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An Interview with Luigi Cicciari (A DataFam Community Superstar)

A weekly blog about the ‘data viz’-making process, #datafam / data analytics member interviews, & entertainment for introverts (consisting of a music morsel & a binge bite).

Feature Interview

Mico’s Intro: Luigi (Twitter | LinkedIn | Tableau Public) has been a massive champion of our community and can always be counted on to lift spirits whether it be a quote shared, retro pop culture, foodie/grill/beverge pics, and supporting so many others.

Adam Mico (AM): You have a distinguished career including work in operations and IT management. At what point of your career did you begin working in data visualization and what tools did you use?

Luigi Cicciari (LC): Before we get started, I wanted to thank you and Priya for the opportunity to be part of your blog. It is an honor. I love reading and learning more about the wonderful members of our community.

My journey began 9 years ago when I accepted a job offer that would forever change our lives. In mid-December 2011 I got a call from a company I had been in touch with the year prior. Out of the blue, they made an offer that I couldn’t refuse. After talking it over with my wife we decided to make the move. In a four-week period my wife, our one-year-old twins, and 2 dogs made the move from Moorpark, CA (an hour north of Los Angeles) down to North County San Diego. The move was only a three-hour drive, but it came at a chaotic time in our lives. In the end, it turned out to be a great decision.

The first data visualization tools I used were SPSS in college (before it was bought by IBM it was Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) and Excel. At the beginning of my career, those around me had a comfort level with Excel. Even if they did not know how to truly use the tool, the format was familiar to them. Because of this everything I produced was in Excel. It was not until I moved to my current company that I started to look at other tools.

After I got settled into my new role, I was tasked with finding a solution that would allow us to move away from sharing Excel spreadsheets with an online reporting solution. I was not quite sure what I was looking for. I wanted something intuitive and to allow for non-technical users to be able to not only access but gain quick and meaningful insights into their data. I did a lot of research and Tableau was on my radar. As luck would have it, Tableau was scheduled to be in the area for a roadshow. I was blown away by what I saw and knew Tableau was the one.

Priya Padham (PP) & AM: What was it about data analytics and data visualization that piqued your passion and did it hit you right away or was it a slow-building interest?

LC: An appreciation for data analytics and data visualization happened over time. The seeds were planted way back in college. I started as a biology major but quickly learned it was not for me. However, not all was lost. I thoroughly enjoyed the hands-on biology and chemistry lab classes. We would work on different projects, collect the data, and write lab reports on our findings. I eventually switched to psychology where I took research methods and statistics classes and learned the value of clean data and how to tell a story with it. In both cases, I found that I enjoyed the research and the data storytelling aspects.

While the seeds were planted in college, it was in the first year working professionally that I started to realize I really enjoyed data analysis. After graduation, I took a job working for a television media buying agency as a media assistant. One of my many duties was helping track the performance of our television ads. I soon realized how much I enjoyed combing through the data to see what the numbers would tell me. Sometimes the smallest find could make a huge impact.

Now that I am 20 years into my career, I have a full-blown love of both analytics and data visualization. Having the opportunity to use Tableau not only helps me find insights into data easier but helps me to tell that story.

PP: What prompted you to join the analytics (social media) community & what are your tips for people starting in the community?

LC: Before I joined in on the fun, I spent a lot of time on the sidelines and admired from afar. I have been a Tableau user for quite some time but have held myself back. In prior years, I would be active during conference time. It was even a bigger win if one of my tweets made it onto the big screen before the keynotes. After the Tableau Conference high, I always vowed to stay engaged and participate more. Within a few weeks, the momentum would subside, and I would be back to being a spectator. I did this for years until a month before Tableau Conference 2019.

In September of 2019, I was starting to prepare for the conference. In years past I would look at the sessions that I wanted to see and build a schedule from there. This time around I took a different approach. I began by reflecting on my previous experiences and it hit me. I always gained a lot from the sessions and came home with tons of ideas. Though extremely valuable, I always missed out on the community aspect of the conference. I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and jump right in. Instead of waiting for the conference to end, I decided to start beforehand.

Now the question was how to be more engaged. I began by committing myself to participate in Makeover Monday for a year and share my work on Twitter. I figured it was not only a good way to start stepping into the community but to also hone my craft. I spend my days creating the typical branded KPI dashboards, but I wanted to do more. I wanted to be creative. So, I began. I published my dashboard and sent out a tweet. Within minutes of my tweet, I was greeted with messages welcoming me to the community and tons of kindness. I soon learned that the community truly wants to help and be supportive. With that confidence, I started to participate in other community projects and started to engage in more conversations.

