Ten years ago, I joined Esri when GeoIQ was acquired. Geospatial community friends often remark they’re surprised that I’m still at Esri. I wanted to share some of the unique aspects of Esri that makes it such an effective place for meaningful work.
Working at a startup was exciting, but we were more often fighting for new features, market awareness, and big sales rather than customer collaboration and problem-solving. Personally, I want to feel time spent on my job is positively improving society and our world. Working on hard problems requires a long-term view, and the dedication and consistent focus that takes many years and incremental iterations.
My time at Esri has been a tremendously gratifying experience where I can directly see me and my teams’ work have a positive impact on the world through our users. As a team we meet weekly to demo product updates to one another – but we are most excited when we highlight how people are using these features for their particular work. It’s fun to ship an update to our search interface, but we love seeing how this helps the Missing Children of Canada or the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Now that our software is used by over 10,000 organizations every week we are flabbergasted by the impact of our work.
Esri is 50+ year-old company and our platform is already in-place at most every U.S. government organization, from national agency to small town or non-profit, as well as in 190 countries with local staff residents. The Esri staff working with customers often live in the same community, able to incorporate local values, problems, and often knowledge that spans across municipal administrations. When I visit a city office, I’m often joining a long-term trusted relationship that allows us to focus our discussions on what they can do today and how we can improve the software they will use tomorrow.
We know that we don’t know all the answers up-front. While Esri has a strong opinion that “geography matters”, the company is organized for emergent growth and innovation. Teams are set up to address a problem area and then allowed to independently research and deliver new ideas to solve these problems. The only requirements are that the solutions integrate into the core platform and customers validate it supports their needs. Esri hosts an annual user conference that essentially ensures that all products will be delivered and updated on at least a yearly cycle. This is a nice technique to prevent large, waterfall projects that are overly ambitious and never deliver.
Esri is a highly collaborative culture. Anyone in the company can conceive and share ideas to any other product. The teams are often small, and so it’s typically easy to find the person that works on a particular capability to work with them on incorporating this idea. We’re also collaborative on our we improve our software development practices. In our first week at Esri, we started the new GitHub Org for Esri that now includes over 500 open-source repositories in a wide-range of technologies and resources. Eventually we licensed Github Enterprise and now all our projects are available internally for staff to contribute in various ways.
We’re also responsible for the long view of our work. When governments and other organizations depend on your software, you maintain and support what you build for an extended time. When we’ve argued about adopting a new feature, the conversation is usually hinged around if we believe this particular feature is one we are willing to support for at least 5-10 years.
When we released ArcGIS Open Data in 2014, I vividly recall a member of a US National Agency remarking “This is exactly what I need – if we adopt this as our solution then don’t change your minds in a few years. I need you to be with us for the long-haul”. Now, 8 years later I still periodically see that person and joke with them that we are still supporting and growing for the future.