12 Lessons From My Journey From Tableau Amateur To Ambassador

James Smith
Aug 15, 2019 · 10 min read
My most recent Tableau Public work: I love using Sports data to see trends & patterns through visualization

I recently achieved two personal milestones, both thanks to a platform that has changed my career, given me an online presence & introduced me to an amazing community of people. That platform is Tableau Public.

My name is James Smith, I’m an Analytics Consultant at Biztory in the UK & I use my passion for Sport to drive my data learning, designs & curiosity. This blog tells the story of the journey from my first encounter with Tableau Public to becoming a Tableau Public Ambassador & reaching my 1000th follower on Public. Along the way, you’ll find tips, mistakes and takeaways weaved in to help you make the most of Public and take advantage of the possibilities it offers.

I’m going to use the help of Twitter to recount this story as it provides a ready-made timeline of my journey. Twitter is the cherry on Tableau Public’s cake. It allows for the sharing of Public content, receipt of praise and feedback, stimulation of discussion and the weight of an existing and much wider audience (321 million, according to Twitter earlier this year).

Without further ado, let us begin…

March 2017 First tweet!

March 2017 First tweet! I made a map in Tableau and turned it into GIF, pretty cool huh? 0 likes, 0 retweets, 0 engagement. Pretty much the story of my first few months on Twitter and Public; I was operating and sharing in my own little bubble. It would have received more engagement on the family chat group, though even they seem to ignore my data viz related messages these days; “That’s nice, dear. Did you remember to send your Grandpa a birthday card? LOL, Mum X.”

I’d imagine that I’m not alone in the engagement bubble. When you spend time creating something, you expect and hope that it will be recognised and/or appreciated. Until you have a regular following on a social platform such as Twitter, this is unlikely to be the case, especially when you’re just starting out. Unless you’re David Beckham, there isn’t a magic formula for growing your online presence & engagement outside of posting interesting content regularly; gradually, you’ll see your follower base grow organically.

Focus on creating & sharing vizzes that you are personally proud of or learned something from to your Tableau Public & Twitter profiles. Some are bound to receive less or more engagement than you believe they deserve. If you’re creating interesting content, eventually it will get picked up by the community; they’re pretty good at that (read on!)

April 2017 The Community: First time someone shared my work
April 2017 The Community: First time I shared someone else’s work

April 2017 The Community. Breakthrough moment! Ben Jones, now of Data Literacy, formerly of Tableau, shared my John Terry tribute that I posted to Tableau Public! It got 12 likes, pretty exciting, when do I get my blue tick like Ben?

I’m excited about my newfound fame (for an interesting article on the psychology behind ‘likes’, read here), so quickly decide to share some work that I noticed earlier that day by Spencer Baucke. I use some high-level banter in the hashtag (a sign of things to come). Spencer replies saying thanks and has a nice feeling of being a part of something bigger.

One of the roles of the ambassadors (both by name and by nature) of Tableau is to promote the many great examples that exist but aren’t always found. This helps the community to continue to grow and learn.

June 2017 Celebratory endorsement!

June 2017 Celebratory endorsement! Chelsea legend Wayne Bridge retweets my Tableau Public Viz on his career. I go ahead and add the viz to my Etsy Store as a print for people to buy. 0 sales of Wayne Bridge poster in 2.5 years. Realize in hindsight that there probably isn’t much demand for Wayne Bridge data viz wall print.

I’d been tagging and hashtagging the big names (@chelseafc, #chelseafc) for some time but was disappointed to find that they hadn’t noticed me yet. I decided to do a bit of research and sent a message with some of my Tableau Public work to 10TenTalent, the media company in charge of a number of Footballers. Now that I had Wayne Bridge under my belt, surely the call from Chelsea FC to be their official stats guy wasn’t too far away?

Check relevant hashtags, fan pages & specific conversation channels if you want to target your content and raise the likelihood of it getting noticed. If you want celebratory endorsement, probably best to aim for B-D grade celebrities until you get the blue tick.

