About Chris Love

data professional, runner, photographer; these are my hobbies at present, I make no guarantees to the future.

Recent Alteryx Web Round-up

I thought I’d round up some stories / blogs recently that have caught my eye from an Alteryx perspective. I couldn’t help but firstly comment on the great news that Alteryx have secured 60 million dollars of investment, this can only be good news for customers, partners, and Alteyrx themselves. Alteryx Chairman and CEO Dean Stoecker published the following blog post:

Alteryx: Solving for the 2.5 Million Plus Person Opportunity

From a more technical perspective first I thought I’d start by sharing Ken Black’s results from his flat file import of data, in comparison to other methods he found Alteryx to be impressively quick:

A Truly Unbelievable #Alteryx Flat-File Reading Result

Data Glut offers a new blog on Alteryx here, looking at parsing publicly available data

Digging for Data: Unearthing the Locations of Farmers Markets in Boston – Part 1

Jarod Theuner looks at merging IP Addresses

Merge Ranges

Chris Freeman of Alteryx talks about Web Scraping using Alteryx

Web Scraping with Alteryx, Part 2

Mike Treadwell at Interworks talked about how to clean files ready for use in Tableau

Make your Data Tableau ready

Please don’t miss Adam Rileys latest version of his Macro Pack, a must have download:

Blog Macro Pack – Q3 2014 Release

Finally there’s my own post over at The Information Lab, which runs through a means of quality checking your data quickly using Alteryx and Tableau

Health Check your Data using Alteryx and Tableau

Please let me know if you think I’ve missed anything, also highlight anything useful to me on twitter @ChrisLuv and I’ll ensure it gets published in what I hope will become a regular feature on my blog.

A year in Tableau – from beginner to “expert”

Wow has it really been only a year since my Tableau love affair started? It seems like several.

Tableau has changed so much in my life and career in so many ways – it’s hard to look back and see how things were different before it was around.

Let’s start at the end

So here I am, for those who don’t know me then I’m a Tableau and Alteryx Consultant with The Information Lab. I’ve been in this role 9 months now, helping companies – some small, some big household names – get the most out of Tableau during consultancy visits and through blog posts and training. I hesitate to call myself an expert because that’s relative, I still have lot’s to learn, but I think most people would call me an expert.

I’m also an Alteryx ACE, having used Alteryx for 9 years, and I’ve won the Alteryx Grand Prix for the last two years. Effectively making me one of the best Alteryx users in the world.

2014-10-04_20-02-34

Rewind a year

There I was, a Development Manager / Senior Consultant and latterly Product Manager, at an international Marketing Services company. I was loving my job, I had some great colleagues and was well respected throughout the company but for the last few years I’d been struggling with my raison d’etre. I was great at linking business and IT, I more or less was IT but I could see things from the business perspective. I’d like to think I led the team well; but was I technical, or was I a manager? Was I part of the business, or part of IT? Where did my future lie? The answers were hard to come by, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do because I hadn’t found it, but I was kinda happy doing what I was good at regardless.

Then a blog…

I started a blog, I found myself wanting to talk about my Alteryx and data experiences, I found sitting at home blogging was an outlet, it gave me a reason to flourish my technical skills in Alteryx and other software (which had started to stagnate through time in management) and it gave me an opportunity to teach others, or at least start a conversation. I knew the Alteryx community would react well to any blogs
I wrote, I knew a lot of them, but I also wanted to extend outside that group and experience new software.

Blogging wasn’t easy, being at a large corporate meant social media policies – “you shall not endorse any products we sell” was the message. So how could I blog about my job and technical experience, was I allowed to endorse Alteryx? I decided to try and find out, I like following the rules, but no one could tell me “You might get a slap on the wrist” but that’s all. Okay….i continued blogging but kept my head down.

social-media-policy-dilbert

Tableau

I’d been wanting to try Tableau for a while, I’d just seen the Alteryx 8 Tableau connectors unveiled and Alteryx were starting to talk seriously about their commitment to their partnership with Tableau. The live demos at Inspire, the Alteryx conference, looked good, but it was just another reporting tool, right? Still I thought I’d try and get a licence at work…but it had been a while and I was getting tied up in red tape, even getting an approved install of the trial was tricky due to “policy”

I managed to try Jaspersoft in the meantime, spent 4 hours trying to build a chart and gave up. Sigh.Maybe these reporting tools weren’t what they were cracked up to be.

