Balancing a busy I.T. career with running a commercial cleaning franchise, Hirantha Nandasena found the time to write and publish his wonderful book “How To Succeed In Toronto.” Of his inspiration for the book, Mr. Nandasena states: “With a genuine interest in helping new immigrants, I have tried to impart the knowledge gained in the last 12 years as an immigrant.” We have the privilege of interviewing Mr. Nandasena today.
TH: You’re an incredibly accomplished person! How did you get your career started? Did you always know you’d have an involvement in activism through writing?
HN: My career is actually IT (Information Technology) and I’ve been working in the banking industry. It was very hard to find a job in my field, but I worked hard to get it. I developed a network, studied at York University and got good grades and kept searching. I joined a bank sorting mail and performing security duties and kept upgrading my knowledge and progressed in my career. I also have a successful commercial cleaning franchise. That too was hard at the beginning and I learnt some valuable lessons and learnt how to turn it into a profitable venture. Now I can retire or semi-retire if I really want to.
I started writing only 4 years ago and “Success In Toronto: A Guide for New Immigrants” is my first book. I was good in English in high school, but never studied writing as a profession. Writing my first book without such education was an interesting experience. I treated it as a learning experience and knew that my second book will be much better. Now the challenge is to find some time to write a second book.
I always wanted to help people and make a difference, but never knew that it would be through writing. Now that i know its potential, i will continue to write to Help people. I also plan to start a non-profit to help new immigrants. At one point in my life, hopefully soon, I also want to help people suffering from hunger. I’ve seen in person in Africa etc. how much people suffer without food.
TH: Do you have any advice for newcomers looking to break into the journalism/writing scene in Toronto? How about freelancers?
The 12 principles I mentioned in the first chapter of my book apply to any field in Toronto. It’s very important to network in Toronto. You’ll not only get job offers from your networking contacts, but also tips on how to succeed in this field. Having a mentor, joining a professional association, getting some experience (volunteer, co-op etc.), upgrading your knowledge to cater to the job market etc. too would help. Learn from your networking contacts and mentors what you need to do and keep doing them to improve your chances of success. Keep moving in the right direction.
Do you have any social media advice for professional newcomers looking to succeed in Canada?
Social media is very important in Canada. Try to connect with people via LinkedIn, Facebook etc. I got one of my jobs after a friend saw my Facebook post saying I am looking for a job. You have to go with the trend and the trend now is social media.
TH: Can you outline one strategy you describe in your book for newcomers looking to succeed in Toronto?
HN: Here’s the section from my book on networking:
“Most of you probably didn’t realize it but, before migrating to Canada, we had a network of people and contacts that we approached when we needed to get something done. Many of these people were automatically available to us because of our family, friends, where we lived, religious institutions, and so forth, and our networks had grown over the years. This is invaluable for success. Now that we have moved away from the old network, what we have to do is develop such a network here, too. This is not that hard. Just create new friends who work in the industry you want to work in. Befriend people who share the same ideals. Befriend people who enjoy and are willing to help others. After some time, you will find that you have a network of people and contacts like you had in the country you migrated from. Then, you will find it much easier to find a good job; you can perhaps borrow something you need to get something done, you can get some good advice, etc. Life becomes so much easier when you have such a network. You will have to search for some of these contacts, but some will come to you automatically over the years.”
In my chapter on jobs, I mentioned that the main thing that I would like the readers to learn from the chapter is that networking is the most important thing to find a great job.
TH: Can you describe a challenge you faced as you were building your career in Canada during the last 12 years?
HN: It was hardest when I was new here. I did not have any family or friends and was not sure how I could find a job in my field. In Sri Lanka, at least 12 years ago, we got jobs by applying for advertised jobs. I tried that here, but was unsuccessful. My personality is never to give up if I feel like I can achieve something. My thinking was that if others with similar qualifications and skills can get a good job in my field, then definitely I can get such a job. I just needed to change. I started studying at York University and networked. I got a job in banking within 8 months. If you work hard and smart, no one can stop you from succeeding.
TH: You also manage a very successful website. What are some challenges that come with this job?
To be honest, it doesn’t take up much of my time compared to the other things I do. Perhaps this is because I have an IT background. It took me only 10-15 hours to self-learn how to create a site and create my site. Google and Youtube was very helpful. You can learn many things with these 2 tools.
TH: As a newcomer to Canada, have you ever felt a target of discrimination at any point of your career?
HN: I’ve worked for few organizations in Canada and I definitely have felt discrimination in at least 1 or more organizations. I understand that there are various kinds of discrimination (race, sex, age etc.) in many countries, but what we could focus on is how to succeed despite the discrimination. Trying to eliminate discrimination is important too.
