From Teaching to Tech: A Year in my New Career (Aug 2022 — Aug 2023)
Well, here I am again writing about my experience as a developer advocate at Esri. Except for this time, instead of being one month in, I’m one whole year in! It’s been an incredible journey thus far, and I’d like to share the things I’ve experienced and accomplished through the Esri conferences I’ve had the privilege of attending this past year. So, without further ado, let’s dive into it!
Esri is renowned for its exceptional conferences — the venue, pre-conference workshops, plenary, technical talks, and amazing food and beverages. As an attendee, you have the opportunity to learn, make connections, and even receive some free swag! As an Esri employee, these conferences are a chance to meet users, partners, and colleagues face-to-face, fostering meaningful relationships.
In my first year as a developer advocate, I was lucky enough to be asked to present at four Esri conferences. These are the Esri European Developer Summit, the Esri Federal GIS Conference, the Esri Developer Summit, and the Esri User Conference. My experiences at each of these events have contributed to shaping and defining my role. I’ve had inspiring conversations with innovative engineers, I’ve gained a plethora of knowledge about Esri’s vast ecosystem of products and technology, and I’ve built lasting connections and trust with my colleagues and other developers.
The first of the four Esri conferences I presented at was the Esri European Developer Summit 2022 in Berlin, Germany. To say I had a wonderful time here is an understatement. I was 2.5 months into my new role with Esri and already visiting another continent to which I had never been! At this conference, I was assigned a number of tasks to complete.
First, I was tasked with giving a “Developer Essentials and Resources” presentation to a group of distributors. This was a 30-minute presentation during a pre-conference workshop (ArcGIS Developer Training). I should mention that I did give this same presentation internally to Esri employees in the Vienna, VA, office a couple of weeks previously, so I did have a bit of practice. Nevertheless, I was super excited to be presenting in front of some Esri distributors for the first time. The intimate setting and banter from the distributors made my first conference presentation a welcoming and fun experience, and their feedback was invaluable.
My second order of business was to present on the plenary stage! If you’re unfamiliar with the way Esri conferences start, the plenary is the opening session full of new updates, information, and live demos by Esri’s engineers. These demos are thoroughly rehearsed, and presenters are expected to memorize every word and action by heart. No teleprompters, notes, or other assistance here! The Esri European Developer Summit plenary is recorded but not live-streamed, so the pressure isn’t quite as intense as other Esri conference plenaries. Nevertheless, this was my first time presenting technical demos in front of a few hundred people, so I was understandably nervous. The amazing part was that after getting that first sentence out, the rest came naturally. I found my stride, and my nerves were calmed by focusing on what I was presenting and not how I was presenting it.
The third task I was assigned was to co-present three technical talks with my lead mentor and colleague, Raul. Seeing as this was not only the first technical talk I presented but also my first tech conference in general, I didn’t really know what to expect. So I relied heavily on my lesson planning skills (as a former teacher) when approaching this situation. Creating a PowerPoint was certainly nothing new to me, and laying out a flow for how to present the information came naturally. What I didn’t do well with was time-managing the prep work. I was up until about 3 a.m. one night before our last talk just to ensure I was ready! I will admit that in these talks, being just 2.5 months into a completely new profession, I did quite a bit of “fake it til you make it”. Luckily, I wasn’t presenting alone, so I did have the ability to lean on Raul’s expertise to fill in my knowledge gaps.
My fourth and final task was to help “man” the ArcGIS Platform booth in the showcase area. At first, being assigned this task wasn’t something I was initially too excited about. I love teaching, listening, and collaborating with fellow developers, but being so new, I felt like I wouldn’t be able to contribute much. And on the teaching side of things, I generally didn’t have too much to offer yet as I was still learning Esri’s services. However, the conversations I had with developers were invaluable. I learned about new and exciting ways in which people are using Esri’s technology, all about how different products and pieces fit together in the ArcGIS ecosystem, and was inspired to help developers learn about all of the generally cool things they can do once they discover our technology. This is actually why I decided to create my video series called “Esri (ArcGIS) Developer Advent Calendar”.
