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  • 06/28/2023 6:00 PM | Justin Quinley, GISP (Administrator)

    Building meaningful connections at conferences can lead to career advancements, collaborations, and lifelong friendships. It's important not to overlook these invaluable opportunities for networking with your contemporaries in the geospatial community. With conference season in full swing, I wanted to explore the significance of networking and hopefully provide you with a few strategies to make the most of your conference experience.

    Recognizing the Significance of Networking

    Networking is more than just exchanging business cards or connecting on LinkedIn. It is a powerful tool that can open doors to new opportunities and expand your professional horizons. Here are a few key reasons why networking at professional conferences is crucial for your career growth. 

    Conferences attract professionals from many backgrounds offering their knowledge and expertise. Engaging in meaningful conversations with fellow attendees can broaden your understanding of technological trends, best practices, and emerging opportunities. Because geospatial technology is used throughout the spectrum of industries, you will not only pick up new methods and techniques to incorporate into your daily workflow, but you’re also guaranteed to learn how a tool you might regularly use is applied across various sectors. Most importantly, though, you’ll learn some things about yourself. 

    In the coming days I plan to share 20 questions I’ve given my team of junior geospatial professionals to think about when as they explore geospatial (or industry specific) conferences.
    • Map Nerds Unite! Networking allows you to forge connections with like-minded individuals who share your professional interests. These relationships can lead to mentorship, collaborations, and referrals; all of which will enhance your career to some degree. Here are a few examples of professional relationships that you might consider fostering at a conference:

    A Professional Transition: If you’re looking to get your foot in the door of a different industry, attended a session hosted by someone from that field. Following the presentation, proactively seek out and connect with professionals working in that specific industry—ask them questions. Chances are that if they are presenting their work or research at a conference, then they don’t mind talk about it further. Be open to receiving guidance on which industry-specific skills to acquire.

    Peer Support and Community Building: If you’re struggling with a specific GIS challenge, others in the field are likely experiencing the same issue or have in the past. Find those people. Support and guidance from fellows trying to overcome similar circumstance is a good environment for brainstorming and problem-solving.

    Thought Leadership and Professional Recognition: Everyone attending the conference is there to soak up knowledge. Generally, people want to hear all the cool things you are creating. Present your work. You never know who might be in the audience and this connection might lead to the publication of your work or other professional recognition.

    • Actively participating in networking events will help establish yourself as an engaged professional within your industry. Moreover, building a strong professional network will increase your credibility and visibility among peers and potential employers.

    Strategies for Making Meaningful Connections:

    Approaching professional networking with a purpose and strategy will significantly enhance your experience. Here are some strategies to help you make meaningful connections:

    • I mentioned in a recent post that it’s a good idea to identify sessions and workshops that align with your professional goals; it’s an even better idea to think about the types of connections you want to make. Prior to attending a conference consider researching the speakers, potential attendees, and exhibitors. Use this information to set specific networking goals. For example, you may want to connect with industry influencers, discuss grad school options with a professor from a specific university, or shop for drone solution. Of course, though, let conversations be organic and don’t turn connections because they are not on some list you made.  This will help you focus your efforts and make your interactions more purposeful.
    Meeting Jack at my first Esri User Conference was a goal for me. Now each time I return to the conference (whether it be the UC in San Diego or the Federal UC in Washington DC) I try to make it a point to say hello.  
    • A solid elevator pitch is essential for effectively communicating your value. The whole idea is that it you and another person should be able to highlight your expertise and interests in the amount of time an elevator ride might last. This will help you make a memorable impression when introducing yourself to fellow attendees. There is a ton of existing material online about crafting a great elevator pitch. Check out this outline from the Auburn University College of Engineering about what to include in your own Elevator Pitch. I might create a more detailed post on the subject later, but here are my three quick tips:

    The Hook: Lead with a thought-provoking question, a bold statement, or relevant anecdote.

    The Line: Use plain language that anyone can understand avoiding technical jargon or buzzwords that may confuse or alienate your audience.

