Soft skills for a solid career: Q&A with Thilina Ratnayake, BCIT Computing grad

We caught up with alum Thilina Ratnayake, who graduated with a Diploma in Computer Information Technology (CIT) in 2014, then laddered into a Bachelor of Technology (BTech) in Computer Systems Technology – Network Security Option, finishing in 2016.

Q: Tell us about your career path since you graduated from BCIT 

A: After graduating, I tried my hand at a few jobs in Systems Administration and Front End Development. However, I ultimately found my fit as a Customer Support Engineer at OpenDNS (now acquired by Cisco, as the Cisco Cloud Security Team).

I decided to go into Support because I realized I really enjoyed talking to people and wanted a role that would allow me to focus on that strength, and also use the knowledge gained from my security degree. After gaining my footing, and advancing to become a Technical Team Lead after about a year in, I began looking for more technical work in line with what I’d studied in school. As of 10 months ago, I moved into the Security Engineering team as a Software Engineer.

Q: How did BCIT prepare you for the role you’re in today?

A: BCIT did a fantastic job of preparing me for all the roles I’ve been in since graduation.

When I was starting out as a Support Engineer, the education from BCIT enabled me to much more easily troubleshoot and understand all sorts of customers deployments and issues, due to the large breadth of areas studied in CIT. This gave me the contextual knowledge (even if it wasn’t the specific system that I was troubleshooting or working on) to be able to come up with solutions, or as was well-practiced at BCIT, be able to find the answers required to build a solution.

In addition to the technical knowledge, I cannot thank BCIT enough for the soft skills gained from its heavy emphasis on a cohort-based learning approach. From all the group projects, which forced me to work with all sorts of other teammates, to all the presentations we had to deliver in classes, all of these skills were used everyday at work whether it was conversations with customers, interactions with teammates, or coordinating with other areas of our organization.

“I cannot thank BCIT enough for the soft skills gained from its heavy emphasis on a cohort-based learning approach.”

If I were to think hard about my job as a Support Engineer, I can think of where so many of my courses came into play:

  • Getting the job: Communication courses helped me so much in writing a good resume/cover letter, as well as how to approach applying for jobs.
  • Communicating with customers:
    • Liberal Studies courses like Critical Reading and Writing, and logic/philosophy courses are essential for being able to effectively analyze customer issues and explain solutions logically.
    • Communication is again critical as interactions with customers generally occur textually – being able to write succinct and tactical emails were the bread and butter of daily work.
  • Business acumen: Business courses helped me work with the business-oriented teams and, as a Support Engineer, were essential in knowing how to extract business needs before offering technical solutions.
  • Teamwork & leadership: Organization Behaviour courses helped me as a team lead in knowing how to better influence and assist team members achieve success. In fact, a lot of these skills were used in the development of a mentorship program that I helped develop for new hires on the CSR team.

I would heavily attribute the soft skills gained and practiced from BCIT towards helping me not only gain the job with the interviewing and job-hunting skills, but also in the success of being able to work in a high-performing team. Last but not least, they’ve helped me gain a leadership role in where I initially was able to call upon my experience as a BCIT Set Rep for my cohort.

Q: Tell us about your current role, and how it’s making an impact.

A: Currently I am a Software Engineer in the Security Engineering team, and our work is all about developing tooling and systems to make it easier for other engineers to build more secure and resilient systems. In this more technical role, one of the most important lessons learned from BCIT, that I apply daily, is the ability to analyze problems and to know how to go about finding the information to solve them.

At BCIT, you are constantly subjected to stressful deadlines with projects and assignments that initially seem very hard and complex. In hindsight, is exactly like the real world, if not a bit easier. And just like at BCIT, the way to win is to break down those complex problems, work with your teammates, and then push towards finding the tools, information, or solutions to get the job done.

Again, I find myself using the soft skills I learned at BCIT a lot more in my daily work than I thought I would. From speaking in meetings, to writing emails or documents, to knowing how to work with all sorts of people on a global team from different backgrounds – these soft skills are really what help me make an impact in what I do.

“In this more technical role, one of the most important lessons learned from BCIT, that I apply daily, is the ability to analyze problems and to know how to go about finding the information to solve them.”

Q: What can you tell us about the expansion or evolution of careers in your specialty?

A: Software engineering is no longer just about being able to write good code. To really excel in this field nowadays, requires a lot of soft skills – problem solving, communication, and teamwork.  This is especially true for my specialty within the security side of things – in order to make our systems and software more secure and resilient, we need to communicate effectively so our good ideas can be translated into a more secure and connected world.

Q: Any advice you’d give to others who want to prepare themselves for a career in this area?

A: Definitely get comfortable working in teams, and in communicating within the team. External communications – like presentations – are just as common and essential in the real working world, so learn to love those too. Build close ties with your course mates and keep them going after graduation – this professional network will be invaluable for you as you progress through your career, and will probably also lead you towards new opportunities!

Check out Thilina’s blog.

Thinking about studying at BCIT? Join us for Big Info night or a CIT Infosession.

Leave a comment