The annual Tableau Conference is in my opinion the biggest congregation of data loving nerds. This was my 3rd Tableau Conference and it feels like it gets better and bigger every year. Here’s me sharing my experience from #TC18.
The conference was held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. The venue’s wikipedia page explains that- ‘as of 2006, it has about 1.1 million square feet (102,000 m²) of exhibit space, covering almost 11 blocks, and over 3 million square feet (280,000 m²) of total space. The front of the main building is 1 kilometer long’. I did not know this information prior to going to the conference, but if you were there, you would know how far some things were. In fact, Mark Edwards even measured the time it took him to walk between a few locations. Now, he admits he’s not a slow walker and that the corridor was empty, so I would definitely add a few minutes to this to get a better value.
Personally, I met all the fitness goals my phone generally tracks- Move Minutes, Heart Points and the like. I had a burst of movement throughout the week but mostly on the 23rd and the 24th of October. I walked more than 20,000 steps on these two days and exceeded my goal of 5,000 steps per day (I didn’t say it was a goal I was proud of).
Seeing how Tableau helps individuals and organizations become more data-driven, there’s no doubt that they give a lot of importance to numbers. There were 17,000 attendees this year, which was more than last year (sorry, don’t have the exact count for last year). There are also 10,000+ organizations that use Tableau Online. This was a good-to-know for me as mine is one such organization. However, the numbers that got me the most excited were those around Tableau Public. 550,000 authors, 1.5M+ Vizzes and 1.7B+ Views. These may not be the biggest numbers you have seen but yet they are something I can’t fathom. But what this also means is that an average Tableau Public author has (1,500,000/550,000) 2.73 or roughly 3 visualizations on Tableau Public. However, if you are a regular Tableau Public author you know that’s not true. There are plenty authors who have far greater number of vizzes. For example, MakeoverMonday hosts and Zen Masters Andy Kriebel has 697 vizzes, and Eva Murray has 129. Fellow Phoenix author and Zen Master Ann Jackson has 212, and I have 112. So, really there is a small percent of authors who have a mid to high percent of vizzes that are on Tableau Public (creating a mental Pareto Chart as I write this).
To say that #MakeoverMonday has changed the lives of many (in a good way) is to say the least. It has given several (including me) a platform to learn, improve, and showcase one’s data analysis and visualization skills. I am an absolute fan, and beneficiary of the project and if you met me at the conference and spoke about data visualization, I am sure I mentioned Makeover Monday at least once.
Monday, October 22, 2018 was the first day of the conference and the first sessions I attended was the Makeover Monday Live session. I was absolutely looking forward to it because of all the reasons I mentioned earlier. However, it unexpectedly turned out to be a very special session for me. I have been to one Makeover Monday Live session at #data17 in Las Vegas so I knew that Andy, and Eva ask attendees to volunteer and present their makeover after the vizzing time is up. However, I wasn’t expecting that happen to me because I have rarely been able to complete one in under an hour. To add to that, there were internet, and data related issues that prevented me to get started until after 15 minutes had already passed in the session. However, when I finally got my hands on the data (about Beer Prices at MLB) and I started looking for an insight, it didn’t take me long to find one. I found that New York Mets had about 82.6% increase in price of beer in 2018 as compared to 2013. This made me think if the Size of the beer can/bottle has also increased, and it indeed had. At this point, I realised I could make this into the narrative of my viz. So I decided to rename my sheets exactly as I was thinking about it in my mind, as if I was having a conversation with myself as I underwent this data discovery. I quickly finished the viz. and posted on Tableau Public in time.
As soon as the time finished, Andy and Eva started looking for volunteers to present. It only then dawned on me, that I could actually go up there and present since I had finished my viz. Now, raising my hand in a room full of people to volunteer and present is not at all me. I am in fact the opposite. I would sit there, and see others take the lead. But everything happened so fast, I didn’t get a chance to second guess my action. And that’s when Eva called me over to line up besides the stage to volunteer. I have learnt this about myself. If I ever second guess a decision, I always end up taking the easier option. But when I go with the gut, I end up learning more and evolving as a person. I am glad I didn’t get a chance to second guess that day.
4. Inspiring Sessions
There’s no doubt that inspiration is in the air at the Tableau Conference. But there are a few sessions that just stay with you for long after they are over. I was fortunate to attend a few of these in person.
50 Charts in 50 Minutes
Last year, Andy Kriebel, and Jeffrey Shaffer did a session together- 50 tips in 50 minutes- where in they demoed more than 50 tips in tableau. I learnt more from that one session than several others combined. So when I found out they were doing another similar session this year, I signed up in a heartbeat. This time they demoed ’50 charts in 50 minutes’, and just like last time, it was an amazing session. They did not use the ‘Show Me’ (pill pusher, as they call it) to build any of the charts. It was a pleasure to watch these two Zen Masters build a variety of charts (definitely more than 50) in the short time. They know their art so well, they would throw a joke here and there. It was great to see how comfortable they were on the stage doing a live demo in front of a big audience. Since this was a fast-paced session, they recommend not to make any notes (and rightfully so), as one can go back and watch the recording. Additionally, it was also fun to see Andy build the packed bubbles chart because I know how much he dislikes them.
But yes, he definitely asked everyone who attended to never make one.
