Blog by Chris Morris, Interpret Group Manager
The Esri User Conference is many things: a conference, a place of learning, a technical demo, but it is also a place of social gathering. A place to meet new people, a place to catch up with colleagues from the past, and maybe unwittingly meet colleagues of the future. The conference is inherently social, you cannot help but bump into people.
And bump into people I did - in some cases with people I hadn’t seen in 15 years, it is just that sort of conference. The social aspect is really important and there are numerous activities that encourage it. The 5km fun run, early morning yoga, the special interest groups, the job board, the final party in Balboa Park, are all there to encourage you to talk to others.
All the people at the conference have GIS in common which makes talking to others easy. You don’t have to worry about small talk and how to start a conversation. Even the most timid of people can start a conversation with a simple “how are you enjoying the conference?” as an opening gambit and the conversation flows, before you know it you are asking where they are from, what they do and 100 other questions all with a GIS theme.
The people I met were interesting, from the guy working in Ottawa, who was wearing an All Blacks top and works for a local authority, to the lady from Virginia Tech University who was presenting a paper on vehicle to vehicle communication and the influence of topography on single strength, to the Esri Redlands team with a specialist in Maps for SharePoint. Each had their own story and was willing to share their thoughts on the conference and their experience.
Meeting with delegates was just half the story. The conference was also an opportunity to talk with Esri staff about all manner of things, from technical conversations about particular issues, to getting advice about a project, to discussing the future direction of an application. It was easy to do, it just started with a simple “Hi”.
I also met with Esri on a number of occasions about business opportunities in the United States. Meeting had been arranged prior to the conference and meeting people in person was a really good way to forge a relationship - this conference made it all possible.
One of the ways that delegates expressed their personality was through the graffiti wall. A black board with a supply of fluorescent pens, it was a great way for people to express their feelings about all kinds of things. I spent a bit of time reading what people had chosen to write and found the mundane, the thoughtful, the funny and the weird, as many personalities as there were people. It’s nice to feel part of such a big community.