Canadian maple leaf with bicycle in front of it
PHOTO: Ali Tawfiq

As more companies begin to invest in artificial intelligence (AI), we have seen a rise in the demand for talented IT professionals. Recently, Salesforce made headlines when it announced a $2 billion investment in Canada as it builds out its AI offerings, and Amazon shortlisted Toronto as a potential site for its HQ2. For some, these recent developments are the first time they have seen Canada highlighted as a technology powerhouse, but what many don’t know is that the country has been a key under-the-radar destination for tech innovation since the early 2000s.

To understand why Canada is being looked at in a new tech-focused light, here’s a look at some of the factors contributing to the country’s image as a hotspot for the AI revolution.

Education Fit for an Engineer

When thinking about the top colleges and universities for tech and innovation, most people automatically name an Ivy League institution like Harvard, or universities that specialize in technical studies, like MIT. However, while the United States has several noteworthy schools that are producing some of today’s brightest minds, Canada is also home to prestigious universities that provide great educations for those pursuing careers in tech and engineering.

For young people looking to embark on tech-focused careers, there are several universities across Canada that offer great computer science and engineering programs. Schools such as the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo (often dubbed the “MIT of Canada” and recognized as the country’s most innovative university) are known for churning out talented alumni, including BlackBerry co-founder Mike Lazaridis and Google Canada’s senior engineering director, Steven Woods. These schools prepare students to enter the workforce strong, maximizing the full potential of each individual with rigorous coursework, and guidance from professors and other faculty members who are passionate about their fields.

In addition to a good foundation in computer science and engineering, another key component to mastering AI is a good understanding of mathematics. When mathematical components are integrated into various products and software applications, AI can begin to flourish. Math is an area of focus where Canadian education has excelled in the past several years, from elementary school to higher education. A workforce with strong math skills has enabled a number of companies with unique innovations in AI to emerge.

A Hub for Skilled Tech Workers

The high caliber of education that Canada has to offer has helped nurture countless great minds, and people are using their knowledge to turn innovative ideas into reality and lead the AI revolution.

Take the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario, for example. Many Canadians view this as the Silicon Valley of the north because a vast number of startups call this region home. In fact, nearly 2,000 new startups were established in Kitchener and Waterloo in just the last few years. Those companies focused on everything from AI and robotics to virtual reality and quantum computing. This is thanks in part to efforts the government has made to create a system for funding the growth of AI and supporting the innovative people behind it, resulting in a community where startups thrive.

Startups are not the only places where skilled workers are finding opportunities in Canada. Several tech giants have taken notice of the vast talent in Canada and have expanded their operations to the north to take full advantage of it. Companies like Google, which has opened four offices in Canada, including large outposts in Waterloo and Montreal, and Microsoft, which recently invested in a brand new Canadian headquarters office in Vancouver, are benefiting from the untapped talent and potential for the future of AI.

A Future in AI

Having worked as an associate professor at the University of Waterloo, and having founded a handful of Canada-based startups over the past 20 years, I have experienced firsthand how the tech talent in Canada is continually progressing. With AI seemingly taking over every aspect of the tech industry, it’s no surprise to me that more and more companies are starting to shift their focus to the north.

If the past two decades are any indication of where Canada’s technology future lies, it’s safe to assume the country will continue to be a strong force leading the AI revolution.