Why joining :Different is best for Hasitha Liyanage | Sunday Observer

Why joining :Different is best for Hasitha Liyanage

12 July, 2020

Sri Lankan  Engineer Hasitha Liyanage declares that joining Sydney based technology company ‘:Different’ is the best career decision he has ever made. Why is this so?

According to Liyanage, a career change was the last thing on his mind when the co-founders reached out to him. But after learning who they are (Uber’s first Head of Product and a member of Google’s Global Business Strategy team), the company’s growth rate, and a quick review of the company’s tech stack, his mind was quickly made up. Ten days later, he was telling his boss and mentor that he will be saying goodbye to his cushy job, corner office and his 74-engineer team to try his hand at the startup.

Five months on, the risky move appears to have more than paid off.

“A lot of people asked me if I was insane,” says Liyanage. “The answer I gave them was: if I don’t take this now, I might kick myself a few years down the road. Well, I didn’t have to wait that long. I’ve learned more in the last three months than I’ve done in the preceding two years. I used to think that I had a good handle on how to run engineering and that   my previous employers represented top-of-the-class. But the past few months have taught me that there’s an entire level above that: the level where the likes of Uber and Google operate, (and now :Different). I believe that if we can get Sri Lankan engineering to this same level, we  can ruly have a shot at being a globally recognised nation for high quality software engineering, which is something I’ve always believed in.”

As a countercyclical business, :Different has also weathered the Covid-19 crisis well: during the height of the pandemic, when the vast majority of venture capital (VC) funds were either suspending  or outright pulling out of startup funding rounds, the company made headlines for securing a $7 million series A.

“I was a bit worried when the pandemic hit the month after I joined the company,” says Liyanage. “But during the height of the lockdown, new customers continued to sign on, we closed a successful funding round, and within that same period, we hired  much great talent: a CTO, Head of Design, Head of HR and Recruitment, VP of Operations a new product manager and five senior software engineers. If that doesn’t instill confidence, I don’t know what will!”

Despite having played management roles for the past four years, Liyanage still considers himself an engineer at heart. “The reputation of the founders and strong growth were all great, but what really did it for me was the engineering. I’ve been in the industry long enough to have heard dozens of buzzword-laden pitches with no substance underneath. But :Different was just the opposite. All throughout my early chats with their engineering team, I never heard the usual buzzwords. No mentions of ‘Microservices’, ‘CI/CD’, ‘Infrastructure as Code’, ‘Big Data’ or ‘Machine Learning’. They were just doing it. It was all there in the code, fully functional, written elegantly. And the fact that they were using my dream tech stack -- JavaScript, React, Node.js, GraphQL, AWS -- didn’t hurt either!”

Asked about hiring, Liyanage said: “While we do plan to double in size in the next few months, we don’t expect to be hiring hundreds of engineers, at least not for the next couple of years. We’re not a body shop. What we plan to do is hire a handful of the best-of-the-best. And by best, I don’t mean people with the best GPAs or the best raw programming talent; I mean those with the best combination of engineering skills, critical thinking, communication and emotional intelligence. What we’re aiming for is something huge, so these are the types of people we need.”

Liyanage believes that :Different has a real shot at doing for the home what Uber has done for the road, and that in the process, it will become a major technology company with a significant footprint in Sri Lanka.

 Liyanage started  as a junior level C++ engineer at MillenniumIT (now LSEG Technology) eighteen years ago, even before their now famous Malabe campus was opened, Liyanage has played varied roles: developing high frequency trading (HFT) algorithms for US Treasury bonds, leading the engineering team that developed the Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s Central Gateway, leading engineering for the ILO-funded digitization of the the Philippines’ national Labor Law Compliance System and more recently, leading the Sysco LABS engineering team that built and deployed Sysco’s new e-commerce platform (which currently handles an appreciable fraction of the Fortune-100 corporation’s $60B annual sales).