Off the Wall / Tableau

Tableau TEN-ured: Serendipity, Sign Language, and Storytelling

Tableau recently launched version 10 of its software and has invited members of the community to share their story.  Here’s mine.

I started my professional career as a sign language interpreter.  Now, in the days of yore, no computer was required (pagers, cell phones, sure), so I don’t think I could’ve picked a profession more distant than the one I have now.

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But, wait!  There’s more!  Plot twist: I ended up with a start up where I was using the computer to provide interpretations.  Yep, you knew there was a catch…

Now, in every company, there’s a few people who pick up odd jobs before they become formal positions.  I describe this as the squares-versus-circles model, which I eventually will write down in greater detail.  Probably not today, and not tomorrow either.  The gist is that most roles exist in a square type model, they’re mostly well defined with clear boundaries and little to no overlap.  They can be any size, but ultimately fit tightly together.  The circle model, seen most often in start-ups and governed a little bit by serendipity, is where there is no clear definition and the circles – at best – stretch to overlap to avoid holes.

Bridget Cogley SVC Model

In my career, I’ve done everything from training, HR, management, sales support, marketing, and grant writing to rudimentary IT, application development, and reporting.  It’s because of the circle model.

Now, I’ll let you in on a bit of a secret: I think interpreting is the cornerstone here.  You see, it teaches you to communicate effectively, to adapt messages to meet any type of situation.  Moreover, you learn to work with words that are not your own.  That’s critical, because it’s too easy focus on what you want to say, and not what others want said.  Learning to interpret overrides that reflex.  And trust me, stating your viewpoint is a reflex.  Stating someone else’s as convincingly as they did, not a reflex in any way.  With ASL interpreting, you also learn about reducing distractions, including clothing, minor movement tics (the visual equivalent of ‘um’, ‘like’ and ‘err’), and giveaways of bias (facial expressions, but also political pins).

Conventional BI products lock you in on how you can create the visual.  You pick the chart, then the metrics, then where it goes.  Done.  Tableau doesn’t, which is why in November 2010, I was part of the crew that selected it for my organization.  It was a paradigm shift, one I struggled with.  But then, something happened…I found my groove.

When a product transforms how you work, you love it.  Not because the product is magic (it is), but it lets you work your magic.  When the obstacles of could, should, and would fall away, there’s only will – as in it will get done.

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Tableau gets this and makes some powerful users.

Now, I work in a role where I can show people what’s possible.  I hear the gasps, the sighs, and the river of ideas as I demo my work.  It’s freedom to play, to dream, to make things easier.  I get to be on calls and hear the excitement and the plans.  I get to help people bring them forth.  In a way, I’m still interpreting, but interpreting from data to insight; from charts and graphs to real understanding and interaction; and from rigid confines of what was to the freedom of what could be.

What I loved about this product then, and what I still love now, is how easy it is to do this and – most importantly – how freeing it is to do.  It’s easy on the eyes, the interface of the software progressively falling away and the insights – under my full control – coming forth.

And my favorite feature?  It may just be the lean, mean interface combined with the smooth theme.

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