A young woman’s guide to a career in Information Technology

By Chinthi Weerasinghe


Sri Lanka continues to rise as a preferred Information Technology (IT) Business Process Management (BPM) destination.

Leading names in IT and IT-enabled services either have a presence in our paradise isle already or are keen on setting up operations here.

Strong government support, market’s cost competitiveness and our highly skilled tech talent too has played a significant role in the sector growth story.

However, the question arises if we have sufficient supply to meet the increasing demands of the IT/BPM industry.

According to the ‘Women at Work Trends 2016’ report by the International Labor Organization, the chances for women to participate in the formal labor market worldwide remains at 27 points lower than those for men. Between 1995 and 2015, the global female labor force participation rate decreased from 52.4 percent to 49.6 percent, and in Sri Lanka the ICT workforce still constitutes of men, largely.

It gets even more dismal when we look at the higher echelons of the sector, unfortunately.

Holding the sector back, this has an adverse effect on our economy as a whole too.

In this light, the Asian Development Bank, together with the Export Development Bank of Sri Lanka as the nodal agency, is stressing on the need for concerted action to engage and empower women in Sri Lanka to pursue careers.

This led to the creation of Diversity Collective LK, a forum committed to making Sri Lanka a key global hub of human resources offering optimal gender diversity in the local IT and services industries.

The forum which operates under the auspices of the Sri Lanka Association of Software Solution Companies (SLASSCOM) seeks to achieve this by building community wide awareness regarding careers for women in the IT and BPO sectors.

The forum also empowers women and girls in Sri Lanka to choose careers in the IT and BPO sectors and enables them to remain and advance in those careers. It focuses its efforts on 3 principal areas which are schools, universities / higher education institutions and the industry.

As a founding member and the current President of Diversity Collective LK, I have had the opportunity to interact with countless young women in universities around the island. Pursuing their higher education in ICT, they are set to change the gender imbalance in the IT sector.

Focusing doggedly on their academics, these future leaders are busy laying a solid foundation to a vibrant career in IT. Acing their exams, they are sure to get called in for job interviews by the top IT firms in the country.

But, as anyone who has been working in the sector knows, it takes a bit more than sound technical knowledge to get the job and rise through the ranks in IT. Simple things that anyone could get right with a bit of guidance and effort.

I was part of a team of women leaders from the IT sector who shared these nuggets with a group of female undergraduate tech students at a workshop recently. Some of the tips we shared with them were:


Get the basics right

One cannot stress enough on the importance of getting simple things right. Your CV needs to be brief. And try to be creative with it. Offer a snapshot of your life beyond the campus too. Your referees, who cannot be friends and family, need to know the professional side of you and must be kept informed. Review your CV and covering letter a few times to check for errors. A slight oversight in any of these aspects can result in your application being rejected even before an initial interview.

At the interview, exude confidence and maintain eye contact with the interviewer all throughout. Do ask a few questions about the company, the job, etc.


Go beyond the academics

The fact that you have been called in for a job interview shows that the employer has read your CV and has been sufficiently impressed with your academic performance. Hence, while it is ok to mention a few key highlights, avoid going over it in minute detail. Instead, use your time with the interviewer to showcase how there is more to you than just academics. Touch on your interests and hobbies, extracurricular activities you took part in, other skills, etc. Show them how you have been adept at managing all this simultaneously during your student days. Employers tend to view this as the ability to multitask, work in groups and to build relationships – all being qualities that they actively seek in an employee.


Connect the dots

Sri Lanka’s IT / BPM landscape is made up of a mix of companies who do different types of work using different sets of technologies. So, while job descriptions might sound similar, what you will be doing in that role is likely to be very different from one employer to the other. Hence do some research about the company, the work it does, the job you are applying for and the interviewer too, if possible. Once you understand the job role, see if you have any relevant experience from your university days. This includes any industry or university projects that you might have been involved in, papers you have published or blogs you maintain, special interest groups you are a part of, etc. Make sure you bring these up during the interview. Help the interview see how your skillset is aligned with the demands of the job and the type of the work the company does.


Staying Current

The rate of transformational change taking place in the world of IT outpaces almost all other industries. Emerging technologies continue to replace existing ones before being wiped out by the next wave of innovation. This has made it imperative for all of us in the industry, be it new entrants or seasoned leaders, to constantly learn and stay abreast with these changes. While we might not be able to become experts in each of these new technologies, we need to have a fair understanding of the underlying concepts and principles and appreciate their implications to our work. As students, this knowledge will help shape your opinion about the direction the industry is heading in. And an informed opinion on industry trends is something any recruiter will be impressed by.

While we work with all stakeholders on empowering more women to enter the IT field, I believe that simple pointers such as these will play a small yet significant role in helping young female tech undergraduates crack their interviews and join us in taking Sri Lanka’s IT sector to greater heights.


(Chinthi Weerasinghe is a founding member and the current President of Diversity Collective LK. She also serves as Vice President and Global Head of Sales – Independent Validation Services at Virtusa.)