10 Thoughts from Tableau Conference 2015

Howdy y’all,

What a setting..

What a setting..

Yeah it’s 2am and I’m wide awake. Coming down from a great week at Tableau Conference 2015 in Las Vegas. So I thought I’d knock up a post about how the week was for me.

 

 

Thought #1 – “WTF?!”

Er...

Er…

Turning up for registration on the Sunday, the last thing I expected to see was an 8 foot high poster of my ugly mug grinning out at me. I saw some younger children at the event and they would surely have nightmares at such an image. Then there’s the question of my image rights… Tableau we need to talk about that…

Although it did allow people to get their #picwiththepauls

Francois gets his #picwiththepauls

Francois gets his #picwiththepauls

 

Thought #2 – “Wow it’s so great to meet you at last / again”

TC is all about the people. It was great to meet people that I’ve been interacting with all year. Some of these were existing relationships, and others were meeting for the first time. Too many to name but I was really pleased to finally meet George Gorczynski, Steve Fenn, Mat Hughes, Jen Vaughan, Fiona Gordon, Jon Boeckenstedt, Ken Black ( & Jett) & Mike Moore.

It’s great when I meet someone that deals with Server rather than all you Desktop jockeys. See us Server folk have a secret handshake and knowing look in our eyes. We know what really matters in Tableau!

It was also great to see the new Zen Masters. Especially the British contingent – my pals Chris Love & Rob Radburn. Awesome stuff.

 

Thought #3 – “The devs smashed it”

I was delighted at the product enhancements announced this year. Functionality that is really going to make a difference to the ~4000 users I support.

It will be interesting to see which features really capture the imagination of my user base, but I can anticipate cross DB joining, union &  global filters being very popular, as well as the user home page on server.

We're not worthy..

We’re not worthy..

But I kinda gave my position away as to what made my day in terms of new functionality – yes that pic does show me bowing down in homage to Version Control. In front of 11000 people. Hey I’m not embarrassed, it took all of my self-control to prevent myself from storming the stage and giving the guy a hug.

 

Thought #4 – “Isn’t technology great”

My conference experience was massively enhanced by a couple of tech items.

Firstly the hugely useful Tableau Conference app. I love the way the organisers monitor the number of favourites a session gets in order to determine of the room allocation is suitable for thee demand.

Secondly, WhatsApp. Despite having a crappy name, this app was great for keeping in touch with colleagues and friends. My pals at The Information Lab are always super-concerned with the social aspect of events and set up a WhatsApp group to allow us to sync. Before we knew it there were 50 members and it became the prime method of determining what bar everyone was in or what session people were at. Great stuff.

 

Thought #5 – “Las Vegas – oh dear me”

download

Fabulous? Erm…

I’ve been to Las Vegas once before. Just for a couple of days passing through. I recall not being too impressed back then, and this visit just confirmed my earlier thoughts. While I’m undoubtedly amazed at the imagination and brilliance of the designers that constructed some of the buildings, I’m still left with a feeling of disgust and depression at the underlying tone of seediness and corruption. It offends pretty much everything that I stand for.

I hope some of you managed to take a virtual shower by getting out to the Grand Canyon or surrounding areas like Bryce Canyon which are stunning. That’s Las Vegas for me. You can keep your Casinos.

 

Thought #6 – “Why can’t we just have one big global time zone?”

Jet lag sucks. I propose we have one mega time zone (GMT of course) and stick to that. The rest of the world would have to work in perpetual darkness but you’d soon get used to it. Change your goddam date format while you’re at it.

 

Thought #7 – “That’s the best session I’ve ever seen at a Tableau Conference”

I hope some of you went to the talk by Jeffrey Shaffer & Andy Kriebel entitled “Dear Data Two“. Read the abstract if you want to know what it was about but suffice to say I found this talk incredibly engaging. It covered a huge variety of data viz examples, all done with fun and humour. It was also technical enough as the vizzes were also constructed in Tableau. I loved it. Original, brilliant and emotional at times, this was everything a TC session should be. And told by two natural presenters on stage.

Another stand-out session was “The New Tableau Web Data Connector: APIs, JSON & Javascript for Dummies” by Craig Bloodworth. This was a perfectly pitched run-through of the WDC and gave me real confidence that I could go and build one myself.

