The PLATO Training program, which started in 2015 and has now taught and employed more than 200 Indigenous software testers, will be the topic of today’s special two-part panel talk. Open to members of the First Nation, Métis, and Inuit communities, the program provides participants with the education and expertise necessary to begin a career in tech and become full-time software testers. John Howes, PLATO Training Manager, and Dani Gulliver, a PLATO Instructor, join our host, Mike Hrycyk, for a deep dive into the program from the perspective of those teaching and managing it. In addition to addressing questions regarding eligibility requirements, program fees, and operational details they also share how the experience of teaching and working with students shapes their perspective on what makes a great tester. If you are an Indigenous person and want to start a career in technology, we encourage you to apply for the PLATO training program.

Applications for the Ottawa class are now being accepted. As well if you have any questions or want more information, you can contact us at training@platotech.com. We’re always happy to talk!

Stay tuned for a part 2 panel discussion with two of our recent graduates coming soon.

Episode Transcript:

Mike Hrycyk (00:00):

Hello everyone. Welcome back to the podcast. You may have noticed we have a new name. Don’t worry, it’s good news. We’re excited to announce that we have merged with our subsidiary PLATO Testing to make one company – PLATO. With that said, I’m still your host, Mike Hrycyk, and this is still a podcast where we bring together members of our 250-plus team of software testing experts, as well as a few of our friends working across the industry, for great discussions on everything testing and more. Today, to mark the merger, we’re going be introducing you to PLATO’s Indigenous Software Tester Training course. I know that in the past, we’ve mentioned our PLATO training program, or maybe you’ve heard about us online, but we’ve never really dug into what that means or what it’s about. How does one go about building a tester from scratch? Consider, if you were going to meet yourself before you were ever a tester, what advice would you give yourself to get there being the most qualified in the shortest reasonable time?

Mike Hrycyk (00:51):

Today we’re going to dig into how we’ve made the journey at PLATO. We’re going to shake things up a little and approach it a little differently. We’re going to bring you two different panel conversations. First, with a panel of guests who help create the IP as well as teach and run the course. And then a second panel of our teammates who have taken the course, graduated, and are now full members of the PLATO Testing team. With that said, let’s get started. We have John Howes, and we have Danielle Gulliver, or Dani as I was going to call her throughout this. Let’s kick off with you guys giving yourselves a bit of an introduction. We’ll start with you, Dani.

Dani Gulliver (01:24):

Thanks, Mike. I’m Dani Gulliver, as mentioned, and I have been with PLATO for five years and I am currently teaching the Fredericton-PEI PLATO testing course.

Mike Hrycyk (01:35):

Thanks, Dani. John?

John Howes (01:38):

My name’s John Howes, and I’m the manager of PLATO training. I’ve been with the company for about three years now, but I started working as an instructor in this program, and now my responsibilities kind of range about overseeing the day to day and supporting Dani and anything she needs in the span of the five months of the program itself.

Mike Hrycyk (02:00):

Awesome. Thanks guys. Well, let’s jump right in. So let’s start with the basics. And I know we sort of talked about the basics being length of class, formative class, how many students, Let’s start even above that. What is PLATO? And then let’s talk about how it works. But just what is it? What is the program trying to do? And let’s kick that off with you, John.

John Howes (02:19):

Well, overall, the program itself is designed to reach out and connect with local Indigenous folks across Canada based on where we have a course running and provide an opportunity where Indigenous people can find an entry point into the tech space or specifically software testing. So our program is designed to run a five month in-classroom experience where we will connect with, recruit our students, and then teach them the foundations of software testing. After the five month in-classroom experience, students who graduate that class space will transition into a three month internship – paid internship, and as long as everything runs smoothly for that period, we then hire them full-time with living rates, salaries, benefits, like any other employee in the company.

Mike Hrycyk (03:12):

Awesome. Alright, well, that’s cool. That’s good baseline. Let’s jump over to Dani and why don’t you give us the mechanics. How long is the class? What’s the format? How many students are in a class? What’s the instructor look like and so on?

