To celebrate coding and programmers, we are highlighting YouthSpark stars in Asia Pacific who have learned to code and have found success in school, competitions and career by understanding this language. We hope their stories will inspire you. What are you waiting for? Learn to speak Code now. #WeSpeakCode.
Recognised as the “Most Outstanding Entrepreneur in IT/BPO industry in Sri Lanka”, Harsha Purasinghe has harboured dreams of making a difference through technology since he was young. As a boy, he used his computer not to play games, but to learn coding, and would spend the rest of his time hunting down news about his idols Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and their business management and product development stories. Later on in college, Harsha co-founded Microimage, which is now a million-dollar regional company specialising in software solutions that have clinched local and international awards.
It was at Ananda College Colombo that Harsha found kindred souls who shared his obsession with software development. In 1993, at 19 years old, he set up Microimage Computer Systems with a couple of schoolmates from the college computer club. Their first breakthrough came just a year later when they sold the Sinhala fonts that they wrote for Windows 3.1 to the National Institute of Education.
In 1997, they stumbled into the human resources (HR) software application scene by chance, unaware that the time attendance and payroll software they built would be in huge demand. Four years later, the company moved into comprehensive web-based HR software by introducing the first-ever e-HR product to the market.
Harsha and his team at Microimage continued to push out innovative products that broke the mould. One of them was radio automation software, which was unprecedented in Asia, let alone Sri Lanka. “We weren’t so sure if we could do it, but if we hadn’t, the technology would have been imported from Europe or the USA, and our company wouldn’t have grown as much.” Today Microimage mStudio powers all the key radio networks in Sri Lanka, as well as other leading radio networks in Asia.
In the wake of the destruction by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, Microimage pushed out the world’s first GSM-based multi-mode early warning solution, together with Dialog Telekom and the University of Moratuwa Dialog R&D Lab. “Today, this early warning system belongs to the Disaster Management Center of the Government of Sri Lanka,” said Harsha. “We’re proud that we helped develop a system that can potentially save the lives of millions.”
Learning valuable lessons
From a college start-up to the international operation it is today, Microimage has undergone its fair share of knocks and falls. “When we started out,” Harsha commented, “we realised that no one wanted to buy software from a company without a proper office, but we made the mistake of renting office space in Nugegoda. We had to pay a huge amount of money for an office that was way beyond our company size. We learnt a good lesson and decided to scale down our company to settle in a more modest 400-square-foot location.”
“There were other wrong decisions, too,” Harsha added, “such as taking up a payroll software customisation job that took longer than expected. The client rejected it, and we were left with a product that we had absolutely no idea how to sell. ”
Taking action is more important than having a great idea
Despite the setbacks, the company has gone from strength to strength, and now has two companies: Microimage, which focuses on human capital management solutions, and Microimage Mobile Media, which delivers products and solutions for mobile, media and digital convergence. The company’s expansion is further fuelled by its SaaS products. Harsha also co-founded another company with WSO2 Inc. in the United States to build open source enterprise mobile management software for the global market.
Observing the rise of digital literacy and the increasing affordability of computing devices, Harsha feels that the younger generation should learn how to make technology work for them, instead of just using it as a means. “New technologies have created a plethora of opportunities, unlike in the time when we first started,” Harsha explained. “With cloud computing and mobile computing, developers are able to participate in the international marketplace, and offer globally standardised products to a much larger audience.”
To Harsha, success begins with a brilliant idea, but it doesn’t end there. “A good idea is important, but having a focused strategy and execution is more critical to success. It’s like the desire to run a marathon: after planning, you need to take the first step—and sustain it all the way. This has always been my motto for running a business.”