The journey of the student becoming the teacher – Maneth Kulatunge
By Mahika Panditha
Meet Maneth Kulatunge (@maneth.k), the college student helping other students. I am in awe – Maneth is currently studying Computer Science at McGill University whilst also running his own YouTube Channel (Kongtent College @kongtent_college) and podcast (Making The Right Play @makingtherightplay). You can check out his stuff through his Instagram page!
We had the chance to have a chat with Maneth earlier this week, and he is definitely one to keep an eye out for – you can see his passion for technology and content creation pour out in his work and he is definitely an inspiration to all of us.
Maneth hopes to transition from software engineering to product management later on, as well as gaining financial freedom and maybe even building his own school, or funding a student’s higher education.
We are so proud of him already, and cannot wait to see what he has in store for the future; check out what he had to say!
Hey Maneth! Before we dive in, why don’t you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
Hi Mahika! Of course. I am a first-generation Computer Science student in my third year at McGill University, which is in the beautiful city of Montreal, Canada.
Realising that technology can be used to advance humanity and solve the world’s hardest problems set off a hunger in me to dive in deeper and feed my curiosity. I did this by teaching myself concepts and tools outside the classroom. I started going to hackathons from my first semester in college and carved out time to explore and tinker with a variety of emerging technologies.
My involvement helped me land an internship at the World’s Largest Telematics company right after my freshman year in college and I followed that up by securing three more internship terms. I was able to do this in a span of four semesters, and I am excited to move to Citi Bank this summer as a Software Development Analyst.
Extracurriculars and club work also play a large role in my career, and I was happy to work as a developer for BlockChain at McGill and HackMcGill. I was also excited to be selected as the first Google Developer Student Club lead for McGill and help students across North America understand the practical applications of Computer Science.
Getting a scholarship and a year’s exemption to my university is an opportunity I am extremely grateful for and I speak about my experiences at college along with college admission tips on my Youtube channel (Kongtent College). I also recently released a podcast with one of my best friends (Making The Right Play) where we invite motivated guests and speak about different career routes that they have taken and recipes for success.
In my free time, I like to watch and play basketball and get into arguments with people about who the greatest basketball player of all time is (it’s Lebron James). I also like to think I have an eye for photography but I have a long way to go in terms of skill.
What made you want to start your YouTube channel and podcast? Tell us the story behind both.
I am still grateful for people that helped through the college admission process, and I realised that it was my turn to give back to the student population in Sri Lanka. I was always disappointed with the asymmetry of information about higher education and careers in Sri Lanka. I started to write articles about it on my blog and then transitioned to doing videos on Youtube (Subscribe to Kongtent College!) about the college admission process, obtaining financial aid and the strategies students could use to make that happen for themselves.
I like to think of my Youtube channel as advice for my younger self.
After I saturate my content on college admission, I’d like to focus on surviving through college and making career decisions. The first step I took to make this transition is to run a podcast with one of my best friends about careers named “Making the Right Play”.
I realised that for people to benefit from my channel/platform, I need to be able to connect them to a variety of minds so they have a large bank of mental nuggets and strategies they can choose from.
The podcast’s name is inspired by how Lebron James plays on the basketball court and how our careers are just like a series of decisions made during a basketball game. Success is always about making the right plays (moves).
Let’s talk internships; you are joining Citi Bank this summer, what are you most looking forward to and what skills do you hope to gain through it?
Anytime you get an opportunity to work at the World’s Most Global Bank, you need to make the best out of it.
I am mostly looking forward to connecting with people inside the Citi Network, especially in Canada and New York. A lot of senior employees and executives at these companies are excited to help young interns and new grads like me, and I want to absorb as much as I can from them. These are some of the greatest minds on the planet, I am excited to meet them.
In terms of skills, I am planning on expanding my problem-solving skills and I am certain I will since I’ll have to handle projects that affect a large number of customers. I want to add another layer of experience to my existing skillset and I believe this will help me separate myself as a professional.
Other than that, you have done three other internships. What were those experiences like?
I got my first internship at Geotab after winning a Hackathon challenge at Montreal’s Largest Hackathon in my first year of university.
I grew tremendously at Geotab through three internships. I was able to contribute to the company’s codebase in an impactful manner, gain experience working on production-level code, learn how to debug code, write clean code with best practices, manage multiple projects simultaneously and operate successfully in a team setting.
A few of my favourite achievements were:
- Being invited, among four others, to showcase my work for the summer term in front of the CEO, Managers, and the rest of the intern class
- Presenting a full stack product, I built in front of my entire development team at Geotab
- Judging a hackathon as a representative of Geotab
- Being the first intern to represent the company at a career fair
- Winning at Toronto’s largest Summer Hackathon in 2019 and getting my code and an article about blockchain reviewed by an engineer at Silicon Valley
A few of my favourite memories included:
- Being part of the basketball team at Geotab
- Getting free lunch with my work friends on Fridays
- Eating bagels with cream cheese and drinking french vanilla coffee for free virtually every morning
- Bi-weekly reviews with my manager
- Company-sponsored team events. I still think about that all-you-can-eat sushi day
I look back at my run sometimes and I feel extremely happy that I met the people I met, shared memories with them and grew as a professional at the same time. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Something we HAVE to discuss, is you being the first Google Developer Student Club lead at your university. Tell us about that! How has it been thus far?