Dani Gulliver (03:26):

Sure. So the class portion is 20 weeks and we start at the very basics. So the first week we talk about what even is testing? We go through the Microsoft Suite. How do you use Excel, Microsoft Word, how do you send a professional email. And we continue on from there. Teaching students not only about professionalism and testing, but also you know, how to write test cases, how to be a good consultant, what does it mean to be a consultant. And then within the last portion of the course – the second half mostly focuses on team projects where they will work together, in what is hopefully an environment similar to a future project that they might be on, to test a website that has been built in house or a product or an application that’s been built by us. And usually they’re not very good, so there’s plenty of defects for them to find <laugh>. I think they’re pretty fun,

Mike Hrycyk (04:22):

Not very good on purpose. Okay, cool. John, what’s the makeup of a class? An Instructor, a Subject Matter Expert (SME). Tell us about that.

John Howes (04:29):

Yeah, so generally speaking, starting with the students, we like to have, hopefully, 15 students to run a course. But then when it comes to how we’re delivering this course, we have a designated instructor, which is typically somebody who has an education background or as well, maybe, a software tester in the company who has taught more than one course before. So they’re familiar at least with how this model works. And then the SME is generally an intermediate to senior software tester that we have in the company, someone who has experience in the industry and can be kind of that technical expert in the classroom space. So we ideally have someone who’s perhaps more of an educational expert and then we have someone who is a technical expert and they collaboratively worked together in the delivery of the course. Yeah.

Mike Hrycyk (05:24):

And as an example, this conversation here has both people represented. So John came out of classic education and has some experience in adult ed, and Dani was a tester with testing experience who started as a SME and has graduated into being an instructor. We like to represent, I guess I would say in our talks. Another thing that I really like about the SME part is so they’re the technical expert. They’re the person who can answer questions about testing that the adult ed person doesn’t necessarily have in their experience. I mean, the more they teach the course, the more knowledge they have, but it’s difficult to find testing teachers out there. So that’s why we do that. But the other thing that I really like about SMEs is the stories and context and maybe Dani you can tell us a little bit about that part of the SME role.

Dani Gulliver (06:08):

Yeah, I think that’s one of the more helpful forms of education that we have going on is slides are really useful and there’s always a lot of really good information on the slide about what is a test case and how to make a good test case. But to have this SME there talking about why it is important to have a good test case and their experiences with bad test cases, <laugh>, for example, is a lot more helpful than just talking about it. It’s really nice to have the SME there to share their experience in the world of testing with students so that it can provide context surrounding what they’re learning in class and what they’re doing. Particularly recently, we spent two weeks on SQL and the students towards the halfway point of the second week were starting to ask why are we spending so much time on SQL? We’re testers, what do we need to know SQL for? And, it was really helpful for both myself and my SME to have experience where we’ve been on projects before where we needed to know SQL and there were people on those projects who didn’t have that same experience and it was a lot more difficult for them. So it was really helpful for the students to hear the context of why we’re learning these things.

Mike Hrycyk (07:15):

Awesome, thank you. Maybe John, can you tell us a little bit about the teaching method and how we go about teaching our folks and how do we make it accessible for people who are coming in and – oh, maybe we start even before that. What are the qualifications for someone coming into this course? Do I need a university degree? Do I have to be a grad student? Do I have to have worked with computers for the last 25 years of my life? Let’s start there.

John Howes (07:37):

Yeah, that’s a great question. So the only requirements that we have for entry into this program is one you identify as an Indigenous person, which could mean First Nation, Inuit, or Métis. The next point is that you had least have either a grade 12 high school diploma, a GED (General Educational Development Test), or even some demonstratable life experience that an individual might have had in their past. And the last one is frankly just a demonstrated interest to learn and grow in a technology field. We do end up interviewing every single candidate that we have that comes into our program, and sometimes that is the big factor that identifies someone that should really be here.

Mike Hrycyk (08:22):

Great. Okay. Let’s jump from there to what’s our teaching method? You’re an education scientist, so describe for us, and then then we’ll pop over to Dani and she can give us a day in the class.