 

Thought #8 – “Nice one @cheeky_chappie”

Safety first at Paul's talk

Safety first at Paul’s talk

I tend to hang around a lot with Paul Chapman. No I don’t know why either, but it happens. And it was great to see him absolutely smash it with his presentation “A Single Shade of Orange“. He’s a #futurezenmaster for sure.

He has been ably coached by an expert road crew (myself & Tom Barber) so we take some (most) of the credit for his success.

 

Thought #9 – “I wish I was on that stage”

I’ve spoken at the last 3 Tableau Conferences (2 in London & also Seattle). My application was rejected this year to rightly give someone else a chance. That’s cool.

But I was super-jealous of those that did get the opportunity. Speaking at a Tableau event isn’t like other events (of which I do a few). At TC you’re presenting in front of friends, and people that share your mission. They want you to do well. No-one is watching you and judging, or hoping you don’t do well. They all want to learn from you and want you to rock.

It’s a mega buzz to be up on stage and I’d recommend anyone to do it, even if you feel you’re not a natural presenter.

 

Thought #10 – “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 another stellar event. See you in Texas everyone!

Paul

2 minutes with… Nelson Davis of Slalom Consulting

2 mins with title2

 

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?

Nelson ProfileI 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?

Nelson Profile2I’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…

The Evolution of the Speed Record

makingof

Hi all,

Oh dear – it’s that time of year again. Time for the Iron Viz competition. The first challenge this year is the Wikipedia challenge. Create a viz, any viz, so long as the data comes from Wikipedia.

1. The Idea

There are tons of data on Wikipedia. Trouble is, much of it is in a nightmare format and takes a lot of tidying up. I wasn’t cool with doing much of that this time so reasonably tidy data was a must. I also wanted something with depth, and an element of competition, danger and heroism. And I love technology so wanted that as well. All in all a tough ask.

But then I stumbled across the perfect topic – how speed records have evolved over time. Ticks all the boxes and could be a nice use of Story Points.

So that was it – “The Evolution of the Speed Record” was GO!

kings

The Evolution of the Speed Record!

 

2. Data

I got the data from 3 Wikipedia pages.

kand

An example of the land speed record data

The data has enough variety and richness to satisfy my requirements. It is also pretty consistent between pages so makes consolidation into Excel a lot easier. I did have to remove entries that referred to record attempts that were not ratified, and I also had to standardise on mph vs kph as well as distance miles vs kilometers. But with those caveats, I’d gotten me a pretty decent dataset.

It was also cool that most rows linked off to pages about the pilot and the craft used, each with some neat images for use in the viz. Plenty of room to supplement this data set should that be required. I also managed to find some clips of some of the drivers on YouTube.

 

3. Viz Design

The evolution of the record featured trials and tribulations, joy and pain, heroes and villains. So all in all this was a great opportunity to try Story Points for the first time.

axisThe overall look and feel took some arriving at and I’d like to thank Kelly & Chris for assisting with the peer review process. My original version made use of custom “speed-style” fonts to give the impression of speed, but we eventually decided that the real ethos of the whole story was the nostalgia and ‘Pathe’ News‘ style of flat capped heroes with handlebar mustaches pushing the boundaries of technology. So we switched to a style that sort of represented a 1930’s newspaper. I was really pleased with the final look and feel of it. Deciding the style really helped the story design of the charts. I tried to be as minimal as possible, removing unnecessary chart ink and distractions.

paper

Operation Paperclip

I wanted to give a feeling of progressing along a chronological timeline, whilst interspersing with ‘infographic’ style information pages. In particular there was a great story to tell about Germany and Operation Paperclip, that made a great infographic.

 

 

wiki

Embedded minimal Wikipedia page

I obviously wanted to use some advanced techniques so used the individual Wikipedia pages for some of the pilots to link off to an embedded web page. A masterstroke was working out that if I added “?printable=yes” to the URL it would give me a stripped back render of the page, that almost looked like a 1930’s newspaper, fitting the theme perfectly. I was really happy with that.

