Lakshan Perera

Six virtues of being an IT undergrad...

If you were one of the early readers of my blog, you would know that I was selected to do my Bachelors in IT at Faculty of Information Technology in University of Moratuwa. It's hard to believe 3 years have gone pass in a flash, but reminiscing what I gathered during this period it feels really awesome.

From my young age, I had the passion to play computers and internet. Those days I used to day-dream of building all sorts of awesome products and believe me I still have some of the pen-sketches of those ideas. When it came to Ordinary Levels I had already got the opportunity to do some work with local web development companies (especially with awesome folks at E-Fusion, the people who did - which became the trend setter of Sri Lankan portals). So my initial idea was to say good bye to formal education from O/Ls and get into work in IT for full time. I even had some friends at school, who were ready to work with me on a startup. However, my mentor at that time Mr.Niranjan Meegamana of E-Fusion, influenced me that I should continue with my secondary education and should pursue a degree in IT, if I really want to have a long journey in the industry. That motivation directed me to end up in selecting to Sri Lanka's only national degree course for IT.

Initially I had few doubts how the things would turn up, mainly due to all the crappy stuff I had heard and seen about local universities. However, things turned out to be really peaceful within IT faculty and University of Moratuwa. There were zero-interruptions for the course and third-party influences were very much less. Honestly, I believe getting in to the IT faculty was one of the best things happened in my life and it opened me lot of opportunities to reach my ultimate goal.

I thought of sharing some of those experiences and highlights hoping it would help to inspire someone else.

1. It's Free

Thanks to free education structure in Sri Lanka - I'm privileged to do my degree course for free, which would have cost more that USD$ 10-15K if I did it from a university in other country or in a private institute. Coming from a average middle-class family, I'm really happy that I could continue my higher education without being a burden for my parents.

2. Converted to FOSS

When I stepped into IT faculty, I was not a hardcore advocate for FOSS. But within few weeks due to the influences of FOSS advocates at the faculty - like Prabhath, Mifan, Anushke and Amila, I too converted to be a FOSS purist. Since then I haven't looked back and today free software culture has become an integral part of my life. Joys and benefits reaped of free software culture, fits into separate post. So will share more on that in future.

3. Internship at a startup as a freshman

As Paul Graham says "The way to learn about startups is by watching them in action, preferably by working at one". I got this opportunity from my freshman year. Prabhath, who happened to be my mentor and role-model at the university, invited me to join with them at Vesess. The inspiration, motivation I gathered just by watching how they work was immense. The experience you gain from the challenges at a startup cannot be matched by any other learning experience. Not only you get to solve problems that will matter in real life, you will see how people use what you build. Our product for online billing - CurdBee today has become one of the most essential apps for freelancers.

4. Google Summer of Code

Google Summer of Code program is a program hosted by Google to encourage university students around the globe to contribute to Open Source software. There is a strong interest for this program in the University of Moratuwa (In 2008, it happened to be the top university in the world, with most accepted students for GSOC). I also had the opportunity take part in GSOC in 2007, where I worked on Silverstripe CMS Framework. I successfully completed building a Mashups module for Silverstripe and released my work for public use.

5. Opportunities to network

As I believe most important stuff you learn at university is learnt out of the lecture room. I had the chance to listen and talk with lot of amazing people, who were from different walks of the life. Some of them were the visiting lecturers, seniors, own batchmates and some were just random dudes who accidentaly caught up to a little chat at the canteen while having a tea. No matter who are they, listening and sharing thoughts with them helped me to expanded my perspectives and change my attitudes towards life. During our usual after lunch banters - we go through unimaginable number of topics like music, cricket, geekery, hacking, farming, environment, oil crisis to politics to women, sex to religious philosophies. It's truly amazing what a lot of knowledge and experiences can be shared when such highly diversified group of people get together.

6. Lurking on the internet gives you the fringe

In IT you rarely get to parrotize long formulas or boring theories. You need not to burn yourself doing field researches, no need to waste your time with boring practicals. No need to run after seniors for 'kuppis' during the exam time. All you have to know is how to use Google and Wikipedia to get through all the academic stuff. I have sat for exams without having a single note and only reading Wikipedia. If you have a little itch to read more on a subject and keep yourself with the latest trends, you will have a fringe benefit over others. I don't think there could be any better academic course than IT, for a internet addict like me.

It's not the qualification you gain from an academic degree course that matters, but the exposure, opportunities and experience you gain during the journey, will shape your future.