John Howes (08:32):

Okay. Yeah. So our, our teaching method is hopefully to be as, I would say, as student focus as we possibly can be. You know, we have a full curriculum developed and there is a process of going through that curriculum, but at the end of the day, we want to ensure that we are focusing on what the needs of our students are and their abilities and where they need the most support. And typically instructors or SME are given a lot of license that even though they have a curriculum to work with, they can customize that experience to ensure that they are better facilitating the needs of the students in that classroom. And even in itself, the curriculum has a variety of different teaching methods built into it. So, you know, you’ve learned about learning styles and teaching styles, but one of the big focus, I think what we do is try to really simulate conditions that is going to replicate what they see when they do get into the workforce, at least to the best of our abilities of what we can do in a classroom environment. So as we do have the traditional, sometimes, lecture and listening styles, we integrate lots of assignments that help simulate those real conditions. And as Dani already hinted, there are group projects that are completely designed and structured for students to replicate, working on a testing team, running through the same processes that they’re going to see in their work field and execute those skills and developing those skills and refining them.

Mike Hrycyk (10:02):

I guess maybe now is a good time to point out that – so we currently have two classes underway and one in internship. We have a Vancouver-Kamloops hybrid that’s in internships right now. We have Calgary, which has just graduated from classroom and they’re heading into internships next week. And we have as mentioned, the Fredericton-PEI hybrid, which is underway and graduate middle of November into internships. And then the Fredericton-PEI one is our 24th course and our 25th is slated to start in Ottawa in mid-November. So ha there’s a plug for you if you’re anywhere near Ottawa and and you’re looking for it, reach out to us. We’re still looking for candidates for that one. But just sort of to put it back on you, John, you’ve taught, is it three or four courses now? How similar and how different are they when you go through them?

John Howes (10:50):

I would say I have taught three courses personally and then been indirectly overseeing I think up to six courses. But from my experience of just directly teaching, I’ve taught one course that’s in class. So think of a traditional college class where you have an instructor and all your students are in the same room. But I’ve also taught two classes, which are hybrid, where we have two offices located somewhere in the country. The instructor is physically in one of the spaces with one SME and then there is another SME in the other location and we deliver the course via Microsoft Teams. And these teaching conditions are very different than the in-classroom one. And we have to find a lot of creative ways to ensure that interaction and engagement in our students remain consistent and positive. And this was very much spurred from the effects of COVID-19 as many educational environments had to adjust to those kind of online conditions.

Mike Hrycyk (11:47):

That’s true. And, we’ve maintained it, but we’ve sort of rotated a little bit and we’re now running them because we just couldn’t recruit 15 people in PEI for a brand new program. It’s always a little hard in a brand new place to get the recruits, so that’s why we did a hybrid. So we started with two people in PEI and 12, I think, in Fredericton for that course. Same thing here in BC course that we just graduated is a hybrid with Kamloops and we started that course with five people in Kamloops and 11 in Vancouver. Okay Dani, as promised, tell us what a day in the life of a student kind of looks like.

Dani Gulliver (12:24):

Well, <laugh>, so students arrive at 9 am. The course runs from 9 am until 4 pm with a one hour break for lunch. And towards the beginning of the course, what I tended to do was the morning we would try and do slides and we would go over a concept in the morning about testing or professionalism or what have you. And slides can be a little boring if you’re doing them all day, <laugh>. So we would try to, in the afternoon, instead of doing more slides, we would do an activity and the activity would relate to the lesson in some way. So when we’re covering things like defects in the defect life cycle, that’s really easy. So in the morning we talk about defects, what does it look like to have a good defect? What are some fun defects that the SME has found on projects? What are some really complicated defects that they found and they dove into them and uncovered the truth of the mystery there. And then we can have sometimes facilitate a bit of a class discussion. In the afternoon, we’ll send them to a website and see if they can find their own defects and write up defect reports. And that would be what would get marked. And I say marked, but really what I mean is mostly providing feedback. If the students are participating and doing the work to the best of their ability, that’s what I’m concerned about. Everything else can be taught. So they would write their defect reports and myself and the SME look them over, provide some feedback, and the next time we do that activity, there’ll be some improvement

Mike Hrycyk (13:55):

That actually brings something up about the program that I’m really proud of. So we make the statement that if you get through the five months and three months the training and the internship, then you’re guaranteed a job offer from PLATO. You don’t have to take the job with PLATO, but you’re guaranteed that job offer and we consider ourselves the best path forward to entry into a career testing. So that all sort of works out. But what I’ve reassured people over and over again is so we do quizzes in our courses, but those are really about the feedback and understanding how well you are doing and where you are at. All you have to do to get that job offer is show up every day and try your best. And we reinforce that repeatedly. It’s one of our core messages, wouldn’t you say Dani?

