Welcome to Stellenbosch University
Developing SA's earth observation industry is his passion
Author: Media & Communication, Faculty of Science
Published: 14/01/2016

​​After completing an honours degree in geology at Stellenbosch University, Zipho Tyoda took a taxi to the Council for Geosciences and asked for training.

Fortunately for him, they were just looking for interns to work on a project, compiling a Geohazard Atlas of South Africa using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing. He also jumped at the opportunity to register for an MSc in GIS and Remote Sensing at SU, as part of the project.

Today Zipho is deputy-director: Earth Observation at the Department of Science and Technology. He agreed to answer a few questions about his studies and subsequent career path.

Why and when did you decide to study for a BSc-degree?

When I was in grade 12 I knew I wanted to follow a career in science, but I was not sure in which field. My love for biology and mathematics was the major reason for choosing BSc as a field of study.

What is your final degree and when did you obtain it?

My final degree is an MSc in GIS and Remote Sensing from Stellenbosch University and I obtained it in March 2013.

Did you know what you wanted to do when you registered for a BSc-degree?

No, not really. In 2004 I registered for BSc Biological Sciences at the University of Transkei (now Walter Sisulu University). The following year I moved to the University of Stellenbosch and registered for a BSc in Geology.

What was your first job and how did you get it?

My first job was an internship at the Council for Geosciences. I basically took a taxi to their offices and asked for training. Fortunately they were working on a project to compile a Geohazard Atlas of South Africa using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing. I was absorbed in that project and also given an opportunity to do an MSc in that field.

What is your current employment? Please describe a typical day in your life.

I now work as a Deputy-Director: Earth Observation at the Department of Science and Technology. This is more a policy-orientated job.

Our goal is to develop a vibrant and competitive space science (and applications) industry in South Africa. My responsibilities include compiling strategies for developing South Africa's earth observation industry, meeting with national and international stakeholders and developing strategies for human capital development in space science and its applications.

What is exciting about your work?

I am excited about seeing all the different products that are derived from satellites, with huge benefits to South Africa and the world at large. We work with research institutions such as the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and this gives us an opportunity to meet South Africa's top players in Earth observations and space sciences. We get to travel and meet international stakeholders such as the Group on Earth Observation (GEO), based in Switzerland. It is really exiting to be part of this global initiative. Every year we hold a national space science week and get to meet learners from all over the country. We try to inspire them to consider space science and earth observation as a career and show them the many benefits of space science.

Your advice to learners considering a career in science?

We live in the age of technology. Most fields of science apply modern technologies, such as satellite-derived data, computer modelling and APP development. It would be very wise to add introductory modules in software engineering, programming, modelling, remote sensing and geographic information system to your curriculum. Most industries require basic knowledge of these fields.

Tips for students entering the job market?

The competition is tough out there. Always try your best. Be innovative when looking for a job: don't just rely on sending CVs, approach the companies and sell your skills.

What would you have done differently during your years at university?

I would have been more focused on solving problems on a societal, environmental and global scale with what we were taught, instead of just aiming for a pass.​