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A career moulded with care.
By Prabath Siriwardena
On 2nd September 2007
At National IT-BPO Capacity Summit 2007 - Career Fair, BMICH, Colombo, Sri Lanka
First of all I need to thank the organizers of this event for giving me this
opportunity to do this presentation.
Thank you all for attending this.
The objective of the presentation is to the give you an idea about a career in
the field of ICT, to encourage you to do so, and in doing so I'll walk through my
career, so you can learn from my mistakes and get something from what I did
right. If you feel I am boasting during the presentation, please tolerate, it's going
to be 20 minutes only.
To start with, a brief introduction about me. As you already know, I am Prabath. I
studied at Rahula College, Matara and completed my A/Ls in 1998. We had a
good computer lab; we had an active computer society at the school. But… I
never went to that computer lab and wasn’t a member of the computer society
either. Truly, I had no interest in Computers. But -I had a very good, solid
childhood. Thanks for my parents, we had no sophisticated tools. That indirectly
helped to improve my IQ and analytical skills.
Even today, I believe those are the two major strengths in me and we should
focus more on improving our IQ and analytical skills, than focusing on computer
related subjects. This cannot be done in 24 hours – there are no books like, ‘IQ in
24 hours’, ‘Analytical Skills in 21 days’. It’s up to you and it’s your responsibility – it
is also a long process.
So, once I completed my A/Ls in 1998, I entered University of Moratuwa in year
2000. There was almost one and half year break. It was the time I found interest
in computers and in 1999, 8 years back, when I was 20 – I touched a computer
for the first time. I got to know for the first time, the cursor moves when we move
the mouse. So - if you are 20 and know nothing about computers – don’t worry –
still you can make it – still you can have a very good career in the field of ICT. If I
could – why not you?
In 1999, while I was at home, waiting the University to start, I joined Wijeya
Pariganaka magazine published by Wijeya Newspapers Ltd as a freelance
journalist. This is another changing point in my life. I started few article series on
Java, Open source software and Sri Lanka’s IT Professionals. I had the
opportunity to meet and interview Professor Samaranayaka, Professor Sam
Karunaratna and many other leading IT professionals. I contributed to Wijeya
Pariganaka, till year 2005 and have written more than150 articles. Among all the
articles, the first one I wrote in September 1999 for the first magazine of Wijeya
Pariganaka was something memorable to me. It was about a set students in
Nannapurawa Vidyala, miles away from Colombo. They had a computer
society – but they didn’t have a computer. I wrote their story – fortunately a
gentleman with a heart who read the article, presented them a computer –
which at that time was their dream machine.
Till year 2000, things came in my way. With little effort – I got better results. I
thought it’ll continue so. Figure this out – a mistake I did. During the first year at
the University – I was a very relaxed man. But things did not continue in the same
as in the past. We had a very competitive exam at the end of the first year and
based on its result s we could do a field selection. That is, we can choose
whether we want to continue in Computer Engineering, Electronics, Electrical,
Civil Engineering or Mechanical Engineering. The plan was to go ahead with the
Computer engineering… but did not work. I got 68.16 average at the end and
for Compute Engineering the margin was around 72. I had no option – I had to
do Civil Engineering. So, if you are good enough to get through you’re A/Ls, but
not fortunate enough to follow a Computer Engineering degree at a University -
don’t worry – still you can make it – still you can have a very good career in the
field of ICT. If I could – why not you?
Not being able to get into do Computer Engineering was my first ever failure in
the life. I was 21 then and was really frustrated and worried. I felt like it was the
end of my dream of being a software engineer. My father is an author and a
journalist, my mother was a government servant – both of them do not coming
from an IT related background – but they always fed me with immense courage
and determination. It took me almost a year to recover from my first ever failure
in the life. That was a mistake. I shouldn’t have taken that much of time. I
wasted almost a year –for nothing. But… for my own good I recovered and
recovered strongly. This was the time I found interest in a strange hobby. It was
neither collecting stamps nor reading books … but, collecting advertisements. I
collected all the Job related advertisements published on weekend
newspapers. Having no guidance, having no clue of becoming a software
engineer – while doing Civil Engineering at the University – these paper
advertisements guided me. I, myself categorized the required qualifications to
become a software engineer. Found few ways… one is to be a programmer,
another to be a database administrator and another to be a network
To be a programmer, you need to learn a programming language. I found, at
that time there were many opportunities for Java & .NET programmers. I started
learning both Java & .NET myself. In doing so, I started building up a very good,
complete library at home. Today, I believe I have one of the best personal
To be a database administrator, I found there were many good opportunities if
you know either the SQL Server or Oracle. I started learning both, alone.
Coming to the network administrator, found that CCNA is a good entry level
qualification. So I started working for it.
All these, I had to do parallel to my Civil Engineering degree. Since my degree is
not in a computer related field I thought it would be better to go for some
professional qualifications as well. I started with ACS. In November 2001, I
became the world second in ACS under the “Programming & Software
Technology” subject. I won the same award in May 2003, ACS under the “Data
Management” subject. From there with the ACS qualification I could directly do
the BCS diploma. I completed BCS diploma in April 2002 and BCS Graduate
Diploma in April 2003.
