Sri Lanka and Back Again
– An Interns Tale
We’re so happy that you want to read about our experience as interns at IFS. Stick around, we’ll tell you about exciting encounters, tasty food, beautiful nature and that uni has taught us more than we expected. But before we get underway a short introduction of us is in order.
Jonas enjoying the sunrise at Pidurangala
I am Jonas Nord, a 23-year-old extrovert with a keen interest for people, IT, board games and hiking. For the past two months I’ve interned at IFS Manufacturing as a Software Engineer, during my internship I’ve converted part of a desktop client in C#.NET to a web application in HTML5 and AngularJs.
Alice, on the balcony in Colombo
My name is Alice Walden, I am 24 years old and my internship has focused on structuring product release information. My internship has entailed the design and construction of a relational database which will handle information regarding different versions of IFS Applications.
Anyhow, now that you’re more familiar with us we can move on to the main star of this blogpost: Our time as interns at IFS in Sri Lanka.
We spent our first three weeks as interns at the Linköping office where we familiarized ourselves with technical tools, our colleagues, fika-chats and where the coffee/tea is. IFS trusted us to complete our tasks independently and gave us each a mentor to turn to with questions, we really hit the ground running! We felt ourselves growing more familiar with the workplace by each passing day, but we’d be lying if we said the first weeks weren’t the toughest. Just as we’d settled in three weeks had passed and it was time for four weeks in Colombo: Exciting!
Pale-faced new arrivals at Colombo Airport
Early morning the 24:th of April we landed in a 30 °C hot, incredibly humid Colombo. Its contrast to the grey, recently thawed Linköping was palpable. An IFS-driver greeted us at the airport and drove us to our apartment at Union Place, right smack in the middle of Colombo. After a long winter we were both struck with how incredibly green the landscape was, palms, mangrove, mango trees and huge ferns were all crowding up for their place in the sun.
Two ”totally not tired” interns enjoying the outdoors with colleagues
Prior to our trip we’d heard time and again that Sri Lankans are very hospitable, something which was proven just a few hours after arrival. Prabash and Rakhitha (two of Jonas team mates) showed us around the neighborhood, took us to the beach and joined us for a few drinks at a rooftop bar. Truly a warm welcome! The sun set over a rather odd site: a Chinese island expansion project; crazy what the construction engineers get up to these days…
Expanding Colombo, one ton of sand at a time
A marketplace in central Colombo. Fun Fact: 1 kg potatoes costs around 3.5 SEK.
Colombo is more crowded, hectic and loud than any city in Sweden. The amount of traffic lanes depends more on vehicle size than road markings and the horn is used frequently to inform other drivers that “I’m here!”. The city has significant Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim populations, Islamic and Buddhistic prayers can be heard on loudspeaker on any given day. Despite the high tempo and crowded streets most Sri Lankans we came across were optimistic, calm and quick to laughter. The office in Wellawatta, Colombo shared many similarities with the Linköping office. We were quickly reminded of just how connected the world of IT is. Our Sri Lankan colleagues used Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Reddit, common conversation topics were local politics (mostly corruption scandals), privacy scandals (Cambridge Analytica), fake news, the Korean peninsula and Donald Trump. Almost like home! We had colleagues to have fika and lunch with already on our first day, yet another proof of Sri Lankan hospitality.
Free lunches at Colombo office
Free dessert at Colombo office
Interning at the Colombo office came with a great perk: free lunch! An average lunch at the office consists of rice, lentils with curry, boiled eggs, dried fish mixed with green beans and chili, coconut chutney and papadum (imagine a larger and lighter potato chip). Since neither of us struggle with spicy food the lunches were great! Our colleagues were quite surprised but we were mostly happy to take a break from the Swedish kitchens salt, black pepper and potatoes. Another big difference from home is that Sri Lankans eat with their hands, luckily our Swedish colleagues had given us a heads up before we left otherwise we’d been quite shocked. The hand eating custom does have its benefits: the office has an abundance of sinks, soap and hand sanitizer. Our hand hygiene has probably never been this good.
Gangaramaya Temple, Colombo under Vesak
Our first weekend in Colombo coincided with Vesak – the yearly celebration of Lord Buddhas birth, life and death. The streets were filled with flags, paper lanterns, glowing lights and happy people. We learnt that Sri Lankans from near and far venture into Colombo to participate in the celebrations. One of the festivals main attractions was a lantern construction competition, we were thoroughly impressed with the craftsmanship which had gone into those lanterns. Another intriguing part of Vesak is the free food, Buddhists all over town hand out free food for those who want it, unfortunately the queues for food were so long that we had to pass on a sample, but the concept is endearing to say the least.
