Earlier this month, I attended the Ecological Society of America’s 2011 Meeting, held in Austin TX. I joined thousands of Ecologists in thinking, discussing, networking, and sweating in the 100+ temperatures. Over the next couple of blog posts, I will share some of my insights based on my interactions at the meeting.
The goal of my attending the meeting was to start collecting software requirements for the Excel add-in. For this project, we are specifically interested in talking to Earth, environmental, and natural scientists; ecologists seemed like a great group with which to begin.
I mostly ambushed scientists who were sitting alone outside of meeting rooms to find my interview participants. I also took advantage of the afternoon poster sessions when scientists were wandering about aimlessly with a beer in their hand. I asked them about themselves and their research, their use of Excel, and how they used Excel with other programs. Check back here for a report on the take-away lessons. For this post, I give you the top three things learned at ESA:
Lesson 1: (Almost) all ecologists use Excel
Out of the 55 people I interviewed, only two said they don’t use Excel. Both of these guys were hard-core Linux users (in my experience, notorious anti-Microsoft folks).
Lesson 2: (Almost) all ecologists are embarrassed by how they use Excel
Some were embarrassed that they use the program at all; this is likely because the tradition of Ecology is to be a bit quirky, anti-corporate, and generally off the grid. However a lot of this embarrassment was that many of the ecologists I spoke with had rather ugly spreadsheets: multiple tables in a single sheet, poor organizational practices, bad file naming strategies, etc etc. Luckily hope is on the way in the form of our open-source Excel add-in!
Lesson 3: (Almost) all ecologists LOVE sporty sandals
Conferences are like airports and theme parks: there is an endless supply of great people-watching. One of the most consistent observations about ESA attendees: sporty sandals. Yes, there were exceptions, but far and away most shoes fell into one of the categories below.