading about some studies that ask women who go into engineering, when you ask students who go into engineering, why do you choose to go? And I think the answers you got from the men were just across the board, all over.
But the answers you got from the women, were more specific in talking about someone in their life that was an influence, whether it was an aunt or an uncle or a parent. And I can relate to that, you know. I went into engineering because my dad worked at an engineering university. And a lot of the women I talked to have similar stories.
I think definitely, for one, examples make a huge difference. Which is why we are speaking to Parinaz and Julia, I think the more examples we can get out, the better. And then, of course, once you get in, how do we build an inclusive environment?
Because like Julia said, even if you get diversity at the lowest level, the entrance level, as you go up in leadership, you see it's mostly male. You see that the top 500 companies, you know it's like 4% or 5% are women. So definitely when it comes to performance reviews, there's bias there.
[31:05] Jacques Beauvais
I hope you've enjoyed our conversation so far, and we're going to continue in an upcoming episode. And I really hope you'll be able to join us.
We've been hearing a lot recently about how equity, diversity, and inclusivity issues are affecting the technology sector. So I really wanted to sit down with the thought leaders and discuss the problems, and some of the things that are being done to try and improve the situation. What's the problem of not having equity, gender equity in the leadership, or on the teams in the company. What's the consequence?
You don't get better decision-making, better problem solving, and great discussions. I really think the more diversity-- and you can look at the Myers Briggs' diversity too. There's thinkers, and feelers, there's extroverts and introverts, so you do look for that kind of diversity in your team as well. But the more diversity, the better you have in terms of piling ideas and tossing them around and figuring out which one is right. You don't want a group think approach where everybody's got the same idea and "Oop, thumbs up! Let's move on. Beer time!"
[01:10] Thusha Agampodi
Diverse perspectives is what you're looking for.
I'd like to add a little bit on that more from the practitioner perspective, what actually worked for venture capital. And what we really care about is the business outcomes, right? I'm really encouraged by the number and quality of the studies that clearly tie high performing companies to team diversity.
So it's not a secret to us anymore, to an investor, that if we are to have a better return for our money, you need to invest more in diversity. So basically, I want to say it's not only good for society, it's also good for the business. And that should be the kind of message we have to have out there. We have to frame it as the business agenda. We have to frame it as the business outcome-- it's good to have more girls out there in the tech industry.
But-- normally, nobody has a question mark. There is no question. At least, that's my hope. And I'm really encouraged that most of the people, they are kind of sold on that idea that they need to have that right mix. But what is really missing, especially in the tech industry, because-- it's tough because companies have to move so fast. And there are pressures to move incredibly fast. Normally, the opportunity for promoting gender and diversity can be de-prioritized. That's the main problem.
You're saying that. Are the investors saying that when they talk to their start-up? They need to bring in gender equity, and diversity within their teams? Do you have the sense that they're passing that message on to the founders?
[03:11] Exactly, so the investors are committed to building the diverse company also, and for promoting diversity in our portfolios. And as you said, it can be diversity in the board, it can be diversity in the leadership, or it can be even diversity in the actual entry-level or junior position.
Parinaz, I hear what you're doing. How consistent do you think that is across the venture capital industry? I think it's very uncommon, personally.
[03:43] Maybe if you were asking me two, three years ago, I would say no, it's not-- it's not part of every investor agenda, but actually, if you look our LP, people that give us money, they ask us such questions like that. So we have enough for it. If you look at the recent case of more diverse companies, or even those companies that are founded by women, we have enough data out there. It's so hard to actually question it now.
Maybe it was harder to create five years ago, but right now we have enough examples of ways this has been working, that has been funded at least by women or by diverse teams, that really leaves no kind of question mark or no blank page, to wonder why this is how... diversity. (Inaudible) they have dedicated part of their form for only investing on, for example, companies leading by women, or for example, (inaudible) because we all understand the importance of such initiatives, not only for society, but also for the business outcome.
[05:15] I agree with you, I agree that with the stats, and that women leadership is a great thing in the start-up community, but venture capital firms are still dominated by men. I mean we're talking... I can't remember, is it 95% men? It's a pretty high number, still. So you know, I love to see that that's happening, and you're seeing that, and the more we see that the better, because it will push more start-up companies to get that diversity right from the beginning.
[05:53] Raising capital or getting access to capital still is much more difficult for women funders to raise, and part of it is because it's still pretty much white male dominated. It's more like unconscious bias. Because you know, you can trust people of very similar backgrounds more easily, and that's kind of normal outcome of not having diverse investments company. So now, in our company, we have, as I said, that's why we are committed to, first of all, diverse teams internally, and also trying to promote diversity.
[06:41] Thusha, you've managed to do very well in having diversity in the Magnet Forensic Ottawa site. How hard did you have to work to come up with close to... what's more than 40% of your employees that are women?
It fluctuates, but it's a small team. I think we're at 27 now. It does fluctuate, but I'm trying to keep the percentage higher than... I'm just trying everything I can, basically. One of the things I've been doing, is that I've been visiting high schools and universities, talking about what I care about. And I think having a female leader, as an example, goes a long way. So when companies now come and ask me "how do I get more women in?" I tell them "it's easy, just promote a few." So certainly, that helps.
And then, I've spoken to my team a lot about the unconscious bias that exists, like Parinaz says, it exists in AI, but it also obviously exists in human, in the hiring process. You know, there's studies that talk about the resume bias, if you read a resume and it has a woman's name on it, they're less likely to get called in for an interview. And if you have an ethnic sounding name on it, you're even less likely to get called. So I openly talk to my team about it when we review resumes. And I know I have these biases too, so I'm not trying to necessarily-- I mean it's great if we can eliminate our biases, but they're ingrained.
So what I'm trying to do is have a diverse group review the resumes, because I'm thinking like if you put diversity in maybe you get diversity out? So we review resumes with that in mind, and then in our interview process as well, we try to have a diverse set of interviewers who go in. This way, I'm thinking, as long as you pass the technical interview, that's obviously very important, because I think no one wants to get hired as a token or diversity stat, and I care very much about-- "I want to be hired for my qualifications, not because I'm a woman."
But as long as you pass the technical interview, then I have the diverse interviewers, and have your bias, and hire, and if I have a varied number of interviewers, I get that out of it as well. And it seems to be working. And like we spoke about, it does take a long time. If you're in a hurry to hire, then you might have to make some decisions quickly.
So if you get a large number of candidates, and you have to hire a large group very quickly, like Parinaz says, you might make some calls and put diversity in the background. I've been grateful that Magnet's given... we've put a lot of thought into our hiring and we always say we're not just filling bums in the seats.
So I'm given the time I need to find the right candidate. And I'm always trying to find the candidate that brings the diverse perspective. It doesn't necessarily have to be a woman. Sometimes it's the junior candidate, if my team is full of senior developers right now.
Or someone from a different school, who comes with different types of training, but it does-- especially if you're trying to get more women onto the team-- because there's not many women graduating right now, it definitely takes you longer to fill that position, but it's worth it.
I think, I can see the results, the outcome of my team now, and they're very productive, and they question each other a lot, which is healthy debate, because there are diverse opinions we disagree, often, but then I think you do build the best products at the end.
[10:32] Have you seen, over the years Julia, this lack of diversity being an impediment to moving projects forward?
I mean I've always been a proponent of high performing teams, and myself, and diversity helps there. But to get a high performing team you have to build trust. And trust is partially getting to know each other. And being able to break some barriers. Once you have that trust, then those conflict situations, those good conflict situations that bring better ideas, are easier. And you can understand another's point of view--
You can make a constructive conflict, rather than a negative one I guess.
[11:25] Exactly, and if you know your colleague is an introvert and hasn't said something in awhile, maybe you'll say "Hey, we haven't heard from you, what do you think?" and to promote the conversation, instead of talking on top of each other. And so... the more you can do that the better. We took the time at the senior management team to spend quite a bit of time trying to take our team from a forming team to a high performing team. And you think it's simple, that was like a six-month process. There was a lot of thought, and discussion, both one on one and as a group to get that understanding.
But I think that, women are actually an asset there. I've heard it said, and people have mentioned it to me, that they're happy to have me in the room, because I help sort of remove a little bit of the testosterone. That it's not escalating all the time, the discussion, and that they have to be a bit on better behaviour.
And not because I was more senior, and because I was a woman in those cases, and have always been a facilitator, always trying to get the best discussion going and have that good conversation so that we can move the company forward in a much more positive manner and go for those positive results. And I really find it very valuable, so anything you can do, and diversity is one of those things, to get to that higher performing team, the better, and the more successful you will be as an organization going forward.
[13:08] You've all mentioned some issues and warnings. I'm still grappling with what you said about the young girls participating in the summer, the interacting with. That was really disturbing, that we still have those perceptions. I mean they're young, as you said; there are people that are telling them this.
Clearly, it's still in our culture, you talked about the speed of having to move to hire, to move quickly, we're trying to build up the Kanata North and the Ottawa tech sector, you're in an investment firm, Parinaz and trying to help the company build-- Are we in trouble? Are we going to hit a wall? Or are you optimistic about our ability to build those high performing teams over the coming years?
[14:08] I believe that part of the issue was 2008. I'm gonna blame 2008 on it. So 2008 there was a financial crisis, tech sector got hit again, and to a certain extent I think that young women at that stage were more practical and said, "oh well, IT is not good. I'm going away from IT." I think there was a certain amount of that and we have a chance of recovery now, because that's passed long enough. But that's one of the reasons why we've been stuck at this 27% women in STEM. I think that there are programs that I see changing, for engineering, and I can see the stats finally moving.
Electrical engineering just doesn't seem fun. It doesn't seem interesting, I don't understand the social impact I'll make, and this is important to women. There was a study done that, and analyzed the question, an essay question for entrance applications for engineering. They filtered it, and they looked at all the women's answers, and all the men's answers, and more often than not, something like "social impact" showed up in the women. Not the guys, they just want to do something... you know be interesting problem, solving, that sort of thing.
The social impact is something we need to bring out more because it's not obvious how electrical engineering has a social impact. Biomedical engineering, which is a program that has much better numbers, almost 50/50 in terms of men to women in the programs. That feels like you're having a social impact, that's great. So explaining how electrical engineering has a social impact, to the next generation, I think is one of the things that will make a difference.
I also, based on my most recent experience, I am convinced now that yes, we have to put more women in front of young women, and show them that we made it there. But we also need to have men there that are supporting the women, so that these young girls understand that there is a male population out there that wants them to come work for them. That there's not that barrier.
[16:43] I fully agree. I think that because there is that stigma, when you think about engineering-- when I think about engineering-- I knew it's going to be male dominated. I'm going to be studying with mostly guys and working with mostly guys. Until we get rid of that, I think it's important for men and women to go and talk to these students, to say "look at how much fun we're having working together." You know, that's important, and there are these male allies, and everyone who's here to support this. I think that's huge. And then I do agree that societal impact goes a long way for women. I think environmental engineering has similar numbers.
So for universities, I think what you can do for sure is change your marketing. Change how you market engineering to students if you want to get more women in. I did have questions for Julia, because I know you've been in the industry for a long time. Not too long, great amount of time to get great experience, it's been great for me.
I've seen you at a few events, and I know the Women in power technology group that you're a part of. It's been inspiring for me to see Julia, as a leader in the tech industry because as I've said, examples are really important. I'm curious to hear your opinion on what you've seen so far in the growth, and do you think the groups like the Women in Power technology groups and these gatherings that we have, can you talk a little bit about the influence that it has on the young women who join?
[18:22] Yeah. I think if anything, there's almost too many women's groups now. And we need to bring some of them together and make them more powerful. There's some great ones-- I like Women in Power technology because it doesn't say you have to be an engineer. It's... you're working with technology companies, and many of them are technical, it's a great generational learning experience. There's young people that are really driving it and keeping it going, and I'm really happy to help and bring people in and get some great topics and great discussions going, but it's a fabulous association for building your network.
And that's one of the things that women do badly, usually. That's changing too, I think, is building your networks. And those networks should not just be women either. But finding ways to continue building your network helps you grow, and gives you opportunities to move, in the organization and beyond the organization.
There's other ones-- Women in communications and technology has a great mentoring program I'm involved in right now, and it's fabulous because you get hooked up with-- I got one woman engineer in Halifax, another woman working in program management here, and I love it. Just great conversations. It's fun to help each other, and the more we can support each other, the better.
I think that maybe there hasn't been enough of that. And because we've been in male dominated technology companies, and education system, we kind of forgot to help each other, I think. I see a lot more of it happening, about really helping each other, giving high fives, and helping them move up.
[20:37] I have a last question for both of you, for Parinaz and Julia, since you've touched on the topic, the importance of a mentor and Parinaz maybe you can speak to whether you have a mentor and ally who has advocated for you and helped you as you started your career, and Julia I'm happy for you to speak to the importance of a mentor as well and how do women and others go about finding one?
[21:00] Yeah, like my best mentors were-- the ones that had the most impact on my career and encouraged me always, and always pushed me to my boundaries, they were all male. And so I believe... I have also amazing women around me. They are like really good role models for me. But back to the point that Julia mentioned, it's very important to also have other men in your network and as your mentors, because they can also... we can learn a lot from them.
And also having such relationships and conversations if you're not a man also makes you more confident to have similar conversations to your boss, or to the senior management, to people in the senior management role, or most of the time, these positions are held by men. It makes you more comfortable; it makes you more confident, and actually having those kinds of, supporters, are really important in your career.
[22:15] So from my point of view, I had a great mentor, but I'm going to talk a little quickly, about, there's an HBR article that just came out. It's called "A lack of sponsorship is keeping women from advancing into leadership positions." And it was a really interesting read, because we mix up the terms mentor and sponsor a lot. And a mentor is somebody that does a lot of one on one conversations with you, and provides guidance. Pretty private.
Sponsor is the other end of the spectrum. That one is somebody that is willing to be loud and say, "This is the person we should promote. This is the one that should take this huge project." When I'm a sponsor, I'm putting my career on the line for this individual. So... it was a very interesting article, just out. But it also pointed out that there are steps in between that are possible, beyond mentorship, and the next one is connecting.
Somebody... I love connecting, I'm having a great time at Invest Ottawa, just connecting entrepreneurs to entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs to investors, and it's amazing that mesh of connections, and how valuable it can be, and how much one entrepreneur can help another entrepreneur, and it really is a good step towards that sponsorship level. You don't always have to put your whole career on the line.
And my mentor was really a sponsor, if I think about it now. Because he was an individual that helped me become president of Chipworks. He saw the potential in me. He slapped me around a lot when I said stupid things, like "oh not right now." I said "I've got two kids at home," and he said, "No. Now. You've gotta do it now. This is not going to be here later."
And I really valued that. I did need that slapping around at that point. It was one of the best opportunities that I grabbed, and I'm really glad that I grabbed it. And I honestly usually end, talking about leadership and women, I say "Say yes. Say yes. Say yes." I mean, grab those opportunities when they arrive. You'll work it through; you'll make it work somehow. And they'll really help you grow.
[24:45] I think we do tend to say, "We’re not ready" far too often. I would like to take an opportunity now to thank Julia and Parinaz for joining us today. It's been great learning a little bit more about you. And you're both such great examples for everybody in the tech industry and certainly all the women in the tech industry who might be listening, as great examples to learn from, and to get inspired by, so thank you very much, and thank you to the Dean for this opportunity.
[25:17] Thank you to all of you.
Our outreach program involves 43,000 youths in the Ottawa area in the last twelve months. It's huge, but I'm still shocked that we still have such barriers to break through and try to make-- next summer; I think we're going to have another step, which will be exciting when we start. We now have a recognized private high school in the Faculty of Engineering, so next summer they'll be giving the 11th grade physics course, and they will be focusing on women.
Because-- and it's going to be interesting because I'm a physicist and engineer by training so I'm always looking for real data. And it is known by everybody that the 11th grade high school physics course is the showstopper. So I'm really, really interested in seeing whether this is real, and if we can have an effect when we address that.
[26:19] Well that was extremely interesting as a discussion with Parinaz, with Julia, and I really want to thank you too Thusha for joining me today, I think we can continue this conversation in the next episode. I think there's still a lot to explore, about all the issues around equity, diversity, technology, and inclusivity. So thanks so much for joining me today Thusha, and we'll talk again soon.
[26:44] I agree, it's been a great conversation and I think we're just starting to get to the heart of it. So I'm looking forward to having more conversations with leaders from Ottawa.
[26:52] I want to thank you all for tuning in on this episode of the Make the Future podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation and that you learned as much as I did. Don't forget to follow or subscribe to the podcast to make sure you don't miss the next episode. And we would also like to really thank our guests, and the podcast production team: Kyle Bournes, Valérie Samson, Karen Massey and Francis Bertrand-Lafrenière. And I really hope you can join us next time.
Welcome to the second season of the make the future podcast. I'm your host, Jacques Beauvais, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Ottawa. Join us as we have conversations with different thought leaders about current issues facing the engineering industry. Let's explore the future of technology and innovation and how through creativity and collaboration we can make the future.
They say the future is coming, but that's not true. The future is already here. And it's relentless. It's not going to wait for you to catch up. How will we live in this future? How will we make sense of it? To define our course, we need a new perspective. One that engages our curiosity. That activates our imagination. One that defies the conventional. To own the future, we need to do more than just see it. We need to make it.
[01:15] Thank you so much for joining us again today. I'm continuing my conversation with Thusha Agampodi, who is the Engineering Manager at Magnet Forensics, and we wanted to keep talking about, and to dig in to all the issues around equity, diversity, inclusivity, and the tech industry, some of the impact that that has, and we wanted to have that conversation with some people from industry who can help us out. Some leaders who can really talk about what's going on. So first of all, welcome back Thusha.
[01:43] Thank you. It's great to be here. I'm really excited to talk to two leaders from Ottawa, that I'm really inspired by.
And those two leaders are well known in the region. Well known in the Ottawa tech hub. We will be talking to Leah MacMillan. She's a Senior Vice President of Global Marketing Technologies at Trend Micro. And we'll also have a second guest, Eli Fathi, who is one of our alumni in the Faculty of Engineering, but who is also the CEO of MindBridge Ai.
And he's been very public about the importance of equity and diversity and inclusivity, and he has a lot to say about that. And I think in our conversation with them, my goal is to certainly hear about the role of the leaders in industry in promoting and supporting diversity. It's not just promoting, right Thusha? It's also a lot about mentoring, coaching, and even sponsoring.
[02:43] Definitely. I agree, and I've seen Leah speak a number of times, so she's been an inspiration for me. And Eli, I think, when it comes to male leaders, we need allies. So they have a huge role to play, and Eli's been doing that for everyone in Ottawa, and I've seen him speak at a number of conferences, and I've heard about the work that he does within his company and with the students at universities as well, so I'm really looking forward to talking to them.
[03:14] So for our conversation today, with Leah and Eli, and with Thusha and I, we're actually going out to Kanata North and meet them in the uOttawa space and have that conversation with them.
[03:25] Can you expand a little bit on the different ways to get others to promote inclusion, to promote diversity in tech, and to get people interested in the sector to begin with? Because I have to tell you, one of my questions is, we still have people around us who think that we're talking about equity, diversity, and inclusion merely because we have to.
And I want to try to get at the reasons why we're not doing it because somebody is telling us to do it, we're doing it because we have to be doing it for the success of our organizations. So if you could talk about the different ways that you get others to promote inclusion and diversity, and how to get people interested in the sector to do this?
[04:06] Sure, absolutely. I mean, just before we get into that. I think the reason we have to do this now, is I think we've all realized that decisions are better, working environments are better, when you have diversity and inclusion. Right? Studies have shown this, but I think we all have felt this as well, and certainly in the years I've been in tech, I've seen that it's, hey-- it's a lot more fun when you have diversity on the team, and I do think you get different perspectives and you end up with a better result. So I think we all feel, you know as we've been through this, that it's an absolute must to ensure that we have a more competitive, fast-moving, agile company to compete in today's hyper-competitive world that we have.
And you get that through diversity. In terms of being a chief storytelling, that's certainly not a formal title, but it's what people call me, my main job is really to ensure that whoever is listening to our story understands what it's all about. Whether that's customers, prospects, press people, industry analysts, partners, you know the general market, and of course employees. And so what we want to do is make sure through telling stories, people have a much more heartfelt understanding and experience of what you're trying to get to. And that's really the value of doing good stories.
But we actually have several initiatives which we've branded to help get across what we're trying to do in terms of inclusion. So we have something called "Close the Gap," which is a program that we actually started with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to help promote women in tech. That sort of began as one of our first formally externally branded kind of programs that we promoted and we did that in conjunction with AWS, since at every event and every opportunity we have to work in the community, or work with our customers, we typically have some sort of breakfast, or seminar series, or something, to help promote women in tech, specifically.
[06:06] Do you think-- your CEO is a woman--
Do you think that has, what kind of an impact does it have on the women that are in the company? Has it made a difference to you, having leaders all the way up to the CEO level?
[06:23] Absolutely, I do think you have to lead by example. We are very fortunate, our CEO, Eva Chen, has been with the company since its inception. She's one of the co-founders. So she's been with the company for over 30 years. She's Taiwanese-born, has lived in the US, has lived around the world, and still heads the company.
She's an incredibly passionate individual, she loves our technology, and she is very inspirational for all employees. But I do think for women especially, they can see that from the top we have female leadership. We also have some very senior executives who are female as well, and that really helps to set an example for everyone.
[07:02] Do you mind if I take the next question too?
Go ahead. There's a natural question there.
I've been reading about MindBridge, and I was excited that I saw some news. You recently had a Chief Strategy Officer who's a woman. And your CFO is a woman. And from reading your past interviews, you've spoken about the importance of having a good leadership team when you're building a company. Can you speak to the importance of diversity when you're building a strong leadership team at a new company?
[07:38] So, when you look at diversity and inclusion, it's a question, it's not hard-- it's the right thing we must do. It's not the issue of musts, but it's the right thing to do. And why is that? If you look at, on a number of planes, economic plane, better product, better harmonious relationship in a company, all of these studies have indicated, and I've just shared a few of them, if you look at the companies startup that had at least one woman as the co-founder, they perform significantly better, there are studies that shows-- if you look at the Fortune 500, where you had women, again you see that the relationship, on an economic basis, if you just as shareholders want to do it economically.
But let's talk about the social economic, how we look at the way that we are functioning, and let's look at, right now, the AI area, like what is dear to me right now. If you look at the issue of technology and bias, and address it in a number of planes. Currently, when less than 11% of women are in the AI side, what is absolutely known, biases-- as you know in AI, you learn from data, and the label data-- when you don't have women on the team, the number of biases increases significantly on the results that you have. So your product is not as good as it should be, because of that. That's one aspect.
Now let's look at the happiness factor, this is what we talk now, about the CO level. So the issue really-- why it's the right thing to do, is that if you look at the world, you are 50% men and women, then you go into STEM, and you have 40%, and you go into AI tech, it's 11%. Now the issue is the pool of available-- if you believe in all of the stats, and actually, there is a website that talks about women-- I think it's like, if all companies got into diversity, in the management level, the world economy, the GDP in North America, would grow by $1.5 trillion dollars. But the numbers are staggering, right?
But now there is a problem. What's the problem? The problem is that the available pool of women that is ready for the CO level just the available pool, just historically, because if we have 11% only, in this area, you just don't have sufficient number of women to occupy these positions. So for us, it's a struggle. And I'm extremely excited I was able to attract a C level into our organization. And the same thing, I'm now working very hard to try to attract women on the Board of Directors, that are women.
Because right now, and I mentioned it at the last board meeting, I said "Look around the room. There's one woman and there are ten men. It's just not the right balance." So we try to change that, and we have an initiative that we're going to-- so we have a couple of both internal and external focused initiatives. Internal initiative is to teach the women in the company-- so we have once a month, a women-led, I think we talked about it Thusha, where we invite somebody of high stature to talk to the women in the company only, and talk about the success that she has had, and what influence she can have on the people internal--
[11:24] Because examples makes a difference.
Absolutely, and the other aspect is what we look at externally focused. Number one we are promoting women organizations that are supporting women to be in tech, and we've done it in Impact AI Conference where we actually gave awards and financial support to a couple of women organizations. And then in the last time, at the last conference, we launched what was known as the "HERoes" with emphasis on the HER, initiative, where we're working with Ottawa U, Sofia Leong is the lead, from Ottawa U, Carleton, and Algonquin.
And the whole notion that we're talking about is going back to the fact that the available pool is limited. And Thusha, you are an engineer, so you came from the tech world. But if you look at the stream of available children-- you go back to the age of 8, 9, 10-- it's known that young girls progress much faster than boys. But when they get to age 11, they suddenly are not as excited about math for a variety of reasons. So it's up to really the teachers, academia, the parents, and the government to do this.
But this is a long cycle. It's 15 years from age 10 to 25, it's a long cycle. What we believe in is that there is a shorter path, because you don't need to be a programmer like you, Thusha, in order to be in high tech, you can be a manager. You can be a manager, a leader, and that's still valuable. And we feel that that could be a lot faster.
So the HERoes initiative is all about taking 20-30 young women, and bring them to an environment for a full day, where we're going to bring women-- and men-- that are going to teach them about confidence, teach them about presentation both oral presentation to stand in front of-- one of the biggest challenges, that I find with women-- and men to some degree-- is to stand in front of people and speak, and be able to talk. That written presentation, a confidence building, and all of that is going to be on that one day. And then the idea is that we'll do it twice, this one semester per year.
And then with the help of Ottawa U and Carleton and Algonquin, we would like to bring and create a boot camp, where we are going to have a certification, that again only the university can do, we're going to lead this initiative but we cannot provide the certification, and then involve maybe twenty different organizations that will agree to take an intern, and get this particular young woman, and get her through this confidence building into a leadership position.
And if we can do that, then we would like to take it across the country into other economic institutions. So this is what we feel that is really important in today's environment. And I'll say one more comment, the world-- I'll talk about Canada-- Canada, high-tech, academic, he's ready for that. They would like to do that.
[14:40] You know again, I think you have to lead by example, and set up these programs, because there is a lot of this unconscious bias that happens. We know women often get promoted, because of their performance, where men are often promoted based on potential, right? And that's one of the things we're trying to change internally as well, is to put women into positions based on their potential, versus waiting until-- you know that's partly based on their own sense, you know, women's own sense-- they want to get to a certain level of confidence before they get promoted, whereas men are kind of a little bit more go-for-it bravado, in terms of that thing, and we need to help push that issue.
You know, we've been doing this a lot at a management level, looking for the women with potential, and putting them into leadership positions. We just-- last month we put a younger woman, a mid-20s, as a country manager in Israel. We have a female country manager in Egypt. We have a female country manager in Canada. And we're looking for these opportunities where we can put women into these leadership positions, maybe even before they're comfortable, or ready for it, in their mind, and that comes from the top. Management's got to look around and make sure that they're aware of those situations.
[16:02] We had one of our guests who talked about, I think we ended up talking about mentors, and coaches, and allies, but she raised the issue and the importance of sponsors. Somebody who stakes their own reputation on supporting-- did you over the course of your career, did you have people like that around you?
[16:26] Absolutely, I think absolutely. I think-- and I'm always encouraging my folks that they also have to speak up and have an idea of what they want to do. But I remember my very first job, here in Ottawa, 1990, at Corel, I had an amazing female mentor, who was also my manager, who just kind of pushed me in ways that I didn't even think I could do, and she was very encouraging, in a way that I've tried to pass on to people that I've managed over the years. I just thought that she has stuck out in my memory as the person who most influenced me, but she just would put me into situations, that she thought I was capable of handling, that I had no idea I could do. And you learn quickly that you can handle those things.
[17:13] Do you see progress in the sense that-- in the Ontario universities, we are looking at the number of girls in engineering and computer science, and some universities are doing really, really well, but the overall percentage of women has not really grown in ten years.
