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!

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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.

 

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One thought on “A year in Tableau – from beginner to “expert”

  1. Pingback: Dynamic Visualisations with SIZE() and INDEX() - The Information Lab

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