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Chandula Kodituwakku

Developing a passion for cybersecurity

Kodituwakku stands in front a rack of computer servers, which glow with colourful lights.

(Photo: Armando Tura)

Chandula Kodituwakku is passionate about cybersecurity and is always looking for hands-on experience in the area. Fortunately, he’s found plenty of opportunities during his time in UVic Computer Science.

For his first co-op, Chandula got hired by UVic Systems as part of the Computer Help Desk. After the co-op, he continued working for the help desk part-time and presented three training sessions for university staff and faculty on the importance of online security.

“When I first came to Canada I was pretty shy, but working with UVic Systems was a turning point for me,” says Chandula, who moved from Sri Lanka to attend UVic. “UVic Systems recognized my interest in security and gave me a lot of opportunities to pursue it. It’s really helped improve my communication skills and confidence.”

One of his presentations – attended by about 40 UVic personnel – focused on how cyber criminals can exploit a person’s digital footprint, particularly through social media. Another presentation featured a live hacking session, in which he showed attendees just how hackers work. 

“In the cybersecurity world, we say that humans are the weakest element: even with technology like firewalls, if you click on a phishing link it can lead to downloading and spreading malicious software throughout the workplace,” says Chandula. “We need to make people aware of the risks because it can affect their work life and personal life. It’s not just a problem for an organization’s IT team – it’s an issue for everyone.”

Chandula says the combination of his course work, part-time job at UVic and four hands-on co-op terms has enabled him to develop the foundational theoretical knowledge he needs while also honing his technical and soft skills.

“Co-op placements improve your communication and leadership skills, and also make really helpful connections,” he says. “They give you the chance to translate the theoretical concepts you learned in the classroom into real solutions that you implement in the workplace.”

Placing first in Toronto

Another co-op took place at the Royal Bank of Canada, where Chandula was part of its Global Data Centre Operations in Toronto. There, he worked on RBC’s huge international network, which connects hundreds of thousands of devices, and developed a chatbot to help automate certain tasks. While in Toronto, he attended a conference and learned about a national cybersecurity competition for post-secondary students. 

Back at UVic, Chandula quickly assembled a team that included himself and three UVic Software Engineering undergraduates. The team became first-place champions, showcasing a solution to help small businesses achieve cybersecurity.

“You have to get out of your comfort zone sometimes and that’s what we did,” says Chandula. “It was awesome.”

A growing passion for IT

UVic appealed to Chandula for two main reasons: he liked that its Computer Science program offered flexibility in allowing students to specialize in a number of areas, and he wanted to incorporate a co-op program that promised experiential learning. 

When he arrived in Victoria, Chandula didn’t know a single person. But living in residence during first year helped ensure that he made friends and by second year, he and his residence roommate were living in an apartment. Luckily, his roommate is also in computer science and didn’t seem to mind when Chandula set up a small computer network in their dorm room. When the two moved off campus, the home network started to grow and includes multiple servers with security systems, which reside in the living room. 

“Having a home lab gives me great hands-on experience – I have to implement everything from scratch,” he says. “It’s like running my own small business where I play the roles of system architect, system administrator, cybersecurity analyst and network technician.”

Not surprisingly, it’s the cybersecurity role that interests him the most. 

“My home network is open to the Internet, so cyber criminals try to get into it and I have to defend it,” he explains. At the same time, if a co-op position he’s interested in requires experience in a particular software, he can quickly install it on his home network and get up to speed.

Looking to the future

While he misses his family, friends and the food of Sri Lanka, Chandula plans to stay in Canada.

In particular, he hopes to specialize in penetration testing, which involves getting hired to legally hack into an organization’s network to identify and address vulnerabilities. He also would like to keep speaking about cybersecurity at schools and conferences to keep raising awareness about online security.

“Cybersecurity is a huge field. I’ve met a lot of people and have started to make a name for myself here in Canada,” he says. “And, at the end of the day, with cybersecurity you’re doing something designed to help keep people and organizations safe. It’s fun, it’s a challenge and it’s helping people protect themselves.”

 Read more student stories.