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.
Bio: It was quite a feat for Kalinga Gunawardhana to pick up coding as a child, and an even greater one considering he comes from Uva, one of two provinces with the lowest IT literacy rate in Sri Lanka.
Kalinga’s fierce devotion to programming is easily visible from how deeply integrated it is with his life. While studying computing in university, he served as a Microsoft Student Ambassador where he helped other students in the Microsoft Student Champs Community (Microsoft Sri Lanka’s version of Microsoft Student Partners Programme) to improve their technical skills, network and gain exposure to the IT industry. He participated in Imagine Cup several times, and his team came in as first runner-up in the Imagine Cup Sri Lanka (Innovation Category) 2013. In the same year, he founded a nonprofit organisation Uva Wellassa IT Foundation to improve digital literacy rates in Uva, and started a software engineering firm CeyDigital with a friend. When he does have time on his hands, Kalinga loves to blog about tech issues in Sinhala and English.
Can you describe a few projects in coding that you have done?
I’ve been involved in developing many business applications, and have come up with a modelling language for a business intelligence project too.
Recently, I created an encryption algorithm using an augmented reality environment to ensure high security for important facilities like nuclear power plants. It will create a virtual reality environment to authenticate users by using a smartphone application.
Can you tell us a little about your experience in learning to code?
I started coding when I was 11 years old and wrote my first HTML webpage. At that time, I didn’t have anyone to teach me, and my only source of reference was from a popular computer magazine, Wijaya Pariganaka. I created my own notes, practised writing code and memorised the syntax. A few years later at Bandarawela Central College, I had the chance to learn Visual Basic 5 and 6 and C#, and then slowly moved on to other languages.
To make it as the first runner-up for Microsoft Imagine Cup Sri Lanka (Innovation Category) 2013 is not easy. Could you briefly tell us what your project was about?
Guide Me On the Go (GMON) is a combination of wearable technology and a Windows 8 Phone application that aids the visually impaired to use software through voice commands, so they are able to take photos, use the calculator and surf the Internet.
What are some of the lessons you gained from the whole Imagine Cup process?
Having a team with great chemistry is essential for success. We had some pretty rough times throughout the competition, but we didn’t give up, and eventually clinched the first runner-up prize. Persistence and determination pays!
Microsoft is having a WeSpeakCode campaign to encourage young people to learn coding. If you were to speak to the younger generation, what kind of advice would you give them?
I strongly believe that everyone can learn coding. The key to mastering it is to establish a solid understanding of how a programme actually functions. Then, you just need to learn the basic concepts; most programming languages share common ones. The only difference lies in the syntax, the set of rules that defines the structure of code and the combination of symbols.
Once you get the fundamentals, switching between several languages will be easy, just like a carpenter using different tools!
I’m inspired by… Sharing my knowledge and specialising in what I love.