Loss of opportunity due to ‘brain drain’May 20, 2012, 6:59 pm
By Yasas Vishuddhi Abeywickrama
Welcome to the ninety first(91st ) edition of the regular column "The Catalyst".
We introduced a new segment to this series of articles recently; an interview with someone relevant to the topics discussed in this column whilstbeing an inspiration to the society at large.
This new segment is "The Catalyst Catch-up"!
My guest interviewee today is AshokaEkanayake.
Ashoka made the best pitch of a new technological innovative business idea at "TWiST - This Week InStartups"(www.thisweekincolombo.com/) recently. TWiST is an initiative to support ICT entrepreneurs with great business ideas that can be taken to the next level. Many pitched in the initial round and five of them were selected to pitch in front of Jason Calacanis in the world stage. Jason isa leading entrepreneur and angel investor.
AshokaEkanayakemade a great pitch of "LetGo" and was judged as the best business idea. Hence I thought it’s very aptly to have a chat with him.
How did you come into ICT industry and how did you develop your career?
I graduated from the Faculty of Science, University of Colombo after completing a computer science special degree. At the time, the trend was to study engineering if you did your A/L in Maths. I remember a lot of people were surprised and worried to see Iby-passing the engineering and entering the science faculty, but I wanted to do computer science and ColomboUniversity had the only dedicated computer science course at the time. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made! After graduating I joined the industry and worked myself through starting from a Software Engineer up to a Software architect. I worked in 3 different companies in that space of about 6 years: hSenid, Valista and Virtusa. I learnt a lot and grew in many aspects during my career in those earlier work places. All were good, challenging workplaces and was a pleasure to work in. They all helped me shape up my career in those early days and then to become a proper software architect. Those days we worked very hard, hence a lot of people I know who started their careers those days are now in good positions. There was a never ending thirst for learning new things and self-improvement in skills and technology know-how. Most of us took a special pride in being software engineers and tried to live up to the hype.
When and why did you leave
employment and took the path of
After 6-7 years in the industry, I left my full time job to start my own company in 2007.
It started as me wanting to make the games I have produced after my A/Ls, get published and form a games company. I learnt software and programming languages alone by reading books in the British Council library, I didn’t have a computer those days and there was no internet. So those games I initially wrote in paper.But later when I got a computer, I had a craze to see them working. So I learnt Pascal, C, Java, VB and made them work. It kind of created a passion to achieve things and look for something more than just doing a job.
I always wanted challenges. Even when I skipped engineering and entered the science faculty, I kind of had the desire to be somebody and leave a mark. Initially I liked pure mathematics but gradually it became computer science and by the time we were close to graduation I already sort of wanted to have my own company one day. Not to create a big business, be rich or be a boss, but I kind of wanted to set an example of a company which drives small groups of smart people to achieve extraordinary feats by giving them freedom, facilities and inspiration. This is something I still work hard for. I soon found out that the business life is not so comfortable for new businesses as we ran into economic slowdowns in 2008 and 2009.
University of Colombo, science faculty kind of installed a passion in me to work with people and lead them towards a goal. I liked that role a lot and found that I’m kind of comfortable in such situations. Actually even before university when I was playing chess for my school (Dharmaraja College, Kandy) and later for the university, I really liked the team play. I also found out that trying to inspire others was one of best ways for me to inspire myself! That too might have played a part in me taking the path of entrepreneurship.
Tell us about your
First I started the company IT Front, (http://www.it-front.net) and later we formed another company Araaya (http://www.araaya.com). The first one is concentrated on enterprise applications and solutions, it mainly is a service company which help pay all the bills. Until recently we were mostly being busy in ITF. We have done some of the best performing government systems under the guidance and management of ICTA, systems like eCivil, eLand etc.
Nowadays we mostly concentrate on Araaya which deals with mobile applications and products. ICTA has helped us a lot to emerge as a force. We initially got selected to ICTA’s Spiralation initiative and that helped us. We do games, Artificial Intelligence, GPS based solutions, and of course what could be our flagship product, LetGo!
Tell us about your new innovation?
LetGO is a tool based on the concepts of meditation. If we pay attention to how our mind works and be aware of thoughts which comes in to it, we can identify and eliminate negative thoughts without reacting to them or cultivating them further, giving us the opportunity to cultivate positive emotions. Also, it is not our circumstances or the emotions which comes to our mind that define us. It is the reactions we come up against them which defines who we are, hence those reactions make or break our relationships, opportunities, shape our characters and hence the destiny! So it is very useful to always remember that we have a choice of reactions or an emotion for any particular situation. We are in control since we can choose a reaction which suits us well, rather than just following the default negative reaction a negative emotion is usually attached with.
