Esri User Conference 2016 And 9 (not-so-technical) Things Everybody Learned In San Diego

Blog Post created by shital on Sep 30, 2016

The article originally appeared here


This post is meant to be a light weight read for anyone with a slightest interest in GIS. It was written mostly over a few 'beer flights' in a brewery and is best when read in a similar setting. 

Waiting for my flight to San Francisco and tasting the last sip of beer with my fellow geo-geeks at the Stone brewery in San Diego airport, I am sort-of teleporting myself a week earlier when I made the final call to attend the ESRI UC. Having participated and presented to similar conferences before (AGU for instance, which host almost twenty four thousand people to its annual conference in San Francisco downtown), I thought I pretty much knew what to expect. But nine things stood out distinctly that I think are worth sharing with folks who did not get a chance to attend the conference this year. For those of you, who attended the conference and had a different experience than mine, please feel free to share your observations in the comment section.

 1) Esri really wants you to start using ArcGIS Pro.

If you are one of those people who are still trying to figure out the real deal with ArcGIS Pro, make no mistake – It is going to be the future of desktop GIS. And Esri made it loud and clear in this UC - almost 90% of sessions, including the plenary, saw an extensive use of ArcGIS Pro over ArcMap.

And maybe it’s time we start embracing the change already. In my own experience, ArcGIS Pro provides us with so many cool functionalities that we didn’t know we wanted. ArcGIS Pro has 64 bit architecture, provides a project based environment to work in and the GUI is ribbon based that is familiar to any MS Office users. It also introduces the concept of animation, vector tiles, templates and has a tighter integration to cloud (more about ArcGIS Pro in another post).

But, wait! Is ArcMap being phased out? The answer is - No, at least not for now. Esri claims that ArcMap and ArcGIS Pro will run side by side in the foreseeable future. See for yourself in the plans regarding ArcMap in the slide below: 

 2) Esri is making it hard to get out of its ecosystem for everyone who ever started using any of its product.

If you are already using Esri products, you know this for a fact. With complete Desktop, Web and mobile solutions across the board, Esri makes it hard for you to even explore other alternatives that are out there. And this year it is adding a few more ships to its fleet: Drone2Map, Big data Analytics, IoT support, Insights and so on. It’s hard not to procrastinate on using Open source solutions when you are spoon fed by Esri, well before your GIS career even started.

3) Starting this August, most of the self-paced learning will be free.

Esri will be offering complimentary, unlimited access to all self-paced web courses, seminars, videos, MOOCs and resources in its training website. But to receive unlimited access to all self-paced e-Learning resources on the new site, you will have to have an Esri qualifying product with a current maintenance subscription. It will be interesting to see what courses will be made free with no licenses. Check out Esri Training Website in few months to become a mapping maestro. 

4) Jack is to GIS what Jobs was for iphone, but way cooler.

Founder and President of Esri, Jack Dangermond is probably the most prominent name of our generation in GIS.  From a landscape architecture consulting firm to the global market leader, Esri and Jack have revolutionized the geospatial industry in every sense of the word. But, for many of us who might have gotten the opportunity to get up close and personal with a billionaire for the first time, his humility and down to earth personality teaches us at least one valuable life lesson: it’s not all about the money.  Many Esri folks working in Redland campus will also concur on this.


5) You missed your high school skateboard in UC.

Esri lays out one million sq ft of color coordinated carpet for the conference in San Diego Conference Center alone. Even for someone like me who makes map for living (well sort of), it takes some time to get familiar with the venue and have a mental picture of the interior. And if you choose to alternate your sessions between meeting rooms, exhibit halls, ballrooms and four adjoining resort hotels; you better bring your running shoes or even better- a skate board.

Munigovguy’s tip comes in handy here:  “have an alternate session close by to slip into if you don’t like the current session” as you might have to walk miles before you reach to your next session hall.

Session-management strategy is a must in UC and the easiest way to do that is to follow point number 6 below. 

6) Hanging around the exhibition hall was the best time management strategy if you were not sure where to go.

The exhibition hall is by far the best place to hang out if you are not sure what sessions to attend. With 1300 sessions to choose from and most of them running in parallel, the conference might becomes a little overwhelming to attendees. It was a common observation of many, that they learned a lot just by switching sessions in tech theaters and demo theaters downstairs with some breaks spread over booths and stalls. 

7) Esri really knows how to throw a party.

If you thought you signed up for one of those ‘work away from work’ type conference, you were so wrong. While conference organizers generally tend to cater the ‘entertainment’ need of the attendees; the Esri User Conference takes the idea of ‘socialization’ and ‘learn while you play’ to a whole new level. Check out the following snapshot and let me know in the comment below if you have ever been to a conference that throws a pool party for its attendees. And did I mention, most of the socializing event had open bar too? 

8) Smarter people exploit every inch of Esri pavilion and tech support.

In conferences like UC, you get bombarded with information from so many different directions. There are sessions to attend, booths to visit, people to meet, places to see and software demos to be amazed by. But nothing provides the knowledge you are seeking more efficiently than a direct Q and A. Many would agree that visiting the pavilion and tech support and asking your questions directly to one of the developers, product engineers and tech supports was much more satisfying and less tiring than walking into a talk and patiently waiting for an hour to ask your insightful question. 

9) If you are thinking of starting a startup that has anything to do with GIS, Esri has a good news for you.

But, anyone smart enough to start a startup is smart enough to dig deeper here - 

Bonus point :

10) Esri folks are friendlier than you think.

Although Esri partners with Freeman to organize UC each year, it’s the staffs in ‘red badge holder’ that run the show in earnest.  Working for modern tech companies has its own perk and one of them is the opportunity to play 'God' for its products. Yet, many will recollect the interaction with Esri staff to be very unreserved, cordial and warm. And in today’s world, what speaks more of approachability than a selfie?


Overall, it’s an exciting time to be working in the field of GIS, and ESRI UC 2016 was successful in conveying this message to its attendees.