Category Archives: Technology

Getting to the Finish Line, One Step at a Time

Molly Zurn, a documentation product engineer on the ArcGIS Online (AGOL) team, talks about her life at Esri and on the slopes. She’s been here almost 15 years, the last seven of which have been on the AGOL team.

Before joining the ArcGIS Online team, what was your role?

I’ve always worked on documentation. My degree is in geography, but I was hired because I didn’t have any GIS or technical skills. I came from a teaching background and was brought on to write non-technical documentation to make it friendlier to the non-GIS audience. I started with internet mapping services (ArcIMS), then Geography Network and RouteIMS, and then joined my current team when ArcGIS Online really got going.

Talk a little bit more about what a documentation product engineer does.

Mainly we’re the advocate for Help, and our responsibility is to explain to users how to work with our software. Sometimes it’s nuts and bolts how-to; sometimes it’s conceptual information, for example why they would want to do something and how it fits in to the rest of their work. I also contribute to blogs and other types of messaging. It might be a one-to-one e-mail correspondence with the user, or internal documentation for Support Services and training staff to help them get ready for a new product.

The reason we are part of the product engineering teams is because early on we are involved with defining new product functionality and testing it. That’s really the only way to write something well and, as I said, we’re an advocate for the doc, but of course we’re also an advocate for the user. If we can’t write something because the software doesn’t make sense, then we very quickly go back to the developers or the architects or the product managers and say, “This functionality doesn’t make sense.” So we’re not in a little bubble just writing—for me, that’s what keeps my job interesting.

And are you the only documentation product engineer for ArcGIS Online?

I’m the only full time documentation product engineer, but there are about 10 to 15 other authors who contribute content for their component of the product. For example, the spatial analysis team writes all the topics that relate to the tools in our MapViewer where you can do spatial analysis. We have folks who write the topics that relate to hosted web services. The Zurich team writes about Web Scenes and then we have the team who writes about Web AppBuilder. I’m the publication lead—I make sure all those components are done on time and all get published on the day we release and that all the topics get handed over to the localization team for translation.

What do you think sets Esri apart as an employer?

Esri is very trusting and flexible. In some sense, the only thing that matters is that you do a good job and you get it done on time. We have a lot of collaborative meetings; people on our team are all over the world—Zurich, Beijing, and all across the US—so it’s certainly not a nine-to-five job. And that works so well for me; it just fits into my lifestyle. I have to do a lot of brainstorming and the most success I’ve had with coming up with ideas is when I’m out running or skiing or I’m walking my dogs. So for me, it’s the flexibility and a big reason why I’ve stayed here. And it’s also the people I work with. Everybody is respectful and is interesting and is interested in each other and mostly interested in doing good work for our users. That’s everybody’s driving motivation.

You mentioned the collaboration with Beijing and Zurich. How do you stay connected?

Well, I will say every year I’ve been here collaboration across teams has gotten easier. Esri has spent good energy on making sure we all have the tools we need to get our job done, and for a team like mine that is so dispersed, the tools to communicate with each other really have been essential. So we do a lot of online meetings and while you’re talking to each other on the phone, you all can see each other’s screens and you can be sending each other instant messages. These multi-faceted collaborative tools really have made the conversations easier because then you can focus on the task at hand.

Tell me more about your passion for running and skiing.

For whatever reason, competing has always been a part of my life. I feel like it’s part of who I am. I did triathlons in college but after graduating I didn’t have the time to bike, so running was more efficient. I live in Reno (Nevada), which is made for trail running and all types of skiing. The last 15 years, I’ve focused on long distance trail running, up to 100 miles, but I also enjoy Nordic skiing. Tahoe has a lot of local cross country ski races so I’ve competed in those, but I’ve also gone across the country and even internationally for competitions. The last ten years my husband and I have been doing team events, ski mountaineering, which is when you skin up a hill and then you take your skins off and ski downhill over moguls or backcountry or powder. So it’s been a great way to travel and stay fit, but also meet new people.

I understand you hold some records.