It's 30% or something in Canada?
Well, in engineering and computer sciences, we're like stuck at 20, 22%. We've been there for ten years. We do tons of activities to try, you know Go Code girl, Go-ENG Girl, all kind of things to promote it. In Ottawa, in our faculty, we've grown it hugely. We had 400 ten years ago, we have over 900 today. But the percentage is still the same. Are you optimistic? I want somebody to be optimistic that we're changing things.
[18:05] No I feel, like in the last couple of years, that there has been a huge tsunami of influence and change in the world of course, but in high-tech. This is something that comes up now at every conference. There's a stream for women in tech. At every place you go, it's a conversation. We have opened a conversation within our hallways and within our company in a way that I have never seen in the past. And I grew up in high-tech in the early 90s, where I could tell you, it was a very, very different way. It was extremely male oriented, but also inappropriate by today's standards. And I really feel the change. I feel that we have evolved immensely, especially over the last few years.
[19:00] The studies all prove that, to innovate, you need diverse teams, you need equity, you need more women, and like Eli said, you build better products, without bias, when you have more women, more diversity, and that data's been around a long time, and yet we haven't moved the needle as fast as I would have liked us to. That being said, I'm still hopeful because there's so many initiatives, I think we can continue to come together, everyone from the industry and the universities, because I would love for us to attack it from every angle that we can, like increase the pipeline--
[19:39] And before university right? The pipeline starts when they're 10, 11, 12, you know these-- we partner with this organization called Girls in Tech, there's Technovation here that I was involved in, in Ottawa, where you promote, and get women-- girls involved, in tech before university. You have to get them into the university programs.
Yes, and then decrease things like attrition that happens, you know. Like build an inclusive work environment, like most of you are doing at your companies, have female leadership. I think all of that goes a long way.
[20:10] But I think one element that is really important, and I said that in other sessions, we should not treat it as a disease. It's not a disease. It's not something-- it's a fact that happened over many, many years, and now we have to chip at it and change the way that it's on the ground. One of the key elements from my perspective, is role model. We need women role model.
You can go and tell young kids, if you're talking about 10, 12 year olds, you can tell them as much as you want-- and that's why I said don't call it a disease-- what do they care, when you tell them I only have 20%, what does it mean "I only have 20% at the university." That's your problem, the university. It's not the problem of a ten-year-old. What does a ten-year-old want? She wants to have a role model to aspire to. That's-- I think that's what women and men have to do, is to give them the role model.
And when they see a role model, why do they select and go "I want to be a rock star, I want to be a movie star, I want to be an engineer." Because they want a woman role model they can aspire to- and to me that's what's missing right now, because we don't have enough women that are role model for them. And that's where the change would take place, but we're taking a thing that society is ready? Absolutely ready, both men and women, and companies, not even talking about the governments that we are starting to see in California, in other places, where you are going to force diversity by legislation.
So it's all across-- the parents have to be a part of that. Obviously the academia, the governments, but I think, I believe truly, that people, both men and women, are ready for it, and industry is ready for it. So what is missing, the last part, is really, to get the young children. The 10-12 year-olds, to see the role models, and to say "oh I really want to be into this field."
[22:19] And it's a challenge-- It's a challenge because scientists and engineers don't have that many TV shows. Don't have that much popular culture exposure.
Unless you're Elon Musk or something.
Or Sheldon Cooper, and his friends. But the idea is that getting those role models out there, it's a little bit more challenging because we won't have those popular culture images. So it's even more important for the women in industry to be able to find ways to make those kids...
Yeah it's true. I really enjoy the time that I spent here in Ottawa at Technovation. This is where they do match up local female leaders, business and tech leaders, with the young people, and you're each given a team of-- I had a team of five grade 10 girls-- and our job was to build an app over a course of so many weeks.
And then they had to do a whole business case and presentation, and you know, had an entrepreneurial presentation and it became- it's a regional competition which then goes national which then goes global. So they could do very well on a global stage, but it really encourages that connection, like you said, between a role model, someone in the community who can then connect and give back, if you will, to the up and comers.
[23:39] My daughter, who's six, she wants to be an engineer, already, but a train engineer. You know, it's better than nothing, it's a starting point-- so I already see how important examples are. My dad worked at engineering in university, and that had a huge influence on why I got into it.
It's interesting that you said that- that the cool factor, because our CTO went in and worked with grade 6, and helped them to put an AI experiment on the space ship and they were so excited because he taught them how to write with AI. He actually went through and taught them and-- so that's the cool factor you need to show and "Oh I want to be something like that." And that's why I say it doesn't matter if it's a man or woman, if you can show them that there is something that is cool that can interest them.
[24:29] I spent the first 15 years of my career in more technical side of tech, but not coding, I was product management and helping to drive requirements, but more from a business degree, but with technical understanding. But yeah I do think that people-- it's great to have more women in STEM specifically, but as women on the management side, or the sales and business side, can make a huge impact as well, and that's really my role. To change it from that side.
[24:58] And personally, for me, I've seen I think, I've seen Leah speak at a few events and Women in Tech panels, and it's been a huge inspiration to see you out there, as a leader, because there's not enough female leaders for me to see and be inspired by, so you don't necessarily have to have an engineering background- having female leaders for us to look up to and get inspired by makes a difference, because I know seeing you made that for me.
[25:27] You know that the original software programmers were by women. It was the man who did the hardware, and the women did the programming.
Yes, but we did a very good job of forgetting that, and-- at least that's part of a few things we're seeing in popular culture, that idea coming back. Of who were the first programmers, who were the first idea, and that's only going to help. But I have a bigger question for you Eli, and I've heard you talk with passion about Ottawa, but your company is in a field where the Government of Canada, through major investments, decided that AI was happening in Montreal, it was happening in Toronto, it was happening a little bit in Alberta, why are you in Ottawa, really?
[26:13] Labs. We have 60,000 workers in high-tech. We have government labs, we have access to, if you look in Ottawa, to all the embassies. Ottawa is amazing, amazing that if you take all of the factors-- now clearly, choices are to be made if you look at Toronto. Toronto has more AI startups than any city in the world. If you look at Montreal, Montreal has more researchers in AI than any city in the world. So there is a lot to talk about scaling.
But Ottawa has the other side of it, because when you're dealing with this kind of competitive environment, it's also putting you as a small start-up at a disadvantage, because if you're competing against, if you're in Toronto, with the Google lab, and Apple, all of these big labs of these big high-tech companies, you are pricing yourself out of the market, because if they want one of your people, they can get them. So being in Ottawa, in essence you are insular from that. You are not being faced with a competitive environment of these big organizations.
Secondly, you have access to 60,000 high-tech workers, which are interested, a lot of them, to go into the AI. So not only do you not have a disadvantage, competing with the big organizations, you have an advantage with all of these people who want to go into the AI side. So I think that we have the right environment, the right ecosystem in Ottawa to grow.
And yesterday I was meeting with other people and we were talking about how we can grow an AI-- that's one of my passions as you know-- we are an AI city, why are we not getting the same recognition as Toronto, Montreal, and Edmonton? That's one of the things that I would like to change in here, because we have the best city--really, like I said-- in the world, in terms of if you take all the factors together, and for AI we can build a big ecosystem here that can create more jobs and put us on the map in a big way.
[28:29] There are good, just for people who are maybe considering a job in tech where there is a lot of travel. I think there are some amazing parts of business travel. It is amazing what you can see, and the experiences you get. For me it's the cultural exposure. We're a very global company, we're actually a Japanese headquartered company, but we have about 7,000 people around the world. Our Ottawa is about 250 people, so we need to go forth and meet people in person. But half of our company is Asian, and there's something to be said for being able to be in the same room and communicate, and build relationships.
[29:10] The experience I've just gone through with Magnet is one I can highlight when they wanted to open the office here, and they wanted me to build a team here, I had a lot of doubts-- I think as women we're always feeling like, "Am I ready for this? Can I do this?" And then you have other people who tell you, "Yes you can."
Definitely what helped me so much were the other companies, the communities, the tech communities. The support I got from everyone around here, the universities, the Kanata North Business Association. There was so much support when I was setting up the team, trying to recruit, trying to hire-- I think that kind of community feeling and the support was huge, in helping me build the diverse team. That was an aspect of Ottawa that I hadn't experienced before, and then of course the commute, having access to hiking, the canoeing and kayaking, all of that is incredible.
Whenever-- there's a lot of recruiters that reach out often-- and every time, "Why would I leave Ottawa? Why do you think that I would be interested in anything else?" I agree with Eli, I think it is a best kept secret, because I don't think enough people know about. And I need people to know about it so that we get more talent.
No, I would just like to say thank you-- thanks to Leah, I know we spoke about this already, I have been inspired by you, ever since the first time I have heard you speak on a panel. So it's a great-- it's my pleasure to be able to sit here and talk to you about TrendMicro and about your career, and the work that you do supporting women.
Same for you Eli, I think in Ottawa we're lucky to have you as an entrepreneur in Ottawa, building companies and building diverse companies and putting an emphasis on getting more women into tech and increasing the pipeline, which is great for all of our companies. I think we do this together, and it elevates all of us, so it's incredible, and thank you for joining us today.
[31:09] Eli Fathi
We have each letter in MindBridge -- I have ten mantras-- so each letter in MindBridge means something, so the M stands Make a difference, do good in the world, so then we believe in that and that's one of our mantras. If you come to our office, you'll see them all.
I didn't know that, that's amazing.
[31:29] Jacques Beauvais
So that was a really interesting conversation with Eli and Leah and a really inspiring conversation about the role of the leaders in industry in promoting and supporting an environment where equity, diversity, and inclusivity are extremely important and really help contribute to developing these companies and making an impact in the organization.
I want to thank you all for tuning in on this episode of the Make the Future podcast. I hope that you enjoyed the conversation and that you learned as much as I did. Don't forget to follow or subscribe to the podcast to make sure you don't miss the next episode. And I would also really like to thank our guest and the podcast production team: Kyle Bournes, Valérie Samson, Karen Massey and Francis Bertrand-Lafrenière. And I really hope you can join us next time.
Welcome to the second season of the Make the Future podcast. I'm your host, Jacques Beauvais, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Ottawa. Join us as we have conversations with different thought leaders about current issues facing the engineering industry. Let's explore the future of technology and innovation and how through creativity and collaboration we can make the future.
They say the future is coming, but that's not true. The future is already here. And it's relentless. It's not going to wait for you to catch up. How will we live in this future? How will we make sense of it? To define our course, we need a new perspective. One that engages our curiosity. That activates our imagination. One that defies the conventional. To own the future, we need to do more than just see it. We need to make it.
[01:13] Jacques Beauvais
So welcome to today's podcast where we want to continue to delve into the topic of equity, diversity, and inclusivity in the technology sector. And I'm really lucky today to be joined again by Thusha Agampodi, who's Engineering Manager at Magnet Forensics. Welcome back Thusha.
[01:33] Jacques Beauvais
So today we're going to have a conversation with two special guests, who are Oliver Fisher, who is Vice-President Engineering at FreshBooks, and Susan Richards, who is the Managing Partner and Co-founder of numbercrunch. Today's conversation is going to be about networking, mentoring, and covering some other topics, and these guests are people you know, Thusha.
[01:53] Thusha Agampodi
That's right, I've been really looking forward to this episode. Susan was a panellist on the Better Together event and I always love hearing what she has to say on this topic, and her journey. And Oliver has been a mentor of mine, so I've had many conversations with him about gender equality and he has been motivating me to take actions and to make progress on this.
[02:20] Jacques Beauvais
Alright, so let's jump into our conversation with Oliver and Susan. One of the concerns that I have when I talk to certain people in the engineering community is they often think that we talk about EDI because somebody told us that we had to do EDI. So I'm very interested to hear from you why is it really important? Why this is a concern, and why we want it at the leadership level, why we want it in the people in our organizations, so maybe, Susan, you could start.
[02:48] Susan Richards
Well, I think we do have to make some change here. The world is moving rapidly, technology is changing the way we relate with our families, communicate with our friends, drive business, business models, economic development, lots of things. And today if you look at things, we're really only working with half the population and arguably, less than half the population.
So we have men leading the majority of the innovation from the technology standpoint, from the business standpoint, from the boardroom standpoint, and what that means is we have a good gap in-- men and women are running this world together, and we need to continue to work together on the future of the world in Canada and in Ottawa. So I just see that-- we have half the team at the table. And we just need to make room and get the other half there.
[03:49] Oliver Fisher
When I think of-- we call it "DIB"-- diversity, inclusivity, and belonging-- different acronym, same concept. When I talk about that and why we should be doing it, first of all, I go with-- "Look, this is just the right thing to do as a human being”. Why would we exclude someone else for some random thing like skin colour, gender, whatever? But then when we look at-- actually the benefits that it's going to bring us, I've heard people talk about "Oh there's diversity in way of thinking. Diversity in personality types."
And when I come down to it I say: "Look, the thing I know and at least have learned over the years, is that women have a very different life experience than men do." People of colour have a very different experience than white people do. You could say that about all sorts of different axes, and if you don't have a different representative sample from those groups within your company, you're missing out on a tremendously valuable point of view that's good for your customers and good for your company and for your business.
[05:01] Jacques Beauvais
And I think all the discussions we've been having on AI and bias in AI recently has put the spotlight on it. But the reality of it is-- it came out in the news recently, I found it extremely interesting-- when you put a bunch of male engineers in a room, they designed a crash test dummy as a male body. And it has really serious safety consequences-- not even implications-- consequences, on half the population of the world, when we design a car to be safe for only people who are like 5'10 and with the build of a guy. And it's insane that nobody thought that we need a different type.
[05:42] Oliver Fisher
To this day, my understanding is medical, pharmaceutical, drug-testing, is predominately done on men.
Yeah, the National Science Foundation have to start to impose the research has to include the rest of the world.
[05:56] Thusha Agampodi
That's right. And social media, the huge thing for me is, we all use it, but all of its design and all of its decisions, a lot of them are driven and made by the men who are leading these companies, and I'm not saying it would be better if we had more perspective on it, but I know it would be different. And I would like to know how, because social media has such a huge impact on all of us, and elections, and everything else, so I think we definitely need to get other perspectives in there when we design it.
[06:35] Jacques Beauvais
What about leadership? We're improving a little on the workforce-- I think. I'm trying to be optimistic. But we're improving a little bit on the hiring people. We can get back to that after. But what about leadership? Are you optimistic? Are you seeing a good trend?
[06:49] Susan Richards
Yeah, I'm very optimistic about everything. I really think that everything is improving, and that momentum has started, the conversations are happening, the discussion about the crash test dummies are now being had, even though that practice has been going on for a really long time. I think that women, women are as complex as men are. We are all the things that men are. We are no better, no worse. We can do all of the things, to no exception that I have discovered, any less capable than men.
It just looks different. And if people are open to it, the leadership is going to change in ways we didn't predict. And the innovations will be in ways we never predicted. So when I think back to Henry Ford, when he said, if I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said, "Faster horses." I don't even, my imagination, which is active, can't even imagine what the world is going to look like, when we have diversity at the leadership table. But it's going to be magnificent.
[07:57] Thusha Agampodi
[08:00] Thusha Agampodi
Can I jump in here? I was gonna-- first I'm going to say how exciting this is for me, because I have conversations with both of you, and I look up to both of you, and you've both given me advice, so when I heard that you two were being put together to have this discussion I was really excited and we were joking about this, like it's kind of like a blind date.
And then... speaking of leadership, I was going to ask you a question. When we first met, when you were at Shopify, and I was interviewing for Shopify, even though I knew I was going to go a different way, I was sad because I wanted to learn from you, so I asked Oliver, "Would it be OK if we keep in touch?" Because I would love to continue to learn from you even though I'm not going to work for you, and that was hard for me to ask because I think it would have been easier for me to ask if you had been a woman, because-- he's a stranger, and I have to ask him if-- you know.
So given that most of the leadership team in tech anyway, are still men, my question to both of you is what could young women do if they want to grow and learn from the leaders who are mostly men? How can they find mentors and advocates for them?
[09:17] Oliver Fisher
I think your example is good in terms of just asking.
It took a lot of guts though!
Oh, I can understand that.
[09:24] I have to ask, did you keep talking to her afterwards?
I did-- it was quite funny because Thusha phoned us that morning and said, "I've taken another job somewhere else," and I was very impressed with her resume, so I responded with a trap. I said, "Just come in, it'll be good for networking." So she came in, and I'd never met her before, but I talked to her for about 15-20 minutes and I determined that oh yeah, she's actually pretty competent and everything. And then my goal was to not let her leave the room until she agreed to talk to someone else. But I ended up having to give up, she was too tough for me. But she agreed to talk to me, and I even tricked her into thinking she was asking me to talk to her again, maybe.
[10:11] Thusha Agampodi
I've been quite lucky having these mentors who I learned a lot from. But not everybody does, and I think if I had been earlier in my career, I probably wouldn't have asked you. So how would young women, and we need more of them in leadership positions, how can they find mentors to learn from, and how could they ask? I mean I wish I could have had them earlier in my career.
[10:30] Oliver Fisher
So I think there's a couple things there. I think it's interesting that you said earlier in your career you wouldn't have asked. I think that our relationship in part has worked very well because we're not that distant in the points of our career, right? I can provide some really interesting, valuable point of view, I'm sure, to somebody coming straight out of school, and starting their career. But I am frankly disconnected, probably with their experience, at this point in time. And so they should probably talk to someone who's a little closer to them and look for the mentor there, who's x number of years into their career.
[11:07] Jacques Beauvais
Same culture, same... Popular culture type of thing. Shared background.
Yeah, and it's somebody who is like, who five years ago, was in their position. Who could still remember it and who is still up to date with it, whereas-- so I think that's partly why our relationship has worked so well. Don't over-jump. Like I'm delighted to give somebody advice, but I don't know if it's actually relevant anymore.
[11:32] Thusha Agampodi
You're saying if you're coming in, you might not want to have a CEO as your mentor.
Yeah, I think that's true. Like you might want to be a CEO, you might turn out to be a CEO, but it's probably going to take you a few years.
[11:43] Jacques Beauvais
We've had the conversation with a few people. We've talked about coaches, mentors, sponsors, people who will put themselves on the line to help somebody, and role models. How do you see all of those?
[11:58] Susan Richards
Well, I agree with the comments that were just mentioned too-- like not going too many deviations from where you are because there's-- what comes with courage, building confidence is about doing something and having it go okay, or surviving when it doesn't go okay. And you just build up over time, so the more that you can feel comfortable with the type of conversation you're going to have, you're maybe taking a stretch, but it's a reasonable stretch.
So I think overall, women should be bolder about asking. Not be afraid. The other person's going to be flattered, more than anything. Their first instinct is going to be flattered. And if they think they can't actually provide any guidance, hopefully they'll just say that, and introduce you to someone that they think could be.
Myself, I get asked, now that I'm Co-Chair of Invest Ottawa, I get asked by a lot of people to do-- they are looking for mentors or looking to speak to someone, or looking for a job, or all these different-looking things, and I used to struggle with that a little because I really protect the relationships that I have.
I didn't want to waste anybody's time, and so I wouldn't want to introduce a stranger to somebody, because maybe that's not somebody that's going to be a good use of their time. I've opened my mindset to that-- so I've been on my own journey with all of this, and I realize now, introductions are introductions. I'm not asking somebody to have a coffee with someone, but if I think there's a contact there that could have a synergy, then I'm doing my best to try to do introductions as best I can. And I think people are generally like that.
[13:30] Jacques Beauvais
I'm convinced that we have inherent issues with the criteria that we're using to choosing people. And it's going to be very difficult to let those people change those criteria on their own because it would mean that the criteria that we used to choose them were maybe not the best criteria, so that I find adds to the challenge. So we need at some point, some way to say, this is no longer just your choice, right? You've got to--
[13:55] Susan Richards
That's it, it would be a relief, ultimately. I think here in Canada, 98% of businesses are small businesses, so here in Kanata, we have a concentration of tech companies that have boards. Since a lot of small companies don't have boards. Tech companies often do, but they're thrown together at the beginning by the funders. That's what pulls together-- so it's the founder and the funder. Well, the founder is a man and the funder is a man, so now we have a few men around a table as the board, and it's not necessarily so well thought.
So I ended up, as a result of that study-- I went around talking to board members that I know, because I sit on some boards. I'm also a CFO of companies that have boards, so I talk to some trusted board friends, to say, "What's your view on this?" And really, they had an overwhelming shame about the makeup of the board in the first place. Like it wasn't strategically thought out, no they haven't refreshed it, but they had bigger fish to fry.
These small businesses, especially in the tech space, they're living oxygen tank to oxygen tank, which is-- funding round to funding round. So they're not necessarily pulling back, looking at their board makeup. But I would still argue, it would still be the biggest, dramatic impact to their business. Especially if we take-- sorry if I go a bit further-- when we go to the big boards, those individuals at those organizations are being very thoughtful about their board makeup. But they're looking for experience.
Well, those small businesses are great experience accumulators. And so I think there's such a dramatic opportunity for those small businesses to move a needle in providing that experience to women so that when it's big board opportunity, there is a pipeline of experienced women. Today we have women in HR, marketing, and some fields that are not engineering-based, that could instantly add value at board level.
[15:52] Jacques Beauvais
One thing that seems to be lacking right now is women funders. What do you see out there? Do you see a change? Do you see them? Do you interact with people who may have funds, investors, things like that? What's the experience been like?
[16:09] Thusha Agampodi
I don't know if there are more, how many more funders there are, but I know for sure how daunting it would be if you had to pitch anything to a panel of men. So for that reason alone, I would like to see more funders who are women, at least a balance, so that if I had to go and pitch an idea, it's not as--
[16:30] Jacques Beauvais
But what about hiring? Have we improved in the ways we hire, down to the interview process with people?
I used to be-- a long time ago, I used to be very focused on the technical abilities: stand at the whiteboard, can you program-- a lot of people still do that. And we recently introduced a coding test into our engineering thing, but I was very concerned about that. I was the person who was like-- slow down, I don't want to be like screening people out who were challenged by this. We really want to get to know them.
So we actually put it at the end of our process, rather than as a screen up at first. We still wanted to get that feedback and honestly, I wanted to give people the opportunity to sit at their own computer, in their own house, with their own amount of time, in their own comfortable environment, without three people standing there watching every typo they make on the computer or on the whiteboard. The opportunity to show their best work. And without screening them out, so we spent a lot of time pulling in, and just trying to connect with people.
I think the thing that we've seen is that you could be incredibly great technically, but if you don't have that connection, or the ability to connect with people around you-- not necessarily every person in the office, but the ability to talk and connect and get your idea across and influence people, you're not going to be a great engineer.
So that's-- like the technical thing is really just like a baseline. And frankly, we're all learning stuff all the time. You're going to improve so much more when you get into a company where you're actually programming or your designing things technically, professionally. Other people will be helping make you better. So if you don't have that ability to get help, like you were talking about earlier Thusha, just go out and find some people to talk to, whether it's the people who are sitting right next to you at your desk, you're probably not going to succeed.
[18:29] Jacques Beauvais
And even whatever knowledge you have when you enter an organization has a very, very short lifespan. Because it's evolving so quickly, I think you're quite right that you need to be able to learn with the people around you. Have you also changed the way you write job descriptions?
Yes, 100%. And read resumes.
You know the key part you said about, like, women wanting to tick every box, right? I sit down and I read all of our job descriptions, and we have two sections. The part you must have, and by reading that section, I'm saying, would I hire someone who didn't have this, but had everything else? If not, if the answer is yes? Then yes, you actually move it down to things, the nice to have.
[19:14] Susan Richards
And in some cases take them right off, and you just have to put in a bit more time, do some rapid-fire type stuff, and you're going to see more people perhaps, but that's inclusivity. A bit one for myself was, in my company, I had this bias towards people that had been with organizations for a certain amount of time. I thought if they were short stints, and that was an indication of being fired, or not being committed--
Yup, been there, done that too.
And I learned that that's not at all. There's a million reasons why that may have been-- especially for new Canadians. It could be through agencies, where that's where they are. Temp placements, and everybody loved them where they went, but they were just covering pieces of maternity leave. All those-- I parked that, so that was one that I had in my own, was creating a bias towards, especially, new Canadians.
[20:05] Oliver Fisher
But I'd also say to the people out there looking for work or applying to companies, like, trust your gut. If you're seeing things in the job descriptions, in the interview process, if you're not feeling comfortable with how that goes, go find another company. Don't say, "Wow, I got to get this job”. Maybe it is your dream job, but you know what? There's probably more than one dream job out there for you. So don't be afraid-- at least in technology, it is very much a candidate's market. Certainly at the moment, so don't be afraid to go find something better.
[20:43] Thusha Agampodi
I was definitely removing the checklist-- we did that at Magnet too, remove all the ones that are not necessary, because I know from my personal experience, I waited until I felt like I was 100% ready-- and not just to apply to jobs-- really for anything. It took me a long time to try things out, for things I didn't quite feel ready for, and get comfortable with failing. You know like, even the Shopify, when you had the title called Head of Engineering, and I looked at it, and I was like, "God, that sounds crazy. I could never do this." But I applied anyway.
I actually made that title on purpose, because it was purposely vague. I didn't want to say VP, or Director, or Lead-- it was just Head, to try and get a variety of people of different experience levels.
What made you apply? Did anyone say, Thusha, apply? Or did you convince yourself?
[21:35] Thusha Agampodi
I wouldn't have done it earlier in my career for sure. I was at a point where I was just trying things, and I think had recently read an article where women don't apply to all the jobs that they want, so I purposefully went, and I applied, because I was curious about Shopify, and I wanted to apply, and it was vague enough and interesting enough, but I did not feel qualified at all, but I did it anyways.
Can I tell them about the thing that you wrote?
Oh no, it's terrible--
It's not terrible!
No, no, you have to tell us now.
So, Thusha's application, included in there, I care really... something along the lines of-- "I care really a lot about the culture of companies, and I would love to be able to come in and just shadow you for a day to see if we fit culturally and compatibly." And I was like whoa, that is really cool. If I'd been able to convince her that she might want to work with me, then I would have absolutely said yes, in a heartbeat.
[22:30] Jacques Beauvais
But you know, that was your mistake. You wanted her to meet somebody else. You should have said--
You know you're right, you're right.
Let's hang out for a day. Which it's never too late for that to happen.
[22:41] Thusha Agampodi
You know, I highly recommend that, but now you’ve told everyone my secret.
But other women need to hear that, they need to know to do that. And we have to share—
I have another company I… Let me come in and shadow for a day. I highly recommend it.
[22:56] Jacques Beauvais
What’s the job market like when you’re trying to hire? Is it really tough to get the best people you see out there? And if you do want some balance, is it challenging because everybody’s trying to hire a smaller number of people? What’s it like right now?
[23:16] Oliver Fisher
But use that power. It’s not always going to be this likely because five, ten years from now, it’ll be the other way, and we’ll all be begging for jobs. And we’ll take whatever horrible workplace that will take us. But for now, use that and really leverage that to get what you want and ask for what you want, just like what Thusha’s been saying.
[23:35] Susan Richards
And I think even before that you have to want what you want. You have to actually take a moment and think about what you want. And that’s something I think women are new to as well. It’s—to be bold, to set lofty goals, is somehow been something that’s just uncomfortable, not a lot of experience as a gender I think, with this. And so people need to go bold. Now is a great time for it, it is a rapid fire escalation opportunity for you, and in areas where you see the change needs to be, be the change.
There’s likely actually nobody in your way. A lot of these barriers we put are self-imposed, or worries that we have, so I definitely encourage women to go for it. I think men-- I believe men actually just want to help women get into those places for a variety of reasons. One because they have their own goals of what they want their teams to look like and be more powerful, so I don’t think there’s things working against it, other than systemic barriers that we have to continue to work on and chip away at.
