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The Story: Raj Senanayake and growth of Willis Towers Watson's ICT business

Posted on 7/06/2021
by Kristina Gerdov

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Raj Senanayake is the Director of Technology at Willis Towers Watson’s Insurance Consulting and Technology (ICT) business in Sydney. He talks to Client Server about their changing tech stack and why learning is such a key factor when hiring.


Client Server: How did your tech journey begin?

Raj Senanayake: I was always a geeky kid; I remember just always loving technology. I started learning a programming language called Basic when I was 7 years old, on a computer my dad bought me at the time. I studied software engineering and electronics at Macquarie University, after which I started my career as a software programmer. Through various roles in software engineering and my experiences over the years, I became an engineering manager.

CS: What was it about the tech space that appealed to you?

RS: I always loved technology. I wanted to understand how things worked, and I enjoyed putting solutions together. To be fair, you never really know what you’re going to do or become when you’re young. I was on that continuous learning and evolving journey everyone takes. For me, it has been a lifelong journey of learning and growth as I’ve been lucky enough to have worked through different industries such as logistics, energy, education, and now insurance worked with some amazing teams, which has kept me learning and growing in software engineering and keeps challenging me to continuously improve. Software and technologies are enablers, and it’s thrilling to provide those outcomes and solutions to different problems, no matter what industry you work in.

CS: Tell us about where you are now.

RS: I have been with Willis Towers Watson for nearly two years now. David Leadbitter placed me here, actually! The company itself has evolved and emerged along the way, and its lineage goes back to 1828. Today we are a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimise benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals.

And in a world that seems preoccupied with new InsurTech start-ups, Willis Towers Watson is probably one of the largest and most established InsurTechs around. Within the company, I work in the Insurance, Consulting, and Technology business.

CS: What kind of tech stack do you work with?

RS: The tech stack is forever evolving and will continue to do so. Our products have a long history and it does differ from product to product. For example, we use the .net/.net core language stack, technology, and frameworks in some of our products. From a user and interface perspective, they again vary from .NET to angular and Javascript-based frameworks. Our engineers find themselves working on cloud computing, cloud infrastructure, the use of orchestration, numerous tools for back-log management, and CI/CD – it’s extremely varied. Heavily focused on constantly learning internally, we keep a close eye on upcoming technologies. Some of the products deal with machine learning which is an exciting field. It’s normal for us to have regular strategy discussions around the tech we use, and evaluate and run proof of concepts on new technologies. We have close links to large tech service providers and we work with them to understand what’s coming out/up; many also visit our organisation to present, train, and work with us on solving problems; and to give their advice and understanding on what’s possible and how we continue to use best of breed technology in the most effective way.

CS: What do you look for when hiring for your tech teams?

RS: Obviously, technical skills are important, but for me personally I look for people who are courageous in learning. Someone who may have failed at something but who has learned from it, and is open to continue the learning journey and improve themselves. It’s also important to find people who will uphold the organisational values, such as respect, diversity, teamwork. Essentially well-rounded, wholesome people. Diverse viewpoints, open-minded mentality, with new ideas. This is what we encourage.

CS: Have those needs changed?

RS: The main change is really related to technology: as tech and products continuously evolve, so do our needs. These could be moves to the cloud, SaaS, taking up machine learning, moving towards a DevSecOps culture, etc. It’s all dependent on how that evolution takes place. Ultimately, it’s all about growth, as our teams have grown consistently over the years. It’s really about bringing in the right tech talent and the right mindset into the team.

CS: How have you found working with Client Server?

RS: We’ve worked with Client Server for many years, even prior to my joining. My experience with Client Server has always been positive and it’s been great to work with the team there. They have been able to bring in a number of colleagues across a number of our international offices also, which is great.