“Sri Lanka has large talent pool that can jump start economy” | Daily News

“Sri Lanka has large talent pool that can jump start economy”

Chandima Liyanage, Technical Advisor and Chief of Staff to Azure Networking  Product Management Organisation at Microsoft
Chandima Liyanage, Technical Advisor and Chief of Staff to Azure Networking Product Management Organisation at Microsoft

Sri Lanka has a large talent pool that can be harnessed to take advantage of the open economy, online remote work available across the globe, with help of expanding educational resources available free or for small fee on World Wide Web. These three things combined can jump start the Lankan economy right here by elevating Sri Lanka’s tech education and be a driving force in technology talent marketplace, opined Chandima Liyanage, Technical Advisor and Chief of Staff to Azure Networking Product Management Organisation at Microsoft.

To enable this, the country needs a good broadband access that connects everyone, urban and rural with unlimited data at reasonable prices. This will be foundational to learning and remote work opportunities and build a great culture that drives people to innovate and achieve more with high integrity and values, she said speaking to the Daily News.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: Can you share your experience with Microsoft?

A: When I first joined Microsoft, the change I noticed was the scale at which they operate. This is a company that employs more than 200,000 people and it's the scale at which they operate that blows your mind. And that is something everybody can learn from them too. It’s a large-scale business and you have big teams, and you can mobilize a lot of big teams very quickly. The way they mobilize large teams by creating a culture that empowers employees to operate without much supervision. The pillars of their culture are a growth mindset, customer obsession, diversity and inclusion, one team and make a difference. They are very open about other people's needs, gender, sexual orientation and differently able. We even have differently able people working in our company, for example people with accessibility issues, people in autism spectrum etc.

Everybody is given a chance to work for the company in different capacities in whatever they bring to the table.

Then on top of that we do a big thing in Microsoft what we call Give. It's part of our culture. We promote what the founders Bill Gates and folks started and it is called the Give Campaign and we encourage everyone to give back to the community.

There are many ways of doing it. For example, I am right now volunteering for a mentorship programme. I have one student right now that I'm mentoring who lives in Ghana, Africa and I spend either company time or personal time and I mentor that college student to get him from 4th year into a job as he graduates.

Q: How do you view the Lankan IT industry?

A: I think there's a lot of potential here. I think we just need to bring them forward, and train our youth in order to harness what we can get out of that. I think there are a lot of small companies who are already starting and working across borders, because of the pandemic the digital world borders have opened up. It's no longer that you work on things that are just in Sri Lanka only.

Now the market spans the entire globe. So even younger students can find work through gig economy apps that are available. People go and find jobs, gigs that they like to work on online and they can directly contact those employers and get experience. So, I think things have opened up. I think it's important that we encourage our students to learn new skills, learn new things, and kind of explore what they like to do. I think there's a huge potential here because we have very smart children, I mean, Sri Lankans are really smart. The word smart means intelligent by the way in the US. I think there's huge potential.

Q: What needs to be done by the Government to develop the IT industry in Sri Lanka?

A: The infrastructure needs to be developed and we need to have a good technological infrastructure. Access to Broadband can open up new possibilities. For example a lot of people here have smart phones. But they don't have an unlimited data plan, so they're not using their very expensive Smartphone to the maximum potential.

But in order to access the Internet they need to have a device and fast data connections, kind of like roads for people, which needs to be a very fast network that a lot of people can use, download, upload content and it needs to be accessible to a lot of people, everyone equally. I think the Government needs to play a big part, but there's also private investment that needs to happen. In this case yes because sometimes the problem is that private, maybe too expensive for certain groups of people. In that case, the Government can provide subsidy for example schools to have equal access.

I think there's a lot to be done in the technology infrastructure. Once you have the infrastructure, it's kind of like your foundation for your house. Then you start building. You can build one floor, two floors, or three floors. We need to build an ecosystem for tech start ups to begin and prosper. They can then build apps or new services on top of it and take it to market. During COVID time there was a huge growth in online activity. We should just continue that momentum. And then you expand on it. It was a very good start. I think everybody was forced, not just Sri Lanka even in the US, and across the world, everybody was forced to do things that they would have taken seven years to do. We suddenly had to do it in one year, we didn't do it perfectly, but you learn and then you evolve from that.