[24:23] Thusha Agampodi
I definitely grew up not asking for what I want, and then I recently saw a chart on Forbes, or somewhere, that was really interesting and made sense to me about how the confidence of women, compared to the confidence of men. When you get to about your 40s is when they align.
I would agree with that.
I would agree with that too! And I was like, that makes sense because I finally feel as confident as a man may be, and it’s a great feeling. I certainly wish I had that when I was 25. In the chart they did a study in, it was great to see so, but I would say that the young women is-- I want to show everyone that chart to see that-- you might not feel as confident but, you should definitely use your voice and ask for what you want, because I would love that chart to be a little sooner.
[25:25] Oliver Fisher
One thing I’ll say, as we’re all talking about and focusing on women as we’re talking about this, but I think all of this advice applies to any other dozens of dozens of diverse groups. I always talk about women because it’s one that’s really easy to identify. Usually have a pretty good sense of whether someone is identifying as a woman or not.
[25:46] Jacques Beauvais
And it’s one that we know we’re not doing well.
Yeah, you’re right. When you get to people of colour, sometimes there’s a—variety of shades.
And gender balance is a lot more complicated than that, it’s just the—it’s an indicator that we can see that we’re not yet there.
[26:04] Thusha Agampodi
And it’s a large percentage no matter where you are in the world. Half the population.
When I tell people why I pick on gender—it’s an easy one. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about all the rest of it, but I have read that once you start upgrading an environment to be inclusive to women, you kind of automatically get the rest of it.
Your goal is to break down the traditional way of looking at things.
[26:28] Oliver Fisher
Yeah that—that’s been exactly the experience that I’ve seen over the past few years. You know, as I start thinking more and more about hiring women, I end up hiring Nigerians, Brazilians, Italians, like all sorts of—
Broken a lot of barriers.
[26:44] Susan Richards
I think before people were thoughtful, they just hired what was comfortable, which is why it was more like themselves. They go to the same university, whoever talks like me, watches the same shows as me, looks kind of like me, reminds me of me when I was younger, those are the people that you gravitated to.
Once you consciously decide they have a thoughtful profile that you’re looking for, or profiles that you’re looking to fill out, then it just blows it all out of the water. Of course there are some women who like to climb the ladder and pull it up behind them. Also, if you look around, I think it’s only a certain profile of women who’s really gotten through it. Like as diverse as women are, the sampling of leaders at the top, is not as diverse.
[27:31] Jacques Beauvais
No and it’s a snapshot to those who have managed to do it today.
That’s right, and sometimes it was through brute force. It wasn’t necessarily something we even aspire to be. The other thing is there’s a perspective there. This is one I’m having a lot of conversations around this area right now, because I have a nice friend who really challenges me. She likes to talk about all the problems, and I like to see through the solutions.
I think of a hockey player and I think of one of their coaches told one of my guys that he can see the net. So he doesn’t see the goalie, he sees the net, and that’s why he can score the goals. Because most people shoot at the goalie—kids anyway. And so I see through a lot of the obstacles.
I do have the stories, but I don’t feel there’s value in highlighting them. I feel like they actually attract more of the problem. And instead, I’m trying to unpack the things that I did to get around them, without actually talking too much about the negative situation. Because if you get-- especially a group of women together-- and they start sharing those stories, they’re on top of each other, like there’s a lot of hideous stories.
I think there are definitely groups of women that will talk about-- and that’s why we even brought men and women together. I was nervous, because I find sometimes it turns into this shaming thing for men--
[28:59] Thusha Agampodi
You didn’t want it to be that… For Better Together.
Yeah, because women can get kind of ruthless talking about their history.
I want to thank you all for tuning in on this episode of the Make the Future podcast. I hope that you enjoyed the conversation and that you learned as much as I did. Don’t forget to follow or subscribe to the podcast to make sure you don’t miss the next episode. And I would also really like to thank our guest and the podcast production team: Kyle Bournes, Valérie Samson, Karen Massey and Francis Bertrand-Lafrenière. And I really hope you can join us next time.
Welcome to the second season of the Make the Future podcast. I'm your host, Jacques Beauvais, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Ottawa. Join us as we have conversations with different thought leaders about current issues facing the engineering industry. Let's explore the future of technology and innovation and how through creativity and collaboration we can make the future.
[01:15] Jacques Beauvais
So welcome to today's podcast where we're going to look again at the question of equity, diversity, and inclusivity. And I'm joined again by Thusha Agampodi, who's Engineering Manager at Magnet Forensics. Welcome Thusha.
So we still have a lot of questions about where does the lack of diversity come from? And what have we done in terms of progress, and to see-- how does it happen when we're doing the recruitment, and how does it start? And we've got some really interesting guests today to talk about this. So we have Erin Blaskie, the Director of Marketing at L-Spark, and she's been a regular columnist for the Huffington Post, she's worked with Forbes, Entrepreneur and the Wall Street Journal.
And we're also going to be joined by Karolina Kural, who is an alumni of the University of Ottawa in Communications in 2014, and she's a Recruitment Program Specialist at Kinaxis. And she's also part of the uOttawa Kanata North regional Alumni Council, and on the program committee for the uOttawa Kanata North initiative. So she knows about how we're trying to reach out and connect with the industry. And I think it's interesting, you, in the very first episode, Thusha, you talked about the importance of going to high school and meeting some people, and you've written about this on LinkedIn.
[02:34] Thusha Agampodi
It's really important. I think-- while we work hard to create inclusive environments, the fact still exists that we're not getting enough women coming into these STEM fields, so I think we have to start as early as we can if you... you know. I have small kids now, so I can see the effect that starts really early, so I'm really looking forward to talking to Erin and Karolina.
[02:58] Jacques Beauvais
So let's jump into our conversation then. So welcome to today's podcast. We're going to discuss inclusion and diversity, and the importance of allies in the work environment. Please talk a little bit about the experience of being a start-up founder, how was your experience as a woman in the tech sector, and all that? Or did you have allies, did you have mentors? We talked a little bit, over the last few episodes, about mentors and coaches.
[03:24] Erin Blaskie
Yeah, so I started my company really young. I was 21. And I was from a very small town, a lot of blue-collar workers. I didn't have a lot of examples of what it meant to be a CEO, or to run a company, but I just had this vision from the age of 6-- which I know sounds really funny. But my dad had given me a Commodore 64, and I remember playing with it and thinking, "This is the coolest--"
Commodore 64? Holy cow!
Yeah! Commodore 64. And so I remember thinking this is the coolest thing I've ever seen. And from there, I remember setting it all up, and I'd play office with my sister. And she was always my secretary, because she's my younger sister. That's just what you do with younger siblings. But I played with this computer, and I would play office, and I was the CEO. And I'd fill a briefcase, filled with like, papers and walk around the house.
And this was sort of something that stuck with me for a really long time. But not having a lot of examples, I didn't really know how to go about it, or how to start a company, until I started working down here in Ottawa, and I had a female CEO in our company. And she really-- I would say it was the first time when I looked at someone and thought, "I want to be her." Like this is really cool. She's running a company, she's got the-- the world's her oyster. There's unlimited potential here.
And so I think probably six months into that role, I started my own company. I started a virtual assistance business, which means something very different in 2004 than it does today. It literally has nothing to do with like, virtual-- the way we think about it today. Except that I was just providing services to companies, from around the world, from here, right in the Ottawa Valley. And this was really eye-opening for me, because it opened sort of this entire world of possibility that I didn't know-- I mean I guess I kind of knew it existed. I had glimpses of it. But I really got thrown into it.
But what's interesting, though, is, a lot of my early clients weren't from here. So they were from Silicon Valley in the States. So working with them, I actually initially didn't find there was any sort of barrier to entry, or inability to kind of take hold of some of these opportunities. For me, it was sort of just like, they need the work, and I have the service, so let's pair it together, and it worked really, really well. Once I got into the working world, so I actually did the reverse of what a lot of people do. A lot of people started employed and move self-employed. I did the opposite.
Moving in that direction, coming back in the work world and working in tech, where I was face-to-face now with men and women. I realized, there are a lot of problems. It's not an easy road to walk as a woman. In tech, especially. And since then, I've really had to find communities of women that I can rely on, that I can be an ally for, and really look for that. But early days for me as a start-up founder, I would have told you I had zero problems.
[06:23] Karolina Kural
And my experience, I would say, was slightly different. I'm from Poland, and I studied law in Poland, which was very male-dominated, and it was clear. And when I moved to Canada, I went back to school, to University of Ottawa, and I studied management there. My new environment was very diverse, and to be honest I didn't see any problems then.
But then when I started working, I started realizing how much more difficult it is for women in many different ways. Finding a potential mentor can be really difficult if you work with mostly men, and you're a young female. Because all of a sudden, this man may want to take you for lunch, or for coffee, and people start talking, right? So it's really, really difficult if you end up in an environment where you work with mostly men, and you're looking for a mentor. You don't really have many options.
And then there are other things, like going golfing. This is something that I had never done, and didn't really have interest in doing, and I realized that all of my male coworkers would get together and go golfing, or get together and go for beer, or get together and do something together and bond, and develop relationships, and find mentors kind of in a natural way. And I couldn't do it because I was not a part of it. And maybe also I didn't want to go for beer after work every day.
Actually, I do have a mentor, and he's a male, and we have a mentorship program, so I was able to be matched with someone based on our skills and what we have to offer to each other. So it's official, and it's organized, and I don't think I could benefit from something like that in an environment when it's not supported.
[08:32] Jacques Beauvais
So the way that's done, you feel comfortable? You feel the trust in that?
Yes, exactly, and you know, you sign up for the program, you fill in a profile. It's kind of like dating.
[08:48] Jacques Beauvais
Not in my days, we didn't fill out forms to date.
That's how people date now!
You have an online profile, you say what you're interested in, and other people have an online profile, and they say what they have to offer, and you get matched by someone who is administering this program, and this is how you find your mentors. It's amazing.
[09:09] Thusha Agampodi
This existed at Blackberry as well, the mentorship program. But definitely I agree with you. They say the relationships you build outside of work are so important to strengthening how you work together, so definitely, you know. If you're going golfing with your buddies, and if you're going for beer, like when I first got out of engineering, I didn't really like beer. I do now, but partly because I had to. Like I like wine, I've always liked wine. But I had to like beer, because that was my option.
I worked in a team of all guys, and they would go out for beer, and I was missing out if I didn't go because, of course, your work conversation continues outside, and they would have discussions, and come to agreement, and then they'd get to work and they'd be like, "Oh! We made this decision at the pub." And that wouldn't be OK.
So what I encourage young women at my company now, and I ask the male leaders too, you know. If you're going out for coffee, or if you're going out for lunch, what's your natural instinct? Like you might go grab someone from the team, but you gravitate more towards another guy, you say, "Hey, I'm going to grab a coffee, do you want to come with?"
And I tell them, "What stops you from going to ask one of the women?" And they're like, "Well, it's kind of weird. People might talk." You know, there's the whole viewpoint from society, the stigma as well. So I remind them, "You have to get over that, because the women are not getting the same time with you that the men are getting." So men and women have to be aware of it.
[10:43] Erin Blaskie
Yeah, and you know going back to the networking events that you were talking about, one of the things that I recognized in my position at L-Spark, we do a lot of events throughout the year for founders, and they were always sort of the same events, you know. This typical networking event with beer and wine, and whatever.
And so I looked at that, and it was sort of two-fold for me. It was also a mental health aspect to it too, like I wanted to look at how we could encourage entrepreneurs to get out from behind their computer, not get so burnt out, talk to other founders, and that kind of thing.
But knowing that there is a place for events that are a little bit more inclusive, and a little bit more encouraging for-- especially women to come out to, we started a new series called Unplugged. And it's been amazing, we've done yoga, we've done rock climbing which is a very unisex sport, even though it's more, still, male-dominated.
[11:35] Erin Blaskie
No golf! No. And now we're doing hiking in September. We're actually going to have some speakers and they're going to talk about founder failures, and the feedback that we've had is not just on the diversity side, from these events, but also that not everybody wants to go out and drink. And some people don't even want to attend events where there's alcohol, for their own personal reasons.
For cultural reasons.
Yeah! So anyways, it's been fantastic. It's actually got a lot of female founders out, which has been amazing. A lot of women in tech out. And I just think it's a side effect to-- it's sort of one of those side benefits. We went in more on the mental health aspect, you know, being someone who suffered from burnout depression in my past as a founder, but now we have this other feedback coming out too that they're more inclusive.
You know, who is missing from the table? And that table could be anything. It could be a stage, it could be a panel, it could be-- whatever it is that we're working on. And I think it's nice to see that question being asked more, whereas even a year ago, that was not a question I saw people asking a whole lot.
And I do find even my own mindset-- again I can only speak to my experiences, but even my own mindset has changed. And now I won't actually say yes to anything if I can't answer the question, "Is this an inclusive initiative?" Is this accessible for everyone? And if it's not accessible for everyone, I'm actually saying no, now.
So I find that even for myself, for my own personal experience, I feel like my mind has been shifted a lot, and if I'm just one mind, and I know I'm not alone, I'm sure a lot of other people's mindsets have been changing.
[13:12] Thusha Agampodi
I think definitely. I've heard that initiative for men and women to be aware of-- if you're being asked to speak on a panel, if there are no women on the panel, you should consider declining. You join the panels that are more inclusive. So I think if more of us are aware of that, we could progress much faster. Because you're working on the recruiting side, I'm curious to hear about what types of steps you take to be aware of the unconscious biases that exist and how you get a diverse mix of candidates in.
[13:42] Karolina Kural
So first of all, where do you think the recruiting process starts? Candidate applies, candidate starts interviewing, but I would say it starts much earlier. And with your employer branding activities. So we cannot hope anymore that candidates that we want will somehow come across our job description somewhere, posted, on the Internet. And I think we actually have to take steps, and very intentional steps, to make people aware of our organization, and why it would be a good fit for them.
So, this is employer branding, and what we do, and how we do, and stories that we tell, will attract different types of candidates. Even simple things, like pictures of employees working together-- who are they? Are they three white males? Or are they a more diverse group, right? Or do you highlight your female employees and their accomplishments? And this is, first of all, how you get different types of people interested in your organization.
Because unfortunately, if 90% of your candidates are male, you will end up hiring more male. It's just simple math. So you have to do something to attract different groups. So I would say this is where it starts. It's important to go to different events, really make sure that you target different groups, and really expand your candidate pool, and maybe think a little bit outside of the box. So I would say this is step one, and then your job descriptions.
You want to make sure that you are attracting all kinds of candidates. So for example, you don't want your vocabulary to be very masculine. Words like, dominate, competitive, will attract more males than females. And there are many online tools where you can just copy your job description, paste it, and it will analyze it for you, tell you if it's more masculine or feminine, and suggest what words you could replace with more neutral words.
That's really cool.
We used one of those at Magnet.
[16:09] Karolina Kural
That's great that you do that. Also your requirements. So research has shown that women are less likely to apply for jobs that they are underqualified for. So if you have a very long list of requirements, you may end up getting more male candidates who are underqualified as well, but more likely to apply anyway, than female candidates. And you are missing on many really strong candidates.
And what else? During your interview process, first of all, you want to make sure it's standardized. So you follow the same steps with all of your candidates. I think that a lot of companies still rely a lot on their referrals, which is great, because when you get referrals you get people who hopefully will fit your culture and help you strengthen it. But also you are at risk of hiring more of the same people. Then it's especially important to go through the same process, even with your referrals.
[17:18] Thusha Agampodi
For the interview process, I wanted to say and ask what you think about this, because we've done this too, we've put like diverse mix of interviewers, so that-- because we all have our biases, as long as they pass the technical interview, I figured you know, have your biases-- because I have a diverse mix of interviewers, they can hire diversity you know?
And it's normal, we all tend to like people who are similar to us more than people who aren't, so having a diverse group of interviewers is very important. And also, it's for the candidate's benefits as well. Let's say I go to an interview, and I'm being interviewed by six men, maybe I'm not as comfortable as I could have been in a more diverse group, right? So it's going to be very important.
And also there are many ways to really focus on skills rather than profile of the candidate, and the background, or age, or gender, or anything else. Or even educational diversity. That's important too. Not everyone can afford to go to the best school, but they may still be very smart and valuable and really add a lot of value to your organization, so there are many ways you can really focus on the skills.
So for example, what we do at Kinaxis, for certain jobs, we have an online test. And anyone can take it, without even submitting a resume. As long as the score is good, we will invite this person for an interview. And at this point, we know nothing about them-- all we know is the email address that they used to complete the test. We don't know how old they are, where they went to school, what the background is, nothing. So that's another way you can really focus on skills and not everything else that may bias in your process.
[19:21] Thusha Agampodi
After you put that in place, did you find your pool got more diverse?
Yes, and actually, we ended up hiring a few people that we would never hire otherwise--
You mean like old guys like me?
Quite possibly! But no, quite seriously, I would never screen the resume in. I would just think this candidate is not qualified, and I'm sure that our managers would never want to talk to them. But because they started with the test, we reached out, and then we realized, oh wow, this is actually really great that we are doing this, because otherwise we would never talk to this person.
[20:08] Jacques Beauvais
And these people that have surprised you, they've become great employees?
Yes. Amazing employees.
And so what do you think it was? Was it... In terms of why they weren't screened in before? Was it like their resume wasn't so great, or...
[20:23] Karolina Kural
Yeah, it could be lack of experience, or maybe a degree that is not relevant.
Or lack of Canadian experience. I know there's a bias against that.
I went shopping some time ago for a gift for a friend who just had a baby. And I could not believe what I saw. There were clothes for baby girls, and they were pink, and they had "Pretty" and "Fabulous" signs on it, and then there were clothes for baby boys, and they had signs like "Adventurous" and--
--And I just couldn't believe it.
Or like "MVP!" That's what they have on the boys' shirts.
And girls is "Princess."
[21:15] Thusha Agampodi
I have a boy and a girl, and I've noticed how-- it's given me an interesting perspective about how they're treated differently by society so early on. Because all of us often comment on my daughter about what she's wearing and how she looks. And then people comment on my son about what he does, and what he accomplishes.
And then the shirts don't help. All of the ones for guys, like it says, there's shirts that say, "Just go for it!" I wish I had a shirt growing up as a girl that said, "Just go for it!" And my daughter's ones, they're all like unicorns and rainbows and there are ones that say, "No drama," "Girl, your smile can change the world”.
[21:53] Jacques Beauvais
What do you see around you- not necessarily in your company-- but around the industry right now?
So we've been trying to make some progress. For example, we actually partnered with University of Ottawa, with the Faculty of Education. And for two years now, we've been organizing high school hack-a-thons. So we partner through the University of Ottawa with certain high schools and we send our employees to work with students as mentors, and students get a month to develop a game actually.
And then at the end of the month, we all get together, and they present the project and we choose winners. And the reason we do it is because we want to encourage more people to consider computer science and related programs when they go to university. But also maybe encourage more girls as well.
[22:53] Thusha Agampodi
Do you send female mentors when you-- do you carefully pick who you send?
Yes, we do try, but unfortunately we have more male developers, so we end up with more male mentors.
[23:06] Thusha Agampodi
Because I'm thinking like, I've done high school visits to talk about why I went through engineering, and something you just said stuck with me. Because we've had these conversations with a few other folks now.
I would love for us, at least in Kanata, in Ottawa, to all come together. Because I know a lot of companies have these initiatives that they're working on to increase the pipeline, and it has to start at high school people. You know, or earlier.
So given that my company is doing this and your company is doing this, we're all doing this. I would love for us to start a program where we all get in it together to put more examples out there in front of these young women in high school or earlier. I don't know what that is, but I--
[23:51] Erin Blaskie
Well a good model too is Technovation. Technovation is a fantastic model, we've been able to take that globally. And I know they're more focused on sort of the building of a start-up, but it's still very tech-focused. Because they're programming the product that they're building, they're putting it all together and then they present it. Sounds very similar to the hack-a-thon, and that's been an incredible program.
[24:12] Karolina Kural
I've been looking at some research recently about... Someone analyzed lines in movies, and compared how many lines male characters have versus female characters. And it looks like in most of movies, men just talk and women are there--
Pretty. Yes, I saw the same research, and I was astounded. I wouldn't have even noticed it, but I would not be surprised of the impact that it's had on me subconsciously.
[24:50] Jacques Beauvais
But we've also been subconsciously programmed not to notice it, right?
I think we grow up thinking that-- how we look is more important than what we say. It takes a long time to get out of that you know. And there's not enough role models of strong female leaders out there, and we don't see it in movies, even in the ads you see on TV. You know, compare the ads for men versus women’s products, it's all about looks and not about--
[25:19] Erin Blaskie
We're in the age of the Instagram influencer as well. You know. I can be famous for looking really cute on my Instagram! And that is what people see, and that looks like something to aspire to. And it would be so fantastic if instead, there was Instagram accounts of incredible women that were doing amazing things in STEM that then I could say to my daughter, you know, follow these accounts. Because as soon as she sees that it's a possibility, then she starts to think, "Oh, I can do that too." But until that moment, it's not even on her radar.
[25:54] Thusha Agampodi
And teachers, I read a study that talked about how teachers, early on-- like grades 3, 4-- and this continues on through your career, give feedback differently to men versus women. So young boys, it's like the difference between effort-based feedback, and ability-based feedback. So if you tell someone like, if they do something really well, you say, "Wow you tried really hard, great job.” As opposed to if you just say like, "Good job. You're so good at that." Then, next time you give them something harder to do they might not try because they might think, "Oh I only want to hear you say I'm good at it." So you always want to praise them about trying.
And apparently boys are given that effort-based feedback a lot more. And even in performance reviews in companies, I've read that women are given feedback that's more personal. Where it might be like, "You talk too much". Whereas if you give the same feedback to a man, apparently it's more constructive, like you might say, "You should slow down and listen more." So there's just-- it's the same feedback but worded differently, and one is constructive, and one is personal. So this is a study I read somewhere about--
--Or "You're too direct," versus, "You're driven." Right?
Yes. Women get that all the time.
[27:18] Erin Blaskie
Yes, yes. I think it actually would be really interesting to assess that and sort of just see what-- what is the impact if you started to change that dialogue in workplaces. Because I know-- and even if you start to think about, and listen to how your colleagues are talking about each other-- you hope they're not talking about each other negatively. But I'm sure that they do, and if you just start to think about how are they talking about that person? Are they saying, "Oh Erin-- she's so hyper-- or she's so--" Because I'm sure people have said that about me. I'm very hyper! But that could be a very personal characteristic of me, rather than, "She gets things done." Or "She's dedicated or hardworking." Because I think it's right, it's very personal.
[28:05] Thusha Agampodi
I ask when, people sometimes say that comment about a woman, I usually ask, "Would you say the same if that was a guy?" Just imagine if that was a guy. Would you apply that same term? And if you wouldn't, then maybe don't use it. Like would you call a guy "Bossy?" If you wouldn't, then don't use that term with the woman.
I'm coming back to the topic we started with, which was networking, and I wanted to talk to Erin. You know, you've talked about finding your tribe, and finding a group of women. And Erin and I are part of this group of women. We lunch together every once in a while. I get a lot out of it, but I was curious to ask her, like what you get out of it, finding this group of women, because I think you were asking about-- you were saying how hard it is to network. So I think certainly for the younger generation it's good to hear.
[28:53] Erin Blaskie
Yeah, I get a lot out of it. And I would say the lunch that I do with you, and the other relationships that I've built with other mentors or other groups, I get a lot out of it because I think the first thing, what it does, is that it lets me know that the things I'm experiencing are not unique to me.
And that's both comforting but also a little sad, especially depending on what we're talking about, because if I'm talking about having a terrible experience with some male in tech, then someone else is like, "Well, me too," then it's sort of like OK, you don't want that to be the case, but it's reassuring that at least what I'm going through isn't in a silo. I also really love how empowered it makes me feel.
So we have a lot of conversations around how to ask for what you're worth, or just negotiating salaries. Different things that are hard conversations often, for women. And those things I do carry back into my job, and I carry them into the rest of my working life. So for me, it's really valuable.
And I try to always, as well, give back into the group when I can. Anytime I can-- so I was actually just having a call this morning with one of the ladies in the group and we were chatting about career progressions and just general career stuff, and the ability for me to have both the group but then take those one-on-ones when they're more intentional, has been really, it's just been really great for me.
And you know, I feel very fortunate I've had an interesting career with a lot of winding paths and because of that I feel like I've got a lot of different experiences I could share, again, through my own lens. And to be able to pass that on to someone else, it feels really great. So I get a lot, and I try to give a lot whenever I can and for me it's just been great to feel like part of a community.
[30:42] Karolina Kural
But imagine being a part of a group that doesn't have that at all, so for example, at Kinaxis, we hire people on the autism spectrum, and I went to a conference some time ago about autism at work, and I was listening to a speaker, who told this amazing story. He was on the autism spectrum, and he grew up in the 50s, in the South of the United States, and he didn't know back then that he was on the spectrum.
He grew up with a bit of a racist community. And one of his good friends was a female who was African-American. And her father was very encouraging, and he would always point out to successful women who maybe were also African-American, and encourage her to be like them and don't be discouraged. And he told us there were no people like him that someone would point out to him and tell him, "Look, this person is also on the spectrum and look how successful they are."
So I think that just talking about all those issues, regardless of what group we are talking about, just talking about those issues and being transparent and sharing with others our own experiences is so important for other people to not feel alone.
[32:20] Thusha Agampodi
It's a pleasure to interview both of you a little bit more, and have this conversation. Thank you.
Well, it's mutual.
Thank you. So Thusha, that's been four conversations that we've been having with some leaders in Ottawa on the topic of equity, diversity, and inclusivity. I feel like I've learned quite a bit about where this lack of diversity starts, where the ideas are even being embedded in the thinking of our children and our young people. There's still a lot to do on our part. I mean we talk about this, but we are very far away from having solving the issue, haven't we?
[32:58] Thusha Agampodi
I know, we are. It's been great, I have also learned quite a bit. I think we have a lot of work left to do. I'm really glad to have all of these leaders who joined us to continue to have the conversation, and I'm hoping that in Ottawa we continue to talk about these topics until we get to a point where we can improve our numbers.
[33:24] Jacques Beauvais
And it's really vital, because as much as we like to say that the Ottawa-tech hub has expanded-- it's the number one tech hub in Canada-- not only its growth but even its survival depends on our ability to really progress on these issues. So thank you so much Thusha, and I hope that for our listeners that those conversations were as inspiring to you as they were to us. And that we were able to contribute to push those conversations just a little bit further.
I want to thank you all for tuning in on this episode of the Make the Future podcast. I hope that you enjoyed the conversation and that you learned as much as I did. Don't forget to follow or subscribe to the podcast to make sure you don't miss the next episode. And I would also really like to thank our guest and the podcast production team: Kyle Bournes, Valérie Samson, Karen Massey and Francis Bertrand-Lafrenière. And I really hope you can join us next time.
They say the future is coming but that’s not true. The future is already here and it’s relentless, it’s not going to wait for you to catch up. How will we live in this future? How will we make sense of it? To define our course we need a new perspective. One that engages our curiosity and activates our imagination, one that defies the conventional. To own the future we need to do more than just see it, we need to make it.
[01:24] Jacques Beauvais
Today I am joined again by our guest host Jamie Petten who is the President and Executive Director of the Kanata North Business Association. Our two guests today are Amy MacLeod, Vice President Corporate Affairs & External Communications at Seaspan ULC, as well as Leo Lax, Executive Managing Director at L-SPARK. We’re going to talk about the Kanata North Technology Park’s history and how it became not only a successful technology hub but the biggest technology park in Canada.