Dani Gulliver (14:37):

Yeah, for sure. I think there are a lot of elements of the PLATO program that look like a traditional classroom, but just have little tweaks like that. Like the quizzes are a really good example. If you fail a quiz, you know, that says a lot more about my instruction than it does about you. And, it’s more telling me what we need to focus on more in class. The same with assignments. If you’ve done your best, that’s what I need from you. Everything else we can teach. It’s a 20 week course, there’s lots of time. This is the place where we make mistakes and learn from them. And as long as you’re here showing up to make those mistakes, that’s what I want.

Mike Hrycyk (15:10):

I mean after all the entire testing career is about some of these mistakes. Probably not yours, but still. So I know this is neither of your specialties within this program, but let’s just talk about it a little bit. How do we source candidates? Where do they come from, John?

John Howes (15:26):

Well, we generally like to try to source candidates locally to where we are operating and running a course. And most of the time that means where we have an office, where we’ve identified where our class. But sometimes that’s not even the case that its where we have an office. Locally because our classes are in person. Most of our students – I’m thinking of PEI right now doing their hybrid program, but we will attempt to recruit in that area. We will reach out to hopefully a variety of different organizations who might engage with local Indigenous communities in the area to promote our program and to encourage applicants. But sometimes the best recruiting efforts that we try to procure applicants from is connections through our own alumni of our own program. Sometimes individuals who graduated these programs are our best sources of getting more applicants. Cause they’ll share their experience, they’ll encourage people in their own community to see this as a potential interesting program for themselves and the opportunities that might come with it. And sometimes that’s how we get candidates.

Mike Hrycyk (16:30):

Do we only go after 20 year olds?

John Howes (16:32):

No, no. We have had a wide spectrum. If anything, I always find this is one of my favorite parts of a program because when teaching a class, you might have someone who is fresh out of high school in a class with someone who might already be retired and is looking for something new to do with their time, which I have absolutely had that spectrum in my classrooms before.

Mike Hrycyk (16:56):

Dani, in your experience, what makes a good candidate?

Dani Gulliver (17:00):

In my experience, I think just willingness to learn is the most important. And, I think that’s something that I keep coming back to in this conversation is I can teach you how to be a tester, but I can’t teach you how to, how to want to be a tester <laugh>. So I think like a willingness to learn, a willingness to try being receptive to feedback. Everything else we could teach.

Mike Hrycyk (17:22):

John, same question.

John Howes (17:23):

I couldn’t agree with Dani more. You know, we get such a diversity of abilities that come into the class. We have some individuals who have say experience working in tech that enters this space and are looking for a new kind of change in the tech realm. And most of the vast majority of the time they do just fine. But we also have individuals who have no background or very little technology experience, but they have a willingness of wanting to try a new career, see this as a valuable opportunity. And sometimes just that willingness to learn and being comfortable with not being successful, but having the reassurance that we will work with you to get you to a spot where you are going to be successful, that kind of perseverance is certainly something that’s going to help anyone who enters our program.

Mike Hrycyk (18:09):

You’ve given me something to think about here, Dani. So willingness to learn makes a good candidate. Does that translate into being – willingness to learn – does that translate into also being a good tester?

Dani Gulliver (18:20):

Absolutely. Most of testing is learning. It’s being given an application or a website and learning what it does and does not do <laugh> and if that’s good or not. I think willingness to learn and that curiosity is what makes us really good at our jobs. And I think to add on to John’s point, also not having a background in tech – I wouldn’t say having a background in tech for this program is important at all really. If I’ve never seen a computer, you know, Amazon still wants to be able to buy things, right? So people from all different backgrounds, from all different walks of life, that’s what makes good testers. Anyone who is curious and willing to try is what’s going to make you excel in this program.