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 12.02.30

Embedded YouTube page

There’s also a page that links off to a YouTube video of the driver. I like that one, as the links are all monochromatic grainy film with appropriately stiff-upper-lipped voiceover. Excellent. I did worry a little about the ethics of including these videos as some of them show the final moments of the driver’s life. I think I’ve been respectful enough in my overall viz to justify inclusion though. I also added an old-school TV border to give a little bit more visual appeal.

So overall I was really pleased with this. A nice style, several good stories and a use of some advanced multimedia techniques.

 

4. Challenges

As mentioned this was my first use of Story Points. Unfortunately it turned out to be a frustrating experience. The feature, whilst undoubtedly useful, is in need of customisation and doesn’t provide a smooth user experience. One for the Tableau dev team to look at for sure.

Another challenge was the fact that the new Tableau Public site has sneakily been changed to https. That only becomes apparent when accessing a published viz using Chrome. Make sure your links to embedded content are https or they won’t work.

 

5. Analysis & Story

So what can we take from this story? Here are some of the key observations that Tableau has allowed me to glean from the dataset.

  • Records are dominated by only 3 nations, with France killing it in early years with their brilliant aviators.
  • It took a while for airspeed to get going, in fact land speeds were higher for a long time.
  • Germany’s poor record really didn’t tell the full story, their brilliant scientists being key to the USA’s great NASA missions in later years. Interesting how their previous misdemeanours were overlooked though…
  • Most record-breaking attempts advanced the speed slightly, with the occasional big jump.
  • The incredible Malcolm Campbell and his son Donald held an amazing 21 records.
  • Oddly, no-one seems to be bothered about records anymore, there hasn’t been a new record since 1997. Or is it too hard / dangerous now?

So that’s it. I hope you enjoy the visualisation. If you do then please consider voting for me in the IronViz competition, should this make the Elite8 twitter vote-off thing.

Regards, Paul

2 minutes with… Mark Jackson of Piedmont Healthcare

2 mins with title2

 

Ok we are back back back! And it has recently come to my attention that there is now a competing interview series. Well I guess imitation is the best form of flattery so I won’t send the elite Ninjas around just yet. Besides, it’s a great read so I’d recommend you check it out!

But we’ve got a blinding guest this month, none other than one of my absolute Tableau heroes – Mark Jackson. Without further ado…

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

100_0670

Nice hats!

My name is Mark Jackson. I go by @ugamarkj on Twitter and have a blog at http://ugamarkj.blogspot.com. I run the Tableau BI program at Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta, GA. My mission is to create an army of viz ninjas (Ahem! they all work for me actually – VN) and turn them loose to do awesome things with our data. So I spend most of my time educating others and modeling data sources for them to work with. I now have a team of two senior BI developers that I’m able to transition some of that work to. So I’m able to spend more time these days thinking strategically and exploring new technologies like NOSQL graph databases to help answer really complex relational or pattern based questions.

 

VN: Tell me about your org

Piedmont Healthcare is a five-hospital system. We have 400 employed medical staff members, and we have approximately 1,200 affiliate physicians with more than 100 physician practices across North Georgia. In total, we have around 10k FTEs that work for the heath system. Piedmont has some of the best medical providers in the world, and I wouldn’t go anywhere else for treatment. We had our second child at Piedmont and it was a great experience. So I’m honored to be a part of this organization and play my small part in improving the care we provide to our patients.

VN: How do you personally use Tableau?

These days I mainly use Tableau to evangelize Tableau and the science of data visualization. Tableau is the best tool on the market to help people rapidly see and understand their data. No other tool even comes close at the moment. Sure other tools can build beautiful interactive dashboards. But Tableau is leaps and bounds faster at doing it because it lets you iteratively paint with data until you arrive at an insightful view. And because you are painting with data using VizQL instead of plugging data into prescriptive dialog boxes to create specific visualizations, it is vastly more flexible and lets you be super creative. The fact that Joshua Milligan created tic-tac-toe and blackjack with artificial intelligence in Tableau proves that point. Try doing that in QlikView.

 

VN: You’ve always been one of the community interested in the IT / enterprise side of Tableau. How come?