[01:42] Amy MacLeod
I am Amy MacLeod and until very recently I had been working in and around the Park for the last two decades. I was delighted to serve as Chair, of course, of the Kanata North Business Association for a couple of years and be on the board there. So my journey and my career has been shaped and really rooted here in Kanata North, in the tech space and also in the defence space.
[02:05] Leo Lax
I am Leo Lax, I am now running the accelerator at L-SPARK which is helping connect early stage companies. And my background, I started here actually as a Staff Officer, a Captain in the Canadian Army, working at CRC as one of the researchers and then started the company and I have been really working in this space ever since from the early, early 80s with Terry Matthews, Mitel and eventually Newbridge, and so on.
So I saw the very beginning of what is now called the tech centre here, which, of course, started with Terry (Matthews), and Mike Cowpland (Michael) who left one of the anchor tenants of the commander area called BNR Research. And started a small company at the time called Mitel, and as the Mitel group became successful.
[03:10] Jacques Beauvais
So what year is that? That Mitel started.
[03:12] Leo Lax
1972, and so Mitel started in ‘72, it became kind of really successful in ’78 timeframe. Went public and became successful and part of that success created a capability to build what now is called the Kanata North area. And really to build an area, clusters such as this requires basically three if you will major anchor tenants. You need an anchor tenant in a tech area, and here it was BNR (Bell Northern Research) and the government research facilities which are now called CRC.
You needed a ready set of very smart people, students and so on, and the universities in the area were bringing that forward. And we needed a mechanism by which you could build these capabilities which was a ready market who would be interested in buying these products. And a financial capability to build these companies which at that time was very, very ready because tech was super-hot. It was, everything was tech, and there was a lot of money flowing into building that community.
Simultaneously to that and maybe different from what we are talking about today, Teron who was an architect and a city builder created an environment, he called it a village that was built on the assumption that in order to live well you need a strong balance between work space, living space and the world. And he built Kanata using a lot of the green space ideas that we all know here. And when you have that you end up in a situation where people will want to come, people will want to work, people will want to live here. And I think that really created the initial impetus for building what today is Kanata North.
[05:27] Jacques Beauvais
You told us Amy that you worked in the area for a couple of decades. Have you seen it change or has it just gotten more like itself, that sense of community was it there a couple of decades ago?
[05:43] Amy MacLeod
Yes, I would say the community was definitely here, I think what has happened is the magnitude of the work that is being done here has grown exponentially and along with it, the community. We had some anchor, you know premier companies at the time Mitel among them, Newbridge which was acquired later by Alcatel, and then merged with Alcatel, Ericsson joined the party not too long after. So we’ve got these great anchor multinationals, what’s changed is this incredible start-up community that has infiltrated in and around it that is driving the next generation of development in technology.
And I think that is one of the key aspects of a successful technology hub is those core anchor tenants that are large and multinational in nature and the feeder systems, the incubators that grow around it, L-SPARK among them that is driving that next generation in technology because we know tech changes quickly. So we need to keep pace and it’s that ecosystem and the rhythm of that ecosystem that keeps organizations and communities like this ever fresh and completely relevant. And that’s the secret sauce out here in Kanata North, it’s the balance between large multinationals, growing start-ups and brand new fresh incubator ideas coming out places like L-SPARK.
[07:01] Jamie Petten
Leo, you in your history with Mitel, and then subsequently Newbridge, you were influential in setting the precedent for that theatre system through the Newbridge affiliate program. Can you speak to that? Because that’s a very early example that now many of our companies build their corporate development activities off of.
[07:23] Leo Lax
I think that it’s a unique environment for the way tech evolves. One of the challenges with tech companies, the successful ones grow much faster than the people who are running them. So to give you the best example with Newbridge, in year 4, Newbridge was selling products at maybe $100,000 to $500,000 per customer. In year 6, maybe year 7, that same company was addressing and selling products in the $1,000,000 to $2,000,000 per customer, and a year later 20 to 30 million dollars per customer.
Now that sales guy is still there, he has come in and he has been a very successful salesperson selling hundred thousand dollar things. He is now talking to the people who are buying million and 10 million dollar things and the skill set does not grow that rapidly. So that is why we created originally at Newbridge the affiliate program. It allowed us to bring in both senior execs who knew how to sell those larger capabilities by building an advisory group around Mitel.
Who were those senior execs, and who were opening the doors, and addressing the relevant needs of these larger players who were leading edge buyers, and required not only what normally was being sold by everybody else, but also the leading edge.
So the combination was a successful way of growing and addressing the market. From a business point of view, we had a capability to allow the footprint of these very large companies who were global in nature, to leverage and be leveraged by these very enthusiastic and energetic entrepreneurs.
[09:18] Jacques Beauvais
Who are risk takers.
[09:19] Leo Lax
Who are risk takers and are willing to go the mile, kind of jump over tall bridges and tall buildings in one step to make something happen. And now we are able to address this very interesting segment of the market that the footprint of the larger companies allowed. And that really was the foundation of what I would call similar things that we do now, every incubator today has that idea of leveraging early stage companies that are connected to global footprint companies and so on. That is part of the growth.
And I think we here in Kanata North are extremely lucky because we have exactly those two solitudes if you will. Large corporate companies that are global in nature address the market all around the world and early stage companies that are building leading edge technology, next generation stuff. That when they connect, and it’s tough sometimes to connect, when they connect they actually can leverage themselves into a global environment.
[10:20] Amy MacLeod
I think what drives Kanata North in the success here is not the technology, but it’s the talent that builds the technology. And that’s the piece that we haven’t had and I do think that Kanata North is still on a growth journey, right? We’re not at the end state yet. We are still building and growing and developing and maturing as a technology park. The arrival of the University of Ottawa, and the research capabilities that you bring with it, and the next gen talent that is available through your engineering and other programs, that’s the piece that we haven’t had.
And if we look around successful technology hubs globally, there is always a core academic part of it. And so this has been a big year, I think Jamie would agree, with the arrival of the University of Ottawa out here in Kanata to help finish that puzzle for us, and make sure that we are set up for that next generation of evolution of the Park. Because I don’t think we’re done yet, I hope not anyway.
[11:16] Jacques Beauvais
And it’s a little bit different origins story because many successful technology parks, those first start-ups, those first companies, were coming out of the university, the university was next door. Stanford was like that, it was built on Stanford land for some of their people who were wanting to become entrepreneurs. So this is a little bit different because the core people who started building it over the years were the industrial people.
[11:42] Leo Lax
That is correct. They were actually leveraging significantly the academic environment, both from an IP point of view. But they were not as coupled as they were in the States for sure and that has created some anomalies in how the academic environment was interfacing into the industrial environment, and that is part of it. But certainly I am almost positive if I would say that the first 100 employees of Mitel were early graduates, if not first graduates from the universities; Ottawa, Kingston and the area, they were the same.
[12:29] Jacques Beauvais
The physical closeness was maybe not there, but the spiritual closeness was.
[12:33] Leo Lax
Was necessary because you needed that level of enthusiasm and willingness to take on whatever challenge is being provided, and converted into something that generates some opportunity.
[12:47] Jacques Beauvais
How about in those days when it was not as smooth sailing?
[12:55] Leo Lax
I used to call it the nuclear winter.
[12:57] Jacques Beauvais
The nuclear winter. OK, so during that period was the sense of community there? Or were people scrambling to try to survive? Or was there, you talk about the importance of, I'm not sure it's the right word, you describe something which is sort of the scaling up of the people in the company and you can't keep the same people as the company starts to grow. There must have been a lot of need to, people must have been moving around I guess or not really?
[13:30] Leo Lax
I don't think so. I'll give you the best example, Nortel went bust. The companies that Amy just described didn't just happen to be here, they are here because they purchased a portion of Nortel. Ericsson purchased a portion of Nortel, Ciena purchased a portion of Nortel, Ribbon, Kapsch. These are all companies that are new to the area but the people working on it have been working in the area for the past 10 or 20 years.
And as the companies brought in new global perspectives, they became the Cienas, the Ericssons, and the Nokias and so on. They brought with them other people from their communities. And I would say one of the interesting things that has happened was that we were able to emerge if you will from that nuclear winter, while the people that were here remained as residents of the Kanata area, Ottawa area.
Obviously some have left, but a large majority stayed here and that meant their families stayed here. That meant their children were grown up here, many of them decided this is a great place where I grew up I want to continue being here, and working here, and so on. And therefore they joined some of the existing companies or they were entrepreneurial. Where would they go to grow their new companies? Right here where they grew up and so on. And that was part of that engine that continued to help us grow.
I think also from a technology point of view, the world was transforming, the traditional hardware oriented environment was transforming everywhere in the world. And I think it is a testimony to our environment here that we are able to transform and the people are transforming. And the companies that we see emerging and they are now software-driven companies that have emerged and were able to transform their world from what they traditionally did in the past, and grew up to be something else. Of course those that did not are no longer here.
[16:04] Jacques Beauvais
But as you were saying that you arrived here just before, to use Leo's expression, the nuclear winter, did you ever have the sense that people had lost confidence? Or were they in a mood that we're going to get through this and we are going to rebuild?
[16:07] Amy MacLeod
Oh no, they were not easy days. I don't think there were any rose-coloured glasses. I mean people have realities that they have to work for a living, right? So there was a reality to what was happening and it did shrink. The numbers will tell you the case there. But what was interesting from my perspective is all of those multinationals, two things happened, right?
When the market contracts, you become a bit of a hunting ground for multinationals that are looking for good value and high talent and good products and market share. So we became an attractive community from the perspective for an investment and I think quite honestly there were many of us, myself among them, who were worried about this, that we were being hallowed out in some horrible way that we were going to lose something.
And I think, if I look back now with 20 years’ experience, it might have been the best thing that ever happened to Kanata North, because that influx of investment kept things going through that period where it was really, really challenging. The second dynamic of that period as I recall was that some folks actually left the multinationals and went to start-ups and the tropic networks sort of flamed up in a major and impressive way.
All these little start-ups, people who were in the multinationals said maybe this is not for me and took their equity that was built over the good days and they took it into the start-ups. So they didn't leave town they have fed that next generation. That's the virtuous cycle, right? That is when you get scale, that is when you get something really, really special. So I think in hindsight the nuclear winter might have been a good thing for us, it really did mature us in an interesting way. And kept us here.
[18:03] Leo Lax
We are in a very competitive market, so Kanata North is competing with the many other tech centres in the world, and it's not good enough to rely on our history or our traditions or the fact that we have some key players who are here now. We actually need to be able to leverage that, and be able to continue that route by building a capability, visibility, being able to recognize the qualities that we can provide here. And allowing the early stage entrepreneurs to recognize that it's much easier to build a market leader coming from this environment which has rich history, knowledgeable individuals, as well as a reach for the market.
Then trying to get into some other locations which are much more competitive, other tech centres. However, we are not as proactive yet. Kanata North has taken the leadership in saying we like what this is and we are going to make it again as strong and as vibrant as it was once because we can. And we are emerging from that nuclear winter much more capable of doing that. There are very few places where we can have 25 global companies within five kilometres of each other.
[19:45] Jacques Beauvais
Speaking of being aggressive enough. I mean, Montreal and Toronto are being very aggressive around the artificial intelligence sector.
[19:54] Leo Lax
Very much so.
[19:55] Jacques Beauvais
How are we doing with respect to that kind of approach? They are bringing big companies into the area. Are we ahead of the curve in the sense that the passion for just the algorithms of developing the fundamentals of AI that's not going to last forever and we need to turn to applications in companies with real products?
[20:20] Leo Lax
You are right and I think what you just said is exactly the situation. We, I would say Ottawa is an applications company, we are not an AI company, we are not an AI environment. We are an applications environment. We deliver products to the market. We use AI in order to get better products to the market. And they'll deliver better value to customers, etc. And therefore I see this as a very complimentary process and instead of I would say looking at it and saying I would like to create a centre of excellence for AI.
I think we need to create a centre of excellence for things that we are delivering to the market which is applications value and capabilities which are actually serving directly the individuals who are using our products every day. Whether they are software oriented products, hardware oriented products, combination of the two.
These are now very, very undefined boundaries, there is a grey area that is unknown. You could call everything that is hardware eventually software, and everything that's software eventually becomes hardware. All of these things transition back and forth, we have amazingly enough actually the foundation to do both right here. And I think that is, from a technical point of view, great. And I wouldn't be ashamed to say we are not here in building AI companies, we are here to build companies that use AI to make the world better.
[21:53] Amy MacLeod
Yes, I mean like I feel like sometimes as Canadians it's our natural DNA to look in the mirror and say we're not doing this and that and they did it faster and quicker. I don't think that we have anything to apologize for and I don't think we're laggards in any way. I think that what we have here is a capability that is unique to Kanata North and I agree with you Leo, it is now taking us down that applications road.
We talked about QNX, we talk about autonomous vehicles, we talked about these applications which are integrated to our life and our work in every single way. I feel like we have to be who we are and not try to be who our neighbours are. And that has always been the key to success here, there was no telecommunications industry here until somebody with an expertise and an interest developed it. There was no capability on autonomous vehicles until our friends up the road said: “Hey, we know how to work inside of a car, let's build an application, then maybe one day we can drive one.”
[22:50] Leo Lax
The capabilities here that we have are addressing directly end user opportunities or companies that are serving end user opportunities, we must not lose sight of that. From an IP point of view, building new capabilities here, it's even more interesting because one of those things that we know how to do or we have had experience to do because of our history is work into very large global entities. It's very easy to talk about how to apply AI in Canada, it is much more difficult to figure out what AI means in a global context.
And we can talk about all of the side issues associated with that. I think our companies, because they are users of the tool set, are starting to grapple with this information, and they are actually delivering value back into the economy, and saying, “When I do my AI stuff, I make sure that it is ethical, I make sure it is bios free. I have means by which I can explain how I got to those particular decisions from an AI perspective because actually I am not all about the algorithm, I am all about how to make the world better.”
[24:11] Jacques Beauvais
But we must have certain things we still need to improve?
[24:14] Leo Lax
Yes, there are gaps for sure.
[24:16] Jacques Beauvais
What do you see as perhaps some of those gaps?
[24:20] Amy MacLeod
Talent, which is where you come in, which is where we need the University of Ottawa and others to kind of join us in the Park. It is what fuels and feeds us, right? And it is a highly competitive talent landscape. Your folks, your students, are in high demand.
[24:36] Jacques Beauvais
[24:38] Amy MacLeod
And they are the innovation at the end of the day, it's not the businesses that innovate, it's the people in the businesses. I feel like that is in every sector and I would offer maybe in every geography right now. The hunt for talent is real. And whoever wins it will win the next sort of round in that virtuous cycle. Where does the talent go? Because where the talent goes the innovation follows.
[25:05] Leo Lax
What is interesting in the process that we are looking at is, I'll say the word innovation. So innovation is actually I would say a bad word for a steady state steady she goes public company because innovation is changing things. It's creating something that was not there. It's taking risks that are not part of what the day-to-day environment of a large corporate elites' interest is. In fact, innovation is an irritant, yet we need to create I would say a comfort soft landing process for the community that is all about innovation which are the universities and the students that are learning how to innovate, are learning how to build the next... Think about it, figure out what their mindsets need to be in order to address these needs and we need to create that capability. Our universities are the first step in that protective environment to say go for it, anything goes, you can go and try to build whatever you like because you are safe here, and you can do it.
We also need a means by which hopefully the universities can reach out as you have done here to the industrial community and say no, no I don't want you to buy my people or pay for my research or any of those things. I want you to work with me to build an environment where our risk takers, I'll call them that, in the academic world can work safely to deliver innovation before you decide to kill them because your system says change is terrible, steady she goes, I made my quarter I'm going to make my next quarter process.
And I think a place like this is one of the first steps, you are now starting to get credibility with the industry partners here to say, yes we want to partner with you. And we want to partner with you by creating the transitional process to allow your professors if I could say that who are innovating and thinking deep thoughts, the students who are working with them to implement them and to find testament and so on. To actually be able to share and exchange information and to start injecting, if you will, that innovation in a smoother fashion in a more protected environment so that they can grow, to become mature enough that they can stand on their own two feet when they actually become commercial opportunities.
[27:46] Jacques Beauvais
One of the things that we need in academia also is to find out what the real problems are.
[27:54] Leo Lax
[27:56] Jacques Beauvais
[27:57] Leo Lax
[27:59] Jacques Beauvais
[28:00] Leo Lax
Because I know what those real problems are and I'm going to solve them, and I've got people and money to do so, and if I don't, somebody is going to shoot me as a company. But I don't have the expertise or even the ability to have you think laterally on something that doesn't make sense. So that is, I think, the place where we need. So for you to give me the ability to solve today's problem, I'll be certainly very appreciative, and the innovation in that space is going to let me go, and incrementally grow my business from 15% a year to 25% a year, and that's amazing, and I'll be the hero.
But if I want to be part of whatever is called the whatever next, I think the university organization has to be given an opportunity to choose their own path. I recognize there is a risk to choosing your own path because you commit. And if you commit to go to the wrong place, well you end up in the wrong place. However, that's a more protected environment.
[29:10] Jacques Beauvais
Yes, and it's a place where you can take that risk.
[29:11] Leo Lax
And I encourage both the students and the Profs to do that leap. But, and I must say that because that's my pet peeve, if that's all we do, then all of this amazing energy, and amazing new ideas die. We still need to create that intermediate protected environment that allows that crazy idea that made absolutely no sense to even think about it to come to fruition well enough to become attractive for a commercial entity to actually say: “I now want to take hold of it and put it and make it available to the market.”
I'll give you an anecdote only because many, many years ago in the '80s, I was in Japan and I was working with a laboratory in Sony. So Sony videos and the Walkman are in my time. The guy who was leading that laboratory told me that his objective was, this is 1980s, to deliver movies to everybody in their home wirelessly. There were no sensors, there was no cameras, there was no iPods, there was no iPhones, nothing. What he was talking about made absolutely zero sense, but he was given the opportunity to play! At that time, I was an early stage company at the time here in Ottawa. What I need, I would have told him exactly what I need, but it was what I need in the next 3 to 5 years.
[31:04] Jacques Beauvais
If we are going to be training students to be the talent that is going to be recruited, do you not name a certain number of them to be working closely with people in industry and all that?
[31:18] Leo Lax
[31:19] Jacques Beauvais
Because doesn't it accelerate a little bit their transfer?
[31:21] Amy MacLeod
I think yes, but I would say that there is another huge value to add with the presence of the university here. And that is to address a couple of ways that I think that the university should be thinking. I think the long academic process that you are used to, this is a rapid pace innovation environment and so you kind of got to get your head on that way. And so if, I think, if I, and I'm not an academic or an engineer so apologies up front, but I see opportunities in two ways for organizations like the University of Ottawa that would really add value to the Park and to your students.
Think like Leo's L-Spark start-ups, think like an accelerator that has a great idea and needs to pitch it. Teach your students to think that way and then pitch it. Take it right to the full end. Get them thinking about brand new white space in the market and how they can do something that nobody else is doing in the Park or elsewhere. And then pitch it to the relevant companies here. Because you might be doing R & D or creating a product line that they haven't thought of yet. So it's a little bit more pragmatic than I think we're used to asking our esteemed universities, and all of the research capacity and capability you have.
Is to think actually and rapid development to address the market needs, not a company need necessarily, but a market need. I think that's a little bit different. And then the other piece would be to think about with the large multinationals that Leo talked about, innovation it's going to disrupt my whole world, but they have to or they'll be irrelevant.
How can you do outsourced research agile, fresh development for those who are those big successful but perhaps slower moving? I feel like that's where the value of the university, that you can carve out a space for yourself, and your students, and add value to the Park, and to the businesses here. And maybe even launch your own business. I think that's how engineers think now, not one, but I think they are equal minds business people, and engineers, and that's a pretty core competency to start to get into the student body.
[33:35] Jacques Beauvais
So I would like to thank both of you. In a way I think our conversation this afternoon, you have thrown us a challenge at the university which is good. To try and what you describe actually is a very different model from what is being put in place in many.
[33:54] Leo Lax
[33.57] Jacques Beauvais
I think so, because usually the conversation that I have gone to the Technology Park with, is how can we sort of, the question that I asked you, how do we get to know the real problems that the companies have? So we can align what we are doing in research to try to solve those problems. But there is always a challenge with that, because we are not working at the same speed. We're not working at the speed of business. And we can't because we're training Master's students, we're training PhD students.
You have thrown us a different challenge. One we talked about was having that safe space where those ideas can be developed and also to really open up the freedom of developing those ideas, and then pitching them to the companies in the Technology Park to try and bring them from that idea concept all the way to an impact later on.
I want to thank you all for tuning in on this episode of the Make the Future podcast. I hope that you enjoyed the conversation and that you learned as much as I did. Don't forget to follow or subscribe to the podcast to make sure you don't miss the next episode. And I would also really like to thank our guest and the podcast production team: Kyle Bournes, Valérie Samson, Karen Massey and Francis Bertrand-Lafrenière. And I really hope you can join us next time.
[01:13] Jacques Beauvais
Welcome to today's podcast. In today's episode, we're joined by three of our friends from Kanata North - Canada's largest technology park. Not only are these individual leaders in industry, but they're also proud University of Ottawa alumni. My co-host today is Veronica Farmer, Director of Partnerships and Commercialization for the uOttawa Kanata North initiative and the Chief Navigator and Marketing Strategist for TrueCourse Communications. Thank you very much for joining us today, Veronica.
[01:41] Veronica Farmer
Happy to be here.
[01:43] Jacques Beauvais
Our special guests today are Jean-Charles Fahmy, uOttawa electrical engineering alumnus and the CEO of the Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks, also known as CENGN. Welcome JC.
[01:53] Jean-Charles Fahmy
[01:54] Jacques Beauvais
And Jamie Petten, uOttawa alumni, and the President and Executive Director of the Kanata North Business Association. Welcome Jamie.
[02:01] Jamie Petten
[02:02] Jacques Beauvais
So, one of the questions we want to sort of address in this season is how do we make a real competitive technology park work? What makes it tick, how does it function, and, of course, from our perspective, what kind of a role does a university play in that? So could you, perhaps, Jamie, just give us a little bit of history as to when it officially became a technology park?
[02:27] Jamie Petten
Yup, absolutely. So we're here in Kanata North, which is Canada's largest technology park and today there are over 540 companies and 24,000 plus employees here in Kanata North. But there is a unique history to Kanata North that dates back thirty to thirty-five years. It all originates with the founding of Mitel, and a number of our telecommunications companies here in Kanata North. That created a bed of success with Mitel and then subsequently Newbridge Networks that inevitably formed our foundation of talent here in Kanata North.
Many of those senior executives, as well as managers and contributors, within the early days of Mitel and Newbridge Networks, they exited and spun out their own companies in Kanata North, and that then-- with a compounding effect-- created a diverse ecosystem here over the past thirty years. We now see a number of sub-sectors as a result.
Telecommunications being our history, which has now evolved into next-generation networks. We have connected and autonomous vehicles work here, with the Blackberry QNX centre of excellence, and a number of others contributing to that. Software, software as a service, we even have companies within the life sciences sector. All creating this very dynamic ecosystem that we have here at Kanata North as a tech park.
[04:05] Jacques Beauvais
How different is it from other technology parks. Is it that diversity? What makes it special?
[04:10] Jamie Petten
Yeah, I think it is the diversity of sub sectors. I think in addition to that, the long history and track record and success that exists here as well. And the talent, the talent that we have here spread across multiple generations, with varying skill sets, of course, our R&D aspect of the park tends to be the focus. And there's strong engineering talent here in Kanata North, but in addition to that, we have other tactical and strategic contributors from the marketing, operations, finance perspective, that all make the companies themselves holistically run and contribute from a global perspective.
And I guess, I'll just add one more point in that, you know, our companies here in Kanata North range from companies that were founded here and started here as Ottawa-based Kanata North-based companies that have grown into global multinationals, but we also have global multinationals that have global R&D centres here as well. And so there's this really dynamic mix of local talent and local companies that have been founded from the ground up mixing in or merging with those that are multinationals that have come here to work with both the companies and the talent that exists here.
[05:37] Jacques Beauvais
CENGN was founded as the Centre of Excellence for Commercialization and Research, right? Is it through the NCE program that it was created?
[05:46] Jean-Charles Fahmy
Yes, CENGN's original mandate came through funding from NCE's program five years ago. With a mission of accelerating the commercialization of innovation in the ICT sector in Canada and improving the global competitiveness of Canadian technology and innovation in companies in Canada.
That mission was reinforced and even expanded, if you like, through then a subsequent partnership with the Government of Ontario, about two and a half years ago. So the company now has a very solid partnership with both the federal government and the Ontario provincial government.
[06:28] Jacques Beauvais
So your members are companies?
[06:33] Jean-Charles Fahmy
Yes. So our ecosystem is wide and varied. Obviously our government partners are key parts of our ecosystem. But in the operationalization of our mission, our ecosystem includes our members, who are technology leaders, nationally and internationally. Companies like Bell, Telus, Cisco, Juniper, Nokia, and Mitel and several others.
As well as the rest of our ecosystem includes the SMEs, the startups and the scaleups that we support. And the academic institutions that we partner with in some of the elements of our mission. So we have a wide ecosystem, it's broad and varied, which ultimately, I think, is one of the core strengths of the organization.
[07:25] Jacques Beauvais
How do you see the Park from that perspective? So you were at KNBA before and now you're working with the University. What drew you to this role, now working with the University?
[07:36] Veronica Farmer
So what's interesting about this Park is there is an awful lot of collaboration and partnership that has happened. In fact, the innovation curates itself by ensuring that there is collaboration even in a competitive landscape. And I think the interesting part about that is there is partnership in all different levels, whether it be at the government level, the academic level, and amongst the companies themselves.
Jamie mentioned the connected car and autonomous vehicle ecosystem, it is a subsector within the Park, but it is thriving because there is an ecosystem of partnership that happens, both competitive and collaborative. And this sort of co-existence and clustering is what is happening here in the Park.
And it's needed to ensure that we enable that technology. So that's for me, a very-- because of the footprint of the Park here in Canada's largest tech park, it's helpful to have that and there is an openness to partner and collaborate. And innovators are coming here from outside the park and also wanting to lay their foundation here for that.
[08:41] Jacques Beauvais
Why do we call it Canada's biggest technology park? Is it the square... My units are no good. The square acreage? Is it just the sheer size of it? Or is it the number of companies? What makes it so-- you spoke about Kanata North being Canada's largest technology park. So what do we mean by that?
[09:02] Jamie Petten
Well, a number of factors go into that. It's indicated by the number of employees here in Kanata North, we have 19,000+ tech sector employees here within this region, working here in the footprint of Kanata North, plus an additional 10,000 that are contributing within the halo around the Park. Those subsectors that I mentioned, there are a number of companies that exist just in and within Kanata North that contributes to the technology that's being developed here.
So one is the employment base, the second piece is in our number of companies, the industry that exists here over 540 companies exist here in Kanata North, and they're represented by a number of those different subsectors that I had mentioned before, and they all collectively, with the talent industry coming together, contribute over $13 billion in GDP annually.
And that's up 66% in the last three years from the previous economic impact assessment that we did in 2015. So we feel very proud and excited to let the world know that we are Canada's largest technology park. And that we're really making an impact here in Ottawa, across the country, and beyond to the economy.
[10:25] Jacques Beauvais
I came back to Ottawa two and a half years ago. When last I was here, when I was doing my Master’s... My supervisor brought us over to visit Mitel, and Bell-Northern Research and Northern Telecom, so it's just been a wee while since that time. Back then, it felt a little bit more fragile in the sense that it tended to be focused around a core of technology. Now, it sounds as though it's much broader, what we're doing here. Isn't it?