Sunrise at Pidurangala
Our second weekend brought a change of scenery as we went on a road trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Sigiriya. Sigiriya is known for its beautiful nature and the Lions Rock, which housed a king and his court around 450 AC. Sigiriya is only 160 km from Colombo, but as we quickly learnt distance in Sri Lanka is measured in hours, not kilometers. A combination of narrow winding roads, heavy traffic and dense habitation extended our journey to about 5 ½ hours. No wonder the Sri Lankese are so patient!
Since daytime temperatures are around 30oC we decided to do some night time hiking and watch the sunrise from Pidurangala, a rock adjacent to Lions Rock. We awoke at 3am, the road up Pidurangala was steep and uneven. However, we had good company in the form of stray dogs and each other. The view was definitely worth the effort.
Lions Rock doesn´t only attract human visitors
The view from a scorching hot Lions Rock
We came back down around 7pm and headed straight to Lion Rock. The temperature was rapidly rising but water, sunscreen and trail mix saw us through, as we joined the crowd of tourists ascending the rock. Yet again we were accompanied by four legged friends and treated to a spectacular view. Seeing all the old architecture, paintings and the massive stone lion paws was awe-inspiring. The rest of the day was spent resting, eating and chasing lost hours of sleep. Great success!
Elephants in Mineriya National Park
The day after visiting Lion Rock we visited Mineriya National Park. The park offered a much welcome break from crowded noisy cities as well as a chance to see elephants. As the above image suggests we were not disappointed. During our visit we saw approximately 70 elephants in various sizes. The giants were not concerned with the jeep-carried visitors, but simply grazed and bathed at their own leisurely pace.
The internship at IFS has given us the chance to learn and contribute to IFS on a technical, procedural and social level. Working as a part of a large IT organization has been very rewarding, despite most technical tools being brand new we’ve managed to contribute. Our ability to contribute can largely be attributed to IFS mentorship and a solid foundation from our studies. We’ve realized that despite our education not covering these exact tools we’ve been given the tools to learn, which in turn give us a solid foundation upon which to complete our tasks as interns.
Another interesting aspect of interning at IFS has been working in distributed teams. Linköping, Colombo and Kandy office are truly one unit which communicates daily, the projects are a team effort. Having English as the common language has been essential to our cooperation however, communication is more than language. For example, we had to learn that the speaking voice in Sri Lanka was slightly louder than a whisper in Sweden, better listen up!
Meeting BSc Management & IT freshmen students at University of Kelaniya
During our third week in Sri Lanka we were given the opportunity to meet all four years of the BSc Management & IT at University of Kelaniya. Kelaniya is a public, tuition free university, students must perform very highly in multiple national exams to be accepted. Most applicants do not make it to a public university and must resort to expensive, private universities or forego higher education altogether. This filtration of applicants may cause competent students to never receive higher education. A student we met described the system as “not as bad as the USA, but clearly in need of improvement”.
Their curriculum is slightly different to our own at Linköping University, a higher emphasis is placed on individual performance, strong individual leaders and knowing things by heart. Another interesting addition to the education is the “Personal Development” course, which runs throughout most semesters. The course focuses on a wide range of topics, from English in an IT-setting and working in teams to how to use utensils, all to improve international collaboration. Students who live within an hour from campus tend to stay at their parent’s homes, those who live further away usually opt for an on-campus accommodation. On-campus dorm rooms are shared between four students, unlike Swedish dorms there is no kitchen area, students either keep small gas stoves in their room or eat out. The students we met were very keen on chatting with us, common topics of conversation was our opinion of Sri Lanka and how cold it gets in Sweden. We noted that students who had studied for a long time were more likely to ask career-related questions. Many were interested in leaving Sri Lanka for the higher salaries and living standards of Europe or North America, however such an employment is highly sought after.
As cliché as it may sound time truly has flown by, one month passes faster than expected and the trip has really been great. We didn’t expect that the choice of studying MSc in IT & Management would take us all the way to Sri Lanka and now that all is said and done we would like to thank IFS and IT & Management Master Program at Linköping University for making this internship possible, and finally all Sri Lankan and Swedish colleagues at IFS, for all the laughs, friendly advice, engaging conversations and genuine interest in being with us.