Getting the Most out of the Esri User Conference

Caitlin Dempsey


Whether it’s your first time or tenth time attending Esri’s Annual User Conference in San Diego, this annual get together is always a fantastic opportunity for users and developers of Esri software to enhance their skills and to network with other GIS professionals from around the world. Usually held in either July or August, the Esri International User Conference has been held annually for over three decades.

The size and scope of the conference means that there are many opportunities that a GIS professional can and should take advantage of while they are in San Diego. Listed below are some tips and tricks to making the most out of your time at the user conference:

Do Your Homework

There are a lot of preconference materials that can help you prepare for your visit and get the most out of the conference. Every year, Esri solicits input feedback from its users and publishes a preconference survey with questions and answers.  For a little tongue-in-cheek humor, also check out James Fee’s take in 2012 on the real answers: Mr. Dangermond Answers Your Questions.

The agenda for the annual user conference is posted to Esri’s web site. Take some time to look it over to see what activities and sessions peak your interest.  Once you’re at the convention center, the choices of workshops, technical presentations, and user presentations can be overwhelming so it’s a good idea to plan out your primary and secondary choices for each time slot.

A few years back, Clive Brown, the Director of Software Products for Esri, put together his own top ten list of “Cool Things” about the conference which is still useful to review.

If you’re a member of Facebook, migrate over the Esri’s “Official Esri UC” group to network with other conference attendees.  You can also follow the Esri UC on Twitter

Chose a Focus

Since this is the major conference held by Esri, you can find something about all Esri products as well as applications of GIS in nearly every field. It helps to decide beforehand what skills and areas you want to focus on and then pick the sessions in the conference schedule that match your interests. For example, if you are interested in honing your cartographic skills, there are plenty of technical workshops that will help you when creating maps in ArcMap.  Esri has compiled industry specific Esri Conference agendas to help narrow the focus.

Plan Ahead

The sessions on through the week run back to back and the convention center is fairly large so be prepared to do a lot of walking between sessions and to and from the vendor hall. It helps to pre-plan which sessions you want to attend so you aren’t fumbling between sessions trying to decide where to go next. Make sure you pick a first and second choice. You’ll notice a lot of attendees session hopping – trying one session and then moving on to a second when their first choice doesn’t appeal to them.

Get Sample Happy

The Vendor Hall is a great place to take some time to browse around. With hundreds of vendors and government agencies on hand, it’s a great way to see what solutions to GIS issues are out there. Be sure to take advantage of the materials and samples that you can pick up to further evaluate the products and services being offered.

Go to the Doctor

Within the Vendor Hall are further mini sessions, as well as the Doctor’s Office. If there’s been a critical problem that you haven’t been able to solve, bring it to the conference and make a visit to the Doctor’s Office where Esri staff members are waiting to help you out.

Make Connections

The conference isn’t just about work. The Esri conference, in addition to being a place to hone your GIS skills, is also a great place to make friends that work in your field. There are many social events that bring you into contact with your GIS colleagues. Depending on the days you are planning to be at the conference there are many possibilities. From the Map Gallery opening held on Monday night to the incredibly popular Thursday Night Celebration, check your agenda for the many social events happening during the week.

This article was first published June 23, 2006 and was last updated July 6, 2013.

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.

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4 thoughts on “Getting the Most out of the Esri User Conference”

  1. Also, make sure that you dedicate some time to the Map Gallery. This is not only a great way to see how others are utilizing ESRI, but to get cartographic design ideas as well.

  2. Just got back. This was my first UC, and I’d definitely second planning ahead and concentrating on one area. Not to say you can’t check out something else, but I’d have gotten more out of it if I’d focused more.

    Quality of speakers and presentations varied quite a bit. Some were very good and informative. Others less so. Some classes, especially intros, are more like intermediate level. One common problem was speakers moving so quickly through their material that it was difficult to digest before they were two or three points farther on. But like I said, some were very good. Only a couple were on the poor side.

    ArcGIS Online was pushed pretty hard, at least in the sessions I went to. Support for 9.x is pretty much out. San Diego is a great town. Just be sure to bring money; it’s not cheap.

  3. Too many focus groups.
    The Balboa Park Party Night was HORRIBLE! Food was nasty and disgusting! I stood in 3 lines for over 50 minutes to gets some food, and 2 of the lines completely ran out of food.
    Food booths should be more visible, preferably outdoors in a easily visible area. Because the food booths were placed inside the buildings, it was way too crowded to enjoy any exhibits!

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