[10:58] Jamie Petten
Yes, I would say so. I think that things have diversified, both in the technology that's built here in Kanata North, but also within the talent that we have here and those that are contributing to building our technologies. And that's all extremely positive, and it's reflected in our growth that we're seeing as well. I don't know if there's anything that you would add.
[11:22] Jean-Charles Fahmy
No, you're absolutely right. I think historically, the Tech Park has its foundations in some key anchors, obviously. Nortel, Bell-Northern Research, and Mitel, and Corel and a few others. But historically I think the tech sector here has been more hardware-centric and very telecoms-centric, and you still see the strength of those technology sectors in the Park here, but there is much more diversification now.
[11:56] Jacques Beauvais
So the technology has not gone away, it's been enhanced with all kinds of other sectors.
[12:01] Jean-Charles Fahmy
It's been enhanced, there's a lot more software-centric focus. Whether that's AI, or even in the networking sector, the software elements of networking as the.... The Tech Park has evolved with the trends of the industry. Networks are now are much more software-driven than they are just hardware-driven, and so with that has come the diversification in the Park. And also the fact-- I grew up in Nortel, and I think the demise of the company is a shame in a way, but at the same time, having those 20-25,000 employees now seeding many other companies, has allowed the strength of the Park to multiply in many ways, ultimately.
[12:51] Jamie Petten
Yeah, I would add to that in that, as this diversification has happened and new technologies that we're building, and, you know, those that are contributing to it. One of the core strengths that we have here at Kanata North is that senior expertise from thirty to thirty-five years ago of engineers and developers, but also those business development executives that took us through that first phase of growth, and they're now contributing to the next phase of growth, you know L-Spark, as an example, of a software as a service accelerator, here in Kanata North.
And the primary mandate for L-Spark is in pairing those senior mentors, those senior experts, with our next generation of entrepreneurs and talent to help them to navigate-- you know this is a new type of technology that we're building, or a new way that we're selling it, you know, in a membership or software as a service subscription-based model.
But there are tried, true and tested ways in which you grow a company and those will always be there. So whether it be utilizing channel, or how to run your product development team and engineering team in a way that is productive, these are things that I think we have the senior expertise to bring to our next generation of talent here in Kanata North. As you continue to create global companies that are very productive.
[14:23] Veronica Farmer
I'll just jump in there. I think another important piece that we have here is the presence of the post-secondary institutions, you know, University of Ottawa has opened their Kanata North campus here at the end of 2018, and I think that's a critical piece to the ecosystem, is the research side and the connecting that with the development that is going on in the different companies. And I think that-- not that we're unique from a technology park perspective-- but it is a critical keystone to ensuring that we build talent and continue to have that technology innovation that lends itself so from a partnering perspective also, that is critically important to have that available.
[15:07] Jamie Petten
And I think here, in Kanata North, for a very long period of time we were recognized as Silicon Valley North. And I think there are a few components to building a thriving technology ecosystem that we really lead on. And the introduction of a university presence with a campus is one of them. And if we compare or contrast against that preeminent ecosystem of Silicon Valley, you see a thriving industry, both from the SMEs, all the way up to the global multinationals. Technology companies that are just leading edge in what they're putting out.
The second component to that is our post-secondary presence. Stanford is right at the foothold of that ecosystem. The third being a presence of financial institutions. And Menlo Park, and the row of VCs that exist, again in Palo Alto, in Silicon Valley, that's kind of those three pillars that really contribute. We are there, and we have those exact components here in Kanata North, and have for a very long time as well. So I think that presence of industry from SMEs all the way up to global multinationals, we check the box tenfold on it.
This now, introduction, of a presence of a post-secondary institution here, again a great way of connecting talent, research, and also professional development, to the companies here in the Park. What can we work on next? I think that financial presence, in having those institutions here from venture capital, to lending, even to those angel investors that have exited and are back in the Park. That activity happens here, how do we bring that all together in a narrative that makes sense.
[17:10] Jacques Beauvais
I think we have an advantage here even to when Silicon Valley was starting, because it was built off of land belonging to Stanford initially. In my previous life, at another university, we were developing a science park on the land owned by the university. And the challenge in Canada, because of the nature of the public universities and all that, it's actually kind of tricky to make that space attractive to companies to come play under their rules.
Whereas here, it's built for the companies, and we've come here a year ago to bring in hopefully everything we can bring to the ecosystem, but I think for the companies, the rules are the rules of really, industry, and I think that's an advantage. So you talked about collaboration, so did Jamie, so did Veronica, what are you looking for in terms of collaboration? And as a sub-question, you've got leading international competing companies. How easy is it to get them to collaborate together?
[18:16] Jean-Charles Fahmy
So, the rallying point for the collaboration of all of these different companies who come from different sectors or who maybe compete directly in our day-to-day work lives, is belief and support for the mission of the company, which is to enable a competitive, growing, innovative tech sector in Canada. And then beyond that, you know, competition is OK. It's healthy. It's fuel for innovation, so CENGN is a place, physically and virtually, where competing companies can come and collaborate.
Whether it's an ecosystem of partners towards the programs that we put in place to help the Canadian ecosystem, or whether it is very tangibly, very physically, in our test bed, and our technology infrastructure, where you can come and test the latest innovative technologies in an open environment. The openness and the collaborative nature of a competitive ecosystem is one of the pillars of our mission. At the same time, we take the intellectual property imperatives of our members very seriously.
[19:48] Jacques Beauvais
And I remember, when I was reading-- when I was trying to develop that science park, I'd done some reading on the ecosystems, and a really interesting paper about the Waterloo region in 2008... What it was saying is that the students were leaving the university to go into a coop internship, learning a bunch of stuff there, coming back to the university, bringing it back to the university, and influencing the profs, the course, and all that, and then going to a different company for another internship, so that it was essentially a cross-pollination type of system.
And to me, that was clearly the key element, and I think the critical mass, there is in Kanata North. And the size of what we could do at the university now, just with the six thousand students we have just in engineering, I think we're reaching that point where the more we are able to bring the students out there, the more kind of experience you're able to give them, really, hands on. I think it makes a lot of sense, it should be a winning solution.
[20:49] Jean-Charles Fahmy
Yeah, and it's not just the experiences at CENGN per se, but it's the window into a broader ecosystem, so some of the things that we do, for example, is we'll provide students to do a term with one of our members, for example. Or we'll put them to work towards a specific project charter that is important to industry, right? So, it's creating the dots and making sure that we have the continuum of learning from the foundational theoretical aspects to the transition to a working career, to then continuing education after that.
Because that's super important too, some of the things that we do is to provide training to people who are already experienced professionals, but maybe need to learn the latest open source software technology, or whatever the case may be. Because again, the pace of change is really fast and so even people who've been in the industry for ten, fifteen, twenty years, have new stuff to learn every day.
[21:54] Jamie Petten
Well, and it's also, on the other side, for our companies, it enables them to have a competitive advantage, because the pace of change is quickly evolving, and with that these new ways of producing technology here in the Park, that the students are contributing back into the company as well.
[22:16] Veronica Farmer
And I think university really has a large role to play in assisting in the talent both in the coop and in shaping the kind of program you have and what the Park needs with respect to that, training, as JC mentioned. And I think looking at different opportunities to find solutions that are sector-based.
So-- what is going on in AI, what is going on in autonomous vehicles, what is going on in next gen networks...? What is it that the companies really need? And then be able to shape the programming so that the talent and the programming are supporting those needs.
[23:03] Jacques Beauvais
That's why to me those-- putting in place, or growing significantly the research collaborations are very important between the companies and the profs, because that's where our profs are connected to what is the most pressing problems. Right now they can already lay the groundwork in the foundational training of the students, at the same time as they're trying to contribute to the solution, because almost every single alumni I've spoken to in the last couple years says the same thing of what was the value of their foundational training, as you call it JC. Learning to learn, learning to solve problems, and if it happened- it's definitely happening today, learning to do teamwork.
[23:43] Jamie Petten
But when you bring it down to that subsector of our connected and autonomous vehicles, you see... We have on like a drive live city infrastructure connected on a public test track, and many of our Kanata North companies are all contributing in and within that Blackberry QNX, Nokia, Ericsson, so you'll see many of them all contributing into that. And you know it's for you know, the greater good of advancing how we are going to operate this technology in real time in the future, and without collaborating with one another on that, their technology will never get to market, and it will not ever get to the point of being on the roads in real time.
So it's important, and in addition to that, when we bring that subsector together into a cluster, if we think of that talent again, this talent as they're coming out of university, they're looking again to make an impact and to solve real-world problems. And if we can convey that there's this ecosystem thriving here of a number of contributors that are collaborating, it's going to only enable to be better equipped to attract that talent here, and then have that spread out across many of our connected and autonomous vehicles companies, and that's an example of one of our subsectors. It's happening in the others as well in that way.
[25:07] Jacques Beauvais
How did we do with startups? Are we good to attract startups in the Kanata North?
[25:11] Jamie Petten
Yes! I mentioned L-Spark, and that's my history, that's where I come from prior to Kanata North Business Association. You know, we had a portfolio at L-Spark of over 55 software as a service companies, and they come from across Canada, in order to contribute into the program there. And the track record is incredible. We launched five years ago, over fifty millions of venture capital has been raised in the last five years by that portfolio of companies.
Early, early stage, and we'll see other startups, You.i as an example, that's evolved into a later stage company here in Kanata North, home grown. So I think we are doing much better than we think. Now it's about conveying how those startups have grown, and succeeded, and I think we also need to support them in their next phase of growth.
[26:07] Jean-Charles Fahmy
One thing that is important to mention, not just in the context of CENGN, is when we talk about the ecosystems, there's a physical nature of an ecosystem, and that when we're talking about Kanata North, we're talking about the physical aspect of it, but ecosystems are global and they're virtual, and so when we're talking about building ecosystems for partnership and collaboration, we can't limit ourselves physically.
But that may be just an aside, and in terms of us attracting students, it's a pan-Canadian mandate that we have and so today, in CENGN we have students from Victoria, from Waterloo, from Dalhousie, from other places, obviously, from the local schools, so attracting students is not the issue.
I think attracting full-time talent is a challenge, and not just for CENGN, but for our members, and for the technology ecosystem in general. And if there was a simple answer to how do we fix that, we would have done that already as a community, so we have to continue to graduate more STEM students, we have to continue to make sure that they stay in the country, or that if they go get experience abroad, as we encourage, as I did twice in my career, which I'm grateful for, that you can come back and bring back that expertise back to the country, because that adds to the fuel for our innovation economy.
So I think we have work to do. And back to the question about Ottawa, you know, I'm not an urban planner. But I think it's been shown that creative industries, of which tech is one, thrive on creative cities. And it's a virtual circle. You bring those creative people, and the city becomes more vibrant, more creative, then it feeds on itself.
[27:53] Jacques Beauvais
I'm not sure I mentioned this, but I think I saw recently, a map of Ottawa, where you could fit in several cities.
[28:00] Jamie Petten
Yes, several Canadian cities.
[28:08] Jean-Charles Fahmy
[28:05] Jacques Beauvais
The size of Ottawa is gigantic, and that makes it more of a challenge to connect all those parts together.
[28:09] Jamie Petten
It does. But I go back then to my example of Silicon Valley, and when you think of Silicon Valley, it's not one area. It's San José, it's San Francisco, it's Palo Alto, it's Menlo Park. It's a number of them under one. And so if you think of our city, it's very, very similar. There's-- we didn't talk about this, but we all know the transit and infrastructure issues we have now as a result of the growth, there are some really interesting examples of how that area, and their traffic issues, are horrendous, have from industry, solved some of those needs of bringing talent into Palo Alto from San Francisco.
Because inevitably, young people do prefer to live downtown, but they may want to have work that exists, you know, in a park like this. So, there are examples of private bus shuttles, where I think in… Is it Google, or Facebook? One of the two, they'll send a shuttle from Palo Alto every day, into San Francisco. There's Wi-Fi, and potentially cappuccinos available on the bus, and it's a productive hour to hour and a half for that talent as they do their commute, and it's just an added benefit that those companies have included.
[29:25] Jacques Beauvais
I'll see you around Kanata North.
[01:12] Jacques Beauvais
Today I am joined by our Guest Host Jamie Petten, the President and Executive Director of the Kanata North Business Association. Today we are joined by two guests; John Wall, Senior Vice-President and Co-head Blackberry Technology Solutions, Products, Engineering and Operations QNX Software systems and by Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy Founder of the company Neurovine.
[01:23] Jacques Beauvais
I was a student here at the University of Ottawa, a long time ago. I left in 1987 and I just came back 2 1/2 years ago, the place has changed. It's gone through Nortel and back because when I left there was still Northern Telecom, BNR, Mitel was still into semiconductors and doing that kind of stuff, so it's changed. It completely changed to Nortel. I still have, what were they called? Beanie, Beanie? These little sandbag animals... Beanie Babies. It was a cow with the Nortel logo on top and the dollar sign underneath. It was the Nortel cash cow that they were handing out at job fairs. So I’ve kept that because it's so paradoxal.
[02:23] John Wall
Things have changed.
[02:25] Jacques Beauvais
Things have changed and it's part of the reason that I love coming back is that there is so much diversity now in Ottawa. I don't feel the insecurity and the dependence on one. Because in the university environment there was the government NSERC program, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council which required you to have a partner in industry to get the grant. They didn't need to put in money, and I think that at one point 50% of every single strategic grant in Canada had Nortel as the co-signatory. It was very, that's not how you build a very strong ecosystem.
[03:07] John Wall
We support lots of NSERC applications but we only support the ones that are aligned with our business. Because there is so much diversity I don't have to support something that doesn't make any sense for my business.
[03:18] Jacques Beauvais
That's right, and if it doesn't make sense for you there is probably somebody next door for whom it matches exactly, we have that diversity.
[03:23] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
We are a health-tech company. It's a deep technology company that uses real-time data from your brain and your body, so neurophysiological data, to change the way that people recover after they have had a brain injury. So we have been around for about a year and the product that we are building heavily relies on big data, and so we have all of the challenges around data privacy, making sure that the machine learning algorithms and the AI is trained properly, so we're not integrating our own biases into the data.
But over the past year I have been blown away at the power of these technologies. We have been working on one algorithm for probably six months and it's probably 40% more accurate than the human eye already, and we have just started to train it. So I'm so excited about the potential of this, but also very cognizant of the biases that we are introducing and the data privacy.
I grew up with a father who played in the CFL and he lost friends to CTE so my interest in the brain started quite early. I knew something was off with some of these ex-football players and it's just become progressively more obvious over time. And so it directed me to become a neuroscientist. So I did a PhD at Ottawa U, and then one in Nantes in exercise physiology, one in neuroscience. And then I was lucky enough to do a Post-Doctoral Fellowship that was co-sponsored by the University of Waterloo and the Toronto Rehab Institute. Both of those groups are incredible at bringing innovation out of the hospital, so it really was the game changer.
That was the tipping point for me where I saw all these physicians are building technology and giving it to their patients to take it home with them, so I thought, "Well, I can do that as well." Particularly for brain injury because it is this invisible injury, and when you leave the hospital you are on your own. Especially with mild traumatic brain injuries you really can get into a negative cycle of really reinjuring yourself by just going back to work too early or going back to sport too early.
So providing the data that is missing to the patients and the clinicians makes it visible, makes it tangible. And if we can measure it, we can improve it. So this is one of the only companies doing this right now in the concussion space. But I think it's kind of the first step in a wave of brain technologies that are going to start impacting our health care system.
[06:29] Jacques Beauvais
[06:30] John Wall
[06:31] Jacques Beauvais
Blackberry QNX, sadly some of our students don't even know or remember Blackberry.
[06:39] John Wall
Yes, which is actually not necessarily a bad thing because associating Blackberry with phones, that's in the past. So I have been part of QNX since 1993. So QNX was a software company that was brought into existence in 1980 by two founders from the University of Waterloo, specializing in real time operating systems and middle wear software.
So our software has always been aimed at industries like nuclear power plants, health care, so defibrillators, fusion pumps use our software, oil and gas and automotive. One of the things that our software is always used for is mission critical things, where it's life critical. So we got into automotive, which is our big market in the late ‘90s, where we started doing infotainment systems for cars.
[07:39] Jacques Beauvais
Even in the late ‘90s?
[07:41] John Wall
Yes, we did one of the first systems for GM, in a car you might remember called the Saab. It doesn't exist anymore. So we got very heavily into that, so most of the cars we had 55% of that market, so if you had a radio with a screen it was probably running our software. And we used to joke, lots of pressure, lots of threats to get the things out on time for basically what was a toy for rich guys.
But we recognized in the 2013/2014 where the industry was going so we started focusing a lot more on safety. Functional safety which is the standard for software development because we saw autonomous drive coming. And even what would precede autonomous drive is a lot of safety features within the vehicle based on software and electronics. And we made the right choice at that time, we really started focusing on the safety and were becoming dominant in that area across the world. And what I find very interesting is now we're actually doing something that is going to save lives.
This is very, very important to the car. I think you know, all the spotlight is really around autonomous drive. That is a sexy thing and that's great, it gets students to come to apply to us. Great students, great smart people coming, but the real hidden gem behind that is that you are going to incrementally see the car get safer. You won't see autonomous drive right away, you'll see safety features in the vehicle. Our wish is that you eliminate accidents. And I think that you are going to see a big improvement over the next 10 years.
[09:25] Jacques Beauvais
Clearly it's in the category of positive impact of technology.
[9:29] John Wall
[09:31] Jacques Beauvais
There must be some issues?
[09:33] John Wall
Well, you know I think the issues around that is, as you make things more automated and more reliant on software and connected, you have the security component. And I think that's the negative side. So we often talk and it's interesting, in German there is no separation of the word safety and security, it's one word in the German language. And that is kind of the attitude that we have.
Functional safety, which is a set of standards to make sure that your meantime between failure is measurable, but there is no standard on the security side that is just being developed. But for us, these go hand-in-hand because safety devices don't assume bad actors, security is what you need to make sure that something that is designed to be safe, is it truly safe?
[10:32] Jacques Beauvais
OK I'll admit one thing, I bought a new car a year and a half ago, it had been awhile since I had bought a car. I was in a completely different generation of car, it wants to help me do an awful lot of things. First thing, so I tried it one day and then I turned everything off. I don't want it to stop me from changing lanes. I don't want it to slow down. I use the cruise control but I don't want it to decide to slow me down. What's wrong with me and how can you convince me to? (laughing)
[11:01] John Wall
I think it's disconcerting. I mean I have to admit I have a car now that has what they call lane keep assist, and it's disconcerting at first how the steering wheel fights you. But I think it's a generational thing, I think as a technology gets more mature, people will start to buy into it and it will be what they grow up with.
[11:21] Jacques Beauvais
But am I bizarre to turn it off?
[11:24] John Wall
I think you should give it more of a chance.
[11:26] Jacques Beauvais
OK fair enough.
[11:27] John Wall
The cruise control I understand, I like to either pass or I don't like that necessarily. But part of that function of the cruise control is also your automatic breaking.
[11:36] Jacques Beauvais
Yes that I understand.
[11:37] John Wall
Which is invaluable, in my opinion.
[11:40] Jacques Beauvais
That I can see. But I've started to come to the conclusion that these cars who now pass me on the highway, but slow down as they pass me, is potentially their system.
[11:50] John Wall
It could be.
[11:51] Jamie Petten
You know what? I think as consumers you spoke to this Ashleigh about taking the tech home as a patient or as a consumer driving the car. And you know for us to get comfortable with the tech leaving the hands of the experts and coming into the hands of the consumer in these situations where their mission are life critical. Do we feel like there might be certain user error that would be more likely you know in that case? As that accessibility increases, what are the risks that come along with it? You know. And as well how do we feel about taking on the ownership over it as well?
[12:38] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
Well, I think in the health care space we want ownership. Every part of our life is quick and on demand, so we have Netflix, we have Uber. And in health care, health care lags for good reason. The medical training of a physician is evidence-based and the way that they are compensated for their services means they don't have space to learn new things. But as consumers we are becoming more demanding, because we are used to having things delivered to our doors. So we want control of our health certainly to the point where physicians hate it when people come with Dr. Google answers. Right? We think that the answers that we can find are better than what is provided by our physicians.
[13:22] Jacques Beauvais
[13:23] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
That's right. So fundamentally the way physicians are compensated will have to evolve along with the evolution of technology and, of course, the regulatory bodies and the way that physicians are compensated, that will be slow. So we're in this weird in between phase where the capacity of the technology is huge, health care just has to continue to catch up.
[13:27] Jacques Beauvais
Won't you make matters worse?
[13:30] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
Yeah, so the way that we're developing our technology is hand-in-hand with physicians. And I think that this is a big piece of this black box that we're scared of in health tech. Is that we're making decisions and the prescription is just given to the doctor to deliver to their patient. But I think that you bring up a really important point, in terms of making the black box visible, being able to actually collaborate with physicians.
Provide them the decision-making criteria that we're using to make these good decisions is key. That's one of the massive things in the health care sector to get physicians to accept the technology. It has to be developed with them and it has to be transparent. They have to see what the black box is doing.
[14:21] Jacques Beauvais
But there's already been steps in the sense that, what you are talking about in technology is absolutely vital. Because it's so complicated for concussions and we're so subjective in trying to decide about that. But I see that physicians encourage people to buy themselves a blood pressure monitor and make measurements every day. Bring in your graph with your data. So we are already appropriating some of that technology.
[14:46] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
[14:48] Jacques Beauvais
So I guess that must lower the bar in the sense of the insecurity bar, to make it more acceptable to everyone.
[14:55] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
Yes, and I think that physicians are seeing the lowered cost on the health care system when there is this continuous and almost proactive measurement that they can track. So they're not waiting until the person has had a heart attack. They're seeing years before that there is a problem and so it's lowering health care. And physicians are compensated for keeping their patients healthy. So there is some incentive to get them employing that's predictive.
[15:45] Jacques Beauvais
Because I have had the chance to talk quite a bit with a health care minister in Quebec from a few years back, and it was very clear to him that the path forward was changing the billing system and the pay system. Because he said until we do that we can't modernize the system. So it seems to resonate with what you were saying.
[16:05] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
Yeah, and even we're moving away from a paper system now. EMR, the medical systems have advanced where a lot of wearable tech can now partner with the EMR systems, and so we're moving in that direction. But it's still discontinuous care where most people are getting their blood pressure taken only once every couple of months as opposed to a continuous process.
[16:32] Jacques Beauvais
You talk about safety and security. How quickly are things moving right now?
[16:38] John Wall
Actually I was just listening to your answer about the medical community, and a few years back you could have said the same thing about traditional automotive, it moves at a snail’s pace. When you look at a big automotive company, it's basically a purchasing company because if you look at what goes into a car, it's purchasing a 100,000 parts and assembling them.
The push from the Googles, the Ubers, Tesla has really ignited the market. And I think the analogy back to medical, I think the billing system is part of the problem. Because if you just want a referral or something you have to go in, I don't find it's very well geared to the modern life.
So in automotive what we are seeing is a real shift in the automotive companies. And I was very surprised, I went to Jaguar a couple of years ago, JLR in the UK. And they put up a foil that said, "JLR Motor Company" and then they said, "This is what we are going to be JLR Software Company.”
That's where all the car makers know that as electrification becomes, I mean that's unstoppable cars will be moving to be electric cars. That's going to remove the barrier for other new entrants because you get rid of the big barrier which is combustion engine and transmission. These are the two very, very difficult things to develop.
So you go to a much simpler system that's electrical, you are going to have a new architecture in the vehicle and the vehicle is going to become an ecosystem platform like a phone. So now you have Google driving this with Waymo, Baidu Inc in China, Alibaba and some of the start-up electric companies. So it's a very fascinating time to be in this industry.
[18:28] Jacques Beauvais
Why is the electrification of the vehicle unstoppable?
[18:32] John Wall
I think there's a couple of reasons. And I think one of the ones you'll be surprised of, my opinion here. Diesel Gate killed the diesel engine in Europe. Europe was going all diesel because it gets much better gas mileage and lasts a lot longer. If you look Volkswagen shifted gears, and now they are one of the quickest to market with an electric car.
So I think it's inevitable, it’s going that way, I think the climate change movement across the world is pushing it that way. I think especially in developing countries where you still have smog issues like in India and Beijing, that it's a natural thing.
[19:12] Jacques Beauvais
That's actually very encouraging.
[19:14] John Wall
Yes, I've talked to car companies like Magna here in Canada that produce cars and you don't even know they make cars. They make cars for GM, they make cars for BMW, they are gearing up for all electric.
[19:28] Jacques Beauvais
So I want to hear a little bit more because you have spoken about the fact that you’re in medical technologies, etc. What is the technology that you have, how do you monitor people as they recover from concussions? What do you do?
[19:44] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
So we are a cloud-based deep tech software company, but we use off-the-shelf EEG headsets. So an EEG headset reads your brain activity and typically this has been clinic based, even five years ago you needed to be in a clinic to get an EEG done. But companies like InteraXon out of Toronto and EMOTIV out of San Francisco have developed clinical grade mobile technologies. And just because of the evolution of the sensory technology has been wild over the past few years, largely because of the brain computer interfacing push that we are in right now.
So we pull neurophysiological data from the brain and the body and we create personalized recovery programs. That track your recovery over time, but also give you real time alerts when you are pushing yourself too hard. So our algorithms understand when you are moving into a red zone or a cognitively overexerted zone. And when you are in that zone, you are at risk for regressing in your recovery process. And that's why these concussions take so long to recover from, because people can't see it.
They look the same on the outside, so they go back to work or they are taking care of their kids because that's life, and there is nothing telling you stop. So we provide an alert saying you are moving into a danger zone, it's time to take your brain break and so we're building modules that can help people to restore cognitive loads. So guided meditation and mindfulness modules that plug into the technology. And then we can let the person know when they can go back to work and to school.
[21:37] Jacques Beauvais
You have the potential to be really evil. Because you will be doing brain readings, putting the data on the cloud, using AI to analyze it. For now you are looking at your recovery from concussions, but it has an enormous potential to be misused.
[21:56] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
It absolutely does.
[21:58] Jacques Beauvais
I hope you've enjoyed our conversation so far, and we're going to continue in an upcoming episode and I really hope that you will be able to join us.
[01:13] Jacques Beauvais
As the University of Ottawa and the Faculty of Engineering are ramping up our presence and our activities in the Kanata North Technology Park, I really wanted to have some conversations with thought leaders from the technology park to try to understand a little bit more about the history of Kanata North, and what are the current issues facing the technology industry today.
[01:31] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
Our first market is professional sport and that is a major concern for them. My key players their brain data is on the cloud, especially with all the legal pressure around how they are managing concussions right now. But I think like any innovative tech, there is the good and the evil component.
[01:52] Jacques Beauvais
Yes, I agree, it's just that you do have the potential to be really evil.
[01:55] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
We do. (Laughter.)
[01:57] Jacques Beauvais
Not you! I'm just kidding but I mean because I guess that a few years down the road we could potentially imagine those algorithms being able to do even more in terms of interpreting the data of the brain waves.
[02:10] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
Absolutely, so there is technology that is not similar to what we are doing. It's functional MRI's out there, starting to recreate thoughts and words. And even the technology that we use, it's used a little bit in autonomous driving right now, to stop a car from driving when the person is not focusing on the road. So the capacity for the technology is massive, this is kind of just the starting point.
[02:40] Jacques Beauvais
How far into the future are you trying to analyze the needs in the market, John?
[02:47] John Wall
To me I think automotive programs are fairly slow and they are long. I would say that line of sight is probably three years. So what we are typically looking for is, where is the hardware going? Where is the sensor technology going? As you know, in the computer world, the power of the chips are increasing very rapidly, and the way they tend to do that is more parallelism. More cores that can do more things in parallel, so we are always looking, trying to keep one step ahead.
