Walking through the doors of the San Diego Convention Center for the first time during the annual Esri User Conference (Esri UC) can be exciting, overwhelming, awe-inspiring, and unnerving. Here are some tips from members of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association’s (URISA) Vanguard Cabinet for what to do before, during, and after the conference to make the most of your time in San Diego, California, at the largest gathering of geospatial professionals in the world.
Before the Conference
- Create your schedule ahead of time using the Esri Events app. The conference app makes it easy to mark and save presentations and events that you would like to attend. The app also provides a floor plan of the San Diego Convention Center, so you can map out where your selected sessions take place and find the quickest route to get from one to another.
- Pack the essentials. Over the years, we have learned that there are some key items you’ll want to pack to make your conference experience as enjoyable as possible.
- A light jacket or sweater—It might be hot outside, but the air conditioning will be blasting in the convention center.
- Snacks—The lines for food can get long, and it’s a bit of a trek to get to the restaurants in downtown San Diego. You’ll want to have some quick bites on hand.
- Business cards—You’re going to meet lots of people at sessions, in workshops, at social gatherings, and even in restaurants and cafés around town. Make sure you have some business cards ready to hand out so you can stay connected. There are also free apps you can download to create digital business cards, and the LinkedIn mobile app has a QR Code that you can use to stay in touch with people you meet.
- Prepare an elevator pitch. This is a concise summary of your skills and experience that you can use to introduce yourself to people. Having a prepared pitch can help you feel more confident and in control of the conversation. For guidance on how to construct a good elevator pitch, see URISA past president Tripp Corbin’s fall 2022 ArcNews article, “The Importance of a Good Elevator Pitch”.
- Attention, job seekers: Do your homework in advance! Check out the list of exhibitors that will be attending the Esri UC and identify which ones you’ll want to talk to. Peruse their websites ahead of time to help you start a conversation with their representatives in the Expo Hall. Look at their job postings as well to see which ones are hiring. And don’t forget to bring copies of your résumé.
During the Conference
- Don’t miss the Plenary Session. It’s our favorite part of the Esri UC. Hearing about the latest advancements in GIS from a range of users is amazing and inspiring. By listening to Esri president Jack Dangermond, Esri product developers, and highly qualified geospatial technology professionals from around the globe, you are bound to come away with great ideas about what using geospatial technology can achieve.
- Get to the presentations and workshops early. Space fills up quickly! Some of the topics are so interesting that there ends up being standing room only—especially at the talks being given in the Expo Hall. Aim to arrive 10–15 minutes early so you can grab a seat.
- Make time for networking. It can be intimidating to be surrounded by so many geospatial technology professionals, especially if you’re attending the Esri UC by yourself or just getting started in the industry. Take things at your own pace, but be sure to attend at least a few networking events to connect with others. Recommendations include the following:
- Attend the Map Gallery on the first day, go to the end-of-conference party at Balboa Park, and make an appearance at the Esri Young Professionals Network (YPN) social.
- Stop by the URISA booth to talk to members of the Vanguard Cabinet, and chat with YPN members at their booth. They can help you get connected to people and organizations if you need some support.
- Take time in the Expo Hall to speak to the exhibitors and learn about what they do. That’s what they’re there for!
- Visit the product and industry areas that Esri places throughout the Expo Hall. They are staffed by GIS experts, solution engineers, and product managers who can give technology demonstrations and answer questions.
- Be strategic with your time and effort. Set goals for yourself at the conference. Rather than trying to meet as many people as possible, focus on connecting with a few key individuals whose experience is relevant to your career goals. Make sure you know what information you want to walk away from the Esri UC with and attend relevant sessions. Take breaks when you need them. Also, identify an accountability buddy whom you can check in with periodically. It helps to have a familiar face around at networking sessions and someone to walk back to your hotel with.
After the Conference
- Go sightseeing! Visiting San Diego’s hot spots is what makes the Esri UC unique and attractive. It’s also a good way to connect with current coworkers or network with new GIS colleagues. If you do this during the conference, be careful not to overdo it, as you don’t want to miss out on all the great content and opportunities the Esri UC has to offer.
- Go through your notes. It’s easy to get overwhelmed at conferences. If you’ve taken notes during the sessions—which you should do—go over them at your own pace when you get home.
- Follow up with people you’ve met. You’re going to have made a lot of new GIS friends and connections with potential employers, colleagues, and partners. You’ve probably exchanged business cards, email addresses, and phone numbers with them. Follow up with everyone to keep the conversation going.
- Rest and relax. You’ll have just walked many miles every day for a week and talked to loads of new people. Take some time to rest and recharge. You’ll be better equipped to then take all that new information and inspiration back to your job and colleagues.
- Prepare for next year. By the end of the week, you’ll be an Esri UC expert. You’ll know the best places to stay, eat, and hang out. So start planning your next trip to the Esri UC as early as possible. Tell the leaders at your organization how much you gained from the experience and why you should go again next year. Before you know it, Esri will put out the call for abstracts. Start thinking about what kinds of projects and topics you could present about next year and get your abstract in as soon as possible. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to showcase your work and give back to the GIS community.