2 minutes with… Matt Lutton of Goodwill Education Initiatives

2 mins with title2

VN: So who are you then and what do you do?

mattName is Matt Lutton – I am located in Indianapolis, IN, and am working as a BI Analyst with Goodwill Education Initiatives and INIschools. I use Tableau in some shape or form, on a daily basis.

VN: Tell me about your organization

ML: Goodwill Education Initiatives is a not-for-profit organization formed by Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, Inc. The Indiana Network of Independent Schools is a service that operates under the nonprofit designation of Goodwill Education Initiatives. The purpose of INIschools is to offer its partner or network schools a host of high-quality services that enable school administrators to improve cost efficiency and student achievement. This, in turn, helps its network schools achieve sustainability and improve academic performance.

I build and publish Tableau Desktop dashboards for a number of K-12 schools, utilizing Tableau Server for distribution.

VN: How did you start using Tableau? And how are you using it now?

ML: I was a Computer/Technology teacher in the Indianapolis area, and also worked in IT support in my previous positions as an educator. GEI had an opportunity for a BI Analyst utilizing Tableau Software, and I applied, interviewed, got the job and BAM — I needed to learn a new tool, very quickly. That is how I got started.

Today, I am using Tableau Desktop to generate more complex dashboards, often using multiple data sources, to tell stories, discover interesting finds in the data I work with, and offer dashboards that communicate data clearly to our users. The type of data we are working with includes many of the things you’d find in a typical SIS (Student Information System): Attendance Records, Gradebooks, Credits Earned, Graduates, Enrollments, Demographics, Term Reviews, Weekly Student and Teacher Productivity, etc. Our work focuses on three main levels of dashboard access: Teachers, Guidance Counselors, and Administrators.

In my spare time, I use Tableau to help others learn about the tool, by participating heavily on the Tableau Forums. I hope to spend more time over the next year creating more interesting visualizations to share with the Tableau community at large.

VN: Who do you learn from in the Tableau community?

ML: Everyone and anyone who participates! I’ve learned a great deal by following the work (and blog posts) of awesome folks like Jonathan Drummey, Noah Salvaterra, Joe Mako, Andy Kriebel, Joshua Milligan, and I love your IT take on things as well.

hansI learn regularly from many other folks on the Tableau Forums, as well, including (but not limited to) Shawn Wallwork, Ville Tyrväinen, Jim Wahl, Toby Erkson, Patrick Van Der Hyde, Russell Christopher, and many, many more I am sure I am forgetting. I’d love to thank the entire generous community of Tableau users now: thank you all!

VN: You do tons of work on the Tableau forums. What makes you so keen to help others?

ML: I guess this goes back to what I set out to do when I was a undergrad – teach. Regardless of what I am doing, I want teaching and learning to be a large part of my life. But to be completely honest, the Forums really have helped fulfill two main purposes for me: helping others is one; but learning from others is equally important to me. The other part of using the Forums is it can be a lot of fun, and it allows you to get outside of yourself and put yourself in someone else’s shoes – I like that, and I have often said that it is a welcome distraction for me, at times.

VN: You’ve only recently entrenched yourself Tableau community, particularly outside the Forums. What are your early impressions?

ML: Looking back, I joined the Tableau Forums on May 21, 2013 – and have been active within that small subset of the Tableau Community ever since. I quickly found that there were VERY knowledgeable members that were not only extremely bright and adept with Tableau, but also extremely generous and gracious with their time and expertise. My early impressions have been solidified as I have continued to learn and grow – the Tableau Community is amazing, and I have never experienced a user-community quite like it.

TC14 really opened my eyes to the larger community around Tableau. I hope to connect with more users, and share what I can – and continue to learn from folks inside and outside the Forums.

VN: You got the honour of being named a Zen Master this year. What does that mean to you?

ML: It means a lot to me, personally, and it has helped push me toward continuing to learn and teach others in the community. Tableau says a Zen Master must demonstrate three competencies: Master, Teacher, and Collaborator. I believe my involvement on the Tableau Community Forums was likely the most important factor in being part of this year’s group

I certainly feel I have a lot to learn before I can really call myself a “master” of Tableau. The title has pushed me to try and live up to the example set by others. I am looking for more opportunities to collaborate with other users in the community, and certainly hope to continue learning new ways to teach concepts within Tableau to others.

Aside from all that, being named a Zen Master means that Tableau sees value in what I have done with their products, and their confidence in me has helped boost my own confidence in myself. Thank you, Tableau!

The one thing being a ZM does NOT signify is expertise across the entire product line. No one ZM knows everything about Tableau, although there are several who I feel are pretty close… but I think we all agree as a group that the largest myth around being a ZM is that you are suddenly an expert on everything Tableau. We all have various skill sets, and utilize them in different ways. Some of us use Tableau Server, and some do not. Some of us write SQL daily, and others do not. So, if you’re reading this, just be aware that we do not know everything – and I certainly feel as if I have a lot of catching up to do, particularly in terms of choosing a proper path to a solution in Tableau.

VN: Could you give me an interesting non-work fact about yourself?

guitarML: I love guitars. I have a small, but interesting, repertoire of gear.




That’s awesome, thanks Matt. Took way longer than 2 minutes but that’s a good thing!

See you soon for more 2 (ish) minutes with…


Thoughts from Tableau Conference 2014

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!