Tableau Community is like a Significant Other

Emily Kund
Jan 8, 2019 · 6 min read

In my best Sophia voice from the Golden Girls. Picture it, November 2018, University of Miami Alumni Center. I approached Elijah Meeks and asked him about five different questions because his Third Wave keynote at Tapestry left me with more questions than answers. You can see his slides about the Third Wave here.

One topic we discussed was the Tableau community and Elijah was curious about the positives and the challenges (my words, not his) of the community. It’s taken me quite awhile to come up with something for several reasons. None-the-less, my current thinking is outlined below.

What I Love

Uber-engaged members

From the Tableau community forums to Twitter to User Groups, there are a lot of users who are highly engaged in pushing the boundaries of Tableau, helping others, and learning as much as possible. We even give out a Tableau Wannbe Podcast Award to the person who is most likely to run on coffee or coke because they’re always online and producing content or willing to help. People are fanatical about Tableau.


Tableau community members are better than the software’s own support function (sorry, Tableau, it’s true). If I go back to when I became involved in the Tableau community, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth in 2013, people like Joe Mako and Jonathan Drummey understood how the tool worked from the inside and out. If you take a look back on the Community Forums for Tableau, you’ll see a crazy amount of knowledge there. And if that didn’t solve it, then they jumped on a call with you. I remember trying to understand Tableau and calculations with Jonathan at 4:30 or 5am before both of us had to get to our respective jobs. All those years ago, they were laying the foundation for new people to understand the tool better to do some amazing stuff with it.

Fast forward several years and that support is still there and is evidenced by the number of blogposts and initiatives such as COE calls with Paul Banoub, Sarah Bartlett’s IronQuest, or the Flerlage-Crocker collaboration on SQL for Tableau blogposts.

Good conversations, good friends

When a bunch of people who are interested in the same thing get together and you start learning more about each other, friendships arise. I met my best friend back in 2012 over Twitter and over the years, it went from best data friend to best friend. I’ve also had friendships evolve over time.

What I’m not so keen on

Like any relationship, there are some things that I’m not so keen on. I don’t think these are just in the Tableau community, it’s the one I’m most experienced in. And, as in any relationship, even though I try to see things from all sides, I admit to having some bias.

Gotta do it all (& get seen)

I was recently in a conversation with someone who said they don’t feel like they are vizzing enough. I’m not sure what “enough” means to this person, but with about five a month, as well as involvement in other projects, that sounds like enough to me. But ever the examiner, I want to know…why does this person feel this way? Are we in an environment where unless we do everything and have everything seen, then we are irrelevant? Or so goal-oriented that unless we do it all, then we won’t get the validation in the form of Ambassador or Zen Master? Or maybe we’re just looking for love…in all the wrong places. If we produce a lot of eye-catching work, maybe a big name will highlight us. Maybe we’ll get 100 likes on a tweet, or have our work go viral. Or do we think that doing it all means that we are worthy (something I will admit to struggling with)? Or if we have all the badges, then we win!! I’m not exactly sure what we won, but since my son is a Pokemon fan, gotta catch ’em all! I will be transparent here, I have questions about gamification within a community, but that’s a different topic for a different day.

Healthy discussions and debates

Having healthy debates is tricky. I don’t quite have all my thoughts organized around this, but my surface-level thoughts are: we only want to debate something we’re not involved with or when our our own work is not involved. I’ve seen examples where someone says “You make data art.” and their response is that it’s not data art, it’s just a creative dataviz. Or asking someone “Why make this a map since x,y,z (insert reasons why it’s not really a great use case for a map)? And I’ve seen the response of “I’m just being creative.” To me, this can be an awful response if this is your default when combined with other things I’m not so keen on. Like, “I made this eye-catching thing that doesn’t make sense, is hard to read and I posted all over the place, in hopes of getting validation/likes/visibility which to me is like saying, “How dare you question it because I’m a creative.”

I will be totally transparent here. I have an internal debate about data art as data viz. I wonder what happens when people see a lot of the creative vizzes out there when they google something and because they don’t have the context, they use it as an example. An uninformed person may think that’s the way to visualize something, but really, you were just doing it to be creative (and that’s not really how that person would visualize something at work). I don’t want to get sideways on this, but I did want to be open and honest.

Or, if we know someone who is just being an ass or trying to grab attention and we don’t call it out because how dare we smite someone who is popular or well-liked. This is also tricky because maybe people have called the individuals out behind the scenes and it didn’t stick. It’s like being in a relationship with someone who complains a lot about what’s wrong but does nothing to fix it. At what point do you call them out and tell them to stop bitching and start doing something?

This feels right until it doesn’t

I’m putting micro-communities in this section. This is like the equivalent of a couple in public kissing but then going they keep going until it makes everyone around them uncomfortable. I love community, like really love it. And the Tableau community is so big that I think micro-communites are a way to help people get their footing. However, I also think there’s a risk of exclusivity. If you don’t #inserthashtaghere then do you even exist? Or one I saw recently was a recommendation to look for the #inserthashtaghere or Tableau Zen Master and you’ll capture the active people. As my actual significant other would say, “Negative Ghost Rider.” That’s probably 150–200 people? And we know that the community is broader than that. They made a recommendation based on their experience and I totally understand that.

An important aspect of any relationship

Regardless of the things I’m keen on or not (and I just covered a few pretty quickly), there’s one part of a relationship that is probably the most important: how you (and I) show up. Knowing who we are and knowing the choices we’ve made have consequences.

Knowing that Tableau community is not just #makeovermonday, #workoutwednesday #sportsvizsunday #inserthashtaghere. That it’s not just in the forums or even the user groups.

Just like in any relationship, your partner and the relationship are not the end all be all. And, you’re not going to love your significant other all the time. I don’t like everyone in the Tableau community. I have encountered people who think they are the smartest, who are sexist, bullies, who take ideas, or who just want attention. I tend to focus my energy on other people who fill my viz cup up. If these represent attributes of a significant other, then I focus on the things I love, address the things that are most critical, and ignore the things that nag at me (like when your SO puts the toilet paper the wrong way).

Having gone through the things I love and what I’m not keen on and taking my own advice…here’s what I’ve come up with and how I’m applying it.

  1. Don’t do it all. I honestly don’t have the time or energy and so many are sprouting up that it’s impossible for me. If someone doesn’t see my value because I’m not doing every major project, then they’re missing out.
  2. Engage in healthy discussions or debate. I’ve been shy on this one because having a podcast and doing viz reviews, it felt like we were having the same conversation over and over and over again and quite honestly, I got tired of it. And the thing is, the other person has to be open and receptive to discussion/feedback/debate.
  3. Know thyself. I have been on a personal development journey for quite awhile. Taking ownership for thoughts, feelings, and actions is a high priority for me and one that I continue to work on.

And like a relationship, despite some ups and downs, I’m still in love.

I’d be curious to know how you see your community as a significant other and feel free to engage with me about what you’ve read here.

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