TH: Tell us a little about your decision process: why did you choose Canada – and why Toronto? Did you consider anywhere else?
HN: Canada was ranked as the best country to live in at that time (2001) and I’ve always felt that Canadians are good people and Canada is a peaceful and prosperous country. Just one example: my hometown Kandy in Sri Lanka is a tourist city and there is a tourist shop right opposite our school. Once, some Canadian tourists who visited this shop gave us some small badges that had the Canadian flag and they were very kind too. I was so happy to receive a badge and wear it. After maybe 6 years, I still had that badge and wore it to my Canadian Immigration interview. Tourists from many countries visit this tourist shop but the only gift I’ve received is from those Canadians. This shows the good attitude of Canadians and that they are kind, giving and proud to be Canadian.
The Canadian city I had heard most about was Toronto and it is the largest city, so it was a natural choice. I thought I’d land here and then move to a different city if needed, but didn’t have to because I fell in love with it.
TH: Did you encounter any difficulties with the immigration process? If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice about the Canadian immigration process, what would it be?
HN: I was lucky to experience a very smooth and efficient immigration process and got my immigration papers within 8 months of applying. I contributed to this success by hiring an immigration lawyer. If you choose the right options, you can make life easier and improve your chances of success. If you are planning to migrate to Canada and would like to hire a lawyer, ask few who have migrated here which law firm they used and can recommend.
TH: Keeping a multiple-stranded career together – from working as a freelance journalist to your work in the financial industry – must be incredibly fast-paced and packed with daily challenges – how does a typical workday look for you?
I also manage my commercial cleaning franchise and am studying to upgrade my IT knowledge. The key is that I take 1 day at a time. I face challenges at work and in my business but not so much as a freelance journalist because I consider writing to be a hobby at least for now. My life right now is fast-paced and I am planning to slow down the pace within a year or two. One of the 12 principles I wrote in my book is that true success is when you have the time to enjoy the money you have. I don’t work on Sundays for religious reasons and that helps to recharge my batteries. A typical day would be, going to work, studying 30 minutes – 2 hours after work and then supervising the work of my employees in my business. I still have some spare time because I live close to work. It’s amazing the amount of time you save by living close to work. I used to live within walking distance to work.
TH: How did you start building a name for yourself in Toronto?
HN: It came naturally by publishing my book and trying to promote it. One thing I always understood is that recognition by the media is very important for my quest to help new immigrants. I also applied the 12 principles mentioned in the first chapter of my book. These principles will help you succeed in any field.
TH: In your experience as an author and media personality, what is a key challenge facing international media professionals?
HN: Not sure if I am experienced enough in this field to comment on this. I would say networking and having a mentor would help you face any challenges successfully. This will help you to learn the trends and go with the flow. I like to give the example of not trying to swim upstream in a river. Try to learn what your shortcomings are and change yourself to mitigate them. If there are challenges, try to focus on solutions (another principle in the 1st chapter of my book) instead of just worrying or complaining about the problems. Observe how others have succeeded and try to learn from them.
TH: Which authors, thinkers, journalists, etc – if anyone! – has been an influence on your writing/career?
HN: I haven’t studied writing as a profession yet, but I read Anton Checkov’s books in my teens and have been influenced by the work of Napoleon Hill (becoming rich), Albert Einstein (creativity) and Thomas Alva Edison (never give up). Many self-help book authors too have helped shape the person I am now. I don’t think I’ve read about Thomas Alva Edison for like 10 years, but remembered is middle name clearly today. That shows how firmly his name has been embedded into my mind. Many times when I face challenges, I remember his quote “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”.
TH: Do you think it was easier or harder to develop the North American branch of your career? Are there any differences in Canadian professional networking styles, for example?
It was much harder to develop the North American branch of my career. For example, as soon as I completed just a 1 year international diploma in computer studies in Sri Lanka at the age of 17, I got a job at an IT educational firm as an instructor and some of my students were lawyers and doctors. I also got a well paid lecturing job in accounting in Sri Lanka at the age of 21 even before graduating from CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)-UK. Here, it is very hard to find a job in your field at least at the beginning. Foreign credentials are not recognized properly and employers are asking for Canadian experience.
TH: What has been your proudest accomplishment to date?
HN: Publishing my book “Success In Toronto: A Guide for New Immigrants”. I created its free online version “How To Succeed In Toronto” recently and it is available at my site www.successintoronto.com.
TH: What’s your favorite aspect of living in Toronto? How about your least favorite?
HN: Toronto is so diverse, and we live in harmony respecting each other. It’s so interesting to interact with people from different backgrounds on a daily basis. We have a great and diverse culture. Least favourite would be the traffic.