So our app helps people to develop a habit of keeping their awareness and also reminds them that they have a choice of reaction. Say, when we get angry for instance, we can develop the habit of picking our phone (without reacting to anger), select our emotion and then decide on our reaction. While we do those (in 2 clicks in the application) it will play all relevant soothing multimedia and help us improve our mood and calm us down. In the end it will save that event and let us measure our progress over time. One of the big problems in self-improvement is not having a way to quantify and measure your progress!
The judges loved the idea and mentioned that it is so unique and will be unique even in US. They encouraged us to make progress with this app.
What are your future plans?
To bring this app to the general public (launch planned for next week) and make it available for all free of charge! Then we will keep improving it. We sincerely believe it can help change the world for the better and that provides us an immense level of enthusiasm and passion to make this app a success. Money alone can never motivate a person to such a level!
We want to create a new dimension in mobile applications in that the apps can help people improve and develop their minds. Currently the mind is a forgotten thing in this world but it is the greatest asset we’ve all got! Everything generates there!
Also, we think it is a very fitting thing Sri Lanka can offer to the rest of the world. This could be our gift to the world. Coming close from our culture and heritage, eastern cultures certainly can offer a good insight or two to their western brothers when it comes to the subject of human mind!
perspective, what needs to be done from government and private sector to develop IT/BPO as well our economy further?
From the government end, it would be nice if there are to be some steps to encourage experienced technology experts to remain in the country. We are losing a great opportunity to advance in the filed due to brain drain. Increasing the quality of government university education with respect to the IT sector is another thing. Since IT directly contributes to generate foreign income and exports. We should be able to give that education a bit more funding. Faculties need more lecturers and updated courses.
Private sector could be more involved in funding/angel investing in technology start-ups and new ideas. This part of the industry need to be tremendously improved in here. There are many young innovators emerging, their skills need to be utilized and put towards the path of economic success. Professionals in private industry can help them greatly with their business knowledge and experience in addition to investing in new companies.
Any advice for young
professionals out there?
From my own experience, the new generation needs to look at things in a much more ambitious way. Software Engineering is a difficult, great, challenging and very interesting field. It is also an art as much as it is a science. One need to master it to be really good and worth for the job and that needs lot of dedication, enthusiasm and hard work. Even non programming professionals need to be a bit familiar with technology and how things get done. This field is all about technological innovation and skill.
Unfortunately I do see (as a lecturer in some of universities) there is an alarming lack of enthusiasm from the part of students to engage themselves with the practical side of the industry. I would like to see students getting their hands dirty with programming, doing more pet projects, experimenting with things, participating in global competitions and challenges.
May be one of the reason is the easy availability of jobs as a part of the outsourcing industry for computer graduates. While this is a good thing, the younger generation seems to have developed a bit relaxed attitude towards their careers. Even though it is true that many would be getting jobs and salaries, one still need to strive for excellence in their fields if we are to realize our potential. Sri Lankan professionals should start to think beyond just outsourced work and think as innovators of technology. Outsourced work could be the spring board to catapult us into the next phase of advancement in this industry in this country. It should not be an end goal.
We think innovation and creating world class products need a higher level of technical competency and involves higher level of challenge than what is needed to succeed in normal knowledge services outsourcing. That’s where the exciting game is and that’s where we think our young professionals should be aiming at.
Finishing it off for this week
With that, I am going to end today’s column, I hope what AshokaEkanayakehad to say was interesting, inspiring and thought provoking.
See you next week!
Yasas Vishuddhi Abeywickrama is a professional with significant experiences. In 2011 he was recognised as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons (TOYP) in Sri Lanka. Yasas has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from University of Colombo and a Masters degree in Entrepreneurship & Innovation from Swinburne University in Australia. He has worked in the USA, UK, Sri Lanka & Australia and being trained in the USA & Malaysia. He is currently involved in the training organisation, Lanka BPO Academy (www.lankabpoacademy.lk). Yasas is also an Executive Council Member of the Computer Society of Sri Lanka (CSSL – www.cssl.lk). Apart from this column, he is a regular resource person for ‘Ape Gama’ program of FM Derana (Sunday 3-5pm). Yasas is happy to answer your relevant questions – email him at email@example.com .
What’s Sri Lanka’s best overseas Test win?
Last Updated May 18 2013 | 05:06 pm