It is because I run the BI program for large healthcare enterprise. My role exists within Financial Planning and Analysis where we have a shadow IT program. So we are responsible for a large portion of activities that would traditionally be within IT. This includes data governance, master data management, security, streamlining data movement, optimizing queries, transforming data, ensuring application up-time, troubleshooting software issues, functioning as a help desk…and the list goes on. If I don’t get the infrastructure right and instill confidence in the reliability of the system, I’m doomed. I started out at Piedmont as a customer of data analytics services in my role as Manager of Business Development and the Project Management Office for our Heart Institute. When I moved into my current role, my goal was to enable everyone to easily do the things I was able to do and bypass all the mistakes I’ve learned from along the way. To do that required setting up a sound architecture to remove a lot of the complexity required to do analytics work.

VN: What does the Tableau community mean to you and who do you learn from?

I echo what Steve Wexler recently wrote in a blog series about the Tableau community. This has to be the best software focused community on the planet. I’m tracking more than 80 blogs that post about Tableau at http://ugamarkj.tumblr.com. That is crazy and just shows how much excitement there is about this tool. The best thing about the community though is that it has managed to be dominated by people who are humble and super giving of their time. I’ve received so much help and inspiration from the community that it is impossible to name names without leaving important people out. Folks on the Tableau forum played a big role in my early development and more recently I’ve connected with a lot of people on Twitter. Many of these people I’ve met in the real world at the Tableau Conferences. They are all wonderful people that I feel privileged to know. I’m an active member of the community because the culture is amazing and I enjoying sharing what I learn with people that I consider to be my friends.

 

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

DSC_0013People that befriend me on Facebook or meet me in real life will learn that I love to talk about the things that they always tell you not to talk about: politics and religion. I love to think about things philosophically measure actions against principles. With these topics (and any topic really), it is important to stay humble and be willing to look at things from someone else’s perspective. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed my mind on things because someone else challenged my point of view. I’m incredibly grateful for those people. My wife Leigh is one of those people that helps me think though these things (God bless her for putting up with me). I’m also a father of two kids (Ansley-4 and David-2). They keep me on my toes and are always good for a laugh.

That’s great thanks a lot Mark. And thanks for all the support with the infra related aspects of Tableau.

Ok see you next time folks – VN

2 minutes with… Dan Montgomery of Slalom Consulting

2 mins with title2

Hello everyone.

Really pleased to have Dan on this month’s show. Without further ado…

VN: Thrilled to speak to you, how are you doing?

259065_10100567987350728_5848874_oThank you very much! I’m doing well. It’s a sunny day in San Francisco, California. So after this interview and some additional Tableau presentation prep-work for Slalom and the San Francisco Bay Area Tableau User Group, I’ll probably go for a run.

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

I am Dan Montgomery, aka @danrmonty, an Information Management & Analytics Consultant for Slalom Consulting, Tableau’s North American Partner of the Year for 2013. I’m part of Slalom’s group that works to help organizations leverage the power of data to provide insight and awareness to problems they are experiencing or don’t even know are problems yet. Any time I get to use Tableau on those projects, I get really excited because it is probably my favorite data analysis tool, but my work history comes from an SAP BW and Microsoft BI stack background, so I’m pretty proficient in those tools as well.

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

A few years ago, I don’t remember how long, my boss told me to look into this tool he had heard about called Tableau. I didn’t have any training or preparation, so it was a very slow pickup initially, but pretty soon I was showing off different ways to look at and ‘play’ with data that tools we currently had on our team couldn’t do.

When I joined Slalom in 2012 in Chicago, where I’m originally from, I was only one of a handful of people that used Tableau and started to evangelize its use in that office, while also connecting with our other office that were using Tableau more prominently.

These days, I am using Tableau in my client work and my personal work. I’ll create PoC’s using Tableau to show clients the potential of Tableau on their own data, as well as lead server architecture and dashboard development for clients. Tableau is a great partnership for Slalom; clients really appreciate the quick turnaround time from design to execution, access their information from multiple devices, and being able to quickly share findings with anyone else.

VN: What has the impact been on your business?

Slalom’s business model offers both technology and business consulting, one of the big reasons I wanted to work there. This means that we can start working with a client to help a specific need, but as time goes on and needs change, Slalom usually has a service that can support the changing environment. Tableau plays an integral role on both sides of that equation. Sometimes our IM&A group is brought in to do data analysis in Tableau, which results in the need for business process improvements or more organizational effectiveness, which are services we offer.