Tableau Public to the Rescue

Thankfully I found Tableau’s free product Tableau public – this meant that from home I could investigate Tableau and also blog about it – no social media policy worries as I didn’t even have a copy at work.

tableau-public-logo-300x65

I remember my first experience, I’m not a person who reads the manual and I dived right into it. I connected to my first file and well, I built a chart. No help, no training, no internet videos. It was natural. I just played that night, bringing in datasets and experimenting, I don’t think I kept anything but I was blown away. This wasn’t just another reporting tool – it was a canvas for my Alteryx paintbrush, and data was my palette.

A renewed focus at work

The next day at work I renewed my efforts, I pushed hard and made progress through another division, soon I had an unused licence from another division and I could finally start to play…I quickly set up a small user group to start showing off what I was doing and trying to bring others along, but it was hard work – people didn’t have time to try something new and not everyone wanted to try things in their free time.

Blogs

I blogged about my lessons in Tableau and it’s differences to Excel, I’d just started tweeting and so I tweeted a link. Wow! What a reaction, I think the RTs went through the roof compared to what I was used to, I even made the Tableau “Blog Posts of the Month“. This was little me, using it just a few weeks, I was hardly an expert….

At the same time I turned to some public datasets and started to publish some Tableau Public Visualisations. I took my running data and started cleaning it using Alteryx and plotting it in Tableau. I downloaded Hygiene Ratings from a cloud API using Alteryx and published a viz….

The Tableau Community

..and as I did the community came back, they offered suggestions and RT’s (the life force of any newbie tweeter). I learnt new tips, I found experts and blogs to follow, I started chatting to fellow newbie Tableau users….this was getting interesting. There was a whole group of people here who *loved* this stuff, and when I say “loved” I mean it was bordering on scary….

The Information Lab – and the “Job Application of sorts”.

The Information Lab

At that point I came across The Information Lab, they were clearly very knowledgeable Tableau users and they were recruiting. I wasn’t looking for a job really, I was 10 years into a promising career and very happy, but a rush of blood to the head after a Saturday looking at some Tableau blogs and I dropped them an email – it rambled and went something like:

“I’m still learning Tableau, I want to learn more. I’m not really looking for a job but I kind of am. Oh by the way I know this software called Alteryx – you’ve probably never heard of it, I’m pretty expert at it through, you should look at it, it’s a fantastic data tool. It’d be great to meet some of you guys at some point and grab a coffee at a conference some time”.

The answer came back from Tom:

“Chris – we’ve just become Alteryx partners, does that change things?”

Well of course it did, I didn’t think twice (well I did, it’s scary moving jobs after 10 years, but I never once thought it would be the wrong move). I realised this was what my career was missing. That email turned my world upside down, soon I was changing jobs and giving up 10 years of investment in a career Marketing Services and my burgeoning leadership skills and heading off to be a consultant in Tableau and Alteryx.

Were my Tableau skills up to it? Well I was about to find out….I’d clearly got the job because of my Alteryx skills but I was expected to pick up Tableau quickly.

A new job

Tableau was interesting, it turns out i had all these skills that I could leverage through my use of Alteryx. I could clean and prepare data using Alterx that made even Zen Master’s jaws drop, my Tableau Arrows being a case in point.

Migration Arrows

That made my move into Tableau as a career much easier, it gave me the confidence to talk to clients about data prep and what was needed, also my SQL background helped enormously. My new colleagues supported me a lot, and the culture at TIL just breeds people who love sharing knowledge and helping each other. I found even the internal systems there helped this.

Fast forward

Twitter, blogs, conferences – I now feel such a part of the Tableau community. The Alteryx and Tableau communities continue to grow and overlap, and I love being at the centre of that.

I’ve even managed to earn a few coveted Viz of the Day and got myself a reputation as a bit of a Whisky drinker – who knows how that started!

2014-10-04_19-37-04 2014-10-04_19-38-29

I look forward to the next year, who knows what it may bring? I do know that this career move has been nothing but positive. Like I said at the beginning of this post I can’t imagine my world without Tableau in it.

What does this mean for you?

Probably nothing, but I enjoyed writing it down anyway.

If you’re looking to pick up Tableau at work though then don’t let that stop you. Using Tableau Public can give you important skills, it can give you a renewed vision of what’s important to you, and it can give you a “CV” of Tableau to show to future employees.
So what’s stopping you? Look what happened to me in a year….I look forward to seeing what the next year brings you, and me.

