Talking GIS with

Melikhaya Sihawu

Talking GIS with

Melikhaya Sihawu

Talking GIS & Training

Melikhaya Sihawu is the manager forTraining and Support at geospatial software provider Esri South Africa. His job involves exposing people to the ‘Science of Where’ and illustrating how fundamentally important geospatial technology is to businesses, governments and just about everyone on the planet.

How did you get ino GIS?

I was first exposed to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) while studying Environmental Sciences at Walter Sisulu University in the Eastern Cape. This developed into a full-blown passion when I did my Honours at Nelson Mandela University and saw how GIS works across different fields. A Master’s in GIS via international eLearning specialists UniGIS consolidated my decision to become a geospatial specialist.

What were you doing prior to joining Esri South Africa? 

My first job involved working as a safety, health and environmental intern at Port Elizabeth’s Coega Development Corporation. Sensing that there was more out there for me, I sent my CV to GIS software specialists Esri South Africa and moved to the big city of Johannesburg. I swiftly adapted to the fast life and the need to be versatile, and quickly realised that I love Joburg.

What do you think is the most positive aspect of GIS?

It’s a discipline that can be applied to many different fields from environmental management to retail to transport to location intelligence. Making everyday decisions, such as which route to get to work, is actually GIS in its simplest form. Then there’s managing a national budget as a government and needing to know exactly how and where that budget gets spent. There’s also mapping outbreaks of disease, and using GIS to organise logistics and to mitigate risk.

What role do you play at Esri South Africa? 

I have been with Esri South Africa for six years. I started off working in the training division, moved to technical support and then went back to GIS training. I found the move to technical support useful as it gave me insights into the frustrations of every day users. I took this knowledge and applied it to training sessions. While my focus these days is on managing the training division, I still enjoy doing basic GIS courses with people and watching them leave after a five-day course determined to return for further training and to shape their careers in GIS. I particularly enjoysseeing the excitement in people’s faces when they learn new ways of doing things that makes their jobs easier and more efficient.

Why is it important for people to receive training in GIS? 

Training is very important as you are exposed to tricks and tips on how to execute tasks as well as best practice. It enhances your technical know-how of GIS and enables you to be more efficient. A lot of people coming to do the courses think that GIS is a relatively minor skill and then during the training they realise that GIS is not just a tool but a solution that can help shape their organisation or how their organisation applies location intelligence.

Are certain training courses requested more than others? 

Esri South Africa provides a wide variety of geospatial training courses and it also offers a certified Diploma in Geoinformation Science and Technology. Whether you are being exposed to ArcGIS for the first time, a developer looking to geo-enable your apps, or a seasoned GIS professional looking for tips to make your next project go more smoothly, there is a training course to meet everyone’s needs. The introductory five-day course is very popular and somewhat surprisingly it is not traditional GIS people or people with a background in geography who are signing up. Instead, I have noticed that the interest in GIS is coming from other professional disciplines which are embracing GIS as a solution for the industries they service.

Do you have any advice for people working with GIS? 

It is very important for GIS professionals to be flexible as GIS is changing a lot. You need to be a critical thinker, be willing to learn new things and be willing to embrace change. GIS professionals are like cooks, they have the ingredients and at the end of the day they take their knowledge of a situation and need to come up with a solution.

Your role as a trainer has involved quite a bit of travel. How have you found those experiences? 

I have visited many countries in southern Africa including Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia. I have also been to Guinea and Ghana. People have always been very welcoming, and I enjoy being exposed to different cultures. Some of the food on my travels has been quite different, and the further north you go, the spicier it gets! Guinea’s traffic congestion is a standout memory for me and in Windhoek, Namibia, I saw a San person for the first time.