Having studied Geomatic Engineering and GIS at the JKUAT, Nombu has found a career in Software engineering by blending her GIS knowlege with her passion for software development. Curently she's an Software Engineer Intern at Gro Intelligence, a startup unshackling the agricultural sector through data analytics. Today we are proud to have her in our interview series as she strives to inspire more women into technology with her work journey.
Qn. Nombu, you are a Software Engineer at Gro Intelligence, enviable startup I have to attest. Tell us a little bit about your journey from Geomatic Engineering to Software Engineering.
Well, I started off as a Geomatic Engineer working at a small engineering survey company called Geomatic CES. So while I was there I was involved in various projects relating mostly to engineering survey and spatial planning. Then, when my contract was almost up, I wanted to shift gears and delve deeper into GIS. At that time, I realized I didn’t have the necessary skill set I needed for a smooth transition so I decided to do a short course in programming. Fast forward, a few months later, there was an internship opportunity at Gro Intelligence that I applied for and I was fortunate enough to get in since I had experience in GIS and software development. So that is how I am, where I am right now.
Qn. So at Gro Intelligence, a data analytics startup, what does your job encompass?
My tasks at the moment mostly relates to data analysis. I am currently working on a feature that analysis the kind of data Gro has collected over the years in terms of coverage for all the countries of the world. Which will enable users to understand the data a lot better.
Qn. What software do you use to achieve your tasks on a daily basis? How often do you use each? What specific modules of the software?
Sublime Text, PostgreSQL. Then there are the support tools like Jira, Bitbucket, Slack etc. I mostly code in Python and SQL since I deal a lot with database queries.
Qn. You are involved so much in GIS Hackathons in Moringa school, how do you feel these coding events will transform the GIS industry in Kenya in terms of innovation.
I think that we cannot completely detach programming from GIS. So GIS hackathons are important because they empower GIS professionals with the necessary tools to assist them in carrying out their various projects. By knowing how to use these tools for proper implementation and management of your GIS application, you are effectively only hindered by your imagination.
Qn. You’ve had quite an elaborate experience in and outside Geospatial matters. I’m sure you’ve also had time to digest on a myriad of cross cutting issues in the society. What do you think, mapping could be the missing link to solving societal problems especially those dealing with environment like sanitation, waste management, poor population distribution and the likes?
I think that GIS has a huge role to play in many areas of Public management. It’s very mature: that of processing and making sense of huge amounts of data is very useful in the realm of public management. A lot of our public institutions are on information overload. They receive vast amounts of data which they do not know how to use to their advantage. Other than its ability to process big data, GIS has the added advantage of pulling in socio-economic data with a geographical perspective which enables us to understand high-level concepts and patterns of development such as resource-distribution, social marginalization because we can actually see it visually on a map. So visualization is key when it comes to big data otherwise you can not make meaning out of it.
Qn. Let’s talk about County Spatial Plans. You worked on Nyandarua CSP. Just to resolve the confusion from the things we’ve seen delivered around the counties as County Spatial Plans. In your own sense, what is entailed in developing a County Spatial Plan?
County Spatial Plans are embarked upon the development and adoption of County Integrated Development Plans (CIDP) as stipulated in the constitution. First off, a CIDP- is a broad level document that outlines all the development goals a county government sets over a 5 year period. Upon adoption of the CIDP, the County Spatial Plan is developed based on the broad development agendas outlined. It involves a number stages such development of the initial basemap which I was involved in. It consists of pulling data from various sources so as to come up with a current up to date basemap that captures the situation as is on the ground. Such data includes RIMs (Registry Index Maps) and FRs for property boundaries, buildings and road network data etc. So once that is done, various stakeholders are involved with making proposals to come up with the county spatial plan based upon the basemap. Such include physical planners, surveyors, EIA professionals who conduct socio-economic and urban situation analysis which also inform much of the proposals made to the plan.
Overall, there is a lot more involved in the actual process that cannot be fully covered. But I will say this, CIDP and the CSP, if well implemented, is a good step that has been mandated by our constitution to deal with the issue of unplanned rapid development.
Qn. What are some unique things that you experienced while working on Nyandarua County Spatial Plan? a lot of people will still be doing similar activities and have no idea probably where to start.
Well, it is a big project. Some of the key things I learnt are;
- The first thing is to appreciate how far we have come as an industry.
- That said, there is still a lot more that needs to be dealt with in terms of lands issue. For those who will be deal with CSP, you will realize that you will encounter discrepancies when you try and reconcile the different maps together.
- Another thing that I learnt is just being ready to learn and work with different professionals so as to come up with a very comprehensive plan.
- It is important to validate what is on the with what is on the physical plans, RIMs and the like.
Qn. Talk to County leadership about County Spatial Plan. What do they need to prioritize if they want to have a remarkable CSP.
Timing and Implementation is also very crucial. I say this because CSPs are meant to guide the development goals of the county government. Therefore we should not have a scenario where counties are well into their 5-year tenure and have not yet prepared the CSP such that they have no time to actually implement the proposal that have been put forth on the CSP.
Finally, following through with the implementation of such plans is important. Preparation of a CSP should not only be a matter of fulfilling certain mandates of the constitution.
Qn. What are some of the gaps we are having in our geospatial industry that limit our capacity to deliver remarkably of projects like CSPs, SDIs or even simple spatial related projects like Lands systems in your experience?
Well, I would like to say lack of sufficient capacity building but I think lack of relevant capacity building would be more accurate. Unfortunately, most of fresh graduates and some professionals are not adequately equipped with the right attitudes and skill sets to be effective and relevant in the industry. This makes it difficult for us to be in a position to bid for such large projects.
As a millennial GISer and Geek, do you feel disenfranchised by the lack of a GIS Community or body that can foster professional growth in your career? Something similar to what we see in other hemisphere where we have OSGeo Foundation, QGIS User Groups, #gistribe, a lot of dev Meetups. How would you like our community to move going forward to ensure a more valuable engagement in the future?
Yes. I would hope as professionals we could try to engage and share a lot more with regard to own our industry. Mentorship of young people getting into the industry through this community would also go a long way in inspiring young and upcoming professionals . One of the ways we can achieve this is through support of our student bodies. Social meetups are a also a really great way to network with people in the industry.
So, increased participation is important. Contributing more on platforms such as this one enables us as professionals to understand the local industry a lot better as well as open us to more opportunities..
One last point is collaboration. No man is an Island. Giving an opportunity to one person will allow that person to be in a position to pay that good deed forward to someone else and the cycle continues. This will allow our community to grow and expand.