A search through the internet shows software development is a highly sort after profession for many reasons. But what does it take to be a software developer a.k.a programmer a.k.a software engineer? To get an insight into this field, I sort after Joseph Kariuki a software developer with a background in geospatial engineering from Nairobi, Kenya. He is passionate about technology particularly emerging trends. He is also a part-time freelancer and content creator in geospatial and technology thematic areas. This is what he had to share in line with his profession.
Why Did you venture into Geospatial Engineering?
Geospatial engineering was in line with my passion for Geography while I was in high school. Coupled with my interest and curiosity in computers, it was a final fit to my jigsaw puzzle at the time. Years down the line, it has borne fruit.
How did you get into software programming from Geosptial Engineering?
With Geospatial engineering there are various options to select from as opposed to some other career lines. One can choose to leverage Land Surveying, Geographic Information Systems (Programming, Analysis, Management), photogrammetry and many other options. I had several options to choose from and I went with my passion which is software engineering.
What is the best thing about being a programmer?
The flexibility that comes with it in the sense that one can choose what works best for them. For instance, if I aspire to thrive in freelancing, the path is provided for. If I dream of a hybrid (remote + on-site) job, the option is provided for as well. Additionally, with programming, transitioning into other domains such as environmental sciences, land law etc. is possible as long as one has the will and a roadmap to do so.
What challenges do you encounter in your career line?
In my experience, access to opportunities especially during the formative years after graduation can be quite a hassle. Sadly, the situation has not gotten any better. This can be attributed to the fact that Geospatial Engineering is still a ‘new’ concept, especially in the local industry.
Secondly, only a few employers provide apprentice or traineeship inception programs through which one can get to learn and adapt to the working culture. The same employers expect one to possess diverse knowledge in the discipline and have ‘extra’ skills to be considered employable. I believe the two challenges are not unique to me and others can concur with my sentiments.
If you were to pick one project you have worked on in your career, which one would it be and why does it stand out?
There is a personal project I worked on that entailed creating a web map to showcase bus stops within the Nairobi Central Business District. I coined it ‘OneshaMap” which has a Swahili prefix “onyesha” meaning “to show”. It is a bit old as compared to the recent projects I have worked on but still relevant. This project triggered me to continue pursuing my passion in coding and it reflects the intersection between GIS and web programming.
If you were to change one thing in the Geospatial industry, what would it be?
Currently, there is still a great bias towards academic credentials over work experience which should not be the case. I understand it is the “system”. I would champion striking a balance between scholarly excellence which is represented in university/college degrees and experience. This can also be emulated from the fortune 500 companies and the general tech world where papers only cannot warrant a direct ticket to opportunities. Having credentials in education and experience should be highly considered and not the former only as is the case of several GE players.
What advice can you give to a student considering getting into Geospatial engineering?
If you have a passion for Geography and Tech which may sound too generic at the moment, then give it a go. Do some research on potential fields that one can major in which include GIS, Survey, Remote Sensing, GPS, Cartography and Engineering Survey just to mention a few. Do your research with “the end in mind” rather than following the status quo or the opinion of others. Secondly, get yourself a mentor who could be a family friend, relative, or someone who you aspire to be like in the future. Succeeding without a mentor is still possible but with many hurdles. Learning from someone who has taken the journey ahead of you will be of great help.
Where do you see Geospatial Engineering as an industry in Kenya in the next 5 to 10 years?
Currently, Kenya is at the forefront in the domain of Earth Observation (EO). With the adoption of geospatial technology in the country and launching of cube satellites just to mention a couple, I see her securing a seat in the “big boys and girls” of the space. I see Kenya providing EO services to herself and the region, therefore creating more opportunities and further placing the African continent even higher.
Just for fun question: if you were to change careers, which career would you pursue and why?
Cybersecurity would be my other choice. I have two reasons for this. One , I am occasionally paranoid with the web and computer gadgets. Secondly, an increase in reliance on technology comes with challenges that include cyber-attacks and various vulnerabilities. These continually require patching and testing therefore cybersecurity is here to stay.
Software development and geospatial science is an extensive career field and Joseph has given us a great point to start from. If you wish to explore this field further or access services such developing your website, consider checking out Joseph’s personal website josephkariuki.com and his work on Youtube @Joseph Kariuki. You can also reach him on Instagram @Joseph Kariuki.