Experienced Head Of Information Technology with a demonstrated history of working in the utilities and financial services industries. Skilled in Management, Software Engineering, Solution Architecture, IT Operations, Service Delivery, and Agile Methodologies. Dinithi is currently working as Head of Technology Delivery at UniSuper.
Where did your interest in technology come from? How did you decide to pursue a career in technology?
I feel extremely lucky that I knew from a very young age that something about technology amazed me. One of my very first memories being introduced to a computer was at the university labs where my parents taught; when computers were first being introduced in Sri Lanka. I was quite little then and I remember feeling like this machine was alive and it held mystery and possibility. That is still how I feel today about technology. The excitement in what I can help create is the simplest way I can put it.
I feel that technology, more than any other human invention has had the ability to level the playing field, to bring solutions to communities and families who weren't born privileged and has had the power to extend information and knowledge to those who weren’t able to afford a privileged education. There is also enormous power inherent in it, to change traditional approaches to industries and provide a means of income to people who otherwise would have had to rely on charity or continuously declining revenue streams in very traditional means of generating an income.
I can give you an example again from my home country – tuk tuk drivers are a much-maligned species in Sri Lanka. The stereotype is that they’re good for nothing, high school dropouts who can’t learn anything new and are just a menace on the roads with no discipline. If you had told me in 2015, that 5 years from now, most tuk tuk drivers in Colombo would have a smartphone, be able to navigate through maps, adopt and adapt their source of income through the local variants of Uber and show up at a place, (pretty much) on time, I may not have believed you. Their access to new customers has shot up, they have learned quickly how to operate this powerful device in their hands and in some cases hack the solutions to their advantage. And that is the power of truly smart technology, that it is intuitive and effective and works for everyone, regardless of a level of education, language, perceived smarts and abilities.
What are the key things that allowed you to get where you are today and what do you attribute your success to?
I would attribute my success to the following 3 key factors:
- Always doing my homework. I always make sure I know what I’m talking about by being prepared, not being afraid to put in the hard work, to take my commitments seriously and to deliver on them, This has overtime definitely contributed to my overall professional equity which I think is essential for anyone seeking long term success.
- Understanding the importance of building happy, successful and driven teams who want to focus on continuous improvement.
Being a mentor and creating a culture of self improvement within technology teams is a non negotiable at the pace our industry is changing. I also absolutely recognise that today’s technology leadership is most successful and personally where I function at my best is also when I can create an environment of continuous learning, experimentation that is also sustainable and fun. All and any of my success delivering large scale programs and taking on challenging transformations has been possible only when I’ve been able to create a collectively driven environment that embodied those characteristics. You can feel it every day, every sprint, every project and in every team member. And when it’s right it’s amazing.
- Being mentored and guided by smart leaders. I was so lucky to come across some inspiring folks, who took me under their wing and continue to be my mentors and friends today. They have so much respect in the industry, wisdom that I rely on as I navigate this incredibly diverse and frankly sometimes quite confusing world of career development. You’re never too young, old, junior, senior, technical, non technical, in-between or anything else; to have a mentor. There are also some wonderful people I’ve met along the way who have formed part of an industry and professional network with the same values that align with me and over many years we’ve shared ideas, frustrations, introductions, and helped each other.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you have received in your career and how did it help you?
I believe in our current culture of continuous improvement and achievement it is very easy to be swept up into moving onto the next piece of work, project or role. I think I’m especially hard on myself because I have a habit of continuously looking for the next improvement or the next learning opportunity. Over time as a leader I think I’ve learnt how to keep encouraging my teams by visualising that growth back collectively in terms of what we achieve incrementally, as I think it’s incredibly important to keep teams motivated. This was something that was shown to me early on when I started taking on leadership roles by one of my mentors; in how important it was to keep reminding ourselves how far we’ve come. It is a positive reinforcement for your team and yourself of how much you have improved, learnt and achieved; and that we are all allowed to be a work in progress.
As I transitioned into more senior leadership roles, which had more breadth, and absorbed new tech areas for management, one of my mentors told me how important it was to build an understanding of your team, work (be it development, project delivery or operations) from the ground up. I have held onto that and it has served me well. As I take on a new team, a new project or lately move into a new organisation; I make the effort and do my homework to understand the lay of the land. With that understanding, I can be working across many major implementations and business critical operations and still be able to determine the risk profiles of which areas I need to be synced into in real time.
As you transitioned to more senior and leadership roles what was the shift you needed to make?
I think anyone who is strongly in love with technology, and moves into a leadership role will always remain a technologist at heart. I have always loved deep diving into the details but have started to understand that with more responsibility and breadth of control this starts to be impossible and it needs to shift in a technology leadership role. I learnt to trust my “gut” instinct which is really years and years of working deep in the technical details and the cumulation of various technology and projects; to spot potential risk areas and issues before they cause too much impact. Some people can have the habit of leaving issues till they have snow-balled into a mini catastrophe but I believe that in technology across the lifecycle; being able to identify and control these and then being able coach a team to be able to identify and control these risk areas is the real key to success.
This also comes hand in hand with always relying on myself to get it right, to building a leadership team who can get it right. Which means learning the absolute importance of getting a team dynamic right. Especially within a group of leaders who then perpetuate the culture across development / project teams. You can have the smartest, best skilled people and it can be a horrible team to work with or lead; just because you don't invest the time to build the right dynamic, help the personalities adjust and help each other see the value in each other and why you brought them together. If you get this right at the start and invest this time up front, you have a leadership team who are secure, empowered, and clear in their roles, which results in good outcomes, innovation and their ability in turn to lead their teams successfully. There's no other way to run large scaled delivery / development teams.
What was the most challenging situation you've faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
The most challenging situations I’ve been in, upon reflection, have been created by lack of clarity, lack of clear communications and people being in evolved circumstances where the effects of these had come together in organisations; typically of significant size and impact, that was also transforming.
In some of those situations I was able to overcome them by bringing people together, providing clarity in communication; in outlining a common purpose and objective and a direction to achieve it. In others, setting this clarity has been an organisation-wide exercise. As I learn to face these challenges better, I also learn to help my team face such situations better, by providing them with clarity and influencing organisational change efforts where I'm able to.
What advice would you give to other females looking to pursue a career in technology?
The biggest piece of advice I would give to any female is to not make lifetime decisions based on one hurdle, or one tiny roadblock they may hit on their way to wanting to create something amazing. The world of technology, every industry and opportunity it enables is evolving at such a rapid pace that no one can really be arrogant enough to tell you it can’t be done. If you care enough; you will find a way. Technology is evolving on a daily, weekly and monthly basis with a rate of change no one could have predicted 15 years ago. We are now at the crossroads of being able to design and reimagine the possibilities of what a career in technology offers us; for ourselves.
If you have a dream, a passion and something you want to achieve then I strongly encourage every female to take that first step. It will pay off no matter how daunting the beginning. I was delighted to see all the school children who joined the Go-Girl for IT event hosted by VIC ICT for Women; where over 600 school children will join sessions on a wide range of technical topics. I wish I’d had these opportunities and insights as a child and I think it is fantastic that there are organisations making an effort to bring this information and awareness to children. The road ahead is definitely bright and the possibilities truly endless.