My First Esri UC Experience

08-21-2014 09:11 AM
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I wrote this piece while sitting in the employee center at the Esri International User Conference an hour before the bus left to take me home to Redlands, California. I decided that it would be good to document my experience at the User Conference (UC) so others who have not had the chance to attend could experience the UC as well.

Rewind 48 hours to when I started reading the UC Q&A on the 5:30 am bus to San Diego. As a Desktop Support Analyst (a subset of Esri Technical Support), my coworkers and I are exposed to a number of people who use ArcMap, ArcCatalog, ArcScene, ArcGlobe, ArcGIS Online (and soon ArcGIS Pro) for a multitude of projects. The sheer size of the 160-page Q&A sent a gentle reminder that Esri provides much more than ArcGIS for Desktop.

The length of the Q&A foreshadowed the size of the UC, and prompted me to consider, “What will the UC be about to you?” I will start with what GIS is to me.

I find the formal definition of GIS to be much too verbose; instead, I think of GIS as a tool to study geography. As much as I love the field of GIS, I did not expect to love it any more or less because of a conference. I expected the UC to be much the same as other conferences I have attended: big, loud, and short-lived. What I found was something entirely different.

My first impression was in awe of my surroundings. Looking around the layout of the UC, you can tell that Mr. Dangermond used to be a landscape artist; the space feels open and inviting while the design is beautiful, exciting and spotted with maps, of course. As attractive as the UC is in terms of looks, it’s the users that make this conference unlike any other.

When the doors open, the conference is quickly inundated with people, projects, and ideas. While my daily work in Technical Support gives a taste of these things, the UC mixes all the flavors of GIS into one room. In this space, I started meeting you; the incredible users of the software.

I wish to mention a specific GIS professional who I worked with during the conference, because she encapsulates the reasons why I like my job. Without getting too much into the specifics, she had a workflow question that was nearly solved; a tool was not working the way she expected it to. Perhaps the most fundamental workflow each scientist undertakes is to: (a) retrieve data (b) inspect the data (c) use tools to yield information from the data and finally (d) inspect the results. This process is one that I have a lot of respect for, and consequentially I have a lot of respect for the people who explore data in this way. Her inquisitive nature, willingness to learn, and to experiment was inspiring, and is the very mentality that changes our environment.

It does not matter if the question is simple, or the project small. Simple concepts and small projects lead to big ideas and important action. Think of the butterfly effect; a geographical information system is a chaotic yet harmonious one where small influences compound to become great waves of change.

There is no shame in asking; there should be no fear in sharing. The UC was an open environment for both, and having a space to be able to openly collaborate is rare. Moreover, the focus of the UC was not so much on Esri, but on you and your projects that are as diverse as the species composing the biological hotspots in California.  “You are GIS,” or at least the system of people that make this field of study wonderful. You are the professionals, developers, the managers, and the students. It took me a year for the “You are GIS” expression to finally find meaning; the UC was the weight that tipped the scale. Having the opportunity to be a part of Esri, which aims to service these minds, is not something to be taken for granted.

In the end, the UC expanded my personal definition of GIS, so that GIS became much more like a super-organism, or like Gaia.

If you went to the UC this year, consider sharing your experience. Esri wants the user community to be outspoken, involved, and demanding of the software so that we can help you solve problems, answer questions, and make a difference. To continue the conversation, check out GeoNet (this video and blog discuss GeoNet).  Should you wish to “join the UC conversation, from anywhere (anytime)” click here.

Thank you for reading!
Ashley S. - Desktop Support Analyst
About the Author
Originally from Wisconsin, Greg is an avid fan of GIS (and a county collector)! He helps support ArcGIS Pro by developing next-generation map authoring capabilities and writing/editing web help resources.