Welcome back to what is now the second best BI interview series out there! Sob sob. Hey I can handle that Dan stole our idea, mainly because his Interworks interview series is so damn good!
But that doesn’t stop us bringing you some top guests. And this time it’s new Zen Master Nelson Davis of Slalom
So who are you then and what do you do?
I am Nelson Davis – a good southern gentleman born and raised in the beautiful city of Atlanta, GA. Just over a year ago I join Slalom Consulting to focus on Tableau and since then I’ve had some incredible opportunities to do amazing work. As of a few days ago I became a Solution Principal of Data Visualization for the Information Management and Analytics practice for the Atlanta office. I use Tableau in almost every aspect of my day to day work.
Tell me about your organization
Slalom is a consultant’s dream place to work. Rather than getting on a plane each week and traveling across the country, Slalom employs a local model, serving clients in each of 15 our markets (newest one is in London – and looking for amazing people). Because of this, we’re invested in long term relationships with our clients – in Atlanta this means I’ve had the opportunity to do work for the likes of Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Delta, UPS, AT&T and Cox Communications. It also means that we get to be invested in the community – over the course of the year a group called Slalom Cares Atlanta organizes Backpack drives for school kids in need, Holiday Gift Drives, Can Food Drives, and more. And the people of Slalom are amazing themselves. It became clear to me when I first walked in the door that Slalom goes out to find the brightest people in the marketplace, puts them together to work on the most challenging projects, and gives them free reign to own the outcomes – which are often time amazing.
Last thing I’ll say is that we’re Tableau’s North American Alliance Partner of the Year for 2013, and we have an internal Tableau Community that is very collaborative and working to push the envelope in every direction when it comes to Tableau.
How did you start using Tableau? And how are you using it now?
My path to Tableau is a bit odd. In school I studied Civil Engineering with a focus on Transportation (I like connecting things). After graduation, my wife and I did a year of mission work in Mexico, only to return home in the Spring of 2009 to near double digit unemployment. With my Master degree I landed a systems analysis internship (yay $15/hr!) and got to play with data for the first time. Many months later I landed my first Transportation Engineering job – and almost immediately realized that data was more fun. After a little over two years as an engineer in a two person office, my boss was offered another job and he parleyed a spot for me – they were looking for a transportation data analyst.
After a few months of Excel (the gateway drug of data nerds everywhere) and some cool GIS stuff in Google Earth, I was ask to find a way to create ‘dashboards’ with ‘live data’. I said sure and promptly Googled ‘what the heck is a dashboard?’ and Tableau popped up (v6.0). That afternoon I made my first dashboard, and things just kinda took off. I got really involved in the Atlanta Tableau Users Group and started raising my hand when they asked for presenters. Within a few months I was using Tableau on projects coast to coast, and traveling to support them. I started to realize the amazing potential of Tableau and how to hack it to push the limits. When I showed off Google Street View integration in a Tableau Dashboard to the TCC13 speaker selection people, I got an invite. TCC13 opened my eyes to the amazing Tableau Community and the transition over to Slalom helped me to take my Tableau work to the next level. I’ve done everything from Black Friday Analytics, to Social Media Reporting, to Online Merchandising, to Logistics Networking and much more – all in Tableau. It’s been a lot of fun.
Who do you learn from in the Tableau community?
There are a number of people in the community that are putting out amazing things. Like many others I point at Joe Mako, Jonathan Drummey and Andy Kriebel as kind of the Godfathers of the community.
However, I find that the stuff the most inspiring, technical, and what I want to emulate comes from the likes of Mark Jackson, Ryan Robitaille, Ben Sullins, and Russell Christopher. These guys are the boundary pushers, extending what’s possible in Tableau with some crazy integrations, customizations and making Tableau not look like Tableau. My goal in my work is to make the tool disappear – allowing the user to focus only on the analysis.
You do tons of work with the Atlanta Tableau Users Group. What makes you so keen to help others?
I’ve presented at ATUG four or five times and will do so again in December (email me if you want to join the webex!). I think my mom, who taught for over 30 years, instilled a love of teaching in me. The best part of my job is working with clients and watching for the light bulb moments, when everything just clicks in to place and they see or understand something for the first time. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning – helping people connect the dots. This same thing is at the core of what Tableau’s all about – the belief that seeing the data visually will fundamentally change the user’s understanding.
So I guess you could say Tableau and I are kinda perfect for each other. I’m also just passionate about making complicated things simpler, putting power in to the hands of more people and spreading the word that there is a better way out there – and I think the secret is getting out.
You got the honour of being named a Zen Master this year. What does that mean to you?
Wow. Great question. Earlier this year Slalom did a professional workshop and asked about a career ‘bucket list’. One of the three things I wrote down was that one day someday I hoped I might be named a Tableau Zen Master. I never thought there was a chance it would happen this year, or if it might ever happen. It’s not something you can try to do, there’s no list of check boxes anywhere. The Tableau Community is full of bright and talented people, but you want to talk about some of the most amazing, cream of the crop people on the planet – that has long been my opinion of the Zen Masters. They put out the best work and they give of themselves relentlessly to help others in the community.
Finding out that I would become a part of this group was both amazing and terrifying, honoring and humbling, all at the same time. There were certainly moments where I thought to myself ‘but I can’t do table calcs like Joe and Jonathan, Alan’s mapping is way better than anything a can do, Kelly and Anya do such better designs than me….’ And yet I’ve come to realize that while all of that is true (and it is), there’s a place for me, and the passion that I bring, in this group. It is humbling in every way, and I believe there’s a sense of responsibility to the community and to Tableau that I will work hard to honor (though I’ve promised my wife, I’m not doing 30 for 30 ever again).
Could you give me an interesting non-work fact about yourself?
I’m passionate about global missions and photography. I’ll be taking a big trip back down to Mexico at the end of March 2015 to help build a house for a family that lives in conditions that don’t really exist in our first world lives. I also (sorta) maintain a photography website – nelsondavisphotography.com – that
I enjoy sharing some fun work from the past. But I’m most passionate about my family – two young boys and my awesome supportive wife make it such that there’s never a dull moment.
Okay that’s it. Tune in next time for more guests before Dan steals them…