Professional Development: The ESRI User Conference

As a GIS intern for the US Forest Service, GTAC (Geospatial Technology and Applications Center) provides us with many trainings. Now, the USFS uses almost exclusively ESRI products for GIS. I got some training straight from the source by attending the ESRI User Conference in San Diego, CA. This conference was a smorgasbord of mingling with map nerds, learning new skills, and being awed by the creativity of ESRI users.

Appetizer: Day One of ESRI User Conference

The conference had thousands of people from across the world in attendance. The seminars, training, and special interest groups covered various topics. Topics ranged from cartography, ecological spatial analysis, city planning, coding, data management, software development, and conservation of natural resources. The sheer number of available training made spending 12 hours a day at the conference center too easy. As a result, the hardest part of the day was choosing which seminars to attend! The week started with a kick-off event in a giant conference hall. Here, ESRI’s CEO announced advancements in their GIS technology. Guest speakers presented their unique use of GIS for their work.

Day one of the ESRI User Conference. A large hall filled with black folding chairs, most of them filled. Hanging from the celing are six screens each dispalying colorful maps.

An evening reception with food and drinks at the “Map Hall” capped off day one. Those attendees who had submitted maps for display had their work tacked onto columns arranged through the brightly lit hall. ESRI CEO Jack Dangermond mingled with attendees, shaking hands and taking photos with the proud map makers displaying their work. I met up with a lab mate and a professor from my geospatial program at my university. It was so lovely to see her hard work up on the wall! I regretted not submitting a piece of my own. Map entries ranged from the slightly silly (“Pizza Desert Map of Florida”) to the wildly innovative (“Tactile Maps for Accessibility”).

The Map Hall, next day. A brightly lit sunny room with temporary walls arranged around the room, maps pasted to them.

Main Course: Days 2-3 of the conference

Back-to-back seminars on utilizing the latest in ESRI technology are filled each day. An exhibition hall packed with experts was available for attendees to ask questions and troubleshoot their work. Additionally, many of the exhibitors were from companies other than ESRI. Seminars for different skill levels were available every day. Many were part of a sequence of workshops to help attendees start from scratch and become experts. I regularly attended cartography workshops, knowing that my job required me to create web maps for the public to explore. But, there were many seminars on wildlife and natural resources conservation. Knowing these seminars existed cemented my belief that geospatial technology is integral to advancing wildlife conservation. Most days, they ended with dedicated group socials in the evening, where attendees ate more free food and mingled with peers.

A young woman in a blue blosue and long pleated yellow skirt stands next to a globe half her height. Behind her are booths of different companies staffed wtih experts and hanging overhead are banners with company names.

Dessert: Conference Day Four

While Friday was technically the last day of the conference, Thursday was the last full day of seminars. That evening there was a celebration: a huge ESRI user conference party at Balboa Park. Chartered buses picked up the thousands of attendees and their guests to shuttle them to Balboa Park. The entire park was reserved for the attendees and included free entry to every museum found in the park. Scattered throughout the park were many tents offering varieties of food samples from around the globe. In keeping with the multicultural theme, performers of every kind were dotted throughout the park, including Mexican Folklorico Dancers, Mariachi, Spanish Flamenco dancers, Indian dancers, calligraphers, and erhu musicians. It was a fun-filled evening and a perfect way to celebrate the end of hours-long learning every day.
I recommend that future GIS interns use their professional development funds to attend. The registration cost is relatively low for students and recent graduates and is well worth the expense! I walked away from the conference feeling cartographically inspired and in awe of how ESRI products and GIS have improved countless fields of study.

An outdoor banner reads “Welcome ESRI guests” while smaller captions at each end read “Party at Balboa”. A large crowd of people fill the bottom half of the picture.

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