Esri Experts Talk Web and Mobile Development

We recently had the opportunity to participate in a Live Q&A session on Dice.com, as part of its TechTalk community. Our panel of experts included Rex Hansen, Lead Product Engineer, Microsoft Platforms; Will Crick, Lead Product Engineer, Applications Group; and Jason Otero, Staffing Manager. They shared a wealth of information about web and mobile development at Esri, the skills we look for in team members, what makes Esri different, and more. Following are the session highlights.

What do you think is the “next big thing” we’ll see in software development?

Rex: Interesting question. I think there are a few things coming; whether they are “big” depends on your perspective.

With the collaborative nature of software development at play today and into the future, it will be necessary to maintain a diverse range of skills that can be applied to desktop, web, and mobile platforms. Sharing and securing data, especially data in the cloud, and understanding how different platforms can consume and utilize that data is essential. While integration of on-premise and cloud-based data stores will be easier (ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS for Server solutions will continue to make this process easy and successful), organizations such as Esri will need to provide better services to enrich geographic data and create intuitive SDKs to build usable applications for different users/roles.

From the software development perspective, finding a balance between native and web development based on cost and user experience will continue to be a challenge. In addition, form factor will continue to be an issue from smart phone to phablet to tablet to desktop and hybrid devices that attempt to blend experiences (e.g., Windows 8). In any case, sharing information in a more ubiquitous manner will be easier given the new device and platform capabilities, such as sharing location details via NFC or navigating 3D surfaces in a browser or natively on a mobile device.

From the service side, new services to geoenrich data with location information (e.g., addresses, places) and provide geoanalytical results to correlate with other spatial factors will be pivotal. Subsequent integration with applications that are used every day (e.g., Office on the desktop and online) will enhance productivity and the decision making process. Making this all work together and providing a comprehensive system to build solutions, back to front, will be a challenge, and when successful, a very “big thing.”

I’m just starting to work in mobile development. Is there a job for me at Esri?

Will: There might be; send in your resumé! We hire people with all sorts of skill levels and experience: graduates, experienced professionals, scientists, professors. There are lots of different roles here too, so if you are a really strong communicator with an interest in software, there may be a place for you at Esri alongside others who are serious geeks and like to let their code talk for them.

What makes development different at Esri?

Will: We are user led, not shareholder led. This allows us to listen and react really quickly if we think there is something users will benefit from.

We are agile. We can iterate and change course if we need to.

We have a flat structure. Individuals can make decisions and get their ideas shipped into software.

We make a difference. Our software is used for solving some really compelling and important problems in today’s world—global warming, deforestation, making public services efficient, responding to catastrophic events, etc. It makes you want to come to work every day.

What skills do you look for in your development teams?

Jason: We look for engineers who understand the fundamentals of software development and computer science. You don’t have to be a GIS expert—we can teach you that. Esri tries not to focus its recruiting energy on a specific language/syntax. We often times do need to identify people with a certain skill set, but overall our goal is to find creative, hardworking problem solvers. The most successful Esri software engineers are analytical and able to communicate their ideas to our customers and their team members; we are a matrixed organization so being able to work with others is a critical requirement as well.

Explain the company culture at Esri (hear great things) and what makes an employee a good fit.

Will: We have a very flat structure at Esri, so the best thing is that everyone can make a difference. If you think of something cool to do, then all you need to do is do it and chances are it will appear in a product and users will have it in their hands! If you are driven then you will be able to get your stuff done. Development is pretty agile, so things are always moving on in new directions. This makes it really invigorating and exciting. It’s a really relaxed atmosphere in the development division … t-shirts and jeans all round. To be a good fit here you need to be driven, passionate, and willing to take on new things. You also need to be results oriented and like to see things get done and software with your name on it shipped out the door.

What kind of mobile and web apps do you guys build?

