The previous regime had their sight set on making Sri Lanka the next technology hub in South Asia; perhaps the next Silicon Valley. Whether this is possible or not, Sri Lankans have made it big in the IT world – world over. Names like Chamath Palihapitiya and Rajan Anandan are well known internationally, having made waves (a tidal bore even) in the global IT industry.
At the age of 47 years, Rajan is the Vice President and Managing Director of Google – South East Asia and India. It’s been four years since he assumed this role, while previously he was the Managing Director of Microsoft India, and the Vice President and Country General Manager of Dell in India.
While Rajan has strong work ties with India, he has lived and studied in the US, having attended MIT where he obtained his BSc in in Mechanical Engineering, and later Standford University for his MSc in Manufacturing Systems Engineering.
Work aside, Rajan has had an eventful childhood in Sri Lanka given that his father was determined (and succeeded) in setting Guinness World Records. In an interview with Business Standard, he relates that his father swam across the Palk Strait, treaded water for 72 hours, and stood on one leg for 33 hours. Rajan adds that at one point he held the most Guinness Records. His father passed away while attempting to swim the English Channel in stormy weather when Rajan was 16 years old. It was just a year before that Rajan had set out to follow his dream of being a pilot. But at age 15 the flying school found him much too young and so he followed the gears of his future and shifted to the IT field. The rest is history in the making.
Chamath Palihapitiya was born in Sri Lanka but migrated to Canada at the age of six with his father. They lacked means, and lived on welfare, residing in an annex above a Laundromat. The technologist and venture capitalist, has come a long way; his current net worth is listed as US$ 1.2 billion.
How is that possible? Take an IT genius and place them in Silicon Valley during the internet boom. Much like Zuckerberg. Speaking of whom, Chamath worked for Facebook where his responsibilities were to increase Facebook’s userbase, having previously worked for AOL in the instant messaging division in 2004.
Chamath is a partial owner of the Oakland, California basketball team the Golden State Warriors. He is also the founder and managing partner of The Social+Capital Partnerships, a partnership of philanthropists, technologists and capitalists utilizing venture capital as a force to create value and change on a global scale.
Sri Lankan women have made their mark in the international IT arena as well. Saman Dias is one of them.
Living in the San Francisco Bay in the late 1980’s, and exposed to its dynamic IT industry, Saman noticed it had the potential to be much, much more. Taking a chance on that hunch, in 1992 Saman founded AIM Computer Training, focusing on the lucrative large-scale business training market segment. It didn’t take long for AIM to become a multimillion-dollar global training program and one of the most respected and leading training companies in the Bay.
Much like Rajan, Saman hadn’t intended on pursuing a career in IT. Initially she had wanted to be a medical doctor and her family encouraged it, but soon Saman developed a fascination for computer technology as microcomputers trickled into Sri Lanka. Bitten by the IT bug, there was no turning back for Saman.
Since then she has been presented with quite a few awards, such as the Working Woman Magazine (WWM) Entrepreneurial Excellence Award for Customer Service, 2001; WWM Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards for General Excellence, 2000; WWM Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards for Innovative Solutions, 2000; and Business Times Women of Distinction General excellence Award 2000.
Mani Kulasooriya’s profile on the Leapset website is probably the most interesting among those listed. It states – “Born in Sri Lanka, studied in the United States, and married to a Spaniard, Mani has an appreciation for every culture he encounters—especially their cuisines. Whether it’s sheep’s brains, fried crickets or baby eels, there isn’t a dish he’s shy to try”.
Mani is the product of Trinity College, and read for his B.Sc in Mechanical Engineering at Tulane University and his MBA at Vanderbilt University – Owen Graduate School of Management.
For someone who is the CEO of a highly successful start-up, there isn’t much else in terms of personal details about Mani available online. So all we know for now is that he’s quite adventurous when it comes to food.
As for business endeavours, Mani has invested as a tech angel since 2008 though he considers himself an experienced entrepreneur and a novice investor. He founded Monvia five years ago, and it is what Leapset in built on. Monvia is described as a technology incubator that built products for Chase, Citigroup, Yahoo!, Deluc and AOL.
Mani has previously been the Vice President of Citigroup e-Citi, Director at MobiBucks and the Senior Product Manager at Yahoo!. Mani is an idea man. Before Monvia and Leapset, he founded CrossFunds / Adelant Corporation.
While most of the Sri Lankan born, world-renowned, IT experts have grown up in the west, Dilan Jayawardena grew up in Sri Lanka. A product of Nalanda College Colombo and the University of Moratuwa, Dilan left the shores of Sri Lanka when MIT offered him a scholarship for computer science and engineering.
He currently works for Google in its Google X project as a Project Manager and was previously one of the main developers for Google’s Google+ social network and Space elevator project.
In an interview with The Island, Dilan says he suspects Google saw Scoopler, a real-time search engine, as competition. “I assume Google would have seen ‘Scoopler’ as a threat and that’s why they bought me out. I cannot disclose the purchase price, but interestingly, they employed me. That was a big plus because I gained from the Google experience. I am now working on a different product”, the article quotes.
While we have listed five IT big-wigs, there are several more who have their own Silicon Valley success stories. It’s clear that for several of them it’s taken a bit of book smarts and streets coupled together – a combination that most Sri Lankans seem to possess. So the dream of being successful in the IT industry isn’t impossible, throw in a bit of luck into the equation and Sri Lanka may well have enough IT engineers and experts to give to a Silicon Valley in Sri Lanka.
Edited – Thank you for the comments. We have updated Mani Kulasooriya as Leapset CEO.