So, you want to be a Tableau dashboarder….

So you want to be a Tableau Dashboarder?  Have you seen IronViz and thought you wanted to be on that stage?  Or maybe it was Viz of the Day and you said, hey, I wanna do that too?  Well, kids, this is your post.

I’ve been asked about learning and mastering Tableau a lot lately, so I’ve decided it’s time – I’ve avoided it as long as is reasonable.  This post is inspired by one of my old textbooks, So You Want to be an Interpreter. It is a phenomenal book for peeling back the layers on a profession so few understand.

Matrix 1

Here’s the quick and dirty of Tableau work:

  1. We have no one unified name.  Some people call us Tableauers, developers, designers, others analysts, some data scientists, others researchers or statisticians, or consultants, or that kid that makes the vizzes.  Sometimes, it’s manager, doctor, or HR admin.  Really, anyone can use Tableau.  And, for the most part, you can call yourself what you want (I have Tableau Toddler trademarked, so not that).
  2. Some people make a career out of just doing dashboards.  Honest, it can be done.  And it’s loads of fun.  Others play with the Server and make it pink or other lurid colors just for fun.  Just ask the Tableau Sith kids or attend the session.
  3. There’s all kinds of training, books, blogs, and resources.  If you’re starting now, I’m a bit envious.  Maybe a lot envious.
  4. There’s no one ‘degree’ or mold that fits into Tableau.  Music majors, artists, scientists, interpreters, and various -ologists can sit beside the computer programmers, math majors, and DBAs and find common ground.  We may see it differently, use it differently, but that’s the beauty.
  5. There’s certification if you choose.

Dr Evil Tableau 1 million dollar

Here’s a few things to consider when buying:

  1. Are you a student?  Then get Tableau for free and get ahead of the curve.  If you’re old enough to read, do basic math, and get an idea of charts, it’s a fine start.  Tableau scales and grows with you and we heartz our data kids.  Some of us are still data kids.  Maybe most of us…
  2. Are you a non-profit?  Depending on your size, funds, and location, you too may qualify for free licensing.
  3. Are you a hobbyist hoping to pick this up on your spare time?  As long as you’re able to share the data (note: not your banking, private budget, work data, or other things that, if shared, could bring a truckload of trouble), then check out Tableau Public.  Tableau Public means just that: it’s Public for the world to see.  Public is also free.
  4. Don’t qualify for the above?  Do the 2-week trial and then buy.  It’s worth it.

Now that we know who uses Tableau and have a copy….

Look, ma! I learned to wax a car!
Look, ma! I learned to wax a car!

How do we learn this?!

Some people learn best through videos.  Tableau has loads of these on their site…for free…if you learn that way.  There’s also loads of courses through Coursera, SkillShare, and others that I’ve forgotten the name of.  Some you pay for.

Tableau and partners like Teknion also sell training.  You can do classes in person or through video.  You can also take some of these at the Tableau Conference (this, everyone should go to).

Some people like books.  There’s starting to be a truckload of these.  I’m reviewing one now, (Joshua Milligan’s Learning Tableau 10), and – frankly – am quite livid this was NOT around when I was learning Tableau.  Michael Cristiani should be too.  It would have saved him dozens of frenzied phone calls.  I’ve also bought Dan Murray’s Tableau Your Data and passed that one around, too.  I could make a long list here, but I’d miss a bunch and be mad.  My advice: find a bookstore with coffee and chairs and look around.  Libraries are also cool too.  Or, if you got the funds, hit the ebooks area of Amazon and go crazy with the buy button.

Me?  I like free things.  Which is probably why I learned the hard way.  For learning, I’d recommend the following (free) methods:

  1. Look at vizzes.  Lots of them.  Play with them.  Understand them.  Know why you like them or don’t.  You don’t have to be able to explain in fancy terms like pre-attentive attributes to know what you like.  Is it color?  Is it the chart choices?  Is it something else?  Try to give it a name, even if it’s not the right or fancy name.
  2. Read the blogs.  I should make a list, but frankly, you have to keep up lists.  Fortunately, there’s people who keep lists – like Ramon, David, Brit and a million more.  I don’t send cards and I don’t keep lists.  Go there, hit Twitter, and find the blogs you want.  I do have several littered in posts here and hit those too.  Maybe they keep lists…
  3. Engage with the community.  This is the hardest part and I avoided it for years.  My mistake.  My wakeup call was the Tableau Conference.  I not only gained an absurd amount of knowledge, I did something more important: I met my tribe.  I met a group of people that were, frankly, as odd as I am.  And, kids, THAT’S saying a lot.  You learn new ideas this way.  You open your mind and let the dust fall out, replacing it with shiny new vizzes, leaner calcs, and vision.  I’m a classic wallflower, and even I have engaged.  You can do it.
  4. Hop on Twitter.  I was dragged kicking and screaming onto Twitter.  But, it’s where people tweet vizzes (see #1), post their blogs (#2) and help others (3).
  5. Play.  We learn by playing.  Even as adults.  And if the adults on the playground yell at you, remind them you’re still a kid and maybe they should consider digging in the dirt too.  After all, digging in the dirt keeps you healthy.
  6. …and share.  Sharing is hard.  Toddlers will tell you this.  No one likes giving up a toy and it’s scary to put something out in the public sphere.  Period.  Full Stop.  Scary.  But, it’s the only way to get somewhere besides playing solo in your bedroom.  Even introverts gotta get out sometimes, as hard as it is.

And now the question I really shouldn’t answer:

Shiny Ring
PRECIOUS!!!!! My Precious!!!!

How do I get to the top of my game?

Real answer: go find your hero and ask them.  Some of these cats may have rocks – literally – and rake data all night.  If you want to force the issue, this is what I’m doing:

  1. Find your hero.  This is someone whose work makes you go WOW!  They’ve blown your mind and you can’t see straight for days.  Follow this person (on Twitter, not literally – that’s just scary), introduce yourself, but don’t be creepy.  Understand what they’ve done by looking at their work, blog, and anything else they’ve shared with the world (Twitter or LinkedIn).  Twitter is usually the easiest way to start a conversation, but keep in mind the norms of the medium and behave like you would if face-to-face with your twin that you never met.
  2. Stay a beginner.  Beginners ask questions, are fearless in trying new things, assume it can, and accept that they will fail.  Somewhere along the way, people think they have to stop being beginners and know everything.  Tableau toddlers have fun.  Minus getting grounded for throwing blocks…
  3. Look for ‘why not’ or ‘I wonder’ opportunities.  These usually spit in the face of best practice, but sometimes you need to be bad in order to get good.  Some people call this experimentation.  As Giorgio says it, “So nobody told me what to do and there was no preconception of what to do.”  The man invented EDM and disco.  And stayed a toddler.  And still spins at 75.  This man is my hero.
  4. Keep playing and sharing.  Sometimes, it gets hard to do the same thing over and over.  So, stop doing the same thing, try idea #3 above, and put it out for the world to see.  Or blog.  Or tweet.
  5. Play nice on the playground.  You know that kid that’s mean and always bullies people?  Don’t be that kid.  He eventually gets a massive punch to the gut or made a fool if Hollywood has taught me right.  Yell out your props and take conversations that need to be quiet to the side of the fence.

Viz long and prosper!

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