Mike Hrycyk (18:59):

Yeah, and myself, so I’ve done a bunch of recruitment interviews for this and one of the questions I ask people is, “Hey, so how, what’s your computer knowledge?” And they’re like, “Oh, none.” And I’m like, “Really? So what was your last job?” And they tell me and I say, “Oh, did you use software for anything like that?” And like, there’s so few jobs out there these days that you haven’t used software in. And I said, “well right there a lot of testing is user advocacy and understanding what a user can do. And so if you worked at McDonald’s, you’ve used point of sale. If you’ve worked in a warehouse, you used an inventory system and those are positions that testers get. And so you already have an innate understanding of how users interact with these systems. You just have to be able to put that into context that helps your testing.” Something we didn’t talk about when we talked about the mechanics, John is how expensive is this for our candidates? Can you dig into that just a little bit?

John Howes (19:47):

So our candidates don’t have to frankly pay for anything to be part of the course. It’s not out of direct pocket for them. The only thing that costs them is the time and commitment to be with us for a five month period, but they don’t personally pay for tuition to join our program. We’ll source the funding for that ourselves, but it’s not being shouldered by the individual who’s part of the class. We’ll procure all the equipment that they will need to be participants in this course, which means things like laptops and monitors that they will need. From as the bare bottoms of providing notebooks and pens. You know, all we need from our students is the commitment to being part of this five month endeavor. We’ll even try to source funding so they can have living allowances for the five months. We understand that showing up to class every day for six hours a day, five days a week has a commitment. It makes it struggle having a part-time job or a full-time job very challenging.

Mike Hrycyk (20:44):

Yeah. And then once you get into internships, you get paid not a lot, it’s an intern rate, but you’re paid at that point so you don’t have to pay to be a student. And then you do get paid when you’re going through your internship. And then of course you get the job offer with a living rate, which is your entry point into IT. So that’s good. So what does a person who graduates get, John?

John Howes (21:06):

Well, if they graduate, they receive a certificate from the Community College of New Brunswick (CCNB), which is our partnering post-secondary institution. So when they satisfied that, they will have a graduation ceremony that we’ll run and host and receive that official certification. In addition, of course their employment with us.

Mike Hrycyk (21:24):

Yeah. So they get a college accredited course, right? We’ve taken this curriculum to the CCNB and they’ve approved it. It’s fancy and you can frame it on put under your wall. And, I just went through the graduation ceremony for Victoria two weeks ago and there was just so much pride in our completing graduates. They already had their job offers, they were already employees of PLATO and they’re doing work with the Government of BC on our behalf. And the government came to the ceremony, the partnering organization that we were working with came to the ceremony and they got to bring their loved ones to ceremony. And I had to make a speech, which you probably all figure I kind of enjoy doing. And, I got to hand them out and they were just so happy and they were beaming. And I think it was an excellent, excellent day. And over and over again, we’ve done this. I think I said before, the next class is gonna take us to 250 people trained through this program in the last six years that we’ve done it. So that’s pretty amazing. That’s a lot of impacts that we’ve had. Alright, so last question. I’ll throw this at you, Dani. I’m a graduate, what am I qualified to do?

Dani Gulliver (22:26):

As graduate, you are qualified to test and test anything and graduates will start at PLATO as a junior tester. And the course focuses mostly on manual testing, but as I’ve told my students many times, as they keep asking about automation and security testing and performance testing and what are all these cool things that you keep talking about, throughout your career, you’ll have the opportunity to explore those areas. PLATO has courses that we give people on the bench about accessibility testing and I think there’s a new one now and I don’t remember what it is, but <laugh>, anything that you are interested in exploring you will have the opportunity to do and drive your career in the direction that you want.

Mike Hrycyk (23:10):

We have three certifications now, Dani. We have accessibility as you mentioned. We have content migration and then we also have data base testing certification.

Dani Gulliver (23:20):

Thank you Mike <laugh>.

Mike Hrycyk (23:23):

Yeah, I mean over time everything’s evolved. Our curriculum is always evolving. That’s one of John’s big tasks is making sure the curriculum stays current and is always getting better. You know, continuous improvement is not just an IT thing. But also we’ve built an apprentice program. We understand that your first year as a junior tester is one where you really still have to be learning every single day –I mean, every tester has to be learning every single day. But you really have a lot to learn. And it’s not just the IT stuff, it’s also really about experience. How do you work in a team? How do you communicate effectively? And so, we really push mentorship from our other PLATO employees. The more senior employees are really all about the day-to-day mentorship so that you’re gaining that experience. So after a year, two years, you stop being an apprentice and you start just being an intermediate tester and you have the experience to maybe be on a project on your own or a bigger project with other people and you just, you’re building towards independence. There’s certainly no such thing as the second year graduate we throw you to the wolves and you’re on your own. And that is one of the reasons that we think that your best path forward as a tester is joining PLATO as a full-time tester at the end of the apprenticeship. Okay. We’ve run outta time plus some, so let’s just do, sort of, end comments from the two of you and maybe just tell me in your own words, John, why is this program amazing?