Where to find me

Drop me a line @ChrisLuv on twitter – or you can see more of my blogs at theinformationlab.co.uk\blog, I’m always happy to chat about anything – career, Alteryx, Tableau, Whisky.

 

Comparing against Next Generation – it’s Tough

I want to take you back in time in my time machine, back to the 1900’s and the new age of the automobile. Henry Ford has not yet perfected the mass production on the motor car, they are still the preserve of the rich and the average car is expensive – putting them out the reach of an average family. Though the car market is booming like no time before, it is still very small.

We land the time machine and I give you a simple job, help me sell the modern car to the people of the 1900’s. Easy right? Let’s see how things might pan out for you….

Look what you’re up against, it’s archaic, a relic from a bygone age. You set up a stand advertising a new way; a cheaper, modern alternative to the old way of doing things, effectively democratising automobiles for everyone. It will allow longer, faster journeys and with the effects of (de)inflation your cars are cheap enough for anyone to afford, surely this will be a piece of cake.

A portly gentleman in a bowler hat, clearly of means, pulls up and climbs down from his motor car.

Sir”, you say, “ould you like to take a trip with me in the car of the future? I feel confident it will revolutionise how you think about driving”.

“I don’t think we need to do that”, he counters, “A motor car will take you from A to B, they’re all the same really aren’t they? I don’t need to see it to believe it will work, I’ve seen hundreds of cars.”

Okay so a test drive would have helped you show him what he was missing, but it’s not really necessary as you have a compelling argument.

“Well Sir, my modern car is slightly different. Mine will take you from 0 – 60mph in just a few seconds, and will go considerably faster if you want it to, and what’s more everyone is driving them where I come from.”

 

1918 Oakland Tribune - click to read the full article

1918 Oakland Tribune – click to read the full article

 “?!”, a look of absolute horror crosses your new friends face,“I don’t think we want that now do we, they’ll kill themselves. Anyway we have a 20 mph speed limit in the 1900’s. Whatever next? Ha, you’ll be telling me you let women drive the blasted things!”

This last statement takes you back, you’d forgotten the prejudice of this bygone age, but you try not to let it show. You give a nervous laugh and carry on unfazed.

“Sir, my car is easily afforded by even an average family, everyone should be able to go from A to B no matter what their social standing”

Another harrumph, “I doubt it can be as well made as Mr Benz’s machines in that case, his are expensive for a reason, they are quality machines, not just for anyone“, he’s not convinced by your arguments. 

“I assure you there’s no difference in quality sir, and in fact mine is easier to use. I mean take a look at enormous hand-crank you need to use to get yours started, it doesn’t look easy to get her going.”

The gentleman smiles, clearly proud, he leans back and pulls out his braces, now in his element “It isn’t, but I’ve become quite the master I can tell you, on a cold morning I can start her in under 15 minutes.“. He looks for your approval, but you frown, his smile wavers when you say “but I can start mine immediately, with a tiny key….” but his frown is fleeting.

Well that tiny thing won’t work old chap“, he’s enjoying himself now, clearly starting to think you’re a bit of a nutcase “You’ll never get the engine turned over with that will you?!

Your patience is wearing thin, “Well with our way of doing things in the future, we don’t physically turn over the engine, we simply…”, but your friend is clearly not listening, he interrupts: “Listen my friend, no cars going to get started unless you turn over the engine, I’m an expert on these things, that’s the way we do things here”.

You make to continue the conversation, but the gentleman stops you, “Listen sonny, I’ve heard it all before and its poppycock, look at what I was offered last week.” He shows you a picture:

As you look over the picture he continues, “That thing looked more like a car that that monstrosity you’re touting, and that didn’t work, why should yours be any different?”…he turns on his and walks away.

Okay, you get the picture, analogy over…

Clearly it’s difficult to imagine the next generation, especially when you compare it to the standard today. It’s also only too easy to translate the message above back into software and “Next Generation” Data and Analytics. The market is still only just beginning and we don’t know what’s around the corner, but here are some thoughts on how to open your eyes to the potential that might be there:

1. Make sure the first thing you do is take a demo. Comparing features, particularly against the “standard”, can only get you so far and your list of features will undoubtedly miss the point – you can’t add features you don’t know about. You’ll unduly bias towards the status quo.

2.  Be willing to change. Democratising data isn’t easy, no one said it would be. It involves turning things on their head and perhaps getting a little bit uncomfortable, you might not be ready to drive at 80 mph yet but you might want to get out of first gear (or even let the women drive!).

