#OttawaINC: QNX

Oct 21, 2014

QNX has been labeled “the hero of manufacturing” by Fortune.
The Ottawa tech company has been called “The Crown Jewel of Blackberry” by CEO John Chen. Dan Dodge (recently retired), who sat in the driver’s seat at QNX, had simply been trying to fight off giants like Microsoft for decades. However, the acquisition of QNX by Blackberry solidified their status as a global player. The firm now has it’s sights set on the “Internet of Things”, increasing QNXs’ already strong presence within today’s commonly used technologies. As Dodge aptly puts it, “You use QNX every single day of your life. You just don’t know it because we’re an embedded system.”

It’s not an exaggeration by any stretch, the multi-award winning operating system oversees:

  • the largest Internet routers in the world
  • automotive
  • electricity generation
  • manufacturing
  • water table control systems in the western United States
  • beverage bottling and canning
  • slot & lottery gaming machines
  • rail transit in North America and Europe
  • the International Space Station
  • and much more…

Dodge spoke about growing the company in Ottawa and the competitive advantages it’s provided:

Q: You have your fingers in all aspects of technology, are people surprised to know you’re in the nation’s capital?

Our customers are not. I would say that those who’ve heard of QNX, probably assume that we were a California company.

 Q: Are you from Ottawa originally?

I was initially from Belleville but my sister went to Carleton and she was about 5 years ahead of me. And I use to come visit her all the time. I always knew in my heart that if I was going to go to a city, it was going to be Ottawa. I don’t like cities that are too big like Toronto. And I don’t like small cities. Ottawa is perfect.

Q: What has being in Ottawa allowed you to do? How has it allowed you to grow your organization?

The talent pool here is exceptional.  We have never had any difficulty hiring people and we have not had difficulty bringing people here.  They usually check out the city and I’ll be honest, it’s harder in January but I would say when they come, they are immediately taken by the character of the city.

I’m giving out 20-year awards on a regular basis. Our employees stay a very long time. Whereas, when I look at other parts of the world that are more dynamic, it’s a round table of musical chairs. It’s a jump from company to company.

If you are trying to build a product which is based on reliability and you change your staff out every year or two, then you end up having a softer architecture, that nobody really understands. When people don’t understand the basic core of the software, they’re actually afraid to go in and make the right decisions to bring it forward. Instead, they start putting patches on it. And you ultimately end up with a system that becomes almost unsupportable.

Q: Has Ottawa been able to give you some type of competitive advantage?

The competitive advantage is, again, it keeps coming back to a quality of life, hiring people that want to be here for the long term and keeping those individuals.

Q: I’ve basically already asked this but – why Ottawa?

I know why I love Ottawa…

Q: ….But that’s what I want to know. Why have you kept your company here?

I like the size and it’s a really clean city. I love the mix of green space, I love that we have the National Arts Centre, we have museums, culture. It’s a city that is quiet and mellow but also has a sophistication that’s available for those that want it. It also has a vibrant nightlife. I  see a city with a vibrant restaurant scene. It used to be sleepy government town but I don’t see that anymore.  It literally has anything somebody could want, without the horrors of crime and pollution.

For me, living in a city that was nothing but tall skyscrapers, it does nothing for me. I love the fact that it doesn’t matter where in the city that I am, I can be anywhere within 20 minutes. It’s big enough but not so big that you have to say “oh god…”. It’s a bunch of little things.

Q: What local companies are doing work that catches your eye?

So part of the reason I’m trying to involve myself more is that I haven’t actually been involved in the start-up community, other than I know it remains vibrant and when I run into some of these companies, I’m just always amazed at what these small companies are able to accomplish. It kind of reminds me of the early days with QNX.  In Canada, I can’t imagine any other place to be.

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