Spencer Elford is a 4th year undergraduate student from the School of Geography and Earth Sciences at McMaster University. You can follow Spencer on Twitter @SpencerElford.

Fresh off my recent ECCE App Challenge participation, I was fortunate enough to attend the Esri Developer Summit in Palm Springs, California with my friend and fellow McMaster ECCE Student Associate, Karl Chastko. As one of only four student associates attending the conference this year, I cannot begin to express my gratitude to Esri Canada and McMaster University for supporting me in this endeavour.

It will be hard to describe the truly awesome experience I had at the DevSummit this year, but what I must say is that it was an unforgettable experience full of great people, ideas, and technology. The summit hit the ground running with a plenary session which highlighted exciting Esri tech soon to be released this year. Seeing a demonstration of some of the new products coming out soon gave me insight into what’s coming in the future of industry, and I know I probably wasn’t the only one rushing to the Esri Showcase that night to demo some of the tech myself. In the evening, I attended an Esri Development Center (EDC) discussion as a representative from Esri Canada’s ECCE Student Associate Program. Here we were given the opportunity to participate in discussion about the role of Esri’s Education and Research division and the things we as students and educators would like to see in the future. It also gave me the opportunity to seek advice from Jason Otero, Esri’s Talent Acquisition Lead, about the hiring process in the GIS field. Receiving the guidance of an actual hiring manager was invaluable, and I found myself hastily trying to record each and every tip and trick he offered. I was not alone in that aspect as the room was full of professors and students from EDCs from around the globe and thus presented a unique opportunity to meet and interact with educators and students from all over!

Spencer (left) and Karl Chastko (right) enjoying the sunny weather during lunchtime at the DevSummit.

The centerpiece of the DevSummit (aside from the dodgeball tournament of course!) was the keynote session featuring JSON creator and JavaScript guru, Douglas Crockford. I found his words of encouragement towards the next generation of developers to be especially captivating. As a young developer myself, the opportunity to hear a true master of the craft give his perspective on the industry was an experience I’m sure I’ll never forget.

The next few days were a blur of workshops, tech demos, and presentations. Never before have I had the fortune of fully immersing myself in the technologies, ideas, and people that make the GIS and development industry so appealing. Each session, from user interface/user experience workshops to ArcGIS Pro demonstrations, spoke to me in a different way and demonstrated to me the true power of GIS as a tool. When I witnessed Mansour Raad’s jaw-dropping demonstration of utilizing big data to solve real world problems, or when I watched Pascal Mueller construct a complete 3D office building (including IKEA office furniture!) in the newest version of Esri CityEngine, I knew I was witnessing the frontiers of the industry. As a student, it was inspirational to see the big ideas and innovations being brought forth, and I know for certain that I left each session with many big ideas of my own.

As the summit drew to a close, I came to an endearing realization: while the technology may be great and the applications astounding, it’s the people that make the DevSummit such a unique experience. Each day I found myself meeting more and more incredible people. From Australian National Defense Analysts, to Los Angeles firefighters, to professors and researchers from Europe and South America, the unique stories and experiences offered by each and every person I encountered throughout the week truly made the conference the enriching experience it was. At the end of the day, GIS is really a tool, and it is those who wield it that make it so powerful. Getting to interact with these professionals and technological pioneers from around the world while still only a student provided me a humbling perspective on where I am in my career and where I want to be in the future. I certainly feel the experience has not only made me a better developer, but I feel that it has ignited in me a passion to think more outside the box, be creative, and dream big.

With that, I would like to say thank you once again to Cameron Plouffe, Jonathan Van Dusen, and Michael Luubert from the Esri Canada Education and Research group. Your guidance and support for me on this trip made this an unforgettable experience.