Adrian's thoughts on the 2019 Esri UC

07-22-2019 08:07 PM
MVP Notable Contributor
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I thought about doing a play-by-play recap of my experience at the Esri User Conference but then thought that would be pretty boring to other people. So instead, this is my “color commentary” of some of the highlights, lowlights, and medium-lights? Is that a thing? And my general, stray thoughts overall.


I wonder how much time the marketing team spends on making these four-word slogans. I like them and think the marketing group does an excellent job. This year it was “See What Others Can’t”, replacing “The Science of Where”.

Early in the plenary, Jack Dangermond guaranteed that there will be no earthquakes during the week of the UC because he can “see what others can’t”! Video link


It was cool to watch Jane Goodall chat with Jack and E.O. Wilson. I wonder if it would have been better if it were a little scripted instead of ad-libbed.

The Good highlights:

  • The weather was amazing. It is always amazing in San Diego, but this year was particularly amazing. I know this is not in control of Esri and the conference (or is it?), but still. Along with that, the food in San Diego is also amazing. I love getting the fresh sea food and Mexican food (and combining the two).
  • I saw a few people wearing map shirts and map dresses. This is purely awesome and I kind of wished I had one. I was a little creepy and took some ‘spy’ photos of these people (sorry for invading your privacy but your clothes were too cool to pass up):

    • Ken Field‌ is always sporting awesome stuff
  • Whose license plate is this? It is truly awesome:

  • It is always super cool meeting people that I interact with on GeoNet. For some reason I never found Owen Evans, but I did run into Kory Kramer, Kelly Gerrow, and Melita Kennedy, as well as the GeoNet staff of Christopher Catania, Michelle Mathias, Leslie Fountain, Louise Branscomb, and Pea, I think? I also got to meet up with awesome GeoNet users like Curtis Price, Ken Buja, Andres Castillo, William Craft, Chelsea Rozek, and Ted Cronin (as well as Amy Niessen, Kirsten Pinkston, and John Foster).
  • Giving out reusable aluminum water bottles was a cool idea, especially with different hydration stations around:
  • Before a Survey123 class with James Tedrick, Ismael Chivite, and Elvin Slavik, they made everyone stand up and stretch. I thought that was pretty awesome:
  • My son and I got to meet Jack at Balboa Park:
  • This pint glass I got from the fine folks at GeoNet is terrific:

The Medium-sized highlights:

  • Kory Kramer and others presented on ArcGIS Tips and Tricks and it was awesome. I picked up a cheat sheet that he had made for shortcuts but cannot find that in PDF form anywhere. Where can I find that?
  • noticed that most of the talks are from Esri personnel. I mean, I want to go to the Esri-based talks to get the technical training from the horse’s mouth. There were a few ‘paper sessions’ but I did not want to ‘waste’ one of my time slots when I could have gone to a talk/training on something I work with daily. But what happened to presentations like, “A Spatial Analysis of the NCAA Basketball Tournament” and other fun type of topics?  I guess this is just kind of a random rant/thought but it is something I thought about while at the conference.
  • I thought it was really random that Kevin Eubanks was there to play a song and more so that he allegedly has been to a few conferences. Growing up watching Jay Leno made me appreciate this more. He sure has not aged in 20 years! Video clip.
  • liked seeing the ArcGIS Pro Parcel Fabric introduction that’s new in 2.4.

The Not-so-good highlights/lowlights:

