You Stay Classy, San Diego

I was very fortunate to have spent the past week in San Diego at the 2011 Esri User Conference.  I have been to many local, regional, and national GIS and geography conferences but this was my first Esri UC and this was by far the biggest GIS conference I had ever been to.   After an intense week of “GIS”ing I left really impressed with Esri, the city, and everything involved with the conference.

My week started off by missing the morning plenary session because my flight didn’t get in until early in the afternoon, but I was able to see the afternoon sessions which I thought were pretty interesting.  What about the rest of the week?  Well, if you have been to the UC before you know that there are a ton of technical workshops, “what’s next” sessions, paper sessions by users of Esri technology, and a huge exhibit hall to keep attendees busy.  For what I do professionally I found the most value in the technical sessions, mainly those regarding SQL databases, python scripting, and spatial stats.  With each session I went to (and I went to sessions from 8:30am to 5pm each day!) I was impressed with the presenters and their ability to answer a myriad of questions from the audience.  I found the presenters for the SDE/SQL and spatial stats presentations especially good.  Explaining OLS or GWR to a room of 200+ people with varied stats backgrounds is not necessarily easy, but the spatial stats team nailed the presentations I saw them give.

I also liked how conference attendees were able to ask questions directly to those who create the software.  I definitely took advantage of the Esri technical islands in the exhibit hall, asking the experts from geodatabases, python, raster processing, geoprocessing, and others questions that I collected from my coworkers before I left.

Now on to the fun stuff.  One of my favorite parts of going to any conference is catching up with old friends and hearing about what they are up to.  The first night I went out to dinner with a former professor and mentor of mine, Dr. Kristin Alvarez.  Dr. A was tremendous geography professor at Keene State College when I was an undergrad.  Today she is a professor of geographic education at the University of Redlands.  She was at the UC promoting her spatial literacy program.  The program, which is one of the first of its kind in the country, teaches educators on how to effectively use spatial information and geospatial techniques in the classroom.  Pretty interesting stuff.  Definitely a program to check out if that is your cup-o-tea.

Tuesday night was another good time as I went to the insurance specialty group meeting (yes, an insurance meeting can be interesting…), where again I ran into a number of people I had worked with in the past.  The papers presented during the meeting really demonstrated a trend that is occurring in this industry.  There is a real need by these large insurance and reinsurance companies to develop tools and methodologies to validate, analyze, and visualize their large books of business. And it’s not only insurance companies that have this growing need for geospatial analysis.  Businesses of every type are really buying into the need to understand geographic data.  This trend will only continue upward, making well trained geographers and GIS professionals a hot commodity in the business world.

On Wednesday I took part in the Esri 5k.  I was surprised when over 400+ participants lined up at the start of the race!  I knew pretty quickly that there were going to be a bunch of fast times because of the number of runners in short shorts!  I came in 36 place out of 400+ runner so I can’t complain. This was a great event and I’ll definitley partcipate next year!

Later that day I got to meet up my former grad school classmate and fellow GIS blogger, Jeff Dunn.  I met Jeff at the Very Spatial live show where he was being interviewed by the Very Spatial crew.  After the show Jeff and I enjoyed some of San Diego’s fine dinning and drinking establishments.  This is the best picture from that night…

Thursday night was action packed.  The Padres were in town and I met up with a former associate, Adam Fox from Esri Canada, a number of his co-workers, and Canadian business partners at the game.  Adam and I worked together on a number of projects when we were both different companies.  Adam is a big shot now, just being promoted to Director of the Ontario region for Esri Canada (congrats!).  We talked shop and saw a good baseball game.  The most exciting part of the night came after the baseball game.  A bunch of us headed to the Omni Hotel Bar and had a drink.  As we were debating some really exciting GIS topic Chris Berman from ESPN sat down right next to us.  I know! I had no idea that Chris Berman was into GIS either…

Now, I didn’t get to have lunch with Jack Dangermond, which is totally understandable, because he is the busiest guy at the conference.  But Mr. Dangermond, if you are reading this blog (and I know you have in the past) and planning a visit to Boston let me know.  We’ll do lunch.

What I think is important to note is that I learned a ton of information from the official conference, but catching up with old friends can be just as valuable to the conference experience.

On a scale of 1 to 10 I would give the conference a 9.5.  The presentations were great, the tech information was solid, the conference center was impressive, and the excitement for GIS was incredible.  What would I have done to improve my experience and give the conference a 10 out of 10?  I would have gotten a room not overlooking the class one railroad that ran all night….

Overall I would recommend this conference to any Esri GIS user who has the resources and time to get out to San Diego for the week.  The weather was great, the restaurants were good, and most importantly GIS users will get a lot out of the conference.  I came back with tons of notes, some great tips and tricks to make my workflow better, and some good swag. I hope to be back next year!

Side note: Was I the only one quoting Anchorman the whole time I was in San Diego?  The best San Diego based movie of all time.