October 2017 Makeover Monday

October 2017 Makeover Monday. A community within the wider community. Run by the Ambassadors of all Ambassadors, Andy Kriebel & Eva Murray, plus the many others that provide feedback and advice on a weekly basis for the submissions to this magnificent community project.

This was the first time I went beyond Tableau’s ‘show me’. I used the Myers Briggs dataset for that week’s Makeover Monday and created the ‘Petal Graph’ above using geometry that I clearly remember not remembering at primary school. I received lots of good feedback via Twitter & made Andy & Eva’s weekly highlight reel.

They are a fantastic chance to learn and try new things with Tableau (or indeed whatever tool you choose to use, I’ve started doing some in R more recently). It’s a great opportunity to get direct feedback from very experienced members of the community. Use that feedback to iterate and improve, don’t ignore it and waste the time of those giving up their own spare time to run and maintain the community.

October 2017 TableauFF

October 2017 TableauFF. Nominated by THE @SimonBeaumont04. Another head in the stars moment. Hang on, what does the FF stand for?

TableauFF stands for Tableau Follow Friday. It’s an excellent opportunity for members of the community to nominate the good work of individual’s who aren’t more widely known. A wonderful community solution to the engagement issue we were tackling back in Lesson 1!

All it takes is to share the Public profile of someone who has done some work that you appreciated. Check out this elegantly consolidated TableauFF viz by Mike Cisneros.

December 2017 Featured Authors

December 2017 Featured Authors. I received an email from Scott Teal (Product Marketing at Tableau) informing me that I’d be a candidate for the next quarter’s featured author page on Tableau Public. Exciting stuff!

The Featured Authors section is Tableau Public’s way of celebrating up & coming authors from around the world, giving them a prime place on their website. This is very much like TableauFF, but you are receiving recognition from the team at Tableau Public as opposed to other members of the community.

Tableau used to select their Featured Authors once a quarter, but recently they’ve shifted that to monthly. Each cohort of authors consists of around 10 new people, so that’s 120 opportunities a year to get featured!

January 2018 Sports Viz Sunday is born!

January 2018 Sports Viz Sunday is born! As a quick primer, Sports Viz Sunday is an initiative to encourage the creation and sharing of sports-themed visualizations, run by myself, Simon Beaumont (both UK) & Spencer Baucke (US, he first appeared way back in Lesson 2!). I won’t digress into the sub-story of the creation of this sports analytics community here; if you’re interested, here’s a piece on the birth of #sportsvizsunday.

The personal watershed moment of creating Sports Viz Sunday was the possibility of reaching out to other members of the community to start something new. I’d never met Simon or Spencer in person, but really appreciated the work they had done on Tableau Public and it was clear that we shared a common interest in our love of sports data.

If you appreciate someone’s work or see that you share a common interest, send them a message. It’s a wonderful precursor for when you meet the person in reality, perhaps at a conference or a User Group. Needless to say, Simon, Spencer & I have now met on numerous occasions, while I also used Twitter to get in touch with Kirstin Lyon (leader of the Copenhagen Tableau User Group) while I was living in Denmark.

March 2018 The Tableau Fringe Festival (TFF)

March 2018 The Tableau Fringe Festival (TFF). Public speaking; many people’s arch-nemesis (including my own until relatively recently). Buoyed by my recent nomination as a Featured Author, I decided to apply to speak at the Tableau’s community led online conference.

I strongly dislike listening to myself speaking (I mildly dislike reading my own writing). However, I recognize that public speaking is a highly valuable skill, a tool to inspire and will likely form part of many people’s jobs at some point (even for just 30 second slot in front of 3 people in a morning get together).TFF was an opportunity to talk to a wider audience for the first time. They record their talks so you can still find my effort here, I still remember thinking that I had unintentionally mastered the art of the long pause while I thought what on earth I was going to say next!

