Providenza & Boekelheide solves glitches that puzzle engineers

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Lee Boelkelheide, Tim Roberts and John Providenza have run Providenza & Boelkelheide for 20 years this week. The technology consulting firm has worked on several projects, fixing problems Fortune 500 companies cant figure out.To call Providenza & Boekelheide laid back is an understatement.

On Tuesday afternoon, two of the company’s three owners walked around the office barefoot. In a back office, a small dog barked as employees chatted around a conference table. It has become a tradition around the office to share a glass of single malt scotch on slow days.

But for 20 years, the small technology consulting firm on Southwest Hunziker Street has been solving the puzzles that leave other software engineers stumped.

The company provides very high-tech software and hardware design consulting to companies across the country.

The company was incorporated two decades ago this week, after the trio was laid off en masse from Supermac Technology.

“We decided we didn’t like belonging to another company,” said President John Providenza, who lives in Beaverton.

They’re sworn to secrecy about some of the companies they have contracts with, but boast others on the company’s website, including Tektronix, Microsoft and Adobe.

“I can go to a Target and see a web camera that I have worked on, and my software is in there,” he said.

For 14 years, co-owner Lee Boekelheide made weekly trips from his Tigard home to San Jose, Calif., to work with a client in the Silicon Valley.

“We could see televisions with stuff inside them that I had worked on,” Boekelheide said.

The owners fled the corporate life in the 1990s, so they could focus on their passion, without the office politics, said Providenza.

“It’s relaxing, in a way,” he said. “That’s my version of doing a crossword.”

The company has completed an array of high-tech projects, from chip and circuit board design telemetry systems.

“One of the great things about an independent consultant is the wide variety of projects we encounter,” said co-owner Tim Roberts. “Most of the time, we’re all working on separate projects, but sometimes all three of us get to focus on a single job. I enjoy that. My partners are two of the most competent engineers I’ve ever encountered. Our talents complement each other very nicely.”

The company has stayed compact, tucked into a small office park off Hunziker Street. Providenza said he doesn’t see the company doing much expansion. He likes it the way it is. “With a smaller group, you tend to have more fun. We are very cautious when we talk about bringing in somebody,” he said.

Providenza said he has stayed with the company for so long because of his love of the work. “For me, it’s solving puzzles. We get pulled in when a project is a disaster, and try to figure out what is going on, how did we get here,” Providenza said.

“We don’t get the easy projects, we get the messes where things are six weeks behind schedule, nothing is working, and the guy they hired left in a huff, and somebody has got to pull it together and get it working again,” Boekelheide added. “We happen to be very, very good at that, and we enjoy it.”

That’s the most important part of the work, Providenza said: Enjoying what they do.

“I think we’re not typical of a lot of companies, we don’t want growth for growth’s sake,” he said. “We want to make money and have fun. And if we grow because of that, we’ll do it.”

Boekelheide agreed. “The goal is not walnut-paneled offices,” he said.

That philosophy has led the company in several directions — from consulting to work with firms on patent litigation.

The company’s five employees comprise a separate group, IT Group Northwest, an information technology service company to more than 100 small- and medium-sized companies in Oregon and Washington.

“Having two sides to the company has really been an advantage,” said Stephen Hammond, leader of the IT group. “It gave us a base to work with while we were establishing the IT business, and now the diversification gives us some financial stability.”

“Technology is just as hot as it ever was, and there’s certainly every sign that businesses will still need help with their IT requirements,” Providenza said. 

The technology business is changing, he added. “I have no idea where we will be in 20 years. But we are along for the ride.”

As for the scotch, Roberts said the tradition is to purchase a bottle of single malt scotch that is the age of the company.

“That was easy when we reached 15 years,” said Providenza. “But it’s getting much more expensive. I saw a 25-year-old Macallan for $800, but I don’t know whether we will be able to justify that.”

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