I think it’s been broken by now, but several years ago there was a ski mountaineering race where you had 24 hours to ski as many vertical feet as you could. (In ski mountaineering they calculate how many vertical feet you’ve done, not miles.) So I was combining my long distance running with the ski mountaineering and I broke the world record for women.

Is there anything else you want to add?

I was thinking about talking to you today and how the running and skiing fit into my work and vice versa. I feel the skills for both are so overlapping—the work I’ve done at Esri has really helped my running and my skiing, and the running and skiing have helped my work because the mindset and the day-to-day are the same. So much of it is about the planning and having a goal, and then really staying focused on the goal. When I’m in a competition running 100 miles, there are many points along the way where I want to stop because it’s too hard and I’m in too much pain, or I’m thirsty, or I’m hungry, or I’m cold, and I just have to remember that I really want to get to the finish line. And that’s the same with the work I do here. It can be stressful and at some point in every release it feels like it’s not going to come together. So just like the running and skiing, we all stay focused on the goal of improving the software or coming out with that cool new UI. In running it’s tree to tree, or in skiing ski pole to ski pole—in my role here, it’s getting one little project done then on to the next.

 

Want to do work like Molly?

We’re hiring documentation product engineers. Learn more about the positions and see if you’re a fit at www.esri.com/careers.

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Stretching the Limits of Technology: Systems Administrators at Esri

Whether you work for a small company or a large enterprise, there’s no doubt you rely on a systems administrator to keep your IT network performing at its best. I recently talked with Stephen, a sysadmin in our Information Systems and Technology group, about his role and what keeps him at Esri.

How long have you been with Esri?
I’ve been here 18 years. I didn’t realize when I first joined Esri what opportunities I’d have to continue growing and learning. I started as a desktop technician and grew into a lead position on that team before becoming a systems administrator supporting Product Development. Now I’m team lead for the Compute Team; we support all the backend servers that power Esri’s infrastructure such as Exchange, Lync, SharePoint, and our development environments.

What are some of the cool things about being a sysadmin at Esri?
There’s a lot of variety in what we do; every day can be different. We’re given the opportunity to present ideas and take on new projects, unlike at some other organizations. When you have a good idea, often you will end up leading the effort to carry it through. As a team lead, I find out what people want to do and work with them to get there.

Also, our department is heavily involved in the annual Esri User Conference, attended by about 16,000 customers and partners. Our sysadmins help get 1,200+ machines set up for the conference. We start about two months prior, getting them configured and ready to ship to San Diego, then we go on-site to get them all set up. A lot of organizations use contractors to do the IT setup for their big events, but we do all the work ourselves. It’s an interesting change of venue and pace and a neat thing to be part of every year.

In terms of technology, we’re always looking at the cutting edge. If the industry is moving a certain way, we ask ourselves what we can do to get there. Some of the things we ask of our systems are fairly complex. We tend to stretch things to the limit, sometimes to the point of puzzling the third-party vendor we’re working with. They usually haven’t thought out what we’re asking their system to do. It’s challenging work; you have to come up with unique ways of solving problems. For example, to support our customers running various versions of Esri software, we have an internal cloud that provides 13 different versions of Windows, each available in up to 22 different languages, as well as three different variants of Linux, each with multiple versions. Creating the automation to allow this in a self-service portal is one of the kinds of challenges we come across.

Other than technical skills, describe your ideal candidate.
Someone who loves what they’re working on and has the drive to find solutions. When they see something that’s not working, I don’t want them to just tell me about it—come to me with a solution and the drive to get it resolved. I look for those who have initiative and are willing to find a better way to do things.

What do you like about living in the Redlands area?
I love the small town feel of Redlands. And there are a lot of things to do nearby—it’s less than an hour to the mountains and about an hour to the beach. You can do so many things from here—get away and completely break free from your normal day-to-day in a short period of time.

Final thoughts?
I’ve been at Esri so long because I’ve had enormous opportunities here—Esri provides a huge breadth of technologies and experience. The work might be different if I went somewhere else, but I don’t feel I’ve missed anything by staying here. There’s no reason for me to go somewhere else.

Want to know more?