Will: If you are talking about out of the box applications that we build, we have a lot for you! All of our products are under the system umbrella name of ArcGIS. ArcGIS is a complete system for adding geospatial intelligence to your enterprise or day-to-day work. We have server, desktop, web, and mobile products to help you do this. We are heavily investing in a cloud platform http://arcgis.com and many of our web and mobile offerings work with arcgis.com to provide a fully hosted geospatial solution.

Core web applications

We build core applications to support multiple industries and workflows. ArcGIS Online is a good example of this. This solution gives you a map authoring environment as well as the ability to host your data as services. You can share these maps and also publish hosted web applications from templates. These satisfy a load of use cases and workflows.

Core mobile applications

We also build android, iOS, and Windows phone applications which are available in the store. These show maps and content that you have authored in ArcGIS Online or on-premise with our server and portal products. We have also released a preview version of the ArcGIS app for the windows store.

Solution templates

We also build focused apps, maps, and templates for specific domains. These are more tailored, and for these you usually get the source code too.

SDKs

In addition to this we also have SDKs for pretty much every platform so you can build your own cool apps. You can see them listed in the developer sections here. Android, iOS, Windows Phone, (and soon to be Windows RT and Windows phone 8) are all available as well as JavaScript, Flex, and Silverlight.

I’m early in my career (4 years of experience). What’s the usual career path at Esri for someone like me?

Jason: It depends on what you have been doing these past four years. A lot of GIS professionals start out on our Support Services team helping our users solve problems. Others work initially as geospatial analysts assisting customers onsite with GIS implementations and custom application development. Typically, these two groups of people will find their way to our engineering teams where they begin to help develop our core products. Others will move on to sales, depending on their interests and abilities.

What do you find so rewarding about your job at Esri? What keeps people there?

Jason: I’ve been here 14 years now. Esri provides a lot of opportunity to its employees. We run lean so there is always challenging and exciting work to be done. The company doesn’t micromanage us either. We have a very flat organizational structure so it is easy to talk to the people you need to in order to complete your task. As a company, Esri is very responsible. We’re private, so no stockholders or share prices to concern ourselves with. We’re debt free; everything we do (new buildings, acquisitions, etc.) is self-financed. And, the people. I know that is cliché, but we have a very sincere and passionate workforce. The average employee has been here over seven years. That is almost unheard of in the software industry. We’re diverse—we have staff from 67 countries. Our interview process is very extensive and as a result we end up with really smart people who we all can learn from. It’s a fun place to work. Don’t confuse that with easy though … we work hard at Esri to make certain our million-plus users have the tools they need to change the world.

I have a few questions about the web and mobile APIs. Will there be new Silverlight APIs version after 3.0? Will there be new WinRT products, and will there be WinRT APIs? If yes, which programming language will be used, and when should we expect it to be released? When should we expect WinPhone 8 APIs to be released? Will it still support the previous WP APIs version? What is the future plan at Esri regarding Windows 8 and Mytro Style apps?

Rex: Great questions! The next version of the ArcGIS API for Silverlight is 3.1, due out in December. We will have additional releases of the Silverlight API next year for parity with the other web APIs (Flex, JavaScript). We released an ArcGIS app in the Windows Store last week as a preview of our commitment to Windows 8 and the WinRT platform (http://blogs.esri.com/esri/arcgis/2012/10/25/arcgis-preview-app-available-in-the-windows-store/). We will release an ArcGIS Runtime SDK for WinRT as well as a couple of Windows Store apps in spring 2013. Initially we will encourage XAML\C# and would like to support HTML/JS soon after. The Windows Phone 8 SDK was recently released by Microsoft. We’ll release an ArcGIS Runtime SDK for Windows Phone that will target Windows Phone 8 in spring 2013. You’ll need VS2012 and target the Windows Phone 8.0 platform to work with it. If you need to develop on Windows Phone 7.1 (7.5) you’ll need to use ArcGIS Runtime SDK for Windows Phone v3.0. It’s currently supported with VS2010 and we’re looking to certify for VS2012.

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