You are an Artist
Mike Cisneros is an amazing data visualizer. He tends to construct amazing stories through his thorough analyses. However, what I did not know was how good of a storyteller he is in general. I attended his session- ‘You are an Artist’. In the session he explained how and why to start visualizing data and how one can be a good data artist by focusing on Design, Analysis, and Storytelling. His style of presentation keeps one captivated with what he has to say. If you did not attend the session, I would highly recommend watching the recording. ‘Seek excellence, not approval’. I was fortunate to get a chance to speak with Mike the next day where we had a detailed discussion about everything from attribution to use of images, and Tableau Public to Makeover Monday.
Freak-alytics | The hidden data behind everyday questions
On the last day of the conference I got a chance to attend a session by Chris Love and Rob Radburn. Why does it always rain on me? Why do all the malls have the same stores? Do bands play the same gigs night after night? These were the questions they tried to answer with data. Now these seem very simple questions, but it’s never too easy to answer these. And this is exactly what I learnt from the session. The one with the band gigs was my favorite. What they did here was downloaded (scraped) data from a website that crowdsources this information. Basically, one can go on to the website and submit the songs a band played at a concert they attended. They can assign a sequence etc. What this did for Chris and Rob is that, they were now able to analyse this data to find out what bands played the same gig night after night and which ones mixed it up.
From the image above-which I believe is of the songs Rolling Stones played at their concerts-you can see they pretty much kept their order the same across concerts. I would highly recommend watching the recording as it has a lot more analyses on these questions and it is easier to understand the way they explain it. I would also recommend following their blog Data Beats.
There were plenty of other sessions which I wanted to attend but I couldn’t. But for those, I marked them on the app and took screenshots so I can go back and watch the recordings.
Briandates was a new thing Tableau introduced to the conference this time. Basically, you create a topic you would like to talk about on the app, and any one else interested in the same topic can send an invite to meet. If you do not want to create a topic, you can even join conversations that someone else has created. These are either a one-on-one conversations or group ones (which does not include more than 5 participants).
When I first saw this option available in the app, I wasn’t too excited to get started. I browsed for a few topics I was interested in but most were already full. One of the main goals I have during the conference is to attend sessions that are HR specific and try and find people who work in HR to understand how they use Tableau. There have never been too many HR sessions in Tableau. I have applied to speak for 2 of the last 3 conferences I attended but I never got selected. Again this year, there were very limited number of HR sessions happening. So I decided to create a Braindate topic instead.
‘Using Tableau to solve problems in HR’. The response I received was unlike anything. There were so many people who sent me invites to discuss HR. And one of the common things we realised was that we were in the minority. There were not too many sessions about HR that we could attend. I got a chance to meet with people working in different companies, and even in different countries. But what I found was that most of them had similar challenges we faced at my organization. We used the same systems, pulled the data the same way, and built dashboards around very similar metrics. This was all valuable information because not only was it a validation of the work I do at my organization, but what it also meant was that we were on the right track.
In all I attended 11 braindates over the course of 4 days. 7 of these were about HR. 2 of the remaining 4 were based on the other topic I created-‘Building a Tableau Public Profile and committing to it’. My intention here was to help someone get started with Tableau Public and make some recommendations to participate and build vizzes. Both the dates I had were very new to Tableau Public and had limited experience building vizzes. However, they were both excited to learn and get started as they believed it was the right way to get some practice and get comfortable with the tool. This in the end was going to help them build dashboards at work. They had both heard of #MakeoverMonday before but did not know how to get started. So I walked them through the process, showed them where they could download the data sets and how they can participate. I hope I was able to encourage them enough to start participating. But if nothing else, I hope I was able to inspire them to start building visualizations in Tableau Public.
I also got a chance to learn about web-editing with Mark Edwards. He’s doing a fantastic job at his organization and I was able to get a ton of ideas to start using it at my work. I also got a chance to discuss IronViz with Curtis Harris, who shared his experience from the time he won in 2016, and his efforts since then. It was great to hear his thoughts about the process and the competition and get some ideas around what one can do to hopefully win a feeder.
Overall, the braindates provided me a ton of opportunities to network. It especially worked for me who is an introvert and not too comfortable talking in a crowd. The one-on-one aspect really helped me learn from others’ experience and gave me a lot of ideas for myself or my work. I hope they get a chance to come back to the next conference so I can do it all over again.
Although I chose to skip sharing my thoughts about the Keynotes, IronViz etc., these are the sessions that are truly amazing. Devs on Stage is one of my favorites. I can’t wait to for the new Parameter and Set Actions features coming down the pipeline. IronViz is the most favorite event of the conference. It is a dream to be on the stage some day. Three awesome vizzes were created this time by three amazing vizzers. In my opinion, being on the stage is being a winner.
There were plenty other things to enjoy at the conference in between sessions. Like the ‘Aggre-gator’ scavenger hunt was fun. I was able to find 5 aggre-gators to win the special button. The lady who made the ‘data’ mural did a fabulous job. Seeing some great public vizzes feature at the viz gallery was super cool. And Cafe Du Monde beignets almost made me want to settle in New Orleans. I always look forward to the Tableau Conference. But it’s things like these that make it even more memorable. However, nothing beats meeting the #datafam you know only through Twitter.
Hope to see you next year in Vegas.