  • There are just too many people. I love seeing how big this conference is and meeting people from all over the world as well as finding the top experts of every field. But it is just packed, packed, packed. During the plenary I saw many sections that were completely filled and a few rows of people who had to stand in the back. I heard rumors of people saying that San Diego is no longer large enough to hold this show and Esri needs to start looking elsewhere. From what I understand, San Diego has the seventh largest convention center in America. All the other places are in cities way less desirable than San Diego. I know Esri has San Diego booked out for a few more years but what will happen?
  • Some vendors seemed like they just did not care. I know this is not really a fair assessment but on more than one occasion, I spoke with a vendor about a product I needed or was interested in and they just did not seem to want to engage and promote/sell their product. I found that a little odd. I will not name names either.
  • know there was some grumbling about extending vendor hall time to 4 pm on Thursday when it used to be noon on Thursday. Many of the vendors did not want to be at the vendor hall that long after two grueling long days before.
  • There were too many talks and too many overlapping talks. I wanted to go to several talks that were in the same time slot. This happened at nearly every time slot. But, again, this is a huge conference with every discipline, so this is likely how it has to be. I know there were some repeat talks but those did not always work out either.
  • Balboa Park. This place is amazing, and I would not want to miss going to the Balboa Park Party. But I am guessing that this had to have been the most attended party, or maybe it was just me. I feel like I have never seen it so crowded. It was on the verge of unpleasant on how busy it was.
  • On top of it being mega-crowded at Balboa, some of the food ran out. I know that it is likely first come first serve but we had to fight through a few crowds just to get the BBQ type food. It was good too, but I wish it was not that stressful!
  • want to know, do people who work for Esri have fun at this conference? I do not know what it is like being on the other side (Esri-personnel side) but it just seems that most Esri employees are working 24/7 at this conference, going non-stop, and working super hard. I have not seen anyone complain or look irritated, but I wonder how I would feel working that hard and possibly not getting to enjoy different talks, different vendors, or San Diego in general.

Overall, the conference is extremely well-run, hardly any technical issues, and just the best place to be for GIS professionals. My wife would ask me, “How come you care so much about these talks to where you’re early and sit in the front row but didn’t care that much in school?!?” I am lucky that I get to go and hope to continue to keep going. I get as much out of it as I possibly can.


Thanks for reading!

You can find my Twitter feed during the conference here.


MVP Regular Contributor

Thanks for the mention Adrian!

Great article.

MVP Esteemed Contributor

Great job Adrian.  Thanks for the write up!

MVP Notable Contributor

No prob! It was cool getting to meet you.

MVP Notable Contributor

Thanks Joe. Were you at the UC? Either way we definitely need to meet up sometime. I missed you at the last SLUG meeting but hope to get to see you at the next one.

MVP Esteemed Contributor

Didn't make the UC.  Michael mentioned he's having lunch with you today; one of these SLUG meetings I'll make a presentation....

Esri Frequent Contributor

Great article Adrian!  Fair assessment of the UC!  Your question of Esri staff having fun at the conference too - well, I can only speak for myself but I definitely had fun.  As you'd expect, it's a lot of work for all.  From the time you walk out of your hotel to the time you return to your hotel, you're "on" as it were.  Working the Expo floor, doing technical workshops, grabbing a quick lunch somewhere, attending map gallery, etc. - is at times mentally draining and walking everywhere in the convention center, sometimes physically draining too!  But with that said, I love working the UC, seeing former students, answering customer questions, and enjoying all that San Diego has to offer.  By the end of the week, I'm drained and need to recover in my Colorado Rocky Mountains climbing a peak, sitting by a high mountain lake and just listen to the wind. Then it's back to working as an Esri Instructor teaching folks how to use this incredible software.  Another year goes by and you do it all over again!  Good times!  See you next year!

Community Moderator

Hey Adrian!  It was great to see you again at this year's UC.  First things first, here are the shortcuts ArcGIS Pro keyboard shortcuts: the official list And as with so many efforts, this was a collaboration across many teams, led by Olivia on the doc team!

I second Robert's assessment.   No doubt that UC is a tonne (I'm in the UK right now  ) of work for Esri staff but I always enjoy it.  It's really important for us to stay connected with our users so once a year in person is fun and then we continue the rest of the year here on GeoNet!

Until next time...


MVP Esteemed Contributor

Thanks Adrian great summary. 

I noticed that most of the talks are from Esri personnel.

PERSONAL OPINION: One reason there isn't as much energy in the user presentation part of the conference is that Federal employees have been strongly restricted from coming for years. (See this great summary by WaPo.)  I have seen an agency go from ~100 attendees five years ago to only eight.  Feds are a huge part of the geospatial landscape and their lack of participation hurts their mission and all of us.  It's really too bad.

MVP Notable Contributor


Thanks for the reply. I saw you once or twice but didn't get a chance to say hi. I'm glad to know that y'all have a good time and like visiting with customers/students. The Rocky Mountains sound nice right about now!

MVP Notable Contributor


Thanks for sharing that list. It will surely come in handy! I am glad to know that y'all have a good time at the conference. It makes me feel a little better!

