Either through past employment stints or through school, I’ve only had the opportunity to attend a stray poster session or a symposium, but never a full-on professional national conference. Ever since I entered the GIS field in graduate school, the Esri User Conference in San Diego, California always seemed so far away, financially and logistically. That was before I started a new job at the American Academy of Family Physicians in Washington, D.C., as a GIS Strategist, where I work with the HealthLandscape mapping platform and recently had the opportunity to attend the 2016 ESRI Federal GIS Conference.
I was pretty excited to spend lunch time one day going through the schedule and selecting my first, second, and third desired sessions within each time slot, finally accepting that I couldn’t be at more than one session at the same time. As the conference approached, my excitement built upon the anticipation that for two whole days, I was going to be immersed in all things GIS, through sessions, demonstrations, and map galleries. I was pleased to discover when I walked into the first day’s plenary session, that there were open seats towards the front of the massive ballroom so that I could get a close-up view of GIS celebrities like Jack Dangermound (founder of Esri) and Gary Knell, president and CEO of National Geographic (shown below), and deputy director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, Susan Gordon. I spent the rest the conference double checking my schedule to see if my thoughts about which sessions I wanted to attend had changed. Eventually, I had settled into sessions like Best Practices for Map Design (Part 1): An Introduction, The Power of Geoenrichment: Demographics in the ArcGIS Platform, Geocoding Options in ArcGIS, and Python: Building Geoprocessing Tools, all important and informative sessions.
Two sessions stood out for me in particular, The Power of Geoenrichment: Demographics in the ArcGIS Platform and Best Practices for Map Design (Part 1): An Introduction. The geoenrichment session covered how to take your geocoded data and append demographics data from ArcGIS Online using Microsoft Office that has a plugin for Esri. The presenters provided a brief overview of the Esri products used to geoenrich your data such as ArcMap, Business Analyst, Esri Community Maps, and how to develop a user specified tool. The session on best practices for map design was a course on cartographic recommendations for making presentable maps. It was conveyed that it is easy to make bad maps through the improper use of font, color, size, shape, and content. Balancing these attributes in your map and targeting the right population were strong take home points.
It was easy for me to feel like a greenhorn in a sea of seasoned conference goers. Most of the people that I saw were more relaxed, doing things like networking, stocking up on complimentary coffee, checking emails, whereas, I was constantly looking at the room schedule and map to make sure I could get to the next session on time. Of course I always made it, but you can tell where my priorities were. Even having that figured out, I left the conference feeling like I needed more time, more space in the day to attend other sessions or to walk around the gallery and expo more than I did. In the twenty or so minutes that I spent walking around the booths, I managed to snatch up whatever SWAG I could get and talk to the University of Maryland at College Parks’ Master of Professional Studies in GIS team (of which I’m an alumni), and Harris Corporation (a former employer).
Maybe it was the live drone demonstrations, the plethora of maps everywhere, the presence of so many GIS professionals in one place, the various talks on GIS, or that awesomely cooked pot roast, but I can’t help but feel the main reason for my excitement for having attended my first conference is my ever growing passion for GIS. I look forward to the prospect of attending the even bigger UC in June.
Geospatial Information Systems Strategist