Other times, it happens in reverse: we can be doing program management work or infrastructure analysis and then Tableau can help take the results and present it fun and interactive way to our clients, which may lead to more IM&A work or selling Tableau software to the client. Tableau not only makes a great tool to have in our IM&A arsenal, but also becomes a way to compliment and transition the services we sell.

VN: How have you seen Tableau make an impact on businesses?

Tableau has a way of making people excited or engaged in data in ways that were never possible before. Hands off mangers can have content delivered to them in a number of flexible ways (email, mobile, web) and the dashboards can be designed to highlight a couple of key metrics or run the gambit of KPI’s. Hands on managers who used to have a series of analysts produce a series of reports and spreadsheets are now able to connect and drive the analysis themselves. Lastly, developers have a means to quickly respond to requests from said managers, while also share data sources they create with other developers to help manage a single source of truth.

We’re currently living in a data revolution and tools like Tableau are allowing people to stay up to speed.

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

Oh my, so much. I really was living in a bubble for years when it came to Tableau development. Because I was one of the few people in my work circles that knew it, I was essentially a big fish in a small pond. Nelson Davis, an incredible Tableau developer and friend of mine, basically schooled me one day last fall, and from that moment on I’ve opened my eyes to the Tableau community and what people are able to do with the software.

There are too many to list, but these are my favorite developers to follow

  • Anya A’hern – Put simply, she makes Tableau art.
  • Kelly Martin – Never a lesson in simplicity that I can’t learn from Kelly.
  • Ramon Martinez – He takes incredibly complicated ideas and makes them digestible.
  • Mark Jackson – He is always pushing the boundaries of what you can do with Tableau and data visualization
  • Ben Jones, Matt Francis, Ryan Sleeper, Allen Walker, Paul Banoub, Jewel Loree,
  • Andy Kriebel – Continuing to put great content into the community and actively supporting others on twitter
  • John Mathis, Peter Gilks, Nelson Davis, Steven Carter – My Slalom partners in crime who regularly challenge and inspire me.
  • Karunaker Molugu – On the rise, just got his first VOTD and represents Chicago, my home town.

VN: In your opinion what should we be mindful of in the BI space going forward?

Respect for data and governance of data is the area I see as being a huge area that will be impactful in the near future. For years, data was ‘guarded’ simply by the fact that if it was in a database, only SQL developers knew how to access to it. Reporting tools like Tableau make data easier to access and interact with, and data storage platforms are making data available closer and closer to real time while also storing larger and larger datasets. ‘Turning everyone loose’ on data will not lead to more insight, and in fact may drive everyone further away from the truth.

Data isn’t just the numbers and text, it also includes data standards for how to represent information. This includes color schemes (what colors indicates good vs bad, progress vs decline, is this a gradient or is it stepped color), images (what are the accepted logos for different business units or vendors), fonts, and so many more areas that, as Tableau developers know, really become the measure of consistency and usability. Managing proper data definitions, hierarchies, calculated measures, etc. becomes more difficult and demands more attention, but the result is an empowered workforce that removes single points of failure and ensures consistent messages, regardless of the audience.

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

1175648_10102743701092948_1357087646_nI never understood running when I lived in Chicago. Even though Chicago has an incredible running community, there’s only about 3-4 months out of the year where the weather isn’t trying to freeze you to death or melt you into a puddle. Now that I’m in California, where it’s between 50 and 65 F every day, I find I’ve really enjoyed getting into running. I’m actually running in a 191 mile relay the weekend of my birthday (May 2nd Slalom teams running to support organ donation. You can learn more and donate here if you would like. On top of that, I play competitive flag football to live a piece of my dream to play for the Chicago Bears.

VN: Thanks for your time Dan, see you soon.

Thank you for having me, Paul. I appreciate the support you’ve given me since becoming a part of the Tableau community and this was a great honor. Take care.

Awesome stuff. Tune in next time for more insight into the minds of the great and the good of data viz.

Cheers, Paul

2 minutes with… Ryan Sleeper of Evolytics

2 mins with title2

Greetings Viz fans!