We are in a fairly competitive market, we are very dominant, so we have a lot of people nipping at our heels. So we're always looking to stay ahead. One of the things that we're focusing on more and more is again the emphasis on safety and security. You know instead of having a portion of our software certified functionally safe, we keep expanding and moving up the stacks, so that our customers can move faster into the products that they are trying to build.
[03:57] Jacques Beauvais
How is the balance now? I mean are there still issues? I'm not trying to get you to say something to state that the security is not there, but how do you feel that we are moving? Is security being reinforced dramatically?
[04:13] John Wall
Yes, so a little story. I was at the CES the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas in 2014. Prior to that everything in the car was about how does it compare to my smart phone? I want stuff in the car that looks like an iPhone or looks like an Android phone. 2014 autonomous drive was the new hot thing at CES. And just for reference, CES is the biggest electronic automotive show in the world. Some people might not know that, there is an entire hall just for automotive. Autonomous Drive, everyone was showing off cars that had no steering wheels and in 2020 you'll be buying these cars.
Anyways, in 2015 there was a hack that was televised that was done by what we call ethical white hat hackers, these are researchers. The guy's name was Charlie Miller and he hacked a Jeep. And what he was able to do is remotely over his computer, because the car had a cellular connection, he was able to kill the engine, get the windshield wipers to go and pull the car off the road. That sent a shock wave through the industry.
The following year in 2015 when I was at CES, the tier 1's in automotive companies came to see us at our booth and they didn't want to know anything about safety, they wanted to know about our security story. So my impression is they take this extremely serious and one of the reasons you don't see traditional car companies advertise autonomous drive is nobody wants that liability.
So Tesla are less worried about the liability because they are a smaller player. But Tesla doesn't have any better tech than Mercedes or Audi or GM. The traditional car makers are very, very concerned about its security and liability, so they take it extremely seriously.
[06:21] Jamie Petten
I guess that speaks to Tesla as a smaller player, they can run faster and they can innovate and bring things to market faster. But what does that mean in terms of what it will translate to from a safety perspective? And what we will see you know happening on the road? But how can those larger companies adopt that mentality of a smaller company?
[06:48] John Wall
Yes, it's difficult, they are trying to do it. One of the issues with traditional car companies is they tend to be siloed. The engine group is in a group, the meter group, you know the cluster is in one group. Now that the car is changing from an architecture perspective, all these groups have to be one group, because they are all going to have a software architecture for the entire vehicle.
I think that is driven again by companies like Tesla, the car companies know now they have a different type of competition. The reality with Tesla is there is a certain irresponsibility in what they have done. But at the same time they have pushed the industry, and the reality of it is they have also identified one of the biggest dangers with semi-autonomous cars is keeping the driver engaged. That is probably the biggest challenge, as you add safety features people get complacent.
And if you look at the accidents at Tesla that have happened, somebody was reading a book or sleeping. That is not supposed to be the intent of those systems. And that's why, that is the reason why I say that Tesla is a little bit irresponsible because they call it autopilot and it's really not, it's safety systems.
[08:04] Jacques Beauvais
It's sort of lowered the mindfulness of the driver.
[08:06] John Wall
And that is the biggest fear, as you add automation and not just in the vehicle but anything in life is you stop paying attention.
[08:16] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
Well, I can help with that. (Laughter.)
[08:22] John Wall
And you know what, speaking of what you do, we actually have, we obviously have a big machine learning group within BlackBerry. We bought a company called Silence which is a security company that identifies threats all based on machine learning and AI.
And so what we have actually done for CES this year is we've put that machine learning capability in the vehicle, and we can tell if someone is inebriated. Based on how their driving changes.
[08:44] Jacques Beauvais
[08:45] John Wall
How they hit the brakes, the gas, steer.
[08:47] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
[08:48] John Wall
So we are. We work with lots of companies that do face recognition within the vehicle. Are you paying attention? Are your eyes off?
[08:55] Jamie Petten
[08:57] Jacques Beauvais
But it does solve the issues that when we were talking earlier about the biases of the people who are programming these systems, there is a risk there. We need to really understand a lot more about the diversity of the people who will be sitting behind the wheel, so that we don't misinterpret those signals.
[09:14] John Wall
Why do you think Google wants to get into cars? It's not because they want to produce low margin, high liability vehicles, they want data. (Everyone agrees.)
[09:27] Jacques Beauvais
If there is going to be a camera and sensors all over, looking at the driver and the car, they'll want all that.
[09:33] John Wall
And the car makers know that for them to survive going forward they are going to have to monetize data. And so, they will, that data you will sign an agreement that says the data is.
[09:44] Jacques Beauvais
When you buy your car, you are going to have to sign a data agreement.
[09:45] John Wall
Oh yeah. Yes, absolutely you will, that's the big thing coming.
[09:53] Jacques Beauvais
The thing is, I'm going to try to get my car to last longer. (Laughs.) But how? You talked about linking up with other companies who were bringing in added value to what you are trying to do. How often does that happen in the Kanata North technology market?
[10:12] Jamie Petten
Well, I think that BlackBerry QNX we're sitting in an example of that right now. L-Spark has most recently launched a corporate accelerator program with BlackBerry QNX, Solus, and a number of others. And that’s I think further to that point of how do we get these large beasts of companies to collaborate and work with those that are innovating faster and smarter and stronger really quickly. So that we can see that integration between large corporate and the small quick thinkers. So I don't know John if you would like to speak to that.
[10:52] John Wall
Yeah, absolutely. I mean we can't do everything and I have worked for a public company and anybody who has ever worked for a public company in a position of responsibility knows that the quarter is king. So there are things I have to do and there are things we would like to do.
And so we think the accelerator of the L-Spark, etc., we already did one program and it was great. I think we are going to have an even better one this time, because we've learnt a lot from the first one. The way I like to position it with SME's and small companies that have innovative products or innovative thoughts is look at us as a channel.
So you know we can pick up the phone and talk to the head of electronics of any car company in the world. I don't know that anybody can do that, I don't know that a small ten-person shop can do that. So we like to encourage those companies to work with us, to look at us as a channel either for introduction or even a channel to help them promote and sell their products. So for us I think it's invaluable to the point that within our own business, I've tasked our marketing folks with promoting us more within the ecosystem so that the ecosystem partners know we're here. So what's going on here at Kanata North has been great.
[12:11] Jacques Beauvais
What about you Ashleigh in your sector? Do you find kindred spirits around you in Kanata North? Do you find help when you need it? What is the ecosystem like for you?
[12:24] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
So digital health tech is new for Ottawa. We've tried a few times to develop accelerator programs that are geared for digital health but they haven't been successful at this point for whatever reason. So yes, we're a little bit of a misfit in Kanata North at this point. I think people are really intrigued by what we are doing.
[12:50] Jacques Beauvais
Something tells me they like misfits.
[12:52] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
Well, they like them at L-Spark, so that works for us. (Laughter.) Silicon Valley is kind of where I feel most at home right now. I went to Stanford spending a lot of time there and kind of going back and forth between the Valley and Ottawa.
[13:09] Jacques Beauvais
Why are you here?
[13:10] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
[13:11] Jacques Beauvais
[13:13] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
This is where our company is at the moment, we would really like to stay a Canadian company. So I go to the Valley to get inspiration for the big thinking, but we would love if we could remain a Canadian company. So that's why we're in Ottawa still.
[13:30] Jacques Beauvais
In terms of technology and impact in what you are doing, where do you see yourself a few years down the road?
[13:35] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
Yes, so a few years down the road we will move beyond concussion, certainly. We're already piloting our technology with dementia patients right now.
[13:48] Jacques Beauvais
Which must be in terms of the demographics, must be a very significant number.
[13:54] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
Yes, with our aging population, certainly. But we see ourselves as the brain OS.
[14:04] Jacques Beauvais
What would you do? I mean in the sense that you are monitoring in order to help recovery and you are keeping track of when people are exceeding what they should be doing with respect to their recovery. What would you do in terms of dementia?
[14:22] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
So my background is rehabilitation, so I have worked quite a bit with retirement homes and patients that have Alzheimer's or dementia. And we know that things like exercise and cognitive training are good for these individuals but often they just sit there during the exercise program, the bike's moving their feet and they are drifting. So what we are developing it's called neurofeedback really and if they're not engaged in the activity, the music that they are listening to disappears or the movie that they are watching disappears. So we can shape their behaviour to actually be engaged in tasks by how their brains' responding to the tasks.
So the potential is limitless really with dementia. And I think at the core of what we're doing, there are really smart people in these clinics and in the research labs that don't have an avenue to bring their technology out of the lab. So part of the mission is to facilitate that, and through collaboration and also through a development platform to let these people start playing in the consumer market.
[15:37] Jamie Petten
Are Canadian technology companies procuring from Canadian companies and vice versa? So what can we do here in this ecosystem to support you? And what can our companies do to support this procurement effort so we can retain you here in Kanata North and help you to get that product to market? But also what are those needs? So we would be doing better.
So I'll just add, I should have added the data at the top end but; Martello, Solus and You.i. Martello, they have 80% of their customers outside of North America, Solus was 60% and You.i was 50%. The question should be, is that a determining factor for having your business here? For you it has not been.
[16:30] John Wall
No, not at all. So I am very familiar with the Valley because all the car makers advanced research labs are in the Valley because the Germans like to go in the sun. A lot of them are second guessing having done that. Working in the Valley is very competitive, very high salaries and people jump around. For me Ottawa is a much better place for retention. We don't get a lot of Americans coming to work here but we get people from all over the world coming here. So you know, having University of Ottawa, having Carleton, Algonquin, Cité collégiale. It's been awesome for us, I mean we're not limited by talent.
[17:16] Jacques Beauvais
You draw them in from Waterloo, and from McMaster, from Toronto.
[17:18] John Wall
Yes, Waterloo and Toronto but also people coming from India and Pakistan and Iran and China and Korea, that are coming here to do their master's programs. And so, you know, I always talk about the diversity at our company is incredible and it's not manufactured, it was, well, those were the best people.
[17:40] Jamie Petten
But I think that contrasts here is that at an early stage you need access to capital and access to customers. And so in order to seed these companies here in Kanata North, we need to enable that access so that you can plant roots here. But as you scale, what really becomes the most important factor is access to talent. And so if we can help you to procure those customers here from Kanata North, and we have companies that have grown into global relationships and partnerships, then you know you have what you need to grow your pocket of talent.
[18:17] John Wall
I think you are absolutely right because the reality of the first QNX customer was and you may or may not remember there was an ICON computer used in the school boards in Ontario. That was our first customer.
[18:29] Jamie Petten
That's right, so sometimes it is those customers that are in your own backyard, our hospitals here that are going to help you lay the groundwork for your company and then you know draw in that investment. But as you grow, we'll help you grow, and it's that talent access is what then becomes key.
[18:50] John Wall
Do you work with companies like Baxter and GE Health?
[18:55] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
So we're just coming to the end of our first development cycle really so we're in a place where we're looking for partnerships for distribution. Our product's ready March 2020. But I have to say that the collaboration with the universities here has been fabulous. It's allowed a company of our size to develop the technology way faster than if I was hiring people without support from universities.
We've got Dr. Rajan from Carleton University who is at the forefront of AI and is hungry for industry. So there is that hunger for university industry partnerships, so that's been fabulous for us. The reason I go to California is the big thinking of the investors. They can see five years down the road and are willing to take the risk on a company that is building something in that space.
[19:54] Jacques Beauvais
Last year we talked to one entrepreneur who was developing a web pharmacy and he had left Ottawa to the U.S. because it was easier to get into the healthcare system. Is that the case for you too?
[20:09] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
Yes, that's certainly a component, the way the healthcare system is set up down there. And the legal pressure on the sports teams actually is another reason that that will be our first target market is to work with these sports teams. So yes, the climate makes the U.S. a good customer for us.
[20:28] John Wall
The investment climate is definitely, I would say, not ideal in Canada. I have had many discussions that you know when we talk to government officials, one of their biggest challenges is that great IP gets developed in Canada and then gets sold to the U.S., and so it's no longer Canadian IP. To the point that the government is trying to figure out how do we maintain IP in Canada. You might have seen we got a grant. QNX got a grant back in January from the Canadian government, and one of the stipulations in the contract is your IP will not leave Canada.
[21:00] Dr. Ashleigh Kennedy
[21:04] Jacques Beauvais
I would like to thank both of you. It has been a very interesting lively discussion. So thank you very much Ashley and thank you very much John. Thank you, Jamie.
[01:15] Jacques Beauvais
Today I am joined by our guest host Jamie Petten who is the President and the Executive Director of the Kanata North Business Association. Our two guests today are Patrick Ferris the General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at KRP Properties, a company who leases and develops commercial real estate in Kanata North. As well as, Jenna Sudds, the Ottawa City Councillor for Kanata North Ward 4, who is also here to discuss the direction in which Kanata North will be going over the next 10 years.
I think we have a great technology park, we say it’s the largest technology park in Canada and we try to say it a lot more loudly than we used to, and I think it's having an effect because I'm hearing Ottawa pop up an awful lot more in discussions Canada-wide right now. So what did we do well?
[02:02] Patrick Ferris
I think when we look back in the ‘80s and ‘90s tech was not as mature as it is today, but it was in its infancy compared to what it is today. And what happened we had a concentration of some big tech like Nortel and BNR and the others, and so everything was very concentrated. But we had a very large amount of highly educated technical people and then the big fear when Nortel collapsed in early 2000. The big fear was that there goes tech and auto because, as you know, it is known as Silicon Valley North, and people were proud of that image. And then Nortel collapsed for various reasons.
But the big fear was that that's it for tech, there is going to be a big diaspora of engineers and other technical people. That really didn't happen because all those very technical people stayed in Ottawa and for many reasons because there are other opportunities. Some went to government but others stayed primarily because Ottawa is a nice place to live. All those people that basically were victims of the Nortel collapse and the associated companies stayed on because all that intellectual horse power was still here. And instead of having two or three large corporations, they all spread out and created all these multitudes of small tech start-ups, some of which are quite large now.
[03:21] Jacques Beauvais
And where are we going now?
[03:23] Jenna Sudds
In the park? I suggest we still obviously, we still have a very strong telecom presence. But beyond that I have seen a tremendous amount of activity growing around the autonomous technology side and autonomous vehicles. Software as a service, of course, has grown tremendously, and an interesting cannabis sector that's bubbling up here as well. It's that breath I think that's really kind of, it's given us more stability but it has also I think given talent this diversity of choice.
[04:00] Patrick Ferris
With that diversity we have seen in the past 20 years in Kanata North, it's a much more complex economy, so it’s not just one or two, it's not a three-legged stool in my words it's a multifaceted economy. So there is strength all over in different sectors of technology, and that gives us strength because if one collapses, if we lose a small employer, yes it's not good to do that, but that's a sign of a maturing economic zone in technology. I think that's really our strength how we have kind of hit that critical mass, where in the future that gives us confidence to go forward. And we don't have to worry about what happens if there is a failure, because there are multiple different industries here and technologies that will take up the slack.
And those people who have been trained in a declining technology can easily migrate with some training, of course. With assistance of U of O and other post-secondary education, to transform into new economies. And that's really what we've seen would happen to the old Nortel stock employees.
[05:04] Jacques Beauvais
Even though we've had a lot of international students for a long time now. There is an explosion in the number of international students. Do you see it in the park? Do you see that diversity? Do you see some internationalization?
[05:16] Jamie Petten
[05:18] Patrick Ferris
I would agree.
[05:19] Jamie Petten
[05:20] Patrick Ferris
I work for the largest ten in the park here, KRP Properties. I see it every day as I walk through our building and people are speaking multiple languages that I don't understand on their cell phones. And it's really become international, and more cosmopolitan as a result of it.
[05:29] Jacques Beauvais
Because we literally see at the grad level just for our Faculty of Engineering, it's around 40% increase in applications from international students every year. What are the challenges facing us going forward to growing even further because I think there is lots of space left. We can do more, we're not at the limit, are we bursting at the seams right now?
[06:02] Patrick Ferris
Well, we're certainly not at the limit. We have the ability to basically triple the size of our park alone that KRP Properties is in from a building point of view. Are we at our limit? No there are some pitch points and we discuss that with our business association as part of our strategy going forward. One of them is finding talent, that's the big problem here that all the employers are finding.
And the second issue, which is sort of the canary in the coal mine is transit. Transit is a big issue. It used to be we thought it was just us internally that saw it, but now we're seeing it not only with tenants but people who want to locate here with the issue becoming the transit. And that is something that is going to be a multifaceted approach by not only the property owners and the companies with their employees, but also with the contingent government departments like the city, and the province to actually solve this problem.
[07:03] Jenna Sudds
I would actually go further than just saying transit, I will say infrastructure, right? Because not everyone is getting on a bus and frankly most people aren't. But it is our road infrastructure, it is also to a certain extent as well the social infrastructure that kind of comes with a growing community. And making sure that those supports are there and the amenities that people want to have at their disposal within not only their community, but in their work environment as well.
[07:44] Patrick Ferris
That's a good point, part and parcel with transit is that not everybody wants to take transit. Some people want to live here and the housing is a big part of it. And all different types of housing; from single family to multi-dwelling to apartments for young tech workers. They want a place to live, but yet they still want that community. And I think Kanata North if we look back, I can remember back in the '70s going home to my hometown, this used to be part Highway 17 March Road going home. And there was a little building off to the side which was Mitel and then it grew like mushrooms growing in the dark.
So it's matured a lot and the thing is you know people think why aren't we like downtown? It takes a long time for a community to mature and get all the amenities that come along with a mature place like; good market places, housing, places where people can walk, and a place where people can not only work but also live. And live is a broad definition, it's like are you part of that community? I think that's coming now with Kanata North, we're starting to see it now with the development of more recreational centres, more recreational trails and more things for people to do in the evening.
[08:58] Jacques Beauvais
We probably all know 20 to 25-year-olds who don't even have a driver's permit and have no intention of getting a driver's permit. So even that notion about how do we solve the infrastructure issue? The question itself is going to evolve very quickly in the coming years.
[09:13] Jenna Sudds
Yes, it has to.
[09:14] Patrick Ferris
Yes and I think it's a good point because in speaking with that generation I guess putting myself in a position to say that, being a father and I guess in my middle age I can say that. But I think in speaking with them is that they want something that's easily commutable to or basically they can walk, they want to be in their communities.
[09:36] Jacques Beauvais
Can I ask you to paint a picture in words of what Kanata North is like? In the sense that many of the students are listening to us, their parents may not have driven or have wandered around here. I mean the sense that you get when you just drive down March Road it's all the company buildings. How does it fit into where the houses are? Where the residential area is? Can you paint a picture of Kanata North, the technology park and its surrounding area in words?
[10:10] Jamie Petten
There's a very prominent presence from a technology and a business perspective, but it is surrounded by neighbourhoods and neighbourhoods that are very connected to nature. And I think the technology park of itself as well has a really strong connection to the environment as well. And that permeates throughout Kanata North whether it's the South March Highlands, the Trillium Woods, the Wind River. We have a tremendous amount of nature right at our doorstep. The fact that there are great places to eat and good places to grab a drink after work, or a coffee shop to sit down and get some work done. The lifestyle elements that exist just within your day-to-day work that all exists here in Kanata North.
And in addition to that the quality of the lifestyle of living in Ottawa in general is bar none. We want to keep our students here working at Kanata North absolutely but what are the opportunities for them if they are here working in careers here at Kanata North to experience the world? Right? Our companies have global reach. So I think all of those elements are important in what we are conveying and communicating to students and also to those who are in their mid-stages or late stages of their careers.
Why leave San Francisco? Or even Toronto or Waterloo and come back to Ottawa? Or come to Ottawa for the first time? What is that career development opportunity that is competitive to what exists elsewhere? And how does that balance against what the overall lifestyle offers as well?
[12:04] Jacques Beauvais
That makes a lot of sense. I guess for the things you need around your workplace they are all here.
[12:10] Jamie Petten
[12:12] Jacques Beauvais
Like you said, you can go to lunch, you can go for coffee, you can go for a good dinner after. So everything you need around your work day is here. And I guess in a way, I'll never say that around a counsellor but our issue is still transport, right?
[12:27] Jamie Petten
Absolutely. We need to get people here.
[12:26] Jacques Beauvais
If we could solve that, if we had that LRT between downtown and Kanata North. All of these issues would sort of vanish.
[12:35] Jamie Petten
Well, it would create better access for sure.
[12:40] Jacques Beauvais
It will give you more options.
[12:42] Jamie Petten
And more options yes. But, if we think about the contrast with Silicon Valley, the traffic is 10 times worse there than it is here, right?
[12:51] Jacques Beauvais
I know, I know. You don't sit in a car for two hours to get here. But in respect to what we think we are expecting it sounds terrible. But it's not.
[13:03] Jamie Petten
Yeah, but everything that Kanata North outputs in terms of our contributions to the city and province and federal economy, we need that investment to come back to our infrastructure, in order to continue to maintain growth. We date back 50, 60 years here in Kanata in terms of industry, and so to the point that we've developed now, it's just amazing what we have been able to do. Can you imagine now with a greater amount of investment thrown back into our ecosystem, just how far we could go?
So when we think about the demographics of who are going to live near work, it's most certainly going to be those individuals who are at the point of settling down or growing a family. And the CARP Farmers' Market, there's some really nice amenities in that way that are great, I was mentioning brewers and other things. And so I think there is a big fundamental piece of why do people want to live and work close to Kanata North.
But we also have a whole other part of our talent base who don't necessarily live in Kanata North but choose to work here anyways. And we have that at all kind of spectrums of the talent pool. From young youthful generation, all the way through to senior talent. And we were talking about this earlier about you know contrasting or comparing to other ecosystems and this example of having shuttles run from you know, from the downtown of San Francisco for young talent who prefer to live in the downtown core, down into Palo Alto you know to the Google and Facebook campuses. So they have an hour of a productive drive that their companies have provided to them.
So they have that balance of being able to have that downtown lifestyle with you know some really impactful and meaningful work at a technology park such as this one. I think I don't know if either of you want to speak more to this, but the balance of serving the needs of all of you know our different talent, at the varying stages that they're at in their careers or life cycles.
[15:29] Jenna Sudds
And I think from a community perspective, we're growing tremendously. So we have over 10,000 housing units that are going to be built in this coming decade and many within the next few years. So that in and of itself well that creates challenges first of all, but it also creates some interesting opportunities.
And when I'm speaking from a residential development perspective. When I'm speaking with some of these developers, they have identified the opportunity to build a variety of different housing types because of the demand specifically from the talent working in this technology park.
And so some of the plans that I'm seeing are more trying to accommodate the younger skilled generation that's choosing to work here. Because arguably there haven't been a tremendous diversity in housing, but we are seeing more apartments coming online and some condo options coming online.
[16:41] Jacques Beauvais
And that's going to be very important because while I grew up to want to have my own home and a car in my driveway and all that. From a sustainable perspective that's terrible, right? You want to have higher density living, to be able to save on energy and all that. So that's very interesting that we're starting to have that kind of development.
[17:04] Jenna Sudds
Yes, we're seeing a lot the town centre lands along Campeau, the density certainly has been happening there. But there is some new development coming as well further up March Road which is attractive, and I think marketed towards younger professionals as well.
[17:22] Jacques Beauvais
Are those people, the investors, seeing that they should be living here? Is that happening? Or is that still something that we need to work on?
[17:32] Patrick Ferris
Well, I think the challenge always is, is there enough private equity money to basically invest in these growing companies? And I think it's better than what it used to be, but for a while it was quite stagnant. It's not what it is, for example, if you are an investor with a tech company in the United States where there is a lot more investment capital out there, it's 10 times the size of Canada so it's understandable. But I think our investment community is probably a little more refined in that they are very selectable in what they invest in. But there certainly are private equity investors out there. I don't think that there is enough government investment in technology that there should be.
[18:08] Jamie Petten
If we look to our autonomous vehicles ecosystem, it's an amazing example of the collaboration which is happening here; Blackberry QNX centres, that centre of excellence and we have our Ottawa L5 test tracks both public and private, that a number of our companies are all contributing into. In order to move the yardstick in terms of what kinds of technology we're developing here in Kanata North. So, of course, they are all eager to attract talent into their individual companies. But there is an alignment in this cluster that we have here and that subsector of autonomous and connected vehicles is one, but there's a number of others as well.
And Jenna you spoke to, can it be growth being here? We've just had Hexo as well move into the park, so I think there is a magnetic attraction here around each of those subsectors because a) you have a centre of influence around a certain category than talent or just drawn to this sector as a result, but b) the ability to do business with one another as well happens in the park every day.
There is the telecommunications history background that we have here, that for better or for worse, there were failures there. But it created this senior expertise in our ecosystem, many of them spun out and were serial entrepreneurs and created QNX. Others have existed here as mentors and have brought up our next generation of talent. So anyways now I digress, but I think it's to the point where it has to be all sizes of companies contributing in this ecosystem in order for it to thrive and move faster and faster.
[20:09] Patrick Ferris
If you look at some of the big companies, they were magnets that attracted the others, but they also I think and maybe what makes Kanata North unique, is it's very collegial amongst all the different companies. There is real cooperation, there's collaboration, and certainly there's competition, but I think there is kind of an unwritten understanding that if I do better, then you are going to do better.
And there is an opportunity for workers in those industries, and everybody wants to hold on to their employees certainly. But they know there's opportunities, if for example, if they are at the end of their career at a certain company and they aren't progressing, there are opportunities to move on. And that's not a bad thing because it's sort of a leap frog approach which gives them, the more times you change the better you become.
[20:52] Jacques Beauvais
So what do we do over the next 10 years? Do we do more of what we have been doing because it's a winning recipe? Or do we need to do something different?
[21:03] Patrick Ferris
I think we certainly have a proven recipe but recipes change. And the economy changes and let's not assume that if we're successful now that it's always going to be that way. Because you should never sit on your hands and say, "This is fine, the status quo is good.” We should always be engaging, and trying to improve and diversifying. And I think what is going to happen, what is going to drive the workforce, is changing dramatically. From our generation to more Jamie’s and Jenna’s, and certainly our children's generation, and how the workforce is changing. And I was reading in one of the papers that "Our Lost Sight", of our changing workforce, and the number of jobs that have changed in the last 20 years from permanent to temporary.
Temporary jobs are growing dramatically, and that's going to change how the workforce sees where they are going to work. It also changes from the providers of those workplaces, is it going to still be the large footprints that typically companies want? Or is it going to be smaller footprints? Where basically, we are going to co-locate and have temporary working space and shared office space. That's probably going to happen in the future to accommodate how that technology and then how the workforce is going to change.
[22:17] Jenna Sudds
I think, I mean we have to be cognizant of who knows, who can predict where we'll be in 10 years from a technology standpoint as well? As we see how quickly things can change today the piece of change is only accelerating. So you know, I think that we do have a recipe for success for sure in the park. But we continue to need to be responsive, but also to try and not only keep peace with change but to be on the edge of it.
So you know, I think the Business Association has a great reputation for working really closely with companies here, and I think that's part of the success. By working closely, by learning what is cutting edge and being able to strategize and plan for that, I think it's helped the park evolve. And I think that's really what sets us up for success.
[23:28] Jacques Beauvais
One of the things I remember hearing a while ago and I've heard it more than once but. We always overestimate what we'll be able to accomplish in the next year, but we always totally underestimate what we can do over 10 years. So I know it's a really hard question, but it's not just the economy, I think it's the entire world that is going to be different 10 years from now.
[23:52] Jenna Sudds
[23.53] Jacques Beauvais
And there are challenges that I'm seeing as much as I said earlier that where Ottawa as being very attractive to international students right now. We are seeing it, it's incredible the increase every year, and I'm seeing it again now.