    The Sinker: Provide a next step to keep the conversation going—invite them to join you for lunch, attend your session/presentation, or connect on social media.
    • Actively participate in conference sessions and ask questions during Q&A portion. This not only demonstrates your interest but also provides opportunities for post-session networking with speakers and attendees who share your enthusiasm. As mentioned earlier, chances are that if someone is presenting at a conference, then the LOVE talking about their work or research. Conferences these days have generally have an associated mobile app for attendees. If you aren’t keen on asking questions in front of a larger audience, check to see if the conference app has an attendee chat option.  Most do!
    • Don’t just shove the collection of business cards you accumulated in your desk drawer after the conference. Follow up with the connections you made. Send a quick personalized email or LinkedIn message expressing your appreciation for their time. Let them know if you were able to apply a technique or solution they provided. Ask them the questions you didn’t think about in the moment. Suggest further conversations or meet-ups to continue the relationship.

    Networking at a professional conference is a powerful way to expand your professional network, gain industry and personal insights, and create lasting connections. Recognizing the significance of networking and employing effective strategies will allow you to make the most of your conference experience as a first-time attendee. Remember, professional networking is a journey, and cultivating relationships requires time and effort. Embrace the opportunities that conferences offer, and you'll find yourself on a path to professional growth and success. Be sure to say hello when our paths cross at a geospatial or environmental conference!  

    The next conference I plan to attend is the GIS of Alabama Conference in Gulf Shores (AL) hosted by the Alabama Geographic Information Office. More information can be found here with additional details forthcoming.

  • 06/20/2023 6:00 PM | Justin Quinley, GISP (Administrator)

    Attending a professional conference for the first time can be an exciting and slightly overwhelming experience. For any geospatial professional, the Esri User Conference (UC) in San Diego is an event you won't want to miss. With thousands of attendees from all over the world, this conference offers a unique opportunity to learn, network, and explore the latest advancements in GIS technology. While I’m not able to attend this year, I wanted to share some tips and insights to help you make the most of your first Esri User Conference experience.

    1. Plan Ahead:

    Start by reviewing the conference agenda and identifying the sessions and workshops that align with your interests and professional goals. The Esri Events app (for iOS and Android) is an awesome tool for planning your day. Creating a schedule in advance will help ensure that you don't miss out on any valuable opportunities.

    Use your plan as a guide and don’t feel bad about missing a session.

    The convention center is massive and with many overlapping sessions, it is impossible to catch everything.

    2. Pack Accordingly:

    San Diego is known for its beautiful weather, so pack comfortable clothing and don't forget comfortable shoes! Did I mention the convention center is massive?

    Although Esri typically provides a canvas tote bag during check in, I find it helpful to bring a lightweight backpack to carry the essentials— notebook, pen, business cards, and refillable water bottle. A backpack is also great for stashing away all the stickers and other conference swag you’ll accumulate from the solutions and vendor Expo.

    It's also a good idea to bring a portable charger for your electronic devices, as you'll likely be using them throughout the conference.

    3. Engage and Network!: 

    The UC is a prime opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals in the GIS community. Take advantage of the networking breaks and  evening social events to meet new people and expand your professional network—pre-conference is also a great time to update your LinkedIn if you're on the job hunt. Don't be shy to strike up conversations with fellow attendees, ask questions during sessions, and participate in interactive workshops.

    Remember, networking is not only about making connections but also about sharing knowledge and experiences.

    4. Explore the Expo:

    The solutions and vendor Expo is a bustling hub of activity, where you can interact with Esri staff, explore innovative GIS technologies, and discover new tools and solutions.

    Take your time to visit different booths, engage in product demonstrations, and ask questions. This is your chance to gain hands-on experience with the latest GIS software, hardware, and geospatial applications. 

    I personally like to write out a list of all the things that I have trouble with throughout the year and track down someone from the specific Esri product team for help.

    The Expo is fantastic avenue to explore how others in your industry are applying GIS, perhaps in a way you've never thought. 

    5. Embrace Learning:

    One of the primary objectives of the Esri User Conference is to enhance your GIS skills and knowledge. Attend a mix of sessions and workshops that cover a wide range of topics, including GIS best practices, case studies, and emerging trends. Take notes, ask questions, and engage in discussions to maximize your learning experience.

    BONUS. Attend Special Events:

    The UC offers a variety of special events, including social gatherings, athletics (5k and yoga), and vendor sponsored events.

