Chad Jones of Push Interactions in Saskatoon won’t soon forget his job interview with Apple in Silicon Valley. It lasted eight hours and included interviews with many different people that day; the most complex part of it involved questions in both Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at once (Jones has degrees in both).
Jones got the job at Apple and gained valuable experience before returning to his hometown to create and launch the first university class in iPhone programming in Canada (only the third in North America).
And while those recruiters at Apple had no idea where Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is located—“When I told them where I was from, I think they thought I had sneezed”—they’re now well aware of the city and University of Saskatchewan’s computer science grads. “Our best Computer Science graduates stack up against students from some of the best schools in the world now,” says Jones.
That reflects well on Saskatoon and the U of S, but it’s a mixed blessing for the city’s growing tech cluster, which now must compete for top talent with the likes of Apple, Google and Pixar. Jones’ Push Interactions, which makes apps for smart phones, currently employs about 20 people but he expects that number will bump up with new opportunities on the horizon.
“Push” began in 2009 as College Mobile, a company Jones created after developing an app for students of the U of S. The app and his unique university course garnered national media attention resulting in a bombardment of requests for similar apps from other educational institutions. In time, the company’s focus broadened to include organizations such as Federated Co-operatives Limited and Affinity Credit Union, for whom Push developed a mobile app.
A new app that Push is developing for a major Canadian retailer includes an “amber alert” feature that displays an image of the missing person and urges store employees to watch out for the individual. Given the inclination of youngsters to patronize convenience stores, Jones says he is sure the feature will help locate missing people.
However, as Saskatchewan app developers and other tech companies experience success and growth, their need for talent increases. Jones is a moving force behind a brand new provincial industry association called SaskTech, which just out of the gate already represents 28 tech sector companies in the province employing an estimated 500 people. A key goal of the new organization is to marshal resources to draw attention to Saskatchewan as a great place for job opportunities in the tech sector.
One person who needs no convincing of that fact is Marco Villarroel, who left Vancouver in October 2016 to take a job as product designer at Push. “Vancouver is becoming very unaffordable and that’s part of the reason I began exploring jobs outside of the province,” says Villarroel, who lived and worked in Vancouver for a decade after arriving from Venezuela. He says his former colleagues also complain about Vancouver’s high cost of living. “They’re tired of not being able to live comfortably,” he says, but they “live in a bubble” and seem unaware of anything outside of it. Still another reason Villarroel moved to Saskatchewan is the weather: Vancouver may be milder in wintertime but it doesn’t have the great amount of sunshine Saskatoon shares with his native land in South America.
But the main reason Villarroel moved to Saskatoon is the job. And he says more tech professionals in larger centres would seek employment in Saskatchewan if only they could be made aware of the opportunities and advantages that exist in this province. He says they should consider his experience.
“This is what I want to do and it’s going to bring a lot of value to my professional career. This opportunity has been amazing for me. I’m so happy to be here.”