Data Viz Done Right

April 11, 2017

10 Years Later...What Tableau Means to Me?

13 comments
Anyone that knows me will agree that I am absolutely terrible at remembering important dates. Yet April 11, 2007 is a day I will never forget. My boss' boss at Coca-Cola, the Director of Revenue Management, came into my office on the 15th floor on a sunbaked day in Atlanta with a simple question:

Can you create a few dashboards to help us monitor the annual planning process?

Seemed simple enough, yet we didn't have any dashboard software. All we had was pivot tables in Excel sitting on top of OLAP cubes. I had tried and failed miserably to created dashboards before. I knew I needed to try something else. So I turned to Google and entered this simple search:


The first result that came back seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.


I downloaded and installed Tableau 4.1 and watched the first few training videos. 30 minutes later, the whole project was done and my life was changed forever.


It might seem odd that a simple piece of software could change my life, yet I know that finding Tableau has been the most important moment in my career. No doubt about it!

At the time, Tableau had just added dashboards. There were no table calcs, no LODs, yet the software got out of the way and allowed me to enjoy every minute of every working day. 10 years later, I'm just as in love with Tableau as I was on that first day. Here are some of the reasons why.

VISUAL ANALYTICS

Tableau is fast and easy to learn, yet sophisticated and elegant. Tableau's most powerful feature, in my opinion, isn't dashboarding, which is what so many companies purchase it for. Rather, Tableau's bread and butter is visual analytics. When Tableau says they allow you to "see and understand your data,” they mean it. Tableau does what it says on the tin. If you're not using the power of visual analytics in your organization, you're missing out on the true power of Tableau. No other product allows you to answer questions you have visually, at the speed of thought. You can literally SEE the answers to your questions.

THE COMMUNITY

Tableau users are a passionate bunch. No other product comes even close to the network of people freely willing to help each other. Post a question to the Forums and you're likely to have a response in a matter of minutes. There are countless people waiting to help you. Tableau doesn't require their users to help each other. The users help each other because they WANT to. From Joe Mako to Jonathan Drummey to Pooja Gandhi to Alexander Mou and many others; these people feel their personal mission is to help others succeed with Tableau. People helped them and they are merely paying it forward.

Then there are the bloggers: people that use their free time to write about Tableau. We do it (assuming I can speak for others) because we want to help people learn. When we learn something, we want to share the knowledge. Why? Because writing about Tableau helps everyone get better. And really, it helps the writer the most. When you write about what you learn, it helps reinforce the learning. Sounds great for everyone!

And of course, there are the Community projects. Projects like Makeover Monday that I run with Eva Murray (and last year with Andy Cotgreave) have been wildly successful because, first and foremost, they encourage people to learn, practice and improve. Every week, I'm amazed that hundreds of people can take the same data set and all create a unique visualisation. No other piece of software has Community projects like this that I'm aware of. Beyond Makeover Monday, people will come up with any excuse to meet and use Tableau. Viz Club even meets in a pub!

THE LEADERS

I count myself one of the few fortunate people that have gotten to know the leadership team at Tableau very well. In fact, I consider all of them my friends. I know I'm not the only one that feels this way and it's to their credit that they really want to get to know their customers. Most importantly for me, if I have a concern, I know I can email Elissa Fink or Francois Ajenstat or Andrew Beers or Dave Story and they'll respond. What makes them special is they genuinely stop and listen. They know that without their passionate customers, Tableau wouldn't be the product that it is.

Case in point: a few weeks ago I had some concerns that I needed to vent about. I was in Scotland and sent an email to Francois who was in Seattle. The next evening we were on the phone discussing my concerns. And you know what? Francois followed up with me. He didn't have to take my call. He didn't have to listen. Yet he did, and I'm grateful for that.

INNOVATION

Products seem to spring up monthly, claiming to be the “Tableau Killer!” I'll let you in on a little secret these companies don't know: Tableau is innovating faster than they are, and it's a moving target they won't catch. No other data visualisation product reinvests as much in the product as Tableau. This means amazing new features in every single quarterly release.

What impresses me most, though, is how Tableau takes the complex and makes it appear effortless. That's an art! Other products don't think that way; they see features as a checklist. Tableau sees features as capabilities to solve problems. Don't believe me? Try to create the same chart in several products. I guarantee it will be simpler and more elegant to do in Tableau.

THE CONFERENCE

If you haven't been to a Tableau Conference, you need to get yourself there. Even if you have to pay for it yourself, do it. It's like a Bruce Springsteen concert for data nerds. People are literally high-fiving, giving standing ovations, cheering at the new features they're seeing for the first time. You don't see this at other software conferences. You come out of every Tableau Conference ready to take on the world.

I love TC because I get to learn, to connect with people I've only ever known on Twitter, to see the people I consider some of my closest friends. You know that feeling when you reconnect with someone you've known for a long time and it's like no time has passed? That's what TC is like for me.

As a Tableau Zen Master, I have the privilege of connecting to TC in a unique way. I've had the pleasure of speaking at seven TCs in the US, including the very first TC in 2008 which had barely over 100 people in attendance. Now, there are over 10,000 people. I also get to help with Tableau Doctor. People come to the Doctors for help with their Tableau problems and we get to help them 1-on-1. I get to sit in on Community Alley for a meet and greet. This is special for me because I get to meet the people that read my blog and get to know them personally.