Now this is an exciting one for me. Been trying to get Ryan on board for ages. Anyway, after weeks of ever-increasing bribes he has finally cracked and gets the 2 minutes with treatment.. Enjoy.

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

profile-picRS: Hi Paul – it was so great to meet you in person in Seattle! Thank you for having me on.I’m Ryan Sleeper, Director of Data Visualization & Analysis at Evolytics.

VN: Tell me about your org

RS: Evolytics is a full-service digital analytics consultancy in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. Our team does anything and everything related to digital analytics including measurement planning, web analytics implementation, testing, and optimization. I come in at the end and help the team and clients understand the data, primarily by using Tableau to help illustrate the stories in the data.

VN: How do you personally use Tableau?

RS: At work, a typical project begins with me using Tableau to do ‘discovery’ analytics. This is the phase where I don’t necessarily know what I am looking for and I am just digging in the data looking for insights related to a client’s business question. Most of this will not be seen by anybody but me. Once I have found the insights / indicators that can be used to measure the success of a client’s objective, the project moves to more of a ‘descriptive’ analytics task, where I create dashboards that help monitor our progress to goals. Occasionally, I also get the opportunity to create self-serve reporting for clients. These are essentially apps that end users can interact with to find their own stories in the data. This is more in-depth than a dashboard, but does not require the client to build anything themselves. I enjoy the challenge of designing these interactive reports with user experience in mind.

In my personal life, I enjoy trying to answer sports questions that I am curious about and sharing the results using Tableau Public.

VN: What has the impact been on your business?

RS: As a full-service analytics company, we’ve always offered reporting and analysis services, but before Tableau, they were more of an included, ‘value-add’ service. Tableau adds so much value to our reporting and analysis to the point where we can now have engagements specifically for Tableau, whether it be training or reporting via Tableau Server.

Tableau has also helped us provide better insights for our clients by reducing the time it takes us to find them.

VN: You have been an outspoken proponent of Tableau Public – what do you like most about it?

RS: I simply would not be as far along as I am without Tableau Public. Much fewer community connections, no Iron Viz, no guest posts at Tableau, probably no Kansas City Tableau User Group, and the list goes on. Tableau Public is my sandbox for developing new Tableau skills that I may not necessarily have the time to risk trying at work. Tableau Public also has a built in community that is there to provide feedback, help answer questions, and encourage you to keep working at it.

VN: What does the Tableau community mean to you and who do you learn from?

RS: I am constantly amazed by the Tableau community’s willingness to help each other. The Tableau community has played a huge role in my personal Tableau development, and not only have they taught me a great deal, but they’ve inspired me to pay it forward whenever I have the chance.

There are too many in the community to name, but I am inspired every single day by the effort, art, and selflessness that the community puts out. I look at nearly every single Viz of the Day and keep up with several blogs, including this one. Chances are if you’ve had a Viz of the Day or been on 2 Minutes, I have learned something from you.

If I had to pick one viz ‘mentor’, it would be Ben Jones of Tableau and dataremixed.com. Ben really pushed me to share my content and keep innovating when I was just getting started on Tableau Public. I also feel like I grew up in my Tableau life with Anya A’Hearn, Kelly Martin, and Ramon Martinez, all of whom I co-presented with during my first Tableau Conference presentation in 2013 and whose work I have studied for a long time.

VN: You’re a fellow TUG leader. Have you got any tips for running a successful TUG?

RS: The KC TUG is relatively new, just now closing in our one-year anniversary, but I have learned a few things so far. My biggest tip is to keep the content non-intimidating for beginners. I have found that at least half of our attendees are just getting started with Tableau and even just evaluating whether or not they want to use Tableau. I recommend including at least one lesson at each of your meetings that your entire audience can feel like they can begin using on their own as soon as they get back to the office.

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

RS: My wife and I really prioritize travel / experiencing different cultures in our lives, and while I am mainly an American football / basketball / baseball guy, I collect soccer (football) scarves from each country I visit. So this year’s Tableau Conference speaker gift, a #Data14 scarf in Seattle’s trademark navy and green, literally could not have been better for me. Some of my favorite scarves include FC Barcelona, Wellington Phoenix, and Morocco’s national team – who I saw at the 1994 World Cup as a boy in 1994. I’ll also be in your neck of the woods in May to pick up my first Premier League scarf.