3. Take it for a test drive yourself, that propeller driven car might look great in the demo but can you, in fact everyone who has access to data, take it for a spin? Again don’t expect it to be all plain sailing, you might hit a few bumps, but it should be a considerably smoother ride than you’re used to.

4. Be prepared to accept something that looks a bit different than what you’re used to.

With that in mind I’m going to sign off, and hopefully see you at Tableau #data14. Make sure you check out Alteryx while you’re there…you might just be seeing the future…

 

 alteryxlogo_307123

For data’s sake have some fun

We live in times when data analysis as a career is very much in the limelight; Nate Silver, Data Science, Big Data have all helped glamorise data analysis. However data analysis has the perception of being a dull, rather lifeless job – hours pouring over spreadsheets looking at numbers, or creating complex models using lines and lines of code; whether or not this is true will largely depend on which tools you’re using.

I recently heard Tom Brown of The Information Lab, for whom I work, talk about his career and how he ended up using Tableau. Tom described his life before Tableau, using other BI products, as “dull” and this echoes what I hear from a lot of people I speak to who have started using the new breed of Data Analysis tools  and who have started to have fun with data for the first time. My own career started in SAS and SQL, I enjoyed my job but I don’t remember ever calling it fun, for me my career only started becoming fun when I picked up Alteryx.

So what makes these tools fun?

Tableau and Alteryx aren’t the only fun data analysis tools I’m sure, but they’re the ones I’m most familiar with and so from there I can speak more generally about what characteristics they share, and where other BI software manufacturers should look if they want to emulate some of the success of Tableau (and increasingly so Alteryx) at capturing users imagination and creativity.

1. Ease of use

First and foremost to be fun software has to be easy to learn and intuitive, it has to have a level of ease of use that means users can dive right in and start using the product
immediately. It has to have a clean fresh interface that removes the complexity from the data analysis and breaks down the analysis into a set of simple, repeatable steps. Tableau achieves this by giving the user just one screen to build visualisations on and a simple drag and drop interface. Alteryx on the other hand takes a modular approach by providing tools, which are all configured in the same way, that are dragged onto a canvas and joined together to form a data flow. Neither tool has any complex code for users to write, again increasing simplicity.

2. Remove the mundane

No one likes repetitive or mundane actions, and they can quickly take any fun away from using BI tools. I think everyone has experienced the frustration of using Excel and having to copy/paste cells to move them around, or having to write multiple formula repeating the same thing for several files. Alteryx and Tableau both contain several neat shortcuts that remove any mundaneness; simple things like using wildcards in Alteryx to bring in multiple files with the same structure in an input tool are a real blessing when needed.

3. Enable creativity

To really become fun though tools must go further than just be easy to use, they must give their users a freedom to create something. Tableau and Alteryx have this in spades; I could ask 10 Alteryx experts to write solve a problem and they would all use different tools and approaches, no module would look the same. This is part of the appeal for me, solving a problem isn’t about finding the right way, it’s about find a way. Similarly with Tableau, as the recent Iron Viz challenges have seen, a subject can be tackled in many different ways leading to some informative and visually stunning visualisations. User communities that share their work and grow together as they collaborate are also key to having some fun, and the Alteryx Gallery and Tableau Public both enable this. You only need to look at some of the apps and dashboards on their to know that users are really having fun with these products.

4. Mass appeal

Data analysis and BI has mass appeal, Excel is the most widely used BI tool and shows what mass appeal can provide. So to truly become fun for everyone tools must go beyond the niche of Data Scientists / Data Analysts and appeal to everyone with a data background, usability plays a part in this but also they must solve a range of problems across a wide range of industries. As people use a tool to solve a diverse set of problems their enjoyment grows.

Why is having fun with data important?

I’m talking about fun for a reason, not only because I think it’s important for people to feel a sense of worth in what they do and to go to work with a smile, but also because having fun
leads to innovation and growth. If people are having fun with data we’ll learn more about what it can offer, and build richer models and better insights. Part time data journalists,
working at the weekend, will explore public datasets and produce insight and intelligence to improve policy and inform the wider public about key issues. The universe of data is growing exponentially, every gadget and tech now includes an array of data tracking, but the skills to interpret and work with data are still catching up. BI and analytics companies have a responsibility to provide fun tools so that children don’t just experience Excel at school – the world is more fun than Excel. Believe me, I’ve seen and used the tools of the future and they’re fun.

Full disclosure: my love of data and analytics, and in particular Alteryx and Tableau, have led me to work for The Information Lab, an Alteryx and Tableau partner and reseller.