Q: In which way can Microsoft help Sri Lanka?

A: Companies like Microsoft provide a certain level of infrastructure, which people can build on. They provide the IT infrastructure for people to build on. For example in Azure, they provide computational and storage platform including networking and if someone in Sri Lanka wants to have an idea to do something and the resources are not available or too expensive for them to buy here now because of the World Wide Web and the cloud, they don't have to go anywhere. It opens them up to this new world where they can start developing their own app and product right here in Sri Lanka and companies like Microsoft and other companies who provide cloud or other infrastructure technology can allow or help people really innovative in Sri Lanka to take their ideas and bring them to something that is usable by customers.

Q: How can Sri Lanka improve its IT literature level?

A: The highest demand right now in the IT sector is data science, which means that you need to have graduated from a four-year programme, do a lot of math and learn on your own. There's a couple of ways to do this, one you go to college and learn and then do some master's programme or learn on your own. With the World Wide Web, if you have the infrastructure all these students can now log in online and enter those programmes and learn right now, right here, from all the colleges, even the very top colleges in the United States.

They have online programmes and you don't have to be living in the US, especially for the technology sector. So I think that's the real opportunity for all the students to develop their knowledge, increase their knowledge and also experiment and start building things on their own, and take their own creativity to the next level.

Q: What are Microsoft’s plans for 2023?

A: There are multiple things that we are doing. At the base of it we try to provide our customers with what infrastructure we can so that they can build their own stuff.

In 2023 we're continuing to push our Azure cloud, Microsoft cloud native environments on which companies and people can build on, Even Microsoft Word, Excel and Office are built on it. Now because of the cloud, you can start the Microsoft Outlook email on your phone and then you can leave it go to your office and start from where you stopped on your phone, log into your computer and finish that e-mail and then send it. It’s all integrated now. That’s what's amazing about the cloud you can access across multiple devices and companies don’t have to worry about managing their hardware. Microsoft is investing in expanding to new countries to help people across the world who can then use their services to do other things that they want to do.

Q: What is the message you would wish to convey to Sri Lankans?

A: I would encourage all the young people here to continue to invest in their education and keep learning, exploring and innovating what they are passionate about. If you're passionate about something, I think every young person has the chance to go learn something. Even through the Internet there's a lot of things that they can search through Google, find and explore.

Q: Can you tell us about your family background and early life?

A: Growing up as one of three daughters to a government accountant dad and housewife mom, we didn’t have a lot of luxuries. I studied at Sirimavo Bandaranaike Balika Vidyalaya. My parents invested in our education above all else and helped us pursue our dreams. I decided to pursue an engineering field. My sisters Ranjula and Rasanga became doctors specializing in Pathology and Sexual Health respectively, now residing in Australia. My parents believed in equal rights and taught us to fight gender bias in society and workplace in pursuing your passion and not to take no for an answer. I started my career in Sri Lanka after graduating from Moratuwa University with a B Sc. Engineering in Electronics & Telecommunication and an Associate of CIMA (UK). I worked in Citi National Investment Bank (NDB Investment Bank) and left to pursue my MBA in the USA. I worked in business strategy and finance across several industries from Energy, Trading, Mobile telecommunication to Cloud & Technology infrastructure.

Q: Your advice to youth?

A: There is always a better horizon, just be resilient, don't give up, work on your passions and everything else will fall into place.

Professional profile:

Chandima Liyanage is the Technical Advisor and Chief of Staff to Azure Networking Product Management Organisation at Microsoft with strategic oversight to several billions in revenue. She is a graduate of Moratuwa University with a B Sc. Engineering in Electronics & Telecommunication and is also an Associate of CIMA (UK). Liyanage lives in Seattle WA area with her husband Dayantha Kodituwakku (computer science engineer), two children and dog.

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