Being the Head Prefect and Model UN President in my high school made me understand my passion for leadership. As soon as the opportunity came up to represent Google’s Developer Student Clubs, I raced to it and found myself pitching my case to Googlers in North America.
The interesting part of being chosen as the first lead for any club on campus is that you have to handcraft the blueprint for how the club should function. My team and I were able to achieve a decent amount of success given our circumstances (online school), and we had hundreds of students interested in our events.
I was able to converse with other student leaders much easily since clubs are looking forward to collaborating. This helped me learn to be even more efficient and strategic as a technological advocate.
All in all, this has been a pleasant experience and I am looking forward to working with the next lead.
I wanted to ask you about your gap year – would you recommend it to other students? How was your experience?
I would wholeheartedly recommend a gap year to other students. I finished high school when I was 16+ years old. I wanted to study Economics back then. The career I envisioned for myself during this time and the one I am living now are completely different.
I started off my gap year interning at my high school as a public speaking teacher. I also spent most of my day trying to understand where I wanted to go for university and studying for my SAT examinations. I also carved out time to get involved for side projects. Afterwards, I opened up a charity based organization named HEAL (Help Enhance All Lives), worked with the core team of YouthHack Sri Lanka, and then moved to FriMi, SriLanka’s First Digital Bank, to work as a Marketing Intern. (I guess I have six internships)
It was also important for me to take a break and carelessly enjoy life before diving deep into university. I was able to spend time with my family and make memories with the most genuine people I met from high school. I also found people outside my general bubble when I was selected to be part of the Colombo Operated Model United Nations exco. I got close to two of my best friends there and one of them introduced me to my current mentor!
I wouldn’t be the person I am without my gap year. A lot of people would have considered all of this a ‘waste of time’ but it gave me time to reflect and grow and I am glad I took my time to do that.
So, Maneth, you are already an amazing role model for so many youngsters out there! where would you like to see your platforms in about five years?
In terms of content creation, I think I have a long way to go to be a conventionally “successful” content creator, but I would always try to speak about topics that I am sincerely passionate about, because we can enjoy the process of content creation much more and create genuine impact.
I think people should not get too disheartened with engagement and views initially (this applies to me too) because all this isn’t really in our control, and what we can control is getting better at our delivery and pushing out more content with time. Making videos, editing graphics, and writing articles are extremely fun things to do, and we have all the freedom to create exactly what we want to put out.
I think the more people look at content creation that way, the more success they will have with it, because we all gravitate towards things we like to do.
Any advice for students looking to study Computer Science abroad? Or get into content creation?
For students looking to study Computer Science abroad, I think you are signing up for an exciting journey and I hope the following tips might help you fast-track your growth.
- Understand what you want to achieve with studying Computer Science and understand what it takes to achieve your respective goal.
This is a crucial step in understanding how to structure your efforts in college. I think your first year in college is a very exploratory phase where you place yourself in different subject spaces and understand what works for you and what you are passionate about.
Some of my friends are pure academics and they wanted to pursue graduate school education and learn topics like Machine Learning in theoretical depth. If you are a similar academic, it’s important to prioritize your learning in class and focus on grades that will help you construct a strong grad school application. Your extracurricular efforts are probably going to be things like research assistantships and your network is going to be your professors and other academics.
However, if you are someone like me, you probably don’t want to stay in academic spaces, and want to enter the industry. Your GPA or Grades will only matter to a certain degree, so make sure you meet that criteria, but also understand that exerting too much pressure on yourself to get a perfect grade might not bring too much value. Don’t get me wrong here, I still work extremely hard for my classes, but I prioritise my projects, networking, internships, and self-learning much more. I have been able to get near-perfect GPAs consecutively for the last four semesters but I consider this my least significant achievement. I got my first internship with a below-average GPA so that’s enough proof for my case. After a certain point, talking about grades just becomes a nice chat topic for supper. There is much more to achieve with our college journeys.
My point is that your hustle will change according to your goal(s) so make sure you get inspired by the right people.
- The power of small wins Is underrated.
Social Media makes us believe that extravagant moves and actions are what places people in positions of success but I think what gets missed out a lot is the compounding effect of consistent work on your craft.
Your success is going to always be determined by the habits that you develop throughout your college journey and the day-to-day decisions that you make. Decisions like choosing to sit down and work on your interviewing skills, or spend a couple of hours on a side project will compound and help you secure the small wins and these small wins will lead to big victories. Surround yourself with a great circle that will support you through these small wins and leverage them to win at the highest level.
- Believe that you belong.
Fifty per cent of winning at the highest level is going to be dependent on whether you believe you can win. A lot of people used to tell me I was overly ambitious when I was young but looking back, I think I was underestimating myself. If I told my 15-17-year-old self that I’d be competing with kids from MIT for internships in the Silicon Valley or that I would be working at the World’s Most Global Bank, I’d be shocked.
Everything you have ever dreamed of in a realistic realm of thought is at your fingertips. If you want to be good at a certain piece of tech, Google it, learn the skills and master it. The same applies to everything else in Computer Science. Anyone can do it if they put their mind into it and work smart. The myth about genius “whiz” kids in Computer Science and Tech is a false narrative. Yes, there are a bunch of incredibly smart people who have been coding since they could speak, but most of the Computer Science student population learned the subject and its applications at a much later age.
So don’t feel intimidated, or don’t ever feel like you are shooting too high. You have all the strength, the power, and the intelligence to achieve virtually any goal you set your mind to. You belong here and I hope you believe that. Stay curious and keep working smart.