We're just in the early phases of young people applying to come, it's increased even more again this year. But that can change overnight. We're very sensitive to even where the students are coming from, we have seen a flip in the last two years. Where the number one country of origin of our international students was China, and now it's flipped over to India, dramatically so. And there are challenges there because it means whatever happens in the UK can affect our attractiveness for now our number one country of origin of students, because they have a natural affinity to go there.
Things can change also dramatically in our southern neighbours. Right now we are seeing that shift, young people want to come to Canada from international but we're also vulnerable in that one, we're paying very close attention, but it can change dramatically. And those young people are super important to becoming employees in the companies that want to grow in the Park.
[25:07] Jamie Petten
There is seed investment happening in companies here at L-Spark. There is also MNA activity happening in our larger companies, and everything in between companies going public on the TSX. So how do we continue to engage that aspect within the park as well?
[25:26] Patrick Ferris
I think looking forward, you know, if I had a crystal ball ten years ahead, I think by that time I will probably retire but I'm not guaranteeing it. (Laughter.) But I think I'll be involved in some aspect. But I think the world's in turmoil right now politically and there's a big shift to the right, and business doesn't like turmoil, they like stability and consistency. And I think that's one of the big advantages that Canada has as a whole and that then reflects on Kanata North.
So I think in the future, it's a good place hold if you can say, "Look you can come here, you can bring all your talent here, you can basically move here for your job, it's a safe place to live, grow and work.” Whereas, yes there may be cheaper places to set up your business but it ain't going to have a stable workforce. So continuity is very important if you are going to plan 10 years ahead. You know, are we going to have a revolution in 10 years in Canada? No, we're not, not with our political. Issues of change. So I think that's very important.
So I think if I was a planner for a big corporation, this is a safe place to put it. This is a safe place to attract people here and people are attracted for a reason because people want stability and safety. And I think then if all the other parts come together then you've got all the right mix for success in the future. It doesn't mean that you aren't going to have economic problems, because we're all subject to the ups and downs of the economy. But at least it leaves you that much more adaptable, and you can change quickly.
I think we all sense it when you go to Kanata there is a vibe here and you can't put your finger on it but there is a feeling, it feels successful, it just does. And that's very motivating, and it's a great catalyst for propelling if you're learning but also for companies. And I think that's why a lot of young companies come here because there is a term called economic association but also economics by technology.
So you feed off that and it kind of builds and it creates that vibe to make it a very dynamic place, and when you are dynamic things change quickly and you can adapt quickly. And I think that's a big benefit for Kanata North and that's what's in favour for going forward in the next 10 to 15 years. It is dynamic because it allows that ability to shift very quickly.
[27:42] Jacques Beauvais
So thank you very much to both of you for being our guests, to you Jamie.
[27:48] Patrick Ferris
Pleasure to meet you!
[27:49] Jacques Beauvais
It's been interesting and I hope that we can contribute to keep on spreading the word. Keeping some of our people here, more of them, and attracting more and more as we spread that word.
[28:00] Jacques Beauvais
[01:13] Dimple Thomas
Hi my name is Dimple Thomas, I'm coming from Ericsson. So Ericsson is a global leader in mobile telecommunications solutions here at the park. What I do currently, my role is I test end-to-end system performance of our base station and network products. And I'm the theme leader of diversity and inclusion on site.
[01:37] John Proctor
I'm John Proctor, I'm the CEO of Martello, a high-tech firm here at the campus. And again being the CEO you are also the Chief Culture Officer. So my role is to look at that perspective and say, "What is the culture we as a company want as a whole?" And then look at how we try to instill that across the company.
[01:57] Jacques Beauvais
How is the culture these days? Is it a different world than it was ten years ago? Is it where we need to be? Is it still evolving?
[02:05] John Proctor
I think some of the basic principles never change. I mean, yes, they'll evolve but the basic principles of you know the golden rule, treat others as you'd like to be treated, and then in high-tech there is another thing which is sort of passion. And it's one of those things, you're allowed to get emotional about technology, and, in fact, if you get emotional, it means you believe in what you are doing.
It's the dispassion that doesn't work. It doesn't mean you take it out on the other person personally, but you are allowed to have, and with some of our R&D guys some of these things are fundamental, right? They truly are almost religious perspectives on aspects of technology, and they will get emotional. And that's great, because it means they believe in what they are saying and believe in what they are doing, but you can't extend that to somebody else.
So I think when you look at those basic principles of treat others as you would expect to be treated. Be respectful of each other's opinions, you know those sorts of things never change. However, as the workforce changes and how they engage and how they include themselves in conversations, that is still changing.
[03:06] Jacques Beauvais
How do you see it?
[03:08] Dimple Thomas
Yeah, I think that, I love the fact that we're even having this conversation shows a lot of progress from where we used to be, perhaps a lot of years before. We're talking about diversity, we're talking about inclusion, we're including that in our core principles in the tech park which is a great time to be here. There is definitely work to be done, it's evolving, it has to get better, etc. But we're talking about it and that's the first step, right? So I'm pretty happy to be influencing this.
[03:37] John Proctor
I think that's key, it's sort of that openness to discuss. I mean, we've sort of been joking around, I am well inside that pale, stale, male bracket, right? Of go around the tech park and have sort of a number of senior execs' meetings, it's like a, "Hmm, we’ve got some work to do on diversity here," sort of conversations, and those are really important.
But the fact that we're having that conversation and we can recognize saying, "You know, we need that." But I think the other thing that was brought up was inclusion. Because diversity, I'm not saying it's a tick box, it's a definite thing, "Oh we're going to do it at the university”, inclusion is so much more. Everyone gets a voice. Everyone gets heard.
[04:18] Jacques Beauvais
It's a lot harder too.
[04:19] John Proctor
It's a lot harder. Because it's not just looking sort of at the visible minorities, it's also saying, “Who are the invisible minorities?” A lot of them are introverts. When you work in R&D and tech a lot of guys are introverts. A lot of people are probably close to the spectrum, which is, you need them. Don't get me wrong, these guys are fabulous. They will solve your technical problems and then work all day to do it. But they don't want to do social events, they don't necessarily want to join in.
So you’ve got to make sure… How do I make sure they are heard? And that actually takes a lot of work because these sorts of guys who work, work, work, they are constant, they are driven and they are very focused. But they get upset about things but they don't necessarily articulate it until, "I'm done”. So you've got to try to say, "How do I pay attention to that?" And that takes work, that takes effort.
[05:06] Jamie Petten
I love that, and I've heard it before that articulation of between diversity and inclusion. In that, in diversity we are bringing all different people to the table, but with the thought of inclusion. It's in engaging them to have an impact in whatever form or capacity. So how do you create that action? How do you create that environment where people feel that they have a voice or an ability to be included?
[05:35] Jacques Beauvais
And in your role, is that part of your responsibility to work on that inclusion? And are you alone to do that? How does it work?
[05:44] Dimple Thomas
Yeah, I do really like the fact, and it's true that it's easier to kind of measure for diversity. But inclusion is harder to capture and measure. It is not again like, inclusion is a mindset, right? And that's kind of what's so important to realize, you can't put a framework around it. You can't say you need to do this. I mean there are some principles that are fundamental "Respect others, treat others as you want to be treated”, those are fundamental principles.
But it is something that you just have to change within yourself, and I think that's where it becomes a bit more challenging. When you are very set in your ways and very set in your biases. It is harder to work and change that, and change the culture, and I think that's where we just need to be open to change and be ready to include everyone.
[06:38] John Proctor
I think it's a leadership piece as well, right? Like you said, it's as Dimple said, it's intangible, there are certain things, you can't mandate it and say, "Right we're going to say, thou must include everybody, right? (Inaudible) is on the stove and put it in the front of the office," and it's going to happen. It doesn't work like that. It starts top down, right? You lead by example, you work hard at meetings to include people. And then when people see that, "Oh this is working”, then it sort of takes off.
And I think that's kind of at the point of saying when you have leadership that has that sort of mindset as you put it, it becomes, people see that waterfall effect as it comes down, and they go, "Yeah, this is working." And the other thing is being intolerant of the, you know, the bad behaviours. And being very intolerant of that, and setting that from the top as well saying, "No we don't tolerate people who start to become exclusive of people, of people who are racist," or whatever it is. That is, you make that clear from the top. So not only are you leading by example of what should be done, you are very clear on what should not be done as well.
[07:46] Jacques Beauvais
Why is it so important in your work to have that approach of diversity and inclusivity?
[07:54] Dimple Thomas
For us, we do product development, product verification and a big part of an R&D facility is to come up with innovative ideas and innovative solutions to problems. And that's exactly where we see the impact of having a diverse workforce, is you come at an old challenging complex problem with several different ideas and several different viewpoints on how to solve this old problem that we've had for a long time. Then when we start enabling the culture to listen to those ideas, we start getting some very cool innovative products coming through the door.
[08:35] Jacques Beauvais
And you see it. You can tell the difference between the products that are designed with that?
[08:40] Dimple Thomas
All the time, all the time. We see it when even something as simple as designing graphical user interface. The concerns that you take into account when you design for something that's external facing, the approaches to problem-solving, collaboration.
[08:59] Jacques Beauvais
What about you John?
[09:02] John Proctor
Yeah, I think, so a couple of things to raise that are really important. One is sort of that, there are different perspectives. How are we going to solve this problem on the outset, right? The customer has a problem, how are we going to solve that problem? And it's that point of saying, "Is it truly? OK it's quick tech, let's go down in tech. Or is it? Hold on let's try and understand why he has that problem in the first place." Right? So he's taken that step back in having a more diverse perspective on it. But the other thing is, you know, I can touch something slightly is that voice. Because you need to make sure that people feel they have a voice into that problem solving environment.
The other thing that is really, really important is, you know we're here in Kanata in the tech park we're global, right? So you've got guys saying well we're not necessarily building for the Canadian market, right? We're developing for, we're in 150 countries and I'm sure Ericsson's in many more as well, right? So you've got to understand is that when you look at that customer it's not just the gender customer, it's global customer. So having that perspective of saying, "Yeah, we'll hold on," you know.
When somebody is going to look at that, they are going to think X, Y and Z. And you can think of all these different examples of product development where things have gone global and not resonated. And that's kind of key in saying the more perspectives you have in that, be it agenda, be it race, be it whatever, then the more you are going to be part of this global environment that we need to sell to.
And if you look at Canada, we talk about some of the problems. We have some great tech, and you hear this all the time, and I think we've discussed this recently. Saying the problem is getting it to market, "How do we get this great Canadian tech to market?" And the answer is: Think global. And that starts at the problem-solving level. And the more diverse you are, the more inclusive you are, the more chance you have of getting that global footprint working.
[10:49] Jamie Petten
How does that translate into the team building and hiring practices? You've spoken about your diversity of experiences over the course of your career that were non-tech previous. So when you're building up the chasm of the team, how does that translate it to finding those different people with different experiences?
[11:09] John Proctor
So one of the first things is being open to people who have non-traditional backgrounds. One of the fun things is now, we have a couple of folks on the ground who are fairly new, but this is their first ever job in Canada. Right? New immigrants and you know they came to us and you know, we kind of looked at their resume and went "Ha, well," but you know it's at that point of saying, "Let's dig a little deeper," let's give you a chance to come in and explain yourself. Your resume wasn't quite the perfect fit but it never will be. And this is one of the challenges of, you know, when you look at that hiring process. If the resume is the only tool that you've got to filter, you are going to have problems. Because you know, when you've got a Canadian audience they know how to write resumes.
Whereas, with somebody who is new into Canada and they are going for the first time to write a resume to apply for a Canadian job, it's not going to be as pretty. And you've got to filter that out and say, "It doesn't matter, I'm looking to try and get through that, and look at the person underneath." And that kind of thing, we've got this sort of concept and we've really pushed it into a jar, saying we're behind the person and not the resume.
I think people coming in with diverse backgrounds, you know, you bring them into customer success for the first time in the tech industry, and they have never worked in customer success in the tech industry. They might have worked sales at Hudson's Bay. They know how to talk to people, they know how to make somebody feel good about the conversation they are having.
That's the basic, and those are the soft skills that we kind of undersell. And again you go broader at the same thing, we've got a guy who was customer support, and he's rolled himself across successfully into sales engineer. Because he picked up the skills of being able to communicate, while he had been doing that in customer support, he's spent time with R&D, he's picked up the technical skills and again this young gentleman is from Cuba. You know, what a teacher in Cuba, emigrated and now he's doing tech support.
So I think again, it's that, stop saying, "There must be a path." I think when we look at, you know, we talked about this recently to the Chancellor about this. The graduates coming out, if I go back sort of 40-50 years somebody would come into some tech park and say, "Here is my job, here is my company." And in 20 years they'd still be there. That isn't the case anymore, right? These guys are going to have really fluid, dynamic careers.
So making sure you've got those core skills and are willing to be adaptable. But then as an employer saying, "Cool, I can take somebody on." I can take somebody on who isn't the right fit but they are the right person, we will help them get there. And that's also part of your responsibility as a leader to say, "We as a team, you know, we can see how valuable you'll be." And it's when you have those fabulous people coming, you give them a chance.
It's so good how they can surprise you with how good they truly can be in a position that they really want. And nobody handed it to them, right? They came in, they took a chance, you know, they are willing to work for it. And I truly see that in a lot of people who, they may not have been the perfect fit, but they know it too, and they are willing to work towards being successful in the role.
[14:18] Dimple Thomas
I do want to add something about the hiring practices. I think, one thing that we found, so we have several examples where the job description and the way it's written influences the kind of the profile of the candidate that applies. And it's very apparent and very obvious. We often talk about the pipeline, right? The input, people who apply to the jobs. And just doing something, just to, writing job descriptions with a gendered lens. Or just writing job descriptions to include certain words, rather than other words. The effect it has on the applicants into the position is just tremendous.
And then when we find these applicants we realize that they were actually better than the initial set that applied. So we have true data to support this. So that kind of relates to the question about hiring practices and it has to be, we have to be conscious about it, we have to do it with sort of this gender glance or with a diversity mindset in place. And we can see a difference.
[15:29] Jacques Beauvais
Do you get a chance to influence the way Ericsson posts here for positions? Are you involved in those discussions?
[15:36] Dimple Thomas
Yes certainly, we definitely are discussing with HR, we discuss with managers and how, again it's about the language that's used in the job description and how to change it. Yeah.
[15:49] Jacques Beauvais
How are you doing at Ericsson in Canada and in particular here, compared to other parts of the world where Ericsson is? Do you have the feeling that we're catching up? We're ahead? We're about at the same point in terms of diversity and inclusion?
[16:02] Dimple Thomas
I think one thing that we see and it's an attribute of being situated here in Canada and Ottawa, is we are very culturally diverse as a site. And that's definitely one thing that you see, it's very apparent as you walk in through the door. In the gender space we have targets set to get more women into the workplace, so we want to improve that. And then, of course, diversity is so much beyond that, right? So you have your diversity, your sexual orientation, sexuality diversity. So it's a bit more challenging in those areas but we're working towards it.
[16:40] Jamie Petten
What about on the other side from a pipeline perspective? How do we prepare the pipeline earlier for younger, next generation talent to be more aware of tech as an industry, and of the opportunities that could be available to them later down the road?
[16:56] Dimple Thomas
I'm just smiling a bit because this kind of touches on my favourite topic of the favourite initiative of the high school co-op program. And you know, recently we have a high school co-op program, and that I think, we have gone out to schools and we have spoken about the program. And it's really about getting that exposure at a younger age.
I have an example, one of the students that we hired into Ericsson as a high school co-op student, came in kind of thinking that she wanted to go into nursing. And at the end of four months with us, she decided that she was going to go into software engineering. Because in her words, she finally saw someone that looked like her, and spoke like her, doing well in an engineering company. And that was something that just stays with my heart.
[17:54] John Proctor
I think that's really important when people see that saying, "Yeah, do I see myself in that company? Do I see myself in that environment?" And if the answer is "No,” then I need to find something else to do. And a lot of it is again, if you grew up here in Kanata, you might have one parent, a relative who works in tech. So that's going to kind of sort of spill over into you but once we get out of these confines of Kanata and move further out, you're losing high schools that have that connection. So again, it's easy, the co-op program.
I have been involved with a program called Cyber Titan, which is a cyber competition in high school. And it's in the U.S., it's Cyber Patriot in the U.S., it's in the UK and it’s something else (Cyber Centurion). And it basically is, it creates sports teams that do hacker competitions. But the aim is in the U.S. is to move it up the threshold level in saying, you know some high school if you are on the Cyber team, you get a jacket like being a football player. It moves into that parameter of saying tech is as important as a sport, in particular where they credit sports teams, and it gives us that level of profile within the school where people go actually, "This is cool!" It's not the nerds in the corner, right? These guys are actually on a team, it's competitive.
And for instance there, if you are a female, all-female team it's free entry. We like to try and drive some of those sort of A-listers as well. And I think we have over 100 high schools participating now across Canada. And that is going to start things. But I think that it's really important for us to say, "We the high-tech industry have got to expand our co-op relationships, you know beyond this." And if I look at some sort of rural Canada, which is an awful lot of Canada, right? How are we in reaching that? How are we getting that talent there? And sort of getting them interested in that sort of stuff. And you know, the co-op programs tend to be sort of more, sort of localized just by nature of what they are, we create these relationships.
But reaching out I think is also part of what we have got to do a bit better. And again looking the industry organizations you know to help with that sort of the government organizations they are saying, "How do we do this?” and go back to that talent pipeline. And when we look at sort of intercity and it could be something like intercity Toronto, where there is a massive amount of diversity and a lot of financial industry but not a great deal of tech, right? So how do we excite those guys to come in and look at what we are doing?
[20:27] Jamie Petten
But you know what I love about that whole concept around creating teams in high schools that you know are hackers? Is that it resonates with something that's already happening across a generation. There has been a shift from physical sports into e-sports already and kids these days, I'm young myself, but they're spending an awful lot of time on Twitch and following these e-sports celebrities. And so I think finding ways to engage with our pipeline of next-generation talent that will resonate with them, with the way that they are already engaging in tech.
[20:57] Jacques Beauvais
Is there a culture of sharing best practices? Or are they all on their own to try to develop these ideas of…?
[21:07] Jamie Petten
You mean between the companies here in Kanata North?
[21:09] Jacques Beauvais
Yes, because diversity and inclusivity is a general issue that's important to everyone, from what I can see.
[21:14] Jamie Petten
No, I think there are some examples of ways that our leaders here in Kanata North get together for that knowledge sharing and collaboration. We have our HR council, CEO council, we're going to be launching, and R&D council, and I think that speaks to the “Canadianis” of who we are. We're more collegial and like to share our best practices and ideas for how to grow as companies. So I do think that's just inherent in the nature of our ecosystem here. But this whole tech community was born of people coming together in a small team, whether through Newbridge Networks, or Mitel or Nortel and it's grown.
But yet those senior executives who were there back in the day, they are still here. So I think that you see a lot of people who work together over the course of their careers in many companies reaching out to one another, saying, "Hey, I'm at this company now, and this is the challenge I'm having, remember when we dealt with X, Y and Z, 15 years ago?" And one of the things that I think that we need to be really passionate about is in also connecting our next generation of talent with those senior leaders who are here in the park. So that they can be aware of and aspire to be, you know, where our tech leaders are.
[22:36] John Proctor
We reach out, there are certain forums but there are also a lot of individuals who sort of connect differently on a personal level, saying, "Hey, so we've got so and so going on.” And sometimes it's a hiring problem, sometimes it's a tech problem. I mean, I’ve used the example before of when we went public, there were a couple of other CEOs who looked at something remarkably similar and reach out to those guys and say, "So anything that I need to know?" And there was an awful lot that I needed to know. And they shared.
And if I look at we're doing this 5G project at the moment with ENCQOR which is the Ontario and Quebec government, and our key point of contact comes from Ericsson, right? So we connect with Ericsson and we get advice and guidance, we talk. Our head of marketing volunteers her time with Kanata North, there is that community here which is so important for particularly the small companies. I mean we are nowhere near the scale of Ericsson, we're just over 100.
We're coming to the sort of mid-scale of Kanata companies, and there are still the 20 to 30 person companies. But they reach out, and we talk, and we share. And that's really, really important because otherwise it's really difficult without that sense of community for these smaller companies to find the talent. And as Jamie said, people move around, they were at Nortel, they were at Newbridge.
[23:51] Jamie Petten
[23:52] John Proctor
And they'll phone up and say, "Hey, remember when we were at Newbridge together and we did X? So I'm looking at...," and they'll have a conversation. Those are so valuable. And the same thing, we did a trade mission recently with U of O to Malaysia. And one of the first contacts with speaking to Solace who had a couple of guys who work in Southeast Asia, and we were able to pick up the phone and say, "Hey, so what do we need to…?" And they were able to give up their time. They would get on a call at 9 pm at night because of the time difference, and they would give you their information. And it's so important and valuable here. I think a lot of companies would struggle if they were a small 20 to 30-person company not in this environment. Life would be a lot harder.
[24:40] Dimple Thomas
You know the reasons why we get into doing the initiatives that we do, having conversations that we have, and a lot of times it's driven by passion, right? I became the team leader for diversity and inclusivity because I was very passionate about the space. And I sometimes feel like, if you have that passion, it’s what fuels the ecosystem in some ways. So if you have a passion, you will naturally tend to find someone else that has the same passion.
[25:08] Jamie Petten
[25:09] Dimple Thomas
And then that's how you find each other and then that's how you help each other.
[25:12] Jamie Petten
I think on the impact side, so there's the, I think, the collegial aspect, of how we all want to see one another succeed in the businesses that we're growing here in Kanata North. But on the other side of things, there is a lot of really good community driven work that happens within all of our companies as well. Whether it's the Technovation program and Ericsson is a great host for young high school students who are building apps over the course of a 10-week program.
We'll reach out because we are passionate about the fact that, "Hey, are you willing to mentor once a week for the next ten weeks, this young group of high school students to get them to the point of an NVP?" And that kind of stuff is happening inherent in the DNA of our companies as well, and across our companies. So you know, there is a bunch of engineers that get together and Thusha hosts that, just for lunch informally to talk about diversity and inclusion in our companies. It's the informal aspects that I think end up becoming the most relatable for all of us as well. Just picking up the phone and saying, "I need help with this initiative."
[26:24] Jacques Beauvais
And what challenges do we still have in front of us? What do you see as the big issues that we need to address quickly? Is it the young people in the pipeline? Is it the people in our organizations right now? The younger ones? The more senior ones? Is it just collectively the culture? I'm not sure how to frame it. But what do you see as the remaining barriers that we need to work on in order to achieve those much more inclusive teams?
[26:54] Dimple Thomas
Definitely one thing I see is the ability to grow and build inclusive leaders. That is something that has to be done. You have to start having the hard conversations and start to bring that out very open and start to create a culture in which inclusion is prioritized. Where leaders call out non-inclusive behaviour, non-inclusive language and then call that out say, "It's unacceptable.”
And then bring the voices that are a bit more silent to come to the forefront. And that kind of, that's not easy to do sometimes, and then that's where we need to spend the time and the energy to get that to happen. And it's again, I'm fairly new as well myself so, I see it all the time when you have an inclusive leader. All the opinions start naturally flowing in the room and then that creates a safe space for the employees.
[27:57] Jacques Beauvais
When you do that and have everybody’s comfortable to express themselves. Do you have, and this is just professional curiosity, does that make it even more challenging to make sure that it doesn't create more tension between those that are not used to being challenged and to have all those ideas expressed? Is that something that we need to learn to do when we are faced in that situation? Or do you see that everybody just goes with the flow and it becomes comfortable for everyone?
[28:31] Dimple Thomas
Oh no. (Laughs.) You definitely have to do, and that's where if you have, if inclusion is part of your DNA as you say as a leader, you will know or you will come up with strategies to work with different kinds of people. And sometimes it does involve you know with, “Let's start a table conversation right now,” and talking to person X, Y and Z, about, "By the way what you did was not that great." or "What you did was great." And then kind of making sure that the next conversation is better.
[29:01] Jacques Beauvais
So there is a lot of nurturing to be done.
[29:02] Dimple Thomas
There is a lot of nurturing, a lot of culture changes, yes.
[29:06] Jamie Petten
And I think that having that emotional intelligence as well, to know that all different people have different ways of communicating. And some are extroverted and very happy to express all of their opinions in a public forum or meeting. Others it takes time to process all that they've absorbed in a meeting and then be able to come back in a less formal setting or a one-on-one to give their feedback or their inputs into a project. So understanding those different dynamics at play in your team I think helps to really unlock the potential of inclusivity.
[29:45] Jacques Beauvais
From your side John, what do you see as the big challenges right now?
[29:50] John Proctor
One of the big challenges is you know, we can't afford to be complacent, right? We go tick on the box and go, "Ooh, it's Canada”, we pat ourselves on the back, “We're multiracial, we're all-inclusive, yay us”. And the point is then you stop paying attention, right? And you can't do that and that's one of the clear dangers, it's a bit like R&D when you get complacent when everything is working, and that's when it stops working.
[30:11] Jacques Beauvais
[30:12] John Proctor
And this is the same sort of thing. The same attention you'd pay to those sprints, and your scrums, and your agility, it has to paid to this as well. On a constant you know approach. And I think as Dimple said that's the stuff of leadership. It means you know, we keep going at it, we keep looking at our leaders, is that somebody who can do this? And we don't get complacent about it and we set values that we can all buy into.
What is interesting when you do that, and you use those as both a hiring process and interview process. Like you come to a Martello interview and there's our values. Put those in your own words, right? Some people will self-select out, right? Because they go, why is this? This isn't important. Yes, it's fundamental to who we are as a company. And then they look at it and say, "You know this is who we are, this is our DNA."
And when you put it in at that sort of fundamental level saying we hire people who understand these values, right? Then they get it. And it comes through the company in that respect. The same thing making sure that the leaders understand what that actually means, and if you grow your leaders, when you start off and they come into R&D or marketing or finance. When they come up and become a manager and then a director. At each stage you are saying that one of your core roles is demonstrating those values.
And you think you've set it up to having to be able to have those hard conversations when people aren't. And that's really the thing, people avoid that. It's the most difficult thing to ask our leaders to do is be willing to go and have a hard conversation in a respectful outcome-based manner. And be able to coach people to do that who sometimes they don't necessarily have those soft skills when they started, but you can grow that, right? That's capable.
But I think when you set those values right at the front end and say, "This is who we are," and “Please explain those in your own words,” as part of our hiring process. You'll find the people who get it and say, "Oh I like this, I want in on this." And then that's a go, “Right, we want you too then". And I think that's so, so important.
[32:26] Jacques Beauvais
So two big elements then, when you are hiring and then growing it into the people who are already in place.
[32:31] John Proctor
And those leaders are responsible and accountable for it. That's the other thing is accountability, right? So this is your team, you are accountable for that team. And you are accountable not only for growing those people but training and making those values understood with your own little group that you are mentoring. And you could be a 25-year-old manager, and still, this is your conversation with your team saying, "Hey how are we doing on this aspect of it?"
[33:04] Jacques Beauvais
So it literally means that if something happens with one of the members of the team, somebody is going to have a conversation with the leader also because he is accountable for that.
[33:07] John Proctor
Yes, absolutely that's how it works. And if you come back to my background, that's the reality, right? You know I mean in industry we call it RACI diagrams, right? Who is responsible? Who is accountable, etc.? We all love those things. But it's just that the leadership model is like, ultimately I'm accountable for it for the whole company. The board holds me accountable for those values and that culture in that company, and that flows down. But ultimately if it starts to fall somewhere in a company I can't point at him and say, "You're accountable," without pointing back at me and saying, "I'm accountable."