Overall, the Esri European Developer Summit 2022 was an unforgettable event. The time I got to spend learning from other developers and my mentor Raul, the connections I made with colleagues, distributors, and partners, and the ideas I gathered for helping improve the Esri developer experience were all invaluable. This conference is quite unique in comparison to the other conferences I would later attend. The feelings of excitement, hard work, and general enthusiasm were at an all-time high, especially during social events. I didn’t know it at the time, but the experience I had in Berlin would turn out to be the most critical in helping me form and shape my developer relations role moving forward.
The second conference I was asked to speak at was the Esri Federal GIS Conference (FedGIS for short), which was held at the Walter E. Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Since I live in Alexandria, VA, and just a few minutes walk to a metro stop, this conference was both convenient and accessible for me. This conference, in general, is not developer-focused. However, there was a developer-day pre-conference track on Monday, February 6th. There was also a Developer Technologies area in the showcase expo area on Tuesday and Wednesday. At this conference, I was asked to do three things: demos in the opening developer-day session, an open source talk, and be present at the “Developer Experience” booth at the expo.
The developer-day opening session was full of great demos by Esri’s engineers and attracted a substantial audience, with over 200 people in attendance. It’s a bit like a mini-plenary,” and Jack Dangermond (Esri’s president and co-founder) made an appearance to start it off! During this opening session, I presented three open source demos. The first two were similar to the two I did in Berlin, and the third was to show off the new ArcGIS + CesiumJS integration. Like in Berlin, I managed to overcome my nerves within the first sentence or two, and everything turned out as planned! The one major downside to doing these demos is that the stage was arranged for us to sit down while presenting. For me, that was quite uncomfortable. It may be the former teacher in me, but I very much enjoy standing while speaking publicly. It generally makes me feel as though I have a better stage presence, and the more comfortable I am, the more likely I am to have a top-notch performance. Nevertheless, I managed by sitting up straight, making plenty of eye contact with the audience, and ensuring I was genuine with my mannerisms and tone of voice.
After the opening session, I had a bit of time to prepare for the first technical talk I would be presenting all by myself! In Berlin, I had the reassurance and assistance of Raul in each of the talks I co-presented. This time, it was all up to me! For this presentation, I put a lot of time and effort into learning how Esri’s services are designed to be integrated with several open source library options. The prep work I did consisted of watching previous similar conference talks, practicing using our services by building demo apps (both for practice and for the talk) and asking lots of questions to coworkers about a variety of topics. During the talk, I used a second screen for my notes while presenting (mostly to ensure I used proper terminology and to help mitigate my nerves). In the end, the talk was a success! All of my demos worked as intended, the room was completely full, and I received lots of questions and good feedback afterward.
My final task was to be at the “Developer Experience” booth in the showcase expo room. The expo had a “Developer Technologies” section that was the central hub for our different APIs and SDKs developer offerings. This task was similar to the one I had in Berlin; the main difference was the clientele. The majority of people I spoke with were government employees who didn’t have developer experience themselves but had general developer questions from the engineers they lead. A nice thing about government people is that many of them like open source since several institutions require it, so I was able to have some good conversations about that area of interest. The other popular crowd I spoke with were those just gauging general interest in what “Developer Experience” meant. I was able to answer these questions with ease and enjoyed showing many of the developer resources I had gathered for the pre-conference talk I gave in Berlin.
My time at the Esri Federal GIS Conference 2023 was less hectic than in Berlin, which allowed me to relax a bit more and enjoy my time with colleagues and customers under less pressure. I was able to attend a few of my colleagues’ sessions to learn from the experts. Since I live so close to Washington, D.C., I was able to meet with colleagues who live nearby and have met up a few times since, which is really nice since my position is fully remote. On the flip side, the general vibe at the conference felt much more professional and “business-like”. The lunches and social events were a bit more upscale than the events in Berlin, but that certainly didn’t stop them from being fun! My attendance at this conference really opened my eyes to the world of GIS and helped me see how important Esri is to the U.S. federal government. I was also able to gain confidence in my presentation skills after giving a technical talk alone and having it turn out to be a success.
My third conference experience this past year was the Esri Developer Summit 2023 in Palm Springs, CA. This is Esri’s largest annual event for developers, so I knew I was in for a treat. Not only was this my first time in California, but it was also the first time I was able to meet all of my team members in person! Since my team is spread out all over the U.S. (and one in Spain!), I was thrilled that we were all going to be together at one event.