Also, for no strong reason I found interest in doing CIMA as well and completed
the stage one in May 2003, which gave me the CIMA Certificate in Business
Accounting. But I did not continue it from there onwards.
Around February 2004 we had our final year exams at the University. By then,
before the exams – around August/September I heard Virtusa recruiting new
engineers. Most of my batch mates, who did computer engineering sent CVs
and got through. They too got the offering letters as well. Having completed
ACS & BCS and also having two world prizes, I thought I could make it as well. I
too sent my CV. But, unfortunately, ignored. May be because my Civil
Engineering degree got highlighted. It was around August/September – I also
had to work for my final year exams – but I thought I need to prove myself; I
need to build a profile which cannot be rejected by any of the companies. The
hard time started. After rejecting my CV for the first time – I slept only two hours
per day for good five or six months. I became a Microsoft Certified Solution
Developer (MCSD .Net) in August 2003. In September, the same year, I became
a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). In November 2003, I became a
Sun Certified Java Programmer (SCJP). In the same month I became an Oracle
Certified Associate (OCA). In December 2003, I became a Sun Certified Web
Component Developer (SCWCD). Same month I became a Sun Certified
Business Component Developer (SCBCD) as well. So, after that I worked fully on
my Civil Engineering degree final exams and completed it in March 2004 with a
second class. There after we had a Survey camp for one month and in May
2004 I once again applied for Virtusa. This time it worked and I joined Virtusa as
an Associate Software Engineer in July 2004 – the much waited dream became
One thing I’d like to emphasize here. To achieve a given target there are more
than one way. When you set your target, define your alternative paths as well.
Once you fail in one path, select the other. Believe me, you never lose.
In July 2004, I started my career in the field of ICT.
There are few things you need to do right to have a better career. First, be
honest to what you do. Second, enjoy what you do. If you do not enjoy what
you do, it’s really hard and no way you can survive. The technology you know
today is stale tomorrow. Need to learn new things in passing every minute. Third,
be patient and tolerate others. Once you get into your working environment
you’ll meet many other people, who you do not like to be with. You will have to
work with managers who do not understand the difference between, being
professional and being mechanical. Following a process religiously, making no
deviation from it, not encouraging others suggestions, thoughts – is mechanical
by my definition. Once you meet a manager who thinks, being mechanical is
the professionalism – he kills the innovation in your team – in such case don’t
panic – try to learn the things ‘what not to do’ from him.
In January 2005, after six months, I got promoted as a Software Engineer. And in
April 2006 I once again promoted as a Senior Software Engineer. The time I
enjoyed most, was when I was assigned Technical Lead responsibilities in
September 2006. I had to work with a new, young and energetic team. And it
was also the last few months of the project. So, it was challenging, but I believe
with the great support of my team, I could finish it off with a very good note.
Also, at the end of year 2005, I was qualified to follow the M.Sc in Computer
Science at the University of Moratuwa. This is one of my another dream came
true. So, in January 2006, I started my M.Sc in Computer Science at the same
University which I failed to get qualified in March 2001.
Today, in 2007, when I look back to my career, I am pretty happy about where I
A career in the field of ICT is the most challenging and the most rewarded
profession. Per year, we still do not meet the requirement of the job market.
There are still many open vacancies, awaiting quality graduates. The plus point
having a career in this field, with respect to others – to get rewarded you need
not to be a super expert. Even an average person earns a lot more than a super
expert in a different field. That is the beauty and that attracts many youth. But
dear friends – there is more depth in an ICT career. If you want to be a good,
quality professional, you need to pass that phase very quickly. If not you feel
boring – you think it’s not your fault, but your managers’ or your company’s. You
try changing companies – believe me, this theory never works.
Once I joined Virtusa in July 2004 – I had a master plan. I set targets – I set
alternative paths to achieve those as well. I didn’t go by the designation – I
went by the skill set. By January 2005, I wanted to achieve the skill set of a
Software Engineer – I achieved it and also got promoted. By January 2006 I
wanted to achieve the skill set of a Senior Software Engineer, I was there – my
project team – my project manager accepted it – but I was not promoted. Only
in April, after three months, I got the promotion. Any way I was not worried –
since my master plan was not disturbed. Again my plan was to achieve the skill
set of an Associate Technical Lead by April this year. I believe I was there. But still
I didn’t get the promotion. The beauty of Virtusa is we can discuss anything with
anyone in the company. It’s an ‘Open door policy’. Since I strongly believed I
should have promoted in last April, I presented my case to the top
management. I was told my promotion will be reconsidered and there is 90-95%
chance to get it. But 10-5% worked, I did not get the promotion. But still I am not
worried, since I am still with my master plan– I am already recognized as an A+
player in the company.
So, finally to conclude my presentation, I would say there is nothing you can’t
do – but you need to have courage and determination. Also, no matter how
successful your career is, if you are not sensitive to the society which build you
up. Most of us here are products of the free education. We learnt by the money
of our people. So we have a social responsibility to help them back. Please keep
that in mind.
Thanks a lot for your patience and attending this presentation.
You can reach me through my email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
And my blog is www.prabathsiriwardena.com – simply do a Google search for
‘prabath’, you’ll get that site at the top of the results.
Thanks a lot.