    Be sure to check the conference program for any events that catch your interest.

    Definitely be sure to ask the vendors what they’re doing for dinner and drinks. Some of the greatest innovation happens on a cocktail napkin during happy hour.

    While potentially overwhelming at times, attending the Esri User Conference in San Diego as a first-timer can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

    By planning ahead, packing appropriately, networking with fellow professionals, exploring the expo, and embracing learning opportunities, you'll make the most of your time at the conference.

    Enjoy the vibrant GIS community, gain new insights, and return home with a renewed enthusiasm for the power of geospatial technology. Just be sure to share what you’ve learned with the rest of us.

    Photo: Me getting to meet Alabama legend, Dr. E.O. Wilson at the Esri User Conference and thank him for being an inspiration. Fun fact: he was telling me a story about an encounter he had with a cottonmouth snake in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta as this pic was snapped.  

  • 12/16/2022 7:30 AM | Justin Quinley, GISP (Administrator)

    As a geographer and native of the Gulf Coast, I’m constantly seeking new information and prospective on the world around me. I have a passion for local ecology, culture, experience, and technology—Geospatial Science is the place where all those intersect for me. I’m excited to share 5 books that I either read or listened to in 2022 that I’ve found to be thought-provoking and relevant to GIS and/or Alabama.

    American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood, by Paul Greenberg (2014)

    I came across this book while on a data and literature hunt for a GIS analysis that revolved around building a habitat suitability model for prioritizing oyster reef restoration sites on the Gulf Coast. I knew that I had to read (/listen) to it immediately.

    It’s a revealing book that provides a geographically informed perspective on the complex and multifaceted issues surrounding seafood production and consumption in the United States. Touching on the environmental impacts (overfishing, pollution, habitat degradation, etc.) as well as various cultural dimensions (traditions of fishing communities, consumer trends, etc) of the seafood industry make this book relevant to physical, cultural, and economic geographers.

    Unleash the Power of Storytelling: Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results, by Rob Biesenbach (2018)

    The ability to tell the story of a project or data product is an important but often overlooked skill for a GIS professional hone. I’m often required to boil down a complex analysis in such a way the public can understand and interpret the result—a need for good story telling.

    Although this book isn’t geared specifically towards the GIS community, I’ve found that it’s insight to story structure, character development, as well as conflict and resolution are relevant. I've found the material presented in this book to be  especially  useful when planning out a web map or application—ahem, Story Map—to communicate the importance of our work or to inspire community engagement.

    Dealing with Disasters: GIS for Emergency Management (Applying GIS Book 2), edited by Ryan Lanclos and Matt Artz (2021)

    I picked this book up at the Esri UC as a quick read on my flight home. We always hear that GIS has a use in every industry. The real-life case studies on using geospatial technology for hazard preparedness, response, and recovery presented really hit close to home as the first chapter discusses the Tuscaloosa County EMA tornado warning system. 

    Spoiler Alert: GISAA Secretary, Jeannette Byrd, makes an appearance.

    This book really made me start thinking about a potential GISAA Event geared towards preparedness. Anyone interested?

    The Infographic: A History of Data Graphics in News and Communication (History and foundations of Information Science), by Murray Dick (2020)

    Back along the lines of presenting data and telling stories, this text explores the cultural evolution of infographics and data visualization. The author identifies historical phases of infographics in popular culture and examines their use in ideological and professional purposes.

    Murray Dick also offers best practices for communicating with infographics. Overall, the text highlights the important role that infographics and data visualization play in communication and understanding of geographical information.

    The Gulf: Making of an American Sea, by Jack E. Davis (2017)

    The Gulf is fantastic and reads more like a novel than a dense environmental history textbook. Jack Davis explores the deep human connection to the Gulf Coast exploring the distinct physical and cultural characteristics of the region including the development of industry, agricultural, and tourism. With geological, anthropological, and biological evidence, Davis provides a suggestion that a thorough understanding of the human impact on the Gulf Coast will inform a path forward for the entire country.

    What do I need to add to the list for 2023?


  • 11/21/2022 4:12 PM | Justin Quinley, GISP (Administrator)

    The City of Daphne is hiring a GIS Analyst. Visit the job posting for more details or to apply!

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