Immediately after Chad Jones graduated with two degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, he applied for a job at Apple.
Armed with a B.Sc. in computer science and a B.Eng. in electrical engineering, not to mention an intense drive to succeed, he decided that the enormous technology firm offered the greatest promise of opportunity and advancement.
“I applied online for all the jobs that I thought were valid,” he said in a recent interview. “I didn’t hear back, so I applied again for everything — all the jobs they had listed. Still no reply.”
Three months went by. But Jones refused to give up, and when he saw a job fair advertised in Cupertino, Calif. — the city boasting Apple headquarters — he flew down to attend. He beelined for the Apple booth, presented his resumé, and was told to apply online.
That was frustrating; he’d already tried that. So, he returned the next day, talked to a different Apple representative . . . and boom. Jones landed an interview.
It proved to be an eight-hour marathon. He was asked to solve an electrical engineering problem on paper, while the interviewers asked him computer science questions — at the same time. All the while, he was on the clock.
He got the job.
In that time, “I started to see what would become the iPhone, and it was fascinating.”
It fired his imagination, showed him what the future of communication might hold. Despite his desire to work for Apple, Jones knew his endgame was opening and running his own technology business. Cellphones and their capabilities would be his specialty.
Returning to Saskatoon, he began teaching the first university accredited iPhone programming class in Canada — and third in North America — which attracted considerable media attention. Bolstered by the publicity, in 2009 he opened his company: Push Interactions.
“We were getting all this press coverage, so I started it even before the class ended,” he said.
Slightly more than a decade later, Jones is operating an app development company from a large building on Packham Avenue, which he’s in the process of fully occupying. Saskatchewan clients range from Federated Co-op to the Saskatchewan Roughriders to Affinity Credit Union. Even at the beginning, though, Push attracted some major firms and organizations.
One of them was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which hired him to develop technologies for the Third World — essentially a “teach the teacher” app.
“The largest we’ve worked with is Diebold Nixdorf,” Jones said. The German company is massive, with 23,000 employees and $5 billion in annual revenue, its shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
“They’re the largest manufacturer of ATMs in the entire world. We’ve worked with them on an internal project. It’s an ongoing project to help their internal workers.”
Closer to home, the Federated Co-op app allows customers to find the closest retail location; choose between the company’s gas bars, food stores, home centres, card locks and agriculture centres; access store information, such as hours of operation; and view online flyers, among other services like coupons.
Affinity Credit Union hired Push to put banking conveniently in the hands of its customers. The app allows people to check account balances, easily deposit cheques, view transaction history, transfer between accounts and many other functions.
The year Push came out with the cheque deposit feature, they applied for and won several business awards, including the SABEX business of the year award, the ABEX export award, and the NSBA business builder award. Jones said he hasn’t applied for awards recently, but is considering it for the future.
The Roughrider project is fascinating, but is not public. Rather, it offers data analysis and support for internal team functions, and therefore comes with strict confidentiality.
The Push client list is long, also including the University of Saskatchewan and Carleton University (student apps to view classes, fees and grades), various credit unions, Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA), CFCR Radio and many other companies.
Originally, Push targeted BlackBerry and Windows phones as well, but today the company focuses on iPhone and Android apps. As technology moves on, Jones is also diving further into artificial intelligence (AI) and adding related features to his products, including image recognition.
Jones describes the growth of his company as “linear.”
“We have really good people here. A lot of them do come from the U of S.”
As, of course, did he. What he found strange at Apple was that after the grueling interview, the company never asked to see his degree paperwork. After a few years, he asked why.
“They said, ‘We probably wouldn’t have hired you without a degree. What it says is, you’re willing to put up with a lot of crap, and deal with it.’ ”
It only took Jones five years to complete both four-year degrees, by taking massive class loads during the main terms and continuing through intersession and summer school.
“My adviser said, ‘this can’t be done; you should not attempt to do this.’ I went ahead and did it anyway. I’m sure I was the first one but others have done it since.”
At the same time, he worked for a researcher Safa Kasap, editing his book and working on his website during the summer months.
“You make some good connections at university,” Jones noted. “And the engineering program really teaches you failure analysis, so when you’re working a project, you can make sure it’s reliable.”
That’s been incredibly important to his business.
“We will have an outcome you actually wanted, as opposed to one that doesn’t work. We’re really good at solving really hard technical problems, and that’s what sets us apart.”
Operating in Saskatoon hasn’t proved to be an issue. Indeed, he said, the technology industry in our city has grown more than anywhere in Canada with the exception of Waterloo, Ont., in the last few years.
Even finding talented staff — which is often a problem for tech companies — has worked out well for Jones. One employee moved here from South Africa to join Push, and another came from Oxford University in the United Kingdom.
“People who are really good,” Jones said, “like to work together.”