My advice for those just starting in the community is to just put yourself out there. Whether you pick a community project to participate in, have a particular question, or just want to learn from others, jump in. Share your work and ask for feedback. If you are stuck on something or want advice, do not be afraid to reach out to someone directly. It has been my experience that some of the most talented and skilled users have been the most gracious. What makes our community so special is the desire to help others.

PP: What is your favorite thing about being part of the datafam community?

LC: What we have as a datafam is something truly special. Everyone I have encountered sincerely wants to help. Sincerely wants you to improve. Sincerely wants you to do well in your life. As talented as those in the community are professionally, they are even better human beings.

PP: What advice do you have for those considering participating in our community?

LC: Just do it! Our community truly loves helping each other and wants to see each other succeed. Whether you pick a community project to participate in, have a particular question, or just want to learn from others, jump in. Share your work and ask for feedback. If you are stuck on something or want advice, do not be afraid to reach out to someone directly. It has been my experience that some of the most talented and skilled users have been the most gracious. What makes our community so special is the desire to help others.

AM: It looks like you began your journey on Tableau Public in November 2018. Since then you published over 110 vizzes. What have you learned about yourself as a data visualizer along the way?

LC: In the first viz I wanted to learn more about some of the craft brewers in San Diego County. Holy cow! A year later, I started to publish vizzes every week to improve. And did you say 110 vizzes? Holy cow! A good portion of those is from Makeover Monday. I either use the published data set to see what I can come up with in an hour or try out different chart types. I decided to leave everything I have worked on — The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly — as a reminder of how far I have come and that there’s always room for improvement. With so much practice, I have come a long way in my dashboard design process. Much of what I have done has helped me meet quick deadlines and come up with new ideas for what I do at work.

AM: Your featured viz and one of my favorites of yours is political leanings parliament charts of each NFL team. Please breakdown that viz and walk us through some of your design choices and how you arrived at that charting for this data?

LC: Besides COVID-related news, October 2020 was dominated by the Presidential election and American Football. For the most part, politics had taken its toll on me, so I was looking to work on a viz for something NFL-related. As I was going through different ideas, I came across an article in AdAge that featured a survey by StatSocial showing the political leanings of each fanbase. Even though I wasn’t looking to do anything political, I was intrigued and thought this would make a great viz.

I started to sketch out some ideas on my notepad and thought a parliament chart might work. It tied in nicely with the political theme and I could show if a fanbase skewed one way or another. I know it wasn’t the best choice to show the actual differences. To compensate for that, I added a stacked bar chart in the tooltip. The next thing I needed to decide was how to sort the teams. While I thought of sorting by fanbase tendency, I felt it better to look at it through a football fan’s eyes and group by Conference and Division.

This was a fun viz to do. While there were no surprises with the teams that heavily lean one way or another, the teams in the swing states had some interesting finds. Plus, I got to use a parliament chart. I’d like to give a shout-out to Ken Flerlage (Twitter | Blog) for the blog post and tutorial.

PP: Are there any specific future Tableau goals and plans or any vizzes currently working on?

LC: For this year, I am looking to participate more in Project Health Viz, Iron Quest, Sports Viz Sunday, and Viz for Social Good (these projects and more can be found here). The people who run these projects are wonderful and I know how much work they put into it.

Right now, I’m currently working on some ideas on a bourbon-related Viz. I’m not sure what direction I’m going in yet, but it should be tasty and fun!

AM: We initially linked in the community when I was aware your daughter has autism. None of us on the spectrum are the same, but many can benefit from a fitting community. What have you learned from our community that you can use to help support your daughter or feel better for her future.

LC: In one word — hope. While there have been improvements in autism awareness in the last 20 years, there is much more work to be done. In the 10 years before our twins were born my wife (Nicola) was a therapist with children and adults on the autism spectrum. Little did we know that experience would help us with our daughter. Nicola saw the signs of autism early and was able to get help from an early age. For the last 10 years, Nicola has been our daughter’s advocate and our rock. Without her, I do not know how we would get through everything.

We do our best to educate others on what Gabby goes through and how others can get help. However, we can only do so much. The work you and Hunter Hansen (Twitter | Blog | YouTube) do to educate others to bring awareness gives me much hope for Gabby’s future. Not only do your stories help those like Gabby, but they help their loved ones. You help add context and provide a perspective that many of us do not have. Just know the work that you do has helped me much personally.

If I can ever help anyone in the same situation, please reach out. I have gained so much from others I want to return the favor.