TFF provides a very happy medium between presenting to an audience without the need to stand in front of a crowd. It is definitely a great opportunity to practice speaking without the added pressure of someone in the front row standing up and walking out halfway through your talk. If you’re not up for the speaking aspect, I’d encourage joining as an attendee; the organisers do a fantastic job of gathering interesting content & it has the added benefit of being completely free!

March 2018 Inspiration and Attribution

March 2018 Inspiration and Attribution. One of Tableau Public’s biggest inherent advantages is the ability to download a workbook. It allows you to truly understand other people’s approach to design, calculations and to reverse engineer vizzes to fit your own data & use cases. In the above example, I took something that I really liked the look of from Neil Richards, used some of the maths & explanations from a blog by Gwilym Lockwood, and applied them to my favourite topic & dataset: F1!

Tableau Public can make your workbook downloadable. The vast majority of users will have this option selected, making Tableau Public a huge library of pre-made templates that provide design & technical inspiration. The pinnacle of these are the chart catalogs which consolidate different chart types into a single workbook. Notable ones include Josh Weyburne’s Viz Cookbook, Andy Kriebel’s Visual Vocabulary and Kev Flerlage’s Tableau Chart Catalog(ue).

When using the library, be sure to give proper attribution to the author of your (work)book. Attribution is as important in the data viz community as in any other community (ie. steal like an artist, but remember to tag the person from whom you have stolen so that they may applaud your stealing ability). Lack of attribution is plagiarism, even if it was unintentional. You have been warned!

August 2018 Getting a job!

August 2018 Public Pays Dividends for Parsons as Vacuum company roll the Dyson. Sam isn’t alone in having secured a new job via their Tableau Public profile; I firmly believe that Public played a large part in my recent move to my current job at Biztory.

Public profile came up at every stage of the interview process at Biztory. I was transparent in what I saw as gaps in my knowledge throughout the process, but I had the powerful story of my journey of using Tableau Desktop, backed up by the evidence of how I had developed from my very first to my more recent Tableau workbooks. Public is your portfolio, a time-indexed history of your skill & learning curve.

Tableau skills are in demand. There are many companies advertising Tableau specific roles (developers, consultants, analysts). At some stage of the application process, the hiring company will likely want to see your profile. Not having one might not prevent you from ultimately securing the job, but having a profile with examples of your work will certainly act in your favour.

February 2019 Viz of the Day

February 2019 Viz of the Day. This Lord of the Rings viz was one I really enjoyed working on. #VOTD is a celebration of a piece of work that goes above and beyond. It’s a showcase of the great possibility that Tableau offers, telling data stories within a specific context. Some of these are brought to life in the viz gallery at Tableau Conference where they are rendered as prints.

Take some time to browse through the creations that Public has featured. You’ll find inspiration, learn new things about your interests and find examples of designs that couldn’t imagine were possible in Tableau.

August 2019 Tableau Ambassador

August 2019 Tableau Ambassador. Jonni Walker (National Geographic standard map/art extraordinaire and Senior Data Artist at Tableau) calls me up to impart the news that I’ve been selected as a Tableau Public Ambassador. This is something I’m very proud of and it was a privilege to have been nominated.

The impact that this journey has had on both my early career and life is massive. I am very lucky to be in a place where I thoroughly enjoy my work and its opportunities & challenges. Personally, it has given me the opportunity to travel, meet some amazing people & discover something that I’m truly passionate about.

This final lesson is by no means restricted to Tableau Public!

Thank you for reading, I hope you can make use of some of the lessons I learnt along the journey from amateur to ambassador. Please do reach out if you’ve got any questions, I’m on Twitter here & my personal blog is at www.sportschord.com.

Nightingale

The Journal of the Data Visualization Society

James Smith

Written by

Founder of Sportschord. Interested in sports analytics and visualization.

Nightingale

The Journal of the Data Visualization Society

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