Lufuno Vhengani (37) fills us in on what his demanding job is all about.
What does a typical day in your job entail?
I spend most of my day developing and enhancing Earth Observation (EO) applications. A lot of my work revolves around computer programming for automated analysis of EO data. My work also involves writing reports, communicating with clients and sometimes fieldwork, too. The fulfilment I get from my work comes from seeing the impact it has when other scientists or organisations use the data that I produce in different fields such as climate change.
What is GIS used for ?
It is used by the public and private sectors to determine a suitable location for a new development, like a hospital or shopping centre. If there is a disaster, GIS and remote sensing is used to measure the impact of that disaster.
Why is your job so important?
South Africa needs the skills to design, build and operate its own satellites, and also the skills to interpret and derive useful information from satellite data. Even if this is not where your specific interests lie, there are other disciplines such as
astronomy – and with the recent development of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, the future looks rather bright.
What are the biggest challenges in this field?
Understanding the users and generating information that is relevant to all users.
What subjects are required at school?
Mainly maths and science.
Why did you choose this field?
I have always been inspired by maths and science, and I was introduced to remote sensing after completing my honours degree in physics. The Institute of Satellite and Software Application (ISSA) gave me the opportunity to study further in this field.
Where can remote sensing and GIS researchers work?
Due to the broad application of the work they do, remote sensing and GIS researchers can be found in a very wide range of places, including research institutes, academic institutions, the environmental or agricultural sectors, the military or the government.
Can you give us one example of a project you worked on that was very interesting and where you drew on your GIS skills and knowledge?
I’ve worked on a project to develop a burnt-area database for the SADC region. That database was then used to produce the burnt-area statistics by administration zones and, for some countries, by their land cover types.
Any advice for our readers?
Remember that GIS is a rapidly developing field. This means that there is something new to learn almost every week and you have to keep studying in order to keep up-to-date with the new technological developments. So, if you like learning new things, this could be the field of work for you.