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SIGGRAPH—“A Creative Recharge of Epic Proportions”

This is an actual quote from a recent SIGGRAPH attendee: “Think of everything that has ever made you geek out and feel so passionate about something in your whole life and put it into one feeling … That, my friend, is the feeling you get when being at SIGGRAPH.”

We couldn’t agree more! Once again, Esri will have a strong presence at SIGGRAPH, on the main exhibit floor as well as in the job fair. I sat down with HR team members Shawn and Jennifer to talk about what people who stop by our booth in the job fair can expect.

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You Never Stop Learning

On Wednesday, interns had the chance to sit in on a brown bag presentation from two employees in Esri’s Professional Services Division. Chad Helm, who works in the extended support programs group, gave us a brief overview of the vast department, telling us about the various projects done by 600 employees all over the world. The Professional Services team supports customers and partners in effectively implementing and applying Esri software products. This may include short-term, in-house technical work or more long-term solutions projects.

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Interns Go High-Tech with the Applications Prototype Lab

During the last week of June, interns were given the opportunity to sit in on some demonstrations in the Esri Applications Prototype Lab. These demos included looking at real-time social media trend maps, environmental habitat maps, and some 3D responsive design. For those of us not working in the APL this summer, these demonstrations were incredible to see. Just another cool piece of Esri that interns got a peek of.

A big thank you to Hugh Keegan and his team for taking the time to show us their stuff!

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Esri User Experience Architect Shows the Layers of a Successful Application

In the scheme of things, the terms user experience and user interface are relatively new to the technology world. Even the job title User Experience Architect is unfamiliar to many of us. But for Steven Nelson, it’s his nine-to-five.

Steve works in the Creative Lab, or the “creative arm of Esri,” as he likes to call it. Simply put, his job in user experience is to help map out applications that are intuitive and simple to use for consumers with various technology skill levels. Steve works closely with user interface (UI) architects who work on an application’s “front end” to make it both visually appealing and easy to follow. Together these two groups take an application from a simple idea to a useful end product.

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Are You on Instagram? Esri Is!

With its amusing play on the app’s name, esrigram has taken the company to the popular photo-sharing service. With over 200 million users, many businesses included, Instagram has become a mobile sensation. How does Esri fit in? esrigram is a way to visually represent what’s going on around campus, post pictures of maps (of course) and fun Throwback Thursday memories, and much more. There are even posts talking about the upcoming Esri International User Conference and pictures of our new building on campus.

esrigram is a space for geogeeks and all things Esri. Tag your own #geophotos and you may just see your pictures on the esrigram feed!

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A Lesson in Location Analytics from Chief Technology Officer Art Haddad

One of the great things about being an intern at Esri is getting to experience and learn about things that are going on throughout the company. One of the ways they expose us to that information is through the Intern Brown Bag Series, where employees from various teams present the cool things they’ve been working on. This week we had the pleasure of being joined by Art Haddad, Chief Technology Officer at Esri.

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Investing in STEM Education: Free Mapping Software for Public Schools

By Katherine, Strategic Marketing Intern

Recently President Obama called for businesses to create new opportunities for students through classroom technology. In his speech at the White House Science Fair this week, he spoke about some of the amazing innovations young students have created in the past year and emphasized there is still significant talent to be tapped.

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Business Analysts at Esri: Influencing Decisions, Sharing Knowledge, Always Evolving

I recently had the opportunity to get to know two members of our IST Division, Diana and Dimitri. We talked about what it’s like being a business analyst at Esri, what motivates them, and what skills are most valued in new recruits.

How long have you been with Esri?
Diana: I’ve been here over 14 years; the last 8 have been in IST. Before that, I was in the US Air Force.
Dimitri: I started January 2012, and prior to that I was an SAP consultant for 16 years.

Do you each have a specialty within the business analyst role?
Diana: It’s expected that we have the general skills of a business analyst—requirements gathering, processes, communications—that type of collaboration is needed. But we each also have specialized skills where we understand a particular product—in my case, Salesforce—and can take those requirements and figure out how to build them into the system.
Dimitri: When I got hired, I had the HR background from both the business and the SAP side, so it was easy for me to transition into my role here. Additionally, my prior consulting experience gave me the skills I needed to be a successful business analyst at Esri.

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