Howdy y’all,

I’m writing this onboard BA48 from Seattle to London after attending my first international Tableau Conference. My mind is still buzzing after such a great week, packed with emotion, knowledge, pride, fear and more.

I’m going to try and make sense of the week by attempting to document my key thoughts and takeaways. Maybe some of them will apply to others, I’m not sure.

Thought #1 – “This must have cost a fortune!”

Right from the off it was apparent that Tableau have chucked a whole load of cash at this event. The conference venue was huge, brilliantly decked out in Tableau colours. Helpful signs were everywhere, as well as tons of eager Tableau employees all dedicated to making sure you got to where you wanted to go. There were refreshments whenever you needed them, tech stations, games and all the requirements you needed to work, rest or play. The keynote arena was phenomenal and created an electric atmosphere.

I loved the keynotes. Brilliantly relevant subject areas, from passionate and engaging speakers. Particular highlights were John Medina & Neil deGrasse Tyson. I imagine that caliber of speaker doesn’t come cheap though!

A fantastic effort and one that really made me feel that this event was critical to the company.

Thought #2 – “What a lot of nice helpful people”

So many Tableau guys and girls around to help us navigate or fix any issues. We were guided into the arenas and shown exactly where we needed to go – it required no effort and no scrutinizing of maps and guides.

I also found great help when setting up for my speaking sessions. Expert tech-checks, and attentive audio-visual assistance got pretty much any problem resolved is super-quick time allowing me to concentrate on my talks.

There was also great help from my assigned Tableau partners for my speaker sessions and other interactions. Big thanks in particular to Morgan and Jewel for helping me out.

Thought #3 – “This App was a good idea”

Messages, updating schedules, announcements and much more, the data14 app was a key companion for the whole week. Also very useful for the organisers as well I imagine, with the favourites function allowing them to gauge potential interest in talks and allocate rooms accordingly. Don’t get me started on that gameon thing though.

Thought #4 – “I wouldn’t mind living in Seattle”

What a nice city. I flew in a couple of days before the conference so had a good look around, including a great tour of the area in a seaplane (flown by @cheeky_chappie(!). Some stunning scenery and a great chilled out vibe. And that’s not even mentioning the greatest music scene ever (I’m a bit of a grunge kid at heart). We also went off to the ball game which was cool.

Thought #5 – “Wow! It’s so great to meet you at last”

I20140911_090609 lost count of how many times I said that. The opportunity to meet and thank members of the Tableau community was my top takeaway from data14. I must have met several dozen people that I’d been regularly interacting with over the last year. I’d be here all day if I mentioned everyone but meeting Ramon Martinez (@hlthanalysis), Mark Jackson (@ugamarkj), Emily Kund (@emily1852) and Kelly Martin (@vizcandykelly), and being able to thank them personally made me feel incredibly happy.

Thought #6 – “I don’t know much about data viz”

Despite learning an absolute TON of new skills at the conference I still left feeling that I’m faced with a mountain to climb. So many insightful, passionate, and clever people. I met many of the Zen Masters also, and was very humbled by their skills and also by their willingness to pass the skills on. In fact my first lunch break featured an impromptu masterclass in data densification from Jonathan Drummey. Superb.

Thought #7 – “I know quite a lot about data viz”

Yes that does contrast with the previous thought doesn’t it. How come? Well if I think about it then several hundred people came to see me speak across my 2 sessions. Lots of people stopped me and asked questions about my blog articles and other presentations etc. In fact I couldn’t go anywhere without being stopped and engaged in some great data conversation.

Then on the final day, a data fan stopped me and told me that my work, blogging and community interactions have helped him to get out of bed every day and do a better job. That was fabulous to hear. If a little surreal.

So I left thinking yes I do have tons to learn and take in, but I’ve also got my own skills that people want to hear about.

Thought #8 – “Everyone should try and get up on stage”

BxMOf9QCEAAzYetI used to be scared about presenting. Not with the Tableau Conference. The community is so strong that it’s like presenting to a group of friends. I was lucky enough to be able to present 2 sessions and both were a great thrill, despite a couple of technical hitches!

So if you think you’ve got a Tableau story to tell then try and get involved. Tableau open the speaker applications early in the year so look out for it. You’ll love it.

Thought #9 – “This whole thing isn’t the norm”

Code. That’s all Tableau is. Computer code. So why has it changed my entire working life in less than 3 years? I think I know the answer. You see in order to achieve this perfect storm an organization needs to nail each of the 3 pillars

  • Application – the tool has to rock. It needs to be easy to use and needs to be able to make your job easier, not harder.
  • Company – The company needs to be solid. Progressive, innovative and approachable
  • Community – You need a great set of users, with a true sense of collaboration and friendship.

In my career I’ve seen many tools, companies and communities. Most organisations nail 1 out of the 3, occasionally you’ll get a really good one that hits 2/3 – but in 15 years of IT, Tableau is the only one I’ve seen that nails each of these pillars and then some.

It sounds almost cheesy to say it but this isn’t the norm. If you’re a 20-something graduate in your first job using Tableau and you think that all tools and organisations are like this then you’d better wake right up now. This is NOT the normal experience. I’m just grateful I found it at all, mid-way through my career. If you’re lucky enough to have discovered Tableau in your youth then WELL DONE! Enjoy it! You’ve hit the jackpot!

So those are my thoughts on data14. I’ve been to dozens of conferences. None have been like this. Many companies don’t sign off on conference attendance as they are often seen as a waste of time. And many are. But Tableau events are better training than any classroom course and I’d say invaluable to anyone that wants to make a career in this fantastic field.

See you in Las Vegas 2015!