My first task was to present several demos on the plenary stage. This act wasn’t new to me at this point, but unlike in Berlin, the stakes were much higher. The crowd of people watching in person was at least five times as large, not to mention even more virtually, as the event was also simultaneously being live-streamed. The demos I presented were, in total, a bit longer than at FedGIS and in Berlin, so you better believe I was reciting my lines everywhere (in the shower, on the plane, while exercising, etc.)! The preparation for this was immensely more intense. When I arrived on Sunday, I went straight to a rehearsal for first-timers presenting there in Palm Springs, where I ran through each of my demos twice on stage.
The next day, we had another rehearsal where we first discussed the overall structure and expected etiquette, ran through a queue-to-queue, and individually performed our demos twice. Afterward, we went to dinner, and the next morning was go time! We all had our hair and makeup done behind the stage, our outfits were checked for quality, and pep talks were given. Once it was all said and done, everyone did an amazing job with their demos! This was the most relief and excitement I had ever felt after being on stage. It was truly exhilarating! If you’re interested, the entire plenary is available to watch on Esri’s MediaSpace.
Right after the plenary, I had just enough time for lunch, after which I was scheduled to give a demo theater talk. Demo theater talks are a bit different from technical talks or workshops in their format and structure. The room where I presented wasn’t a room at all but instead a closed-off space (with light “fake walls”) from the expo showcase room. So, all of the noise from people wandering and chatting at the expo booths came through. Not to mention, there was another person presenting right next door to me. So, when we both started speaking through our microphones, it felt a little like a battle to be heard. Also, I had the first demo theater talk of the day, so people were piling in late since they weren’t allowed into the expo area until right when my talk started. Even though the setup wasn’t ideal, the talk went well! This 30-minute talk was the same topic as the one I had previously given in Berlin, so I luckily didn’t have too much to prepare. As I mentioned, many showed up late, but within the first 7–8 minutes, the room was full with an overflow of people standing in the back! I was thrilled to be presenting in front of such a large group. Afterward, I was able to chat with many people, provide additional resources, answer their questions, and get some feedback.
Later that day, I signed up to participate in “SpeedGeeking”. This is a little like speed dating, but instead of “dating”, attendees rotate to different presenters and listen to a 5-minute short talk. There is about a minute between rotations, and this lasts for about an hour. Presenting in SpeedGeeking turned out to be exhausting but also an excellent way to interact with developers by showing them some cool ways I had customized apps with Esri’s technology. I may have gained a sore throat from speaking so quickly in bursts, but it was well worth it to see developers take some ideas from me, ask questions, and give me suggestions. I can’t wait to be able to do this again at future conferences!
For the rest of the conference, I was able to relax a bit as I was tasked with helping at a “developer experience” booth and assisting with user presentations. Hearing the different presentations and seeing the ways in which customers are using Esri’s technology was inspiring. I was able to chat with the customers about their experiences, take pictures of them presenting for their own personal use, and make a few notes for some future ideas.
As with each Esri conference, I attended this year, the social aspects of things were not lacking! As I mentioned, Tuesday evening was the “meet the teams” event full of great food and drinks. On Wednesday evening, I was invited to attend another social event with many of my coworkers in a nice poolside area. Then, Thursday evening was the fun end-of-the-event party! Along with even more good food and drinks, there was a fun adult bouncy house and a dodgeball tournament. The tournament is something people take seriously, so if you get to attend the Esri Developer Summit, be sure to watch so you can heckle, laugh, and cheer!
The Esri Developer Summit was an event I certainly plan to attend again in the future. It was an incredible experience to be surrounded by thousands of developers who are there to learn, teach, experience, and grow. I left this event having experienced some of the proudest moments in my new career, having connected with all of my team members, having reconnected with some distributors I had met in Berlin, and having collaborated with several other developers.
The fourth and most recent conference I attended was Esri’s largest conference each year, the Esri User Conference (UC for short) in San Diego, CA. With over 15,000 attendees in person and even more virtually, this event was quite the production! The event was held at the enormous San Diego Convention Center, right near the water. Such a huge event required a large number of staff as well. I was thrilled to see people I had met at previous conferences everywhere I went. It was a bit comforting, and it motivated me to engage with even more people.