 

Marathon Scrapbook

As many of you will know it’s Quantified Self Month at Tableau and I thought I’d produce an entry for their Iron Viz contest.

My submission is based on my marathon run in April, I’m an avid user of RunKeeper and thought this would make a great subject for the Viz.

The data was collected via Alteryx and turned into a tde before building the Viz using a few internet resource for backgrounds etc.

Click the picture below to open the Viz.

2014-05-15_15-49-33

Scotch Anyone?

I have a passion for nice Scotch whisky, I haven’t tried lots but I try and get a new one every so often. A friend recently asked me for a recommendation and so I decided that, as my geekness knows no bounds, I’d build him a dynamic one rather than recommending something I like.

The resulting Tableau dashboard is below – click the image to access – any comments let me know here or on Twitter, what was your preference? My tipple over Christmas is currently a nice BenRiach 12 Year old.

scotch

The Art(isan) of Data Analysis

Firstly an announcement – I’m moving jobs, from the start of January I’m very pleased to say I’ll be working at The Information Lab, one of the longest standing Tableau Partners in the UK and Tableau’s EMEA Partner of the Year they also very recently became Alteryx partners. I approached Tom, Craig and the team because they have clearly demonstrated a passion with Tableau that mirrors my own passion for Alteryx and, having got to know the ethos of the company and their values, then I’m very excited for what the future holds – for me, my new colleagues and also for Tableau and Alteryx.

All this has got me thinking about our role and how we describe what we do. For their part Alteryx coined the term Data Artisan to describe the people using their software; often those people without analyst in their name but those who find themselves needing to solve problems without the need for coding or IT departments. To be honest I never really got it, but with my new role I started considering the name again and considering my own situation with Alteryx and Tableau and it started to make sense.

For starts let’s look at what those words mean and their origin:

Data, “facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis”, is the nominative plural of datum, originally a Latin noun meaning “that is given”.

Artisan (according to www.oxforddictionaries.com/) is a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand. It has it’s origins in the mid 16th century “from French, from Italian artigiano, based on Latin artitus, past participle of artire ‘instruct in the arts’, from ars, art- ‘art'”.

Okay, so technically yes, being in a skilled trade working on facts and statistics for analysis or reference I can call myself a Data Artisan. More specifically my new role will involve instructing others in “the arts” and so this will also ring true.

File:Mendel I 053 v.jpg

An artisan from the 15th century

So, I’m a Data Artisan technically – what about practically? Well let’s consider the tools of my trade:

Data - the raw materials / elements I work with

Alteryx – the tool of choice for data munging / data reshaping / data blending

Tableau – the tool of choice for data visualisation

The Dashboard -  a representation of how the analysis looks that helps people understand the overall story

What about an Artisan’s tools of choice? Let’s consider a painter:

Paint – the raw materials / elements (s)he works with

Palette – the tool of choice for paint blending

Canvas/Brushes – the tool of choice for paint visualisation

The Painting – a representation of how the scene looked that helps people understand the overall story

…and like an artist a “Data Artisan” their skill in telling the story means the result becomes greater than the sum of it’s parts, and they can represent analysis in very different ways by skewing their visualisation towards their own view or political bias.

So looking at it this way then I’m left to think perhaps I am a Data Artisan after all…

As a final, perhaps fatal, push on the metaphor I’d like to ask…would an artist mix his paints directly on the canvas? Would an artist paint his picture on his palette? If you’re a Tableau or Alteryx user then there’s no need to compromise on the end result – make sure you’re being true to your art because Alteryx and Tableau used together are the only way to true masterpieces. [okay I got a tiny bit cheesy there but you get the idea!]

Having said all that I don’t think I’ll be calling myself a Data Artisan too often, I think Paul Banoub (The VizNinja!) said it best when he said:

“… call yourself whatever you want. Call yourself a Ninja, or a Jedi or a Yeti or a data rockstar. I don’t care. Just keep on pushing the boundaries and discovering. You should be proud of yourself for trying.” – Paul Banoub

In future my blogging efforts will be mainly on The Information Lab Blog but I will continue to add things to this blog on a less frequent basis, and will be reviewing the best of the Alteryx and Tableau community in regular posts here.

Thanks for reading.

Appendum

As a tease, here’s the kind of thing you can create in Tableau if you mix your data in Alteryx first. Check in with the Info Lab in the New Year to find out how.

Embedded image permalink