John Howes (24:47):

So many points to take a look at. I think what makes this program amazing is that I think – cause I didn’t come from the tech field myself and I always kind of had the assumption that if you wanted to participate in this field, you’re going to need to get a four year computer science degree. This field has really kind of shown that it’s more than just the education, that there are different skills that need to be developed and specialized. And I think that’s something we do. We not just provide an opportunity for someone to enter this space. But it kind of hints to what Dani was speaking to before to be really successful sometimes not having a tech background is going to make you really successful here and thrive in this industry because you’re going to come with unique experiences to you. And I think a lot of people don’t necessarily realize that when they think of anything in tech and wanting to work in tech, I think it’s overlooked. And then of course just the general opportunities for a career. And I think this is what makes this very unique, where we can just train someone from the beginning and have them transition so smoothly into a career where a lot of college programs, perhaps you enroll, you learn something and then you’re kind of left to the wolves to figure out what you’re going to do with this education.

Mike Hrycyk (26:10):

Great. And so Dani I’m going to twist it a little bit when I hand it to you. So same sort of question, but something that John just said made sense to me in that you entered your career five years ago in testing as co-op [student] and you didn’t get training to be a tester. And you’ve come in and you’ve done really well and you’ve been super successful. But maybe as you talk about what’s amazing, maybe just compare it to your own experience,

Dani Gulliver (26:34):

My own super successful experience,

Mike Hrycyk (26:36):

<Laugh>, super successful experience

Dani Gulliver (26:38):

<Laugh>. I think, so to answer your question and it kind of twists my answer and the way that you twisted the question, I think a lot of my experiences is colored by, I had a computer science degree, I went to university and I worked with a lot of people who came from the same type of background, who looked the same and had the same views. In working as a co-op, I learned that that’s not what makes good technology. That’s, I think one of the first things that I picked up on is the more eyes that can go on a product from, you know, different countries, different backgrounds, different walks of life, the better that that product is going to be. And that’s part of what I really like about this program is you don’t need to go to university, you don’t need to look like everybody that I went to university with. You don’t need to be rich enough to do that or privileged enough to do that. It allows for a very diverse team to be built and I think that’s what makes really good technology and that’s what we need to see more of in the tech field. And that’s my favorite part about this course. So if you live in Ottawa, apply for the course cause I want to work with you.

Mike Hrycyk (27:39):

<Laugh>. Thank you. That is great and a good plug. So, this will go out soon and maybe we will get some brand new candidates in in Ottawa that would be great. Or subsequently, we’ve done the course in 11 centers now in Canada, so this may sound cliche, but coming soon to a location near you – the PLATO Indigenous Software Tester Training Program. Okay, t hanks guys. That was a very good conversation and really gives a very fundamental and good idea of what the program is about and I think that’s awesome. And so, I’m going say thank you and goodbye, but I’m sure we’ll meet again soon.

Dani Gulliver (28:15):

Awesome. Thanks Mike.

John Howes (28:16):

Thank you Mike.

Mike Hrycyk (28:18):

Alright. Thank you again to Dani Gulliver and John Howes for introducing us to the PLATO Indigenous Software Tester training program and for sharing with us their experiences as teachers and managers. It’s definitely been an interesting journey and I think that you guys are doing something special and wonderful. This conversation has been a really great way to kick us off, but our discussion isn’t finished yet. To fully understand the program we also need to hear from students that have taken it. So stay tuned for next week when we release a special part two of our panel talk where we hear about being a student in software testing training program from the perspective of two of our recent graduates. And in the meantime, let us know what you think. If you have other questions or something you’d like to know more about, please reach out to us via the links in the episode description. We’d love to hear from you and are happy to answer any questions you may have. With that, I’ll see you soon for part two.