Chasing the Edge to Teach GIS

This is part of our series introducing the diverse group of professionals that comprise the Esri Training Services team. 

On the eve of a work trip to Marrakesh, Morocco, which he planned to bookend with weekends devoted to sight-seeing, Esri instructor Ben Ramseth talked about work, how he spends time out of the office, his part in creating our new developer bootcamps, and how he uses The Edge to help students learn—by which he means a concept, not the rock musician.

When he talks, Ben emanates positive energy. He flows from one topic to the next, making connections and working in interesting factoids as he goes. Ben Ramseth

Early on, we talk geography. Several years ago, Ben moved from Esri headquarters in inland Southern California to the Esri Charlotte, North Carolina office.

Charlotte reminds him of his home state of Minnesota, he says. This may be because he hails from Austin, Minnesota (headquarters of Hormel Foods, maker of SPAM). Ben says that like Austin, Charlotte has a company town feel. The banking and financial services industry dominates the local economy.

  • Interesting factoid: Charlotte is home to the largest Microsoft campus outside Redmond, Washington.

“Coming here, living in the city, it was like utopia!” he says about the move. “I live in an urban village.”

Unlike most of his coworkers, who commute from the suburbs, Ben and wife Michelle live downtown, bike to work, and take advantage of public transportation to sample all the cultural amenities around town. Bonus: Charlotte has many disc golf courses, which feed his love of that sport (also called frisbee golf).

  • Interesting factoid: Disc golf is hugely popular in Charlotte, as well as in Sweden and Finland.

Michelle runs a Baron Baptiste yoga studio. Patrons include professional athletes, fitness afficionados, and the “Type A banker crowd.”

“I get free yoga, so I go there a lot,” says Ben.

In fact, he’s an avid practitioner and sprinkles yoga precepts throughout the remainder of our interview. 

Becoming the Biggest, Brightest Self You Can Be

Ben joined Esri Support Services as an analyst in 2000. During his time in Support, he helped ArcView 3.x users, ArcGIS for Desktop users, and eventually supported ArcSDE. His ArcSDE expertise made him a perfect fit for an open instructor position in Training Services.

Most new instructors start out by teaching foundational courses. The same was true for Ben, but he was later tapped to teach our Python course. This proved fortuitous, as Python turned out to be a gateway drug. Ben moved on to teaching developer topics, including courses on ArcObjects, VBA, Microsoft .NET, and the ArcGIS Web APIs.

“I like building stuff from the ground up, reverse-engineering, and I enjoy working with the developer crowd,” he says about his forays into different languages and platforms. “It’s good job security,” he adds after just a slight pause.

Indeed. In addition to teaching, he now fills a developer technical lead role for Training Services.

Want to Learn? Push Yourself.

Late last summer, still thirsty to acquire new developer skills, Ben volunteered to learn iOS. Then Android. “There’s a big need for it,” he says matter-of-factly. True enough, given the monster app activity around smartphones and tablets.

His timing was again fortuitous, for Ben’s latest learning paths led him straight to the bootcamp concept, which was proposed around the same time as a new way to train on developer topics. He helped transform the concept into actual training, and he’ll be teaching bootcamps.

He’s quick to emphasize that bootcamps are very different from traditional instructor-led courses. Bootcamps flow based on student participation, input, and interests. The instructor’s role is facilitator, chief explainer, and information provider. Working in pairs and small groups, students push themselves and the less experienced learn from the more experienced.

Ben calls them “a place to practice and work towards your Edge.” The Edge being the limit of your current knowledge or skills.

It’s important to periodically move your Edge, according to Ben. This happens only when you push yourself to learn something new. Teaching what you know to someone else is also a way to move your Edge, as the act of teaching is also a learning experience.

About teaching bootcamps, Ben says, “It’s what I want to do, it’s how developers learn naturally. I’m excited about doing training that developers get value from.”

About his career to-date, he states, “I’ve branched out and chosen struggle, being a developer instructor. There’s always something to learn. You have to stay present with technology.”

Ben Ramseth has made a life-practice out of being in the present. Seems like a good move.

More about Ben

  • Bachelor’s degree in Aquatic Biology from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse
  • Master’s degree in GIS with an emphasis on natural resource management from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota
  • Favorite travel destination (so far): Italy’s Amalfi coast
  • Favorite class ice breaker: What did you think about this morning when you brushed your teeth?
  • Ben likes to share cool developer links and content on Twitter @esriMapNinja

About SuzanneB

Suzanne is a Maryland native with a degree in English Literature who enjoys writing about Esri technology and other topics. She works with Esri Training Services in Redlands, California.
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  1. Pingback: Chasing the Edge to Teach GIS | GIS Tidings

  2. Pingback: New Developer Bootcamps for ArcGIS Runtime SDKs | Esri Training Matters

  3. mbaird100 says:

    SuzanneThanks for the blog on Esri training matters.I am applying to do a presentation at a conference about my experience preparing for and taking the Desktop Associate 10.1 exam. (I’m planning on taking it probably the 1st week of May). In the abstract I was wanting to share with my audience how many folks total have passed at least one exam to date. Are you able to share that information? (I see online the board where folks can choose to have there name placed when they pass an exam – it has like 520 names. I wanted to see, however, to get at least a general idea of how many folks have passed.)Do you have access to my personal email? If so, feel free to reply to my personal email.Thanks very much.Mitchell

    • SuzanneB SuzanneB says:

      Hi Mitchell,

      We don’t share exam pass numbers or rates, but more than 1,700 individuals have earned one or more Esri technical certifications. Best of luck with your ArcGIS Desktop Associate exam!