I do a thing called, “Conversations with the CEO,” once a month. And the lucky or unlucky people are randomly selected across the company from any of the offices, and it's just five or six people with me. Some will be on Zoom on the screen and some will be sitting at the table, but generally there is always somebody on the screen. And it's a case of, one of the first questions that I ask is, "Why do you like coming into work?" and "What makes you want to come in every day?" And my next question is, "What makes it hard to get out of bed to come to work, what's the barrier?" Those are my two sort of opening questions.
One thing that came up in the conversation about, “What can we do better?” And it was a gentleman in Montreal who said, "I really want, you know, I work on this product line I get it, I want to know what the business problems the other product lines solved." "I don't necessarily need to know how they develop them, I want to know the problems we solve." And I said, "Ah!" And it's kind of one of those light bulb moments.
And he said, "Yeah because I get what I do and the rest of it and I speak to customers all the time, but just knowing what the other business problems are we solve, what is it? Would just help me understand what we do here as a whole company," And he was like "Huh". So that was something we then said, "OK we've got to put this together in such a way we can articulate."
What do we do on a daily basis that can make somebody’s life as you said better? Or what is the business problem or the problem we solve? And then there is the "Ah ha, that's why we come in today to work on this problem." Because it's part of that bigger piece of, these are the problems that we solve.
And it wasn't until you know, I had somebody raise it to me, because I get it, and so do most of my senior leadership. And that's one of the reasons I have these conversations. The people I talk to every day are my direct reports. I need to get round and below that to actually go, "What are we missing?" And hence why we started this monthly conversation with the CEO, and they are absolutely random across the company and you know for some people it's lunchtime in the Netherlands and for some people it's 7:30 a.m. in Kanata. But we have the conversation and it's interesting where they go. They are a really good little forum to get sort of input that I've honestly heard before.
[35:40] Jamie Petten
It speaks to the sense of pride that your teams have in their work and the impact that they're making in the world. And you know, that pride will translate back into you know, they want to go home and tell their families, "This is what I'm working on and this is the impact that it's making". It's the same way that they want to go back to their teams and say, "This is the impact that we're having in what we're building.” So...
[35:03] Jacques Beauvais
How do you Dimple get the pulse of the employees at Ericsson? Do you have mechanisms to be able to get them to express themselves?
[36:16] Dimple Thomas
Yes, we have our formal ways of doing it, like dialogue, surveys, and voice surveys. Where we have an anonymous form in which people can choose to voice their concerns or talk about areas that they are passionate about and such. We also do skip level kind of meetings, where a top-level leader can meet with more younger, in terms of experience people just to understand, to get that perspective. We have advisory reports, so we have a group of younger in terms of experience people that have come into the company, join and talk. And just view the way we run the site, from a different perspective, a different angle. There's a lot of initiatives that happen.
[37:02] John Proctor
So I did the EMBA thing last year. We took the MBA, the MBA have groups of five students, and they go to a company and say, "We'd like to go to a market you've never been before." We were given Malaysia, and what was really interesting was two of the students were truly excellent. Both, one doesn't need a reference because he's already gainfully employed, but the other one I've been his reference as he stepped into the job, and the other three didn't get it.
And I was very blunt with the MBA students and said I would never hire them as a consultant ever. Because they didn't get the basics, they didn't get the basic principles of how to come into a company, understand what we're trying to do and then work out.
They were great for going to Malaysia. But we could have been producing toilets, we could have been producing cars for the ability they took to understand us. And when we got to Malaysia they couldn't join in, right? I had two guys, they helped me host every meeting, you know it was great, it was a very successful trip because of those two guys. The other three, they couldn't join in because they didn't understand, they hadn't spent the time to understand what we were trying to achieve. And it is, like you said, it's a very tactical piece of this. And it's been like when you have that sort of consultative selling approach, you know, seek to try to understand the customer before you try and sell, right? Listen to what the actual problem is.
[38:25] Jacques Beauvais
Thank you so much.
[38:26] John Proctor
[38:27] Jamie Petten
Thank you guys.
[38:28] Dimple Thomas
Thank you for the opportunity.
[38:27] Jacques Beauvais
[01:16] Jacques Beauvais
Today I am joined once again with by guest host Jamie Petten, who is the President and Executive Director of the Kanata North Business Association. Our two guests today are Guy Lévesque, Associate Vice-President, Research Support and Infrastructure at the University of Ottawa, and Heather Tyrie, Vice-President Employee Experience at You.i TV. We'll be talking about how cooperation between universities and the technology industry is really beneficial to both parties.
[01:42] Heather Tyrie
My name is Heather Tyrie, I'm the VP Employee Experience at You.i TV. People always ask what employee experience is. So it's a combination of all the things that we think make it either really awesome or a really terrible place to work. So it's human resources, IT, we still call ourselves a start-up, but have been at it for 11 years, and we're at 250 people, so I would say we are a maturing company with a start-up feel.
[02:06] Jacques Beauvais
Were you there from the beginning or did you join them a little bit later on?
[02:08] Heather Tyrie
No, I have been with You.i TV for five years. When I joined though there were 65 employees.
[02:14] Jacques Beauvais
[02:15] Heather Tyrie
Yes, so there has been some good growth over the last few years.
[02:19] Jacques Beauvais
Guy, can you tell us a little about yourself?
[02:21] Guy Lévesque
Sure, I am Guy Lévesque, I am the Associate Vice-President, Research Support and Infrastructure. So I have an interesting portfolio of responsibilities at the University, but the most interesting portfolio responsibility is managing the uOttawa/Kanata North strategic initiative. And so I have been at it for just over a year in my role, and when I arrived at the University, I was given this vision and I was told, “Time to execute and make it happen and make it a reality”.
Over the last year I have seen a tremendous engagement and tremendous buy in and support from the Kanata North community and from the University of Ottawa. Key colleagues who will be called to play a key role to make this happen. Beyond that, I am also responsible for everything that's related to innovation support, which is industry partnerships, and engagement, and commercialization. So those two are a big growing concern for me.
[03:20] Jacques Beauvais
So you had a lot of growth at You.i. How hard is it to recruit the best people?
[03:25] Heather Tyrie
It is probably an understatement right now to say that there is a war for talent in Kanata. And it's challenging because most of the companies have people who have similar skill sets and what we don't want to be doing is stealing from each other, right? Because that perpetuates the problem. I'm sure that's one of the things that we're going to talk about today is generating new talent, keeping talent in Ottawa, and connecting with youth who are choosing careers in science and engineering is extremely important to us.
[03:53] Jacques Beauvais
How is your retention? Once you have got them do we keep them in Ottawa? Do they stay in your company?
[04:00] Heather Tyrie
Yes, absolutely. I think many years ago, the term brain drain was coined and it was a real problem for Ottawa. We actually don't see that happening as much anymore. We do see people jumping from job to job in Ottawa, that's for sure.
[04:16] Jacques Beauvais
That's kind of normal I would guess, right?
[04:18] Heather Tyrie
[04:19] Jacques Beauvais
As people evolve and they learn new stuff, they may want to jump around.
[04:22] Heather Tyrie
[04:24] Jacques Beauvais
So, what do you do to help her Guy?
[04:27] Guy Lévesque
Myself or the University? (everyone laughs)
[04:30] Jacques Beauvais
[04:31] Guy Lévesque
Well, the first thing is to be present, and being visible, and being here in Kanata. And so one of the words that we've used over the last couple of years about the vision of having the University here in Kanata North is being part of the ecosystem, and I'm going to be changing that language a little bit to talk about being part of the community.
Kanata North for us is a community, and, as a community, our job is to help our neighbours, and have our neighbours help us. And so how do we do that? We do that because the University has 43,000 students, a couple of thousands in Engineering, and in the Law, and in the School of Management who are very apt to be future employees, leaders and important contributors to this Technology Park.
And so my job is to help shepherd interest and whether there are initiatives or programs to bring students here to understand the importance of being contributors to this community. Both in their co-op, internships, jobs, experiential learning, but also getting engaged in research programs and research partnerships through their professors, mentors, and teachers. Researchers are really part of the glue to make this a really strong community on the training end and on the research side.
[05:59] Jamie Petten
The University has been really proactive in that community engagement and that started even before you landed here in Kanata North. And one of the key initiators of that was in engaging with our councils, engaging with our HR leaders, our CEOs here in Kanata North in order to understand the needs of the companies that were here. A steering committee was formed as the space was getting outfitted. Heather, can you speak to how important that was in having that direct engagement right from the beginning?
[06:39] Heather Tyrie
Yes, I think it was really critically important. One of the challenges that we have with Kanata is Kanata appeals to a certain demographic as a location, and it's generally people who have families who are looking to live out here. So companies in Kanata have a hard time connecting with co-op students and new graduates.
So having the University engage with us and start to talk about how can we really reach out to students when they are in Kanata, and how can we sell Kanata as an interesting, lively place to work. This Tech Park is amazing, right? And with the University having a presence here, I think it makes it even more appealing to students.
[07:16] Guy Lévesque
And it's often easy to find reasons not to come out to Kanata, and so part of the reason we are here, and part of the reason why we've engaged so meaningfully with companies and having a program committee which Heather was a founding program committee member, was to understand those needs. And once you start understanding the needs, you can actually then kind of communicate that passion and the interest and how fantastic Kanata North is as a community. Then it's much easier to get students to come here, so you give them a reason, and once they are here they are sold, and they find a way.
Last year the interesting stat was everybody that I talked to said there are more Waterloo co-op students here in Kanata North than there are University of Ottawa students. And I said, "Prove it.” So we got numbers, and in fact we found out that we had close to 300 students come here every year in a co-op term, which was more than any other university in the country, Waterloo, Carleton, whatever. And now I have kind of challenged the co-op team to grow that by 25 or 30% this year and let's keep going, because those 275 are ambassadors.
So we have used many of them to talk about testimonials and what it meant for them to come to Kanata North. As a first-term co-op or as a late-term co-op, who have very different needs and kind of very different aspirations. At first, it's doing something cool, meaningful, that may have some real world applicability. And then the late-term co-ops are saying I'm starting to think about a career, and so this is a great place to work. So that mix is understanding what kind of a treasure there is right here, and then once you make the commitment to come to Kanata, you have a really great path as a student, and as a future leader.
[09:15] Jamie Petten
Another really influential group in terms of ambassadors are the alumni as well. And I think a part of that fact-finding mission into coming here to Kanata North is we uncovered that the University of Ottawa has a very significant concentration of alumni here in Kanata North as well.
[09:31] Jacques Beauvais
Do you know how big it is?
[09:33] Jamie Petten
It's close to four or five thousand.
[09:34] Jacques Beauvais
5,000 alumni right here! Amazing!
[09:36] Jamie Petten
Yes, right here in Kanata North. And so there are a few key components to why that is amazing. And one of them is when we bring young co-ops and interns into Kanata North, they want to understand and envision what they'll grow up to become. So from a mentorship capacity, being able to bridge that gap, and have our senior executives who are champions at the University, here in the Park engaging with our co-ops, that cross-functional element I think is really key.
[10:10] Jacques Beauvais
The other aspect of the co-op students, I remember reading a paper about the Waterloo region which was very interesting because it was saying that there is cross-pollination. In the sense that co-op students will go to one company, come back to university bring something back there, go to another company, and then that second company benefits from the student training at the University, but also at the previous company.
So while you don't want the employees to start skipping around, when they are still undergrads and doing internships they are actually bringing value from the stuff they learn at other companies, so that's an interesting aspect. But to me actually the students, it's kind of a little bit of a no-brainer because you want students, we're training students. Kanata wants to grow with the students, so that's an easy path. How do we build even more?
[10:56] Heather Tyrie
It is and it's not, they don't want to come to Kanata. You know, so a big part of the University being here, I think makes them feel that this is an extension of their campus. The idea that this is a satellite campus is really appealing, and I think part of our planning over the years is to make this a bit of a social hub for students as well.
[11:18] Jacques Beauvais
So it lowers the barrier for them coming out here.
[11:20] Heather Tyrie
And they feel a connection that they wouldn't normally feel in Kanata.
[11:24] Guy Lévesque
Yes, yes there is an anchor or the Ottawa U flag is planted here and so it gives them a reason to say, "You know what, yeah, I'm an alumni." Every event that I go to where I meet an alumni they are willing to do something to contribute back to the University. So a number of people that I’ve met over the last year have said, "You know what? I'll go talk to the MBA class or the Telfer management class. Or I'll go back to an event and be a judge or something.”
So everybody is willing, now that the flag is planted here, and that there is a strong visible credible presence for the University. People are kind of popping up out of the woodwork and saying, "You know what? I'm part of the University.”
[12:05] Heather Tyrie
I think that's a great point Guy, because one of the stumbling blocks for us in the past is that the University is a big organization and sometimes it's hard to navigate. We have all sorts of people who would love to volunteer and speak at classes, but they just don't know who to speak to. And being in Kanata gives them an opportunity to interact with people from the University and suddenly it doesn't seem so big and imposing anymore.
[12:25] Guy Lévesque
Exactly, and just building on Dean Beauvais's comment about students benefitting from moving from companies and back to schools to companies, and building on your concept of having a social hub. Having a place where current co-op students or alumni can actually hang out and talk about what they are currently doing. Whether it's this space here or at one of the libation areas close by, because there are a few nice microbreweries in the area now settling in. Three is what Jacques is saying.
Those are places where you’ve got collisions and people talk about and share their experiences, and so that’s part of building this fabric in the community. And so it just weaves Ottawa U within Kanata North, and so at some point it will become kind of indistinguishable. That's, you know, the long-term aspiration goal.
[13:15] Jamie Petten
Heather, the experience of working at You.i is one that's really individual, and you guys, you exude fun, in the way that you have designed your space, in the way that you work together in the space. You are right across the street from those three breweries!
[13:34] Heather Tyrie
Yes, we are conveniently located. (laughter)
[13:38] Jamie Petten
So how important is that to you all in just the overall productivity of You.i, and how is that engrained into the DNA of the company?
[13:48] Heather Tyrie
I think you know working together and collaboration and having fun is really an important part of our culture. And when we get students to come in and to see that we find that it completely changes their impression of what Kanata is all about, right? They have this impression of Kanata as being this stodgy, boring, shuts down at 5 o'clock or even maybe 3 o'clock type of environment. And when we get them into the space and get them into the community, I think they walk away feeling very different. So we're thrilled that people experience our culture in the way that you just described, we make it a fun place to work for ourselves, so it's nice that everybody else feels that too.
[14:30] Guy Lévesque
But it also has a lot of meaning and relevance because the work that the students are doing, sometimes they get to see weeks later into a real-world application. So they can actually point to their friends and say, "Listen, you know, I worked on this new digital platform that you are now seeing,” that has been launched by a particular company or media company. So that's really key.
[14:49] Heather Tyrie
And that was a very telling thing for me at my very first week at You.i actually. There was custom ware, some of the groups put together a presentation on the product that they are working on for customers and then they do a showcase at lunchtime. I walked into my first one, and there was somebody presenting, and a bunch of people standing beside him. And I said, "That guy presenting is amazing, who is he?" And they said, "That's Omar, he's the co-op student.”
And I thought, how awesome, right? He's getting a chance to really showcase what his team is working on, and his team is literally, and figuratively standing behind him, to support him doing that presentation. And that's the kind of environment that we want, right? One where everyone is contributing.
[15:27] Jamie Petten
And it's an environment as well where you are really engaging in impactful work, and work that's inspiring to young people, and people who are developing in their careers as well. We were recently taking a minister through a tour of You.i, and we sat down for our own demo, and I was blown away with the fact that you are delivering services to Twitch. Which is located in San Francisco, Silicon Valley.
The services that are available to that company within their own backyard, I would imagine you are a competitive leader in that way, right? So I think that there is a certain impact that you have that would also attract students to the type of work that you are doing. And that's really exciting as well.
[16:22] Heather Tyrie
Yes, it's actually some of our proudest moments that we are able to, this little company from Ottawa is able to compete on a world stage that way. The kind of sad part for us is we actually don't really have any Canadian customers at this point, right? So we are hoping that we can grow that, but it's interesting that our appeal is international and not so much in Canada.
I mean one of our company's mottos is that we are very much focused on art and science. We actually have t-shirts with art and science written on them. And so we do search for people who are very creative in everything that they do, and are interested in creating things that are not only functional, but beautiful at the same time.
Part of our company's mantra is that we want to make the experience of using technology a pleasant one, right? So our mission is to help our customers own the glass. So every device that they pick up is easy and simple to use and interact with. And that means that we’re looking for people who have an appreciation of what the user experience is, and also want to make it something that's not just common place, right? That really stands out as being beautiful and different.
[17:35] Jacques Beauvais
How do you help Heather find those unicorns and those people? From the University perspective. How do we make that connection? Because they are few and far between, and we want to help Kanata North to be able to recruit those people.
[17:47] Guy Lévesque
Right, and so I'll key in on the comment you made about the more technology focused people or individuals, and then the more creative people. Very simply our job at the University is for me to work with all the faculties to develop that holistic approach, or I guess that broad or breadth of experience and skills that our students need to have, that they aren't just focused on the coating.
They aren't just focused on the software, not just focused on putting devices together. But that they really understand that they are working in an environment that is a highly dynamic, highly fluid. Where the circumstances change sometimes on a daily basis because you know you have micro enterprises that have half a dozen people to the big multinationals here.
And so you have a breadth of experience, and in Kanata North, You.i TV may be looking for a different complement of skills to work in that environment, as opposed to a more traditional technology focused team that's embedded within a large organization like a Mitel, or Nokia, or Ciena. But more and more, what we are hearing is that the individuals and the students that we are training have to come in with a much broader diversity of skills and competencies. And so how do we do that?
We have to do that by adapting and evolving our programming in our curriculum. So beyond just the regular program, it's what other opportunities are we giving our students to work in competitions, work in teams, work in environments like “make your spaces” where there is a collision of ideas, and of personalities, and of schools of thought. So that they can actually think that, you know what? Working in teams is part of my success as a future leader. And so that's kind of what we always hear, is we need lots of people, but we need unicorns. Unicorns, and You.i, and uOttawa, I mean the u is kind of the glue that you find in all three.
But it is about recognizing, you talked about having conversations with the program committee and recognizing the needs early on. Before we actually kind of design and develop the programming here. And the key is to understand what those needs are because if it's I want something from You.i, which is I want you to take on a bunch of co-op students or a bunch of interns, or you want a bunch of our students.
It's not so co-created in terms of a vision. So understanding needs on both sides and the limitations gives us an opportunity to say, "You know what? Let's develop a made in Kanata North solution,” that we can then apply at the Faculty of Engineering, the School of Management, Faculty of Science, wherever. To form and shape those minds so that they come in and wherever they end up, they'll spend some time here, they'll go abroad, they'll go to the States, they'll come back. They'll be productive students and productive members of society.
[20:55] Heather Tyrie
One of the things that we really appreciate actually about uOttawa is the focus on design, and the integration actually between arts and engineering. And things like Arts Innovation week, another big one is Design Day. Every year we have folks from our team volunteer and participate as judges in Ottawa U's Design Day and there are some fabulous things that come out of the work that those teams do, it's just incredibly creative.
[21:23] Guy Lévesque
Yeah, it was cool, my son who is in first year Mechanical Engineering did his first Design Day just last week and he was involved on a project for the agricultural museum. Designing...
[21:36] Jacques Beauvais
Oh, so he was on the simulator for the tractor.
[21:39] Guy Lévesque
The tractor, that's right.
[21:40] Heather Tyrie
[21:41] Guy Lévesque
So the accessible tractor, so you know, we spent a couple of hours one night, just jamming on ideas, and on what does accessibility mean? So it wasn't so much about the technology, but it was about the user. So, is accessibility about physically accessing or? So we had a really good discussion which had nothing to do with engineering and all about the human experience.
[22:04] Jacques Beauvais
Which is good, but I want to challenge you a little bit more too. We've talked about training the students, and all that. But for Ottawa, we're in here for university, we're here for three reasons, right? Talent.
[22.14] Guy Lévesque
Training and solutions. That's right yes.
[22.18] Jacques Beauvais
So, what about solutions? How do we help companies like You.i advance product development? Bring solutions?
[22:26] Heather Tyrie
So innovation I think is the classic place for universities and companies to create a partnership. So companies don't always have the funds that they need to do the research that they want to do, right? So something tangible that a university and a company can do is partner on a research project, right?
And it works in reverse as well. I'm sure that there are times that the University is doing research in a particular area and they want to know if that has applicability to industry. Those types of partnerships I think produce things like AI. They have produced self-driving cars, right? There are tons of examples out there where I think academia couldn't have done it on its own, and industry couldn't have done it on its own either.
[23:09] Guy Lévesque
You use the word tangible and it can mean a couple of things. One is something that you can touch and feel, which is kind of the traditional approach to a product or something that somebody works on. But tangible is also about impact, and relevance, and meaning.
And so for me the challenge around the call to action from the chancellor’s debate about giving us things that are tangible is, are we bringing and sharing good people who have good ideas? Who can work on good projects?
Traditionally the approach has been, and I've used this over the last year, as I have been meeting with countless companies and people in Kanata North. You know, the traditional transaction of “I have an idea, give me money, and we'll develop a partnership, and I'll help you try and solve your challenge” is a way that's been done for the last 23 years.
[24:08] Jacques Beauvais
And not always successfully.
[24:10] Guy Lévesque
In fact many times not successfully because needs are not well understood, and limitations are not well understood, and then the partnerships are not nurtured. And so, for me tangible is about that connection. It starts with a connection with good people, good ideas, and good projects that are developed together.
So going back to Jamie's comment about the program committee, understanding the needs is critical. And so if you come here with a view that this is a source of money, or a source of interesting projects, that's one thing. If you come here because you have a fundamental need or interest or desire to help solve some challenges, then your approach is a little different.
And part of my role in shaping what's happening in Kanata North is making sure that we have an interface and somebody who is kind of the grease to make things happen between parties who have interests and the glue to bring them together. So when you start from a position of I want to listen to what some of the challenges are and some of the needs that you have, then you can actually have a different conversation than if you've come in with a preconceived idea.
[25:20] Jacques Beauvais
Where do you fit trust into that? Because the way I was describing it in years past was that, if I go to a big multinational technology company, and I go to their home page, it doesn't say here are the list of ten show stoppers that are going to kill us, and we need some help from university researchers. The only way we are going to find out what those real challenges are, those real issues, I think is if we are here and present enough to develop a relationship of trust and build on that. Because otherwise why would you tell us what your most pressing issues are? Does that make any sense to you?
[25.59] Guy Lévesque
Oh, absolutely, and building trust and confidence, planting the flag in Kanata North is the first step. You know, 2020 is going to be a tremendous year because we now have hired a few really key people to help be the grease and the glue for uOttawa and Kanata North. But we are also going to get to the next stage, so you know the spaces we've had have been about building engagement. So getting people together in the same room, who have not necessarily traditionally worked together or rubbed shoulders, so events; uOttawa Innovates, alumni events, entrepreneurship events, some professional development events.
But we're going to take that to the next stage, and we're actually going to show Kanata North that we're here to mean business, and we're going to have a research lab here at some point in 2020 because we're here to stay. So you aren't going to get rid of us, we're going to be around, and when we meet you once, twice, three times, not just in this space, but going to You.i. You go to You.i and you understand the DNA of the company and what makes them tick, and how they approach challenges and solutions.
But if you do that with 20, 30, 40, 50 companies over the course of a year, all of a sudden your DNA starts to change and evolve. And that's part of what we want to do here, so we're not going to take the traditional university model and just implant it here, it's going to be a different way of doing things. And that's how you build trust and confidence, it's by opening up who we are and then return companies (inaudible).
[27:35] Heather Tyrie
I couldn't agree more. I think that trust is built out of a sense of community, right? And with uOttawa as part of the community that makes a huge difference.
[27:46] Jacques Beauvais
I have the sense that you've just given us something super important. Because we were trying to figure out what makes Kanata North different. What makes it tick? What makes it work? And talking about collaboration and exchange building on trust, and comes out of the sense of the community, I think that's a really critical aspect.
[28:03] Jamie Petten
There is a really strong sense of pride in Kanata North for the work that our companies individually are doing, but also for the work that they are collaborating on together to make an impact in our community, in our world around us. And I think what you have just spoken to, in identifying yourself as a student, as a researcher or as an individual who is leading one of these companies as a part of, as a leader within the Kanata North community, and having that pride of being a part of something which is really moving the needle. That's a really key piece to this.
But I want to also circle back with the connection between our researchers and our leaders, our R&D leaders, and our companies. I think similar to the process that we've gone through in engaging with our HR leaders, we plan as well to embark on that same type of council-like activity. To really directly communicate and understand what those needs are from our R&D leaders.
I think it's a process that was started long before I started with KNBA in the HR leaders’ council. But these councils, these groups of leaders within our communities are so engaged and thoughtful in supporting how we grow, and so it's about working within each of those groups to really support their needs. How do we? For those that don't have a history in tech and don't have a background here in Kanata North, how do we get that word out there, right? So that we can attract those who have had a variety of different life and career experiences beyond just tech into our community, I think that's a really key factor as well.
[30:03] Heather Tyrie
Yeah, I think we approach it I guess on two levels. The first one is with new co-ops and new graduates, right? People who are just learning and thinking about where they want to have a career, and obviously our hope is to influence them positively about Kanata North. But I think there is a tremendous opportunity with the alumni as well. There are a lot of Ottawa U alumni who stay in Ottawa, and I'm quite sure many of them work downtown, and I'm sure they are unhappy working downtown. (laughter)
They would be thrilled to know what opportunities exist for them in Kanata North, and not just in technology. Technology companies need lawyers, they need people in marketing, they need people in human resources, they need people in sales, finance.
[30:46] Jacques Beauvais
In sales we heard. We have become a very significant attraction point for international students right now. We are bringing in huge numbers of international students. And because the growing companies are always looking for new people, new personnel. I think that's something that we need to establish. Those passages from the University into Kanata North so that we can retain the top among them, so that they can help the companies.
[31:21] Jamie Petten
And I'm also going to flip that as well. You also enable students to have an incredible amount of international experience. And that's a huge value add to our companies here in Kanata North. Because if students are out on an exchange for a year in another country, you know working on really interesting work, and coming back here to Ottawa to finish their degrees, what amazing value does that bring to our diverse ecosystem here in Kanata North? That global perspective that they can bring back, even before hitting the ground running in their first roles right out of university.
[31:55] Heather Tyrie
If you are looking for dynamic diverse companies, they are all located in this Tech Park, really. There are a few businesses downtown, but if you really want to be someone who works in a thriving industry, then you want to come to Kanata.
[32:06] Guy Lévesque
And you know the tremendous tech talent and concentration here so.
[32:11] Jamie Petten
That's right. We are second to the preeminent tech hub in the world, Silicon Valley in our tech talent concentration. That was just recently released in CBRE's most recent talent report. So there is a lot to brag about for sure.
[32:27] Guy Lévesque
So it's a great place to be, and the more we can you know preach, and preach the gospel about that, the more people understand that, and once they come they kind of stay.
[32:38] Jacques Beauvais
Heather and Guy, I really want to thank you for the conversation today. I think we have dug into a little bit further to understanding why we are so proud of the Tech Park in Kanata North, why we are proud of the collaboration, and how we are going to move forward. So thank you very much Heather and Guy. And thank you Jamie for being here with us again today.
[32:58] Jamie Petten
I'm happy to be here.
[33:00] I want to thank you all for tuning in on this episode of the Make the Future podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation and that you learned as much as I did. Don't forget to follow or subscribe to the podcast to make sure you don't miss the next episode. And we would also like to really thank our guests, and the podcast production team: Kyle Bournes, Valérie Samson, Karen Massey and Francis Bertrand-Lafrenière. And I really hope you can join us next time.