Awesome stuff thanks a lot Ryan. Don’t forget to give me a shout when you’re over in May – I’ll round up some London data folks and we can show you around.

Until next time… Cheers, Paul

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…

Paul

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!

Paul

2 minutes with… Kelly Martin of VizCandy

2 mins with title2

Hello everyone. I hope you’re doing well. Time for another episode in the top-rated, some say premier, some say foremost interview show on the web.

And this is a bit of an OMG moment for us here at Ninja Towers, for we are proud to welcome our first Tableau Zen Master to the show.

kellyIt’s the fabulous Kelly Martin (@vizcandykelly)! This is a real pleasure for us here. Kelly has been a tremendous help to me behind the scenes of this blog, offering continuous support and expertise as I’m sure she has been to many of you reading this. She was the original inspiration for me to begin expressing myself in the BI space, and I’m sure has done the same for numerous others.

 

VizNinja (VN): Thrilled to speak to you, how are you doing?

KM: Pretty good, although I could afford to lose a few pounds and I’m having a bad hair day.  Too much information?  Careful with those open-ended questions.

VN: How do you use Tableau at your organization?

KM: I am the whole organization @ VizCandy.  It’s just me and the cat, and she’s not much help.  I use Tableau all the time, exclusively.  I don’t think I’ve made an Excel chart in 3 years.  My focus is dashboard design, so that’s what I do for people – build them great dashboards in Tableau.

VN: What has the impact been on your business?

KM: I have been doing contract work off and on for 10 years while having a full-time position in different organizations.  Tableau has enabled me to go full-time contract – that’s the business side.  On the personal side, it has made me a happy analyst.

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

KM: Wow.  That’s a long list and constantly growing.  There’s all the bloggers (pretty thorough list on Ramon’s site), then there’s the hundreds of tweeters,  Viz of the Day, and the Community Forums.  I check out the questions on the forums regularly.  I’m not very good at helping people in that format (I don’t usually understand their question or problem), but I learn a great deal from the help other people provide.  Sometimes I just go to Shawn Wallwork’s  activity to read through the questions and answers.

I will say that there was one blog post by Steve Wexler ‘Hey, Your Tableau Public Viz is Ugly *and* Confusing’, that had the most impact on my work.  When Steve first published this I thought he was directing it at me.  It felt personal because I was guilty of many of the bad actions he was describing.  After my internal defensive hissy, I worked at improving my design skills and I often present his post when talking to people about designing dashboards.

I love this blog as well, it’s fun and insightful.

VN: In your opinion what should we to be mindful of in the BI space going forward?

KM: In my experience, BI is usually a small team within IT which wrangles data sources into warehouses (or marts) and builds dashboards, which the majority of the organization uses to download data into Excel in order to conduct analysis relevant to their subject area or business segment/department.

IT used to be besieged with requests to ‘Just give me access to the data’ and the same thing is pretty common now with BI. Some organizations have put BI teams into Finance, Operations, or Marketing, etc., but the majority of analysis within those departments is still conducted by the Excel analysts not in the BI team.  High level KPI dashboards and scorecards built with complex stack BI solutions only prompt more questions about what is going on.  BI, reliant on those solutions, are not able to respond in a timely manner and nor should they.  They can’t possibly know the business or subject areas as the Excel analysts do.

kelly2With Tableau, I think BI could transform itself into a data service team, supporting Self-Service-BI throughout the whole organization.  I did a Prezi on this last year http://prezi.com/4bi24d44yid1/self-service-bi/.

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

KM: You can take the girl out of the trailer park, but you can’t take the trailer park out of the girl.

VN: Thanks for your time, see you soon.

KM: You bet.  Thank-you, and I look forward to connecting at the next TCC!

Ok that’s it for this one. Delighted to have our first Zen Master in the can. Thanks also to all those that are still waiting to have their interviews featured and have shown interest in this series. We’ve got a couple of very vocal bloggers lined up, some faces that will be well known to many of you.

Until then stay safe, and if anyone needs a shoulder operation, I can recommend an excellent surgeon….

Regards, Paul