AM: You are one of the biggest #datafam community advocates and cheerleaders & always pay it forward. What motivates you to continue preaching the Tableau gospel and how exciting is it to see others grow so rapidly in our community?

LC: I am blessed in so many ways. I have a career that I love and Tableau and the datafam community have been a big part of that. Being involved in the community is a gift that I love sharing with others. It makes me feel good when others thrive and flourish. Many have given many hours of their time helping others with their blogs, videos, message boards, etc. If I can be some small part of that, whether it's some kind words or sharing their work, it makes my heart glad to do it.

AM & PP: Who are your ‘go-to’ people you always seek out in our community for vizpiration and what are your favorite vizzes of theirs?

LC: That’s a hard question because there are so many different people’s work I am a fan of.

The first person I’d like to call out is Brian Moore (Twitter | Tableau Public). His work is not only beautiful but it's technically well done. I love all the vizzes he publishes for #TheSDGVizProject (which you should check out if you haven’t done so already). My favorite viz of his is “The Originals”. I love listening to all kinds of music. The way Brian shows how the 8 originals influenced so many artists was something special.

Credit: Brian Moore. Select the image to access the interactive version.

My second is Zach Bowders (Twitter | Tableau Public). He creates stunning vizzes using standard charts. While many of us can create a bar chart, he does with flair. He has a knack for taking something simple on the surface and making something beautiful. My favorite viz of his is “Mary & The Names that Defined a Generation”. If you haven’t heard by now, Zach has his Data Plus Love podcast. Check it out!

Credit: Zach Bowders (partial viz) — select the image to access the full interactive version.

My third is Eve Thomas (Twitter | Tableau Public). Not only are her vizzes designed so well but they are so informative. I have quite a few I really enjoy. I think my favorite is “Surviving the Titanic”. I love history in general, but I also love how each person is represented. It's very impactful. She is also involved in Viz2Educate and Diversity In Data. I urge you to check out both initiatives.

Credit: Eve Thomas (select image to access full interactive version)

PP: What music do you enjoy listening to when vizzing?

LC: To say my taste in music is eclectic is an understatement. In the last week alone, I’ve listened to Chopin, Enya, Van Halen, Metallica, Tom Petty, and The Cranberries while vizzing. One moment, I’ll be listening to The Lovin’ Spoonful, and then the next moment I’ll listen to some tracks by Canterbury Arts Club.

AM: Please share a guilty pleasure or fun fact that many readers may not know about you?

LC: I have a fascination with all things bacon and I love The Spice Girls.

Mico’s Odds and Ends

  • Nashville Tableau User Group — 2/24

On 2/24, I will speak briefly about the #MentoringMeetup, Eric Howard will go over row-level security, and MentoringMeetup co-lead, Brian Moore will provide a hands-on demonstration of a business dashboard with many tips and tricks. Register here.

  • #VizConnect — 2/26

Ken and Kevin Flerlage (Twitter | Blog) will be sharing a brand new collaborative presentation called “A Little Obscure, A Little Random, And A Lot Useful -Tableau Techniques” on VizConnect. I’m excited to host the session and it’s a must-watch event. Register here.

  • I’ve made a couple of visualizations (1 | 2) recently covering W.E.B. Du Bois’ historic data visualizations. His work is incredible and I’ve loved learning about his story in the process. Check out Anthony Starksexcellent data hub to participate in the recreation of these important visualizations. The equity task force and Tableau are collaborating on a Thurgood Marshall Donation Drive (where Tableau will match donations up to $10,000). Select the image below for the link. More on the community task force can be found here. I would also like to thank Allen Hillery (Twitter | Blog) and Sekou Tyler (Twitter | Site) for their commitment and dedication to this magnificent project.
Select the image for the donation link.

Binge Bite

The Netflix documentary covers the applicability (and loopholes) of the 13th amendment as it explores the systematic imprisonment of black Americans since slavery was abolished in America. It’s alarming, but also a must-view — especially if it’s difficult to understand the hurt and pain people continue to feel.

Music Morsel

Sade is the band and with Sade Adu as the vocalist. Their jazz template adeptly supports the velvety vocals of a very young Ms. Adu. This performance comes from the beginning of her rich career at 1984’s Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and if you have an hour, is completely worth the watch.

#DataVizThoughts Editing Team

Adam Mico

Twitter | LinkedIn | Tableau Public

Priya Padham

Twitter | LinkedIn | Tableau Public

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Adam Mico

Adam Mico

Principal, Data Visualization and CoE at Moderna | Data Leadership Collaborative Advisory Board Member | Tableau Visionary + Ambassador | Views are my own

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