MVP Notable Contributor


Thanks for sharing this. It's too bad what has happened with federal employees over the last few years. It's too bad that one big, out of hand party in Vegas seemed to have ruined it for all fed employees too. I'm glad you're able to go and the very very few other fed employees, but how can that change? Do you think it will change in the future where more federal employees will be allowed travel and training?

MVP Esteemed Contributor

I do not attend as a Fed any more, I attend in my role as an educator.   As the article I linked points out, Feds cannot go even if they take vacation time and use their own funds (a reasonable rule protecting Feds from conflicts of interest).  I am retired (Jan 2018) so I made my way to the UC the last few years without federal support. I don't know a solution except perhaps a little more sane treatment of Federal employees by Congress.

I sense the public is starting to the feel the pain of years of destructive Federal staff policies so I am hopeful the tide will turn.  The only way it will change is if people vote against politicians who make their careers trashing the best government workforce the world has ever known. Surprisingly the worst of these politicians seem to hail from states that get a lot more Fed jobs and services than they pay for in taxes!  </soapbox>

Esri Frequent Contributor

You bet Adrian - no worries.  On the ArcGIS Pro Product Island on the Expo floor, we were busy the entire time!  I enjoy UC every year and catching up with folks.  The Rocky Mountains are great this year -  big snow year with many peaks still in full on winter conditions.  Amazing!

Community Team

Thanks for contributing and posting the blog, Adrian. Great to see you at the GeoNet Meet-ups too and nice to see you're enjoying the swag items.  I also echo Robert's thoughts about really enjoying UC. As staff, yes, it's exhausting but at the same time it's exciting and energizing to be around all our Esri users helping you any way we can. UC is one of my favorite times of the year because we get to connect with you in person, hear about your work and bring you together with other GeoNet members.  As always, thanks for your feedback and we look forward to great rest of the year on GeoNet   

Esri Regular Contributor

What a great blog post Adrian Welsh! Thanks!! And as a fellow Aggie (graduate class of '86) I can say that you are doing TAMU proud!! I echo all of my Esri colleague's comments above about really enjoying the UC despite the huge workload. It's a very special time for us to give to our utmost but to receive so much in return. Next year, check out my Science Symposium and you will likely be able to get a free book too! Gig 'em!!! 

Esri Notable Contributor

I don't think we're that close to growing out of SDCC. Comicon has >100k. Admittedly, there are different purposes, but they have a lot of presentations. 

It felt busy, but not super-crowded to me, but I wasn't up in the presentation areas very much. I've been to a few comicons though which is probably biasing my outlook!


MVP Notable Contributor

Thanks Dawn! I got to visit with a few Aggies while at the conference. It was good to see that A&M had a booth (I may have gotten some special swag as well, haha). I will definitely have to check out the Science Symposium next time I go.

MVP Notable Contributor


That was what I was thinking too, regarding comic con. Yeah they're different purposes and I would guess that the distribution and setup are way different. I also would think that not all 100k people are in the building at one time whereas the plenary session had to have at least 15k people in it (maybe?) and that was just in the big ballroom. Having to run over to the Hilton Hotel for a presentation is kind of annoying since it's not exactly a 10 minute walk and my next session would likely not be in the Hilton either.

MVP Notable Contributor


I am glad to hear that y'all have a good time at the conference. But, I do have to say that you get the privilege of interacting with the best-of-the-best when doing GeoNet meetups! 

Regular Contributor

I asked my hotel manager about Comicon as he was a regular attendee. He said almost no one spends much time inside the Conference Center. It is really a different situation than the UC.

Regular Contributor

From what I've seen as a fed contractor, travel has been limited since at least 2012 (the fund sequestration period). 

Internal travel, to an agency's conferences, still happens, but it is hard to justify other travel especially outside one's region. Conferences have been cancelled due to the insecurity of travel funding, wasting everyone's time and money. I also keenly felt the lack of user presentations from government people at this last UC. We have considered sending one person to FedGIS in DC to get this back. But as I live less than 300 miles from San Diego, this will be much more expensive and stressful. Travel cuts by government agencies are probably also a huge part of why there are so few in-person classes offered in Redlands or other training centers.

About the Author
GIS Specialist for Avenue Consultants in the Greater Salt Lake City, Utah area (Taylorsville).