ALWAYS LEARNING

I bet I can count on one hand the number of days that I've used Tableau where I DIDN'T learn something new. That's right, I've been using Tableau for 10 years and still learn nearly every day. I love that about Tableau! Whether it's a new way to accomplish a task or breaking an old habit, Tableau and the Community are there to help me learn.

That's the inspiration behind the Workout Wednesday project that I run along with Emma Whyte. Each week we post a challenge to each other and we get to learn. Plus, the Community learns along with us. I love how we see the same task accomplished in Tableau in many different ways. Some may be more efficient or cleaner than others, yet they all work.

Tableau lets you work through your problems the way your brain works. And what's more fun than learning and improving every day?

TABLEAU IS FUN

Yes, using data visualisation software can indeed be fun. I spring out of bed every day in anticipation of using Tableau. I keep a notebook beside my bed to write down ideas I get in the middle of the night. I use Tableau to answer any data-related question I have. I might see some football stats or some political commentary I want to fact check. It's so simple to get the data, explore my hunches in Tableau and turn it into a data-driven story I can share with everyone.

TABLEAU CHANGES LIVES

Perhaps this is a bold statement. I stand behind it as proof of the positive impact Tableau can have on one's life. Without Tableau, I'm fairly sure I'd be in a job that isn't as fulfilling. Instead, I've had the opportunity to spread the Tableau gospel at places like Coca-Cola and Facebook. And now I'm creating the next generation of great data analysts at The Data School. Seriously, The Information Lab actually pays me to teach really smart people Tableau every day. What a gig!

My life isn't the only one that's been touched and impacted by Tableau though. Think about the work that DataBlick is doing with PATH to eliminate malaria in Africa. Or the work The Data School does for Connect2Help in Indianapolis. Or the many other Tableau Foundation projects. People genuinely use Tableau to make an impact on the world.

There are tons of people that have moved onto bigger, better and more fulfilling careers because of Tableau. Tableau Public helps you create a portfolio that helps you stand out from the crowd. In my opinion, the CV/resume is dead. Companies that want to hire great people don't look at these. They look at your body of work. So get to it! Create content. Publish it to Tableau Public. That dream job will find YOU.

THANK YOU

Let me end with a simple thank you. Thank you to Chris Stolte, Pat Hanrahan, and Christian Chabot for creating Tableau. Thank you for being pioneers. Thank you for creating a great product. Thank you to my wife for encouraging me to chase my dreams. Thank you to the Tableau Community and everyone that has helped me. Thank you to Dan Murray for being my first Tableau mentor and for kicking me in the rear when I needed it. Thank you to Jeffrey Shaffer for being an incredible project partner and teaching me so much. Thank you to Andy Cotgreave and Eva Murray for Makeover Monday; you have no idea how much I enjoy this project. Thank you to Tom Brown for the best job in the world!

Thank you for an amazing 10 years. Cheers to the next 10!

13 comments :

  1. Great post, Andy. Thanks for your contributions and excitement. Congratulations on 10 years!

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  2. Congratulations Andy! You are a ROCKSTAR :-)

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  3. brief history and sorry if this sounds like a nit-pick. Tom Walker named version 4.0 'the ocho'. something to do with a movie...a ben stiller flick I can't recall the name of. It had a launch date, then slipped several times. Notable because 'the ocho' actually shipped on 8/8/2008. You can't plan these things. ...or can you...? Anyway, little insider history there for you.

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  4. What a great story you have Andy! Keep inspiring people to work in something they love! I wonder what would be possible to do with Tableau in ten years from now... It will be amazing!!!

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  5. Great to hear your story! Thank you Andy for sharing it.

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  6. Andy, those days are worth remembering, aren't they! What a ride we have been on! Lots of youthful exhuberance and baby-faces in that pic, for sure. Love it!

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  7. Wonderful note. I don't know if you remember the first time we met, Andy...but I do. I thought I'd share it here, in public, because I still smile at it. It was at the Mac launch of Tableau 8.2 in San Francisco. I was new to Tableau, maybe 6 months in, and was trying to support a customer who had a question. I couldn't figure it out, so I said "Hey, let's go talk to that guy, he's a Zen Master so he will probably be able to help." You were still on stage, and we waited in line, and then I held up her laptop and asked the question. You looked at the view, dragged a pill (Measure Names), and answered her question, all in 60 seconds. It was great, and I learned something in our first interaction. Thanks!

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    1. I do indeed remember! That was a great event! Thanks for the kind words. It's people like you and experiences like the one we had that keep me going. See you in Vegas!

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  8. I'm just starting out in the Tableau world after being initiated into it by Prof. Jeffrey Shaffer. This post boosts my confidence in my choice and I'm sure this would be a turning point in my life! :)
    Thank you for the great post, Andy!
    Tableau community is AMAZING!

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  10. Congratulations, Andy. I recall seeing your presentation on Coca-Cola at the first Tableau Conference at the Edgewater Hotel in Seattle. (Also the first time I'd heard of Twitter, after Elise Fink suggested following the conference on this strange new thing!) I've been to your presentations at conferences over the years, and when I saw you had taken a job at the Information Lab, I envied the fact that you'd made a career out of teaching others about data visualization. Having been a low-key "groupie" over the past 10 years, it would be a pleasure to meet you and thank you in person at the next conference. Congratulations on your milestone.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words Tom! I'd love to say hi in Vegas.

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  11. I'm a bit late to the party but better late than never. Congratulations Andy! You are an inspiration to so many. Thank you for your 10 years - you've been a great customer, a great source of feedback, a great community builder, a great partner and a great friend. Here's to the next 10!

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