As a developer advocate, this conference wasn’t geared toward my target audience. However, like at FedGIS, there was a developer day, along with some developer-focused sessions. My first task was to co-present a technical talk with my manager and a fellow colleague during the first day of the event (other than the plenary). This was a talk titled “Esri’s Location Services for Developers”, which along with open source integrations, has been my main focus with Esri since I started, so I was more than happy to help present! The talk was well-attended, especially for a non-developer-focused conference, with about 75–85 people in attendance. Afterward, we each were asked a plethora of questions, which I was very happy to be able to answer. This was also a great opportunity for us to shout out the developer day track occurring the next day and the developer booths at the showcase expo.
Later that day, I attended a rehearsal for the developer day opening session. For this, I was tasked with presenting even more demonstrations than I had ever done before. I felt a mixture of excitement with a bit of nervousness. Unfortunately, we were set up to present while sitting down once again. I reminded myself to sit up straight to better engage with the audience. The next morning, the developer day opening session began at 8:30 a.m. About halfway through, there was a break, after which I was to go on stage to start the second half. However, these were only two of my demos. I later came back on at the very end to present a few more demos related to open source libraries. The time between my presentations was something I hadn’t quite experienced before, and the emotions were definitely a bit new. I was relieved to have done well on my first demos, but I found it difficult to wait until the end to present again. However, after getting back on stage a second time, I was actually quite happy to be able to go again, as I really do love presenting. After the session, I was able to have some great conversations with customers, with whom I was later able to show off more of our developer resources while at the booth.
My final task at UC was to help at the ArcGIS Platform booth in the developer section of the expo. The expo area in the San Diego Convention Center is huge, which was quite a sight to see but did make things a bit difficult, especially for my colleagues and me. This was because often, we’d get specific questions about location services, experience builder, and other less-developer-focused topics that we’d then be obliged to help walk over to the correct area. However, the experience was still wonderful, as I was able to chat with many new developers and users looking to advance or get into their development journey. The ability to speak with new audiences was quite invigorating and validated my newly found passions in my new career choice.
The time I spent at the Esri User Conference gave me insight into how passionate so many people are about GIS, in a way other conferences had not previously done. When looking for a new role, after deciding to leave teaching, I knew I wanted to get into tech and web development. I just wasn’t sure what kind of company and/or role would be right for me. When I discovered the position of Developer Advocate at Esri, I loved the sound of being able to present at conferences, do content creation, collaborate and inspire other developers, and assist with bettering the Esri developer experience. The role sounded adjacent to teaching in a lot of ways, which really grasped my attention and has thus far lived up to my expectations. What I did not know was the amazing world of geospatial thinking that I had never previously been exposed to but would soon come to love and embrace.
A year ago, I had no idea how lucky I would be to have all of these wonderful experiences. The time I spent presenting, collaborating, socializing, learning, and listening has been invaluable to my growth in my new career. Although attendance at these conferences has only made up a portion of my role and responsibility as an Esri Developer Advocate, these events have been some of the most impactful experiences for me and other developers.
Transitioning from a teaching career to a tech-focused role was one of the hardest and scariest things I’ve done in my life. However, my experiences at these conferences have validated my decision. Each conference added a unique layer to my understanding of developer advocacy, the developer experience, and the world of GIS. From overcoming nerves to relishing the thrill of presenting, I’ve come to embrace the role of a developer advocate with renewed enthusiasm and optimism.
If you attend one of these Esri conferences this upcoming year, I’d love to meet you! Let’s connect, chat about developer things, and share ideas. Also, keep an eye out for my next article where I’ll be sharing my advice and takeaways from these conference experiences. Here’s to this next year and the exciting possibilities it holds!
This article was written by Courtney Yatteau, a Developer Advocate at Esri. The opinions in this article are solely Courtney’s opinions and do not necessarily represent the postings, strategies, or opinions of her employer. If you have any feedback, please like and/or comment. Also, if you have any questions or comments that you’d prefer to send privately, you can contact Courtney through LinkedIn, Twitter, or email. If you’re considering a career switch, looking to get into tech, or curious about what it’s like to work at Esri, then please stay tuned for my future posts! You can also check out Esri’s careers page or this video for more information.