WMNinTECH: Askida’s Michèle Quintal on trusting your instincts and taking that first leap

Michèle Quintal, Askida’s Director of Quality Assurance, has always been a woman with a passion for all things creative as well as an aptitude for organization, though she had no real concept of where these skills could take her. In spite of her many successes in the field, Michèle admits that she did not intentionally pursue a career in technology.

“I never could have imagined that I would end up working in I.T. For me, it was not part of my career plans, far from it. I always thought I would be an artist because of my creative side, and my love for all that is beautiful and well done. In CEGEP I had no idea what I wanted to do. Now that my kids are in the same situation, I’m reassuring them that it’s normal. No one knows what they really want at that age.”

“As a kid I was always creating, making art projects. I was also very organized. Now that I think about it, it makes a lot of sense that I’ve ended up where I am today. I was born into a family where I was the only girl, and we were also a host family for hockey players, so I was always the only girl surrounded by guys. I’ve always been very comfortable with that dynamic. Now I’m often the only woman in meetings surrounded by men, but it doesn’t bother me.”

Michèle completed her DEC in Data Processing with a specialization in Developmental Science in the 1980’s, at a time when it wasn’t really necessary to continue on to university studies in order to pursue a career in tech. In fact, after finishing her DEC she had no trouble finding work and was hired immediately.

“I was thrust into a very science-based realm of development. It was really a man’s world. I was working with engineers who were much older than me and I was the little girl. I enjoyed it, but at a certain point I realized I was no longer comfortable in that environment. I was working as a consultant and I went to my boss and asked him to let me do something else. He sent me to work in insurance, doing Quality Assurance. I asked him why, and he responded: ‘That’s where I see you. It’s where your strengths lie.’ So I went to work for Standard Life  for years. I like to say that throughout my career I have always been a bit naïve, which somehow resulted in me becoming a manager. I never asked for it, never wanted it, but I was open to different opportunities. I was always willing to give it a try. I love the adrenaline that comes with a new challenge.”

Quality Assurance was something that came naturally to Michèle, and it allowed her to draw on her analytical tendencies. She was always looking for new, more efficient methods of doing things. Through her work she made a lot of contacts in the industry, and in 2004 she met the partner of her current boss who encouraged the two to meet.

“It was like a revelation. At the time, developers generally did not like people from QA. But here, it was different. They wanted us, it was like, ‘Wow, I’m going to work somewhere where people actually appreciate the job I do.’”

When it was founded, Askida was composed of a team of just ten people. The company currently employs more than one hundred individuals.

“From there, things just kind of took off. We incorporated a more team-based approach to development, as well as line management and test automation. We hired more people in the QA department and I was put in charge of QA and the development team. It became too much, so I gave up the development side of things and became strictly QA. The department grew from five people to forty in one year.”

Based in Montreal and Toronto, Askida is known for its innovative approach to quality assurance with a focus on custom software development  Agile methodology and test automation orchestration, which allows development teams to orchestrate a series of automated tests and analyze their results throughout the lifecycle of an application.

“I am always pushing people to improve. If you are happy within your comfort zone, you won’t enjoy working for us. What makes us good at what we do is our ability to harvest all of our employees’ intelligence, curiosity, all their knowledge. That’s what has gotten me where I am today: because I have had bosses who were like that with me. It is really a team of visionaries, even when things are running well we are always asking how we can do better, how we can eliminate any waste and work with optimal efficiency. I’m always looking for people who are curious and interested in learning.”

Michèle draws on her years of experience working in large-scale companies and seeks out individuals with similar experience. Michèle describes Askida as a hyper dynamic workplace always on the pulse of the latest trends in IT and looking for ways they can benefit from these trends.

”We are all about direct communication and transparency with our clients. When issues arise we address them as quickly as possible, always keeping the client in the know.”

Having worked in this industry for over twenty years, Michele has witnessed the changing landscape of I.T. in Montreal.

“The market is crazy nowadays, and things have really changed. Just five years ago no one believed in automation. Everyone thought it was too expensive, it couldn’t be done. Now we’ve shown them that it can be done, and everyone wants in. It’s created a massive shift in the world of QA in particular. Open source software is another thing that early on companies were resistant to but it’s proven to be a much better way of doing things. The demographic is becoming much more multicultural as well. When I got my start in this industry, the Internet didn’t even exist. So needless to say, we’ve come a long way. Things have changed completely. It’s possible to work from anywhere, to collaborate with individuals and companies not only outside of Montreal but outside of Canada, on the other side of the world.”

Michèle admits that the industry is one that is certainly male-dominated, even to this day, but credits her own mentors for pushing her to achieve what she did not think was possible.

“More women are getting involved in I.T., but I still think that to be successful in this industry you need to prove yourself to be even better than the men. As I get older I do see things changing, and I also don’t feel the same pressures as I did when I was a young woman coming up in this industry. I’m also very lucky in that the men I do work with, my three male associates have complete confidence in me and I can confide in them. My boss is more than a boss, that’s for sure. He helped me grow professionally and he is really a full-on feminist. It’s priceless.”

Michèle’s advice to any woman looking to follow her career trajectory?

“I would tell them just to stay open, and not to take themselves too seriously. To take the leap without thinking too much about it. Trust the people who challenge you. When I ask someone to do something they’ve never done, it’s because I see potential in them. Stay open, stay curious and have fun. And you need to be a little bit crazy.”

Have you read the rest of the WMNinTECH series?
Caterina Rizzi trailblazes a path for women techies in Montreal – March 29
Angelique Mannella on taking chances and being open to unexpected opportunities – April 5
Magaly Charbonneau proves that with organization and drive you can have it all – May 2
Naomi Goldapple on pursuing passion in business – May 29
Pascale Audette on making a change – June 6
Anna Goodson wants young entrepreneurs to know there are options – June 13
Chic Marie-Philip Simard on the transition from law to tech – July 19
Afsoon Soudi on the transition from academia to tech – August 9
Kate Arthur is working to improve digital literacy for the next generation – August 16
NACO Investor of the Year Sophie Forest on how Brightspark is revolutionizing Canadian angel investment — November 27

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