This year, I attended my first Esri UC conference—it felt like a right-of-passage for a GIS professional. While absolutely incredible, I had a few of those “lessons-learned” moments to save for next year. Rather than locking those notes in a desk drawer, I figured I would share them with you all! With that, here are my six random recommendations to get the most out of Esri UC:
Start networking before you step foot on the plane
As I’ll repeat throughout this post, Esri UC is massive—if you’ve been in this field for even a short period of time, you’ll probably know someone who’s going to UC. While this network might include your colleagues and past classmates, try to make some new connections. Is there someone from a partner company that you can meet up with? What about an Esri staff member who you worked with to solve a problem? This is your chance to put a face-to-the-name.
To get the absolute most out of the conference, I recommend staying in downtown San Diego for the week of the conference—and this is coming from someone who’s family lives 10 miles away! Between early morning yoga sessions and evening socials, you’re going to be very active this week. Wardrobe changes (and maybe the occasional nap) are so much easier when you can just walk to your hotel room. Plus, you’ll save the hassle of getting a ride-share or taxi in downtown.
Dress for comfort
We all know someone who wears tennis shoes with a suit—at UC, this person is called “a winner.” The San Diego convention center spans five city blocks and features sessions on three different floors. This doesn’t include socials, lunch in the Gaslamp Quarter and all of the Esri-sponsored adventures. A good pair of shoes goes a long way.
And compared to other conferences, UC is fairly relaxed (just like the rest of San Diego). While you definitely want to look your best, you might be able to lose the suit jacket for a few days. In my experience, most men can get away with just a button-down or your company’s polo shirt.
The Esri UC registration line is a modern marvel: imagine thousands of registrants getting checked in seamlessly—you have to power-walk to keep up with the line. Nevertheless, you need to be prepared for a bit of a crowd when checking in. Getting to the convention center about 30 minutes early will ensure plenty of time to pick up your badge and freebees, and enough time to find a decent seat for the opening session.
Aside from the initial rush, there are a handful of other instances when you should remember the other 15,000+ people in the building. When 12:00pm rolls around, lunch in the Gaslamp Quarter becomes everyone’s #1 priority. This is an ideal time to stop by the expo hall, visit the Esri store, or pick up an afternoon session—then grab lunch at 1:00pm when the crowd is returning to the center.
I would also recommend picking up your Esri UC Party wristband early on the morning of the party, rather than waiting for the general announcement.
Check the speakers
For most, a quick look at the agenda is more than enough to plan out the week’s schedule. Dive deeper! There are sessions being given by Esri’s top cartographers, former National Geographic staff members, and developers who pioneered the tools we use every day. Its also a great chance to meet GeoNet celebrities. While an 8:30am session on effective relief mapping might not immediately grab your attention, Kenneth Fields’ work (@cartogeek) will captivate you and have you laughing the whole time. Downloading the Esri Events app will help you navigate.
Don’t make the expo hall an afterthought
At a typical conference, the phrase “expo hall” is synonymous with sales pitches and freebies. Yes, this expo hall features some of the worlds largest vendors, from Microsoft to Trimble—but the not-so-hidden gem is the number of Esri staff members walking the floor. This is your chance to ask highly technical questions to the highly technical people who designed many of the tools we use everyday. Its like GeoNet in the real-world.
Bring a friend
Finally, San Diego is beautiful and family-friendly, and I’m confident that your family or significant other won’t complain if you bring them along with you. They might have no interest in attending the conference sessions (re: the 8:30am session on effective relief mapping), but they can enjoy the beaches a few miles from the convention center, places for shopping, museums, and parks. Esri also allows the purchase of guest wristbands for the annual party—which is also family-friendly.