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The Esri UC Insider: Tip & Tricks from 10-year Veteran Mike Gregotski

Heading down to the Esri UC for the first time and you're not sure what to expect? Or maybe you've been down before but you're looking for inside tips? Our own Mike Gregotski can help. He knows a thing or two about Esri’s annual week-long celebration of all things GIS in San Diego. And he’s got the double-digit attendance record to prove it. Get the inside scoop from Mike in this Q & A on how to save time, where to go, what to avoid and why it's O.K. to sit in the front row.

Ever catch the movie Up In the Air? There’s a great scene where George Clooney’s character, a veteran business traveler, explains the fastest way to get through airport security to an exasperated junior colleague. The scene is packed with one-liners that I still hear people reference now and then (“Never get behind people travelling with an infant—I’ve never seen a stroller collapse in less than 20 minutes.”) We all know and rely on people with the kind of experience this character has. They’re the folks we call for advice when we’re renovating our basement, or attempting an ambitious gardening project, or planning a family trip down to Florida. They have insights that generally make things easier, and when they speak, we listen.     

When it comes to getting insider tips and tricks on attending Esri User Conference in San Diego, our own Mike Gregotski, a Technical Marketing Lead based in Toronto, is our go-to guy. Not only is Mike a veteran of 10 Esri UCs who’s always willing to share his insights and experience, his likeness has also been compared to a Hollywood celebrity. But it’s not George Clooney…

Esri UC veteran Mike Gregotski (left). Late-night talk show veteran Jay Leno (right). Photo by Alan Light.

Whether you’re heading down to Esri’s annual GIS celebration for the first time, or you’ve attended before, Mike’s experience and eye for small details will make your week-long whirlwind this July a little smoother and more enjoyable. I caught up with Mike to get the skinny on some of the things he’s picked up over the years.

AB: Let’s start with logistics—things like line ups and getting around. What tips can you can share on this topic?

MG: I try to register Sunday to avoid the Monday morning rush. I know when you get down there on the weekend there are more interesting things to do, but believe me, the lines on Monday can be pretty intense and a big drain on your time. In general, remember that the San Diego Convention Center (SDCC) is huge and it takes quite a bit of time to get from place to place. It’s a common mistake to overlook this fact—make sure to account for walking time. Also, here’s a random tip: if you want to get any clothes from the Spatial Outlet, hit this early in the week. They run out of standard sizes quickly.

AB: How about the plenary session? Any tips on attending that?

MG: I think the doors usually open 30 minutes before start time, but you need to get there before that to get a good seat. If you can’t get close to the stage, try and sit by a screen so you can clearly see what’s going on. If you’re like me and you like to take notes on a laptop or tablet, they have tables setup at the back—usually stage right. At the break, the nearby washrooms are always packed. Head up the escalators and you’ll find some washrooms upstairs that aren’t as busy.

AB: Let’s talk sessions. I counted 1,287 on the agenda this year. With so many options, how do you manage session attendance?

MG: One great thing I’ve found is that if you don’t want to commit to a tech workshop topic that’s over an hour long, hit the Demo Theatre for a shorter 30 minute presentation. Don’t fill your agenda completely with sessions — leave time to walk the exhibit floor. It’s a great opportunity to run into people, not to mention stretch your legs a bit. Don’t put this off though: the exhibit area closes early on Thursday.

I recommend that you try and go to at least one session on a topic you know little or nothing about. It’s a good chance to learn something completely new. And don’t be afraid of keener’s row—sit close to the front. Some rooms are huge and you won’t see demos from the middle or back rows. Also, sitting up front is helpful if you want to ask presenters' questions after the session because you’re right there. I always enjoy the Lightning Talks—Monday 4:30 - 6:00 (pm). They’re a fun, effective way to get some information on a wide variety of topics.

Esri UC Lightning Talks feature a series of frenetic, five-minute presentations given by GIS peers.

AB: I’ve heard the social side of the UC is a big draw and there are lots events to check out. What do you recommend?

MG: Definitely go to the party on Thursday night at Balboa Park, and don’t forget to get your wrist band from the Activities desk. Last year, they had a cool heavy metal mariachi band—seriously. At the SDCC, there’s always a lineup for buses to go to Balboa Park, so I go to the Tin Fish across the street and sit on the patio, relax and keep an eye on the lines as they die down. If you’re into seafood, try the calamari or the mixed seafood sampler—both are yummy. If you’re sticking around Friday night, catch a Padres game at nearby Petco Park. It’s a cozy ballpark right beside the SDCC. Personally, I like the right field standing room seats. They provide a decent view of the game down the foul line and it’s nice to be move around instead of sitting.

Catching a Padres game in standing room seats at Petco Park. From left-to-right: Iain Greensmith (Esri Canada), Frank Goehner (Region of Waterloo) and Mike Gregotski.

And since we’re on subject of the social aspect, I highly recommend talking to people you don’t know. Resist the temptation to automatically reach for your phone when there’s downtime. Just strike up a conversation with someone. I often ask the person sitting beside me at a session, or in line for a coffee, how the conference is going for them. I always learn a thing or two from them based on what they do in GIS, or how they’re enjoying the conference. I’ve met a lot of interesting people and learned quite a bit over the years doing this.

AB: How about food? Where do you like to grab a bite to eat?

MG: There are lots of good restaurants in the Gaslamp Quarter near the SDCC. The Esri Story Maps team put together a great  story map of good places to eat and cool places to see. Don’t be afraid to visit the lunch trucks at the east side of the SDCC. They’ve got a variety of pretty tasty and inexpensive lunch options. If you want to avoid eating out all the time, hit Ralph’s Supermarket. They have a good deli and prepared foods section.

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