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Everything you need to know to prepare for the Tableau Conference 2016 #data16

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I know I know, there are already several posts about this, but you can never have too much advice and experience shared can you?

The conference this year is in Austin, Texas and takes place between November 7th and 10th.  It will be bigger and better than ever, with over 15,000 customers, employees, partners and sponsors attending.

However thinking about the upcoming conference takes me back to where my first blog post started

Destination data

I know it is hard to believe, but back then I was not the social butterfly I have blossomed into but was very shy and nervous and knew practically nobody at the Conference.

In fact, the people I knew I could place on one hand –

  • Tom Brown, purchasing licences through him
  • Andy Cotgreave – met him once at a Tableau event and asked him to demo plotting paths (which he did)
  • Peter Gilks & Carl Allchin (Met them once at a Stephen Few workshop)

Sitting in the bar at the Conference venue in Washington about to have some dinner and  tweeting this picture (I was knew to Twitter as well!)

Only to find out that I was not alone –

Susan came and joined me and we had a good chat.

Then Andy Cotgreave and Tom Brown  joined as well.  I wasn’t too sure who the next person was but it was a young and enthusiastic Brit named Matt Francis!  He was very excited about the other people to join us which included Tableau Zen Masters (Tableau what?) namely Chuck Hooper and Craig Bloodworth.

I was no longer alone at a Tableau Conference.

The point of this intro, is that all of us, at some time, have discovered Tableau and its community.  Either at user groups, roadshows, via Twitter.  We would have seen or heard of people but never met them and potentially never had contact with them.  We could be in a position where we have persuaded our boss to buy a ticket for conference, but not for our colleague so we arrive on our own.

Once you arrive though, you are no longer alone.

Do not worry about reaching out to the community.  They generally do not bite and will seek you out if you write a similar tweet or invite you to join them on their table.  There is no hierarchy, no clicky in clubs, we are all passionate about Tableau and so are you, so that automatically makes you a member of the club.  If you currently follow someone on Twitter or their blogs, drop them a message and they will be happy to say hi.

Oh and a great tip from Chuck Hooper, make your social media avatars a proper head shot before the trip as it makes it a lot easier to work out who somebody is.  On that point, don’t worry if people come up to you and you have no idea who they are and have to look down at their name badge, it happens all the time and the subtlety which people look down has evolved into an art form.

Once you meet people though, that is only half the battle.  How on earth do you plan for all of the sessions?  Which to attend, when to see the Tableau Doctor, how to meet up with people you met at the bar last night?

Hopefully the following should help you with this.

For a few years, Matt Francis and Emily Kund ran a newbie session before the conference started in anger.  This was great for helping people orientate themselves and pick up hints and tips.  This year that session is being run by Tableau on Monday (see below)

Before you leave home

Ok so before you head to the conference, work with your network or send a tweet to find out who is on your plane or arriving at the same time.  This can be useful for sharing a taxi and reducing costs.  My flight is BA191  from Heathrow to Austin, arriving at 5pm local on Saturday 5th November and there is about 15 attendees on that flight, so arranging a car share will be fine.  Let us know if you are on the flight at well.

Pack clothing that you feel comfortable wearing.  You will be in these clothes for a long time during the day, potentially 12-18hrs, so think about that including your choice of shoes.  If you have any Tableau t-shirts, bring them along, always a good conversation starter when wearing the same t-shirt as somebody else, especially when you have got them for a particular competition.

Download the conference app, which will be available for Android and Apple.  Use this to book in your sessions (you can change these at any time) and plan using the floor maps where sessions are (more on this later).  I generally go to sessions based on the speaker rather than the title, as I feel I know somebody’s work in the community from Twitter or their blogs and know that I will learn something or understand who are already good presenters.

If you are arriving on the Saturday or Sunday, there will be time to do some sightseeing activities.  Plan ahead and book these in advance, including travel.  See what others are doing as you might be able to join a group and save costs.

Plan what technology you will need during the day and pack appropriate chargers for this.  Are you the kind of person that takes notes?  In my previous role, I had to take a lot of notes like this for each session

tableau-notes

If you are bringing your laptop, ensure you have adequate power.  Mobile / tablets, bring cables and power bricks a plenty.

Make sure you let the Community know you are coming.  There are several hashtags you can use, the main event one will be #data16, some will use #tc16 or even the legacy #tcc16.  To help, save this as a shortcut to save typing each time you tweet.

If you have friends going along, set up a Whatsapp group, this worked great last year for keeping in touch, arranging to meet up and keeps the mobile charges down.

Arriving in Austin

If not from the US then TURN OFF YOUR DATA!  I had a terribly nasty surprise a few years ago, and even last year when I thought I was on Wifi I ran up a bill of over £1,500 which I had to negotiate with my provider on.  To be sure, turn it off.

Once at the hotel and unpacked, work out your plans for that day / evening and arrange a meet up.

Work out the logistics from your hotel to the conference venue.  Is there a decent Coffee house en route?

Double check any activities you have booked and the relevant transport.

On the Sunday afternoon, registration opens at 4pm.  If you are in town, this is a good point to register at it can get crazy busy on the Monday.  This is also a good time to meet up with other people, chat in the queue etc.

It is also an opportunity to walk the halls.  By this I mean look at some of the key sessions you want to attend, then walk from the previous session room to the next.  How long does it take?  Remember that you are doing this on a Sunday in an empty venue.  Come Tuesday, there will be 15,000 other people doing the same so add a lot onto this.  Also remember that this year the conference will be spread across several hotels so you may have to leave the building you are in.

Tableau map.png

Also scope out where the Expo hall is.  On the Sunday this probably won’t be set up, but if it is take a look and definitely book in a few hours to really look around the Expo.  When doing so, think about what could help your Tableau deployment and concentrate on these first.  Also, this is where the Tableau shop is to purchase T-shirts etc, but they sell out of things fast so shop early.

MONDAY Pre-Conference

This is the day for training, potentially exams, registration (if you didn’t on the Sunday) and a few other cool events.  The Tableau Hackathon is on all day and this year will cover all data platforms #DataDev.

There will also be a live #makeovermonday #data16MakeoverMonday, hosted by Andy Kriebel and Andy Cotgreave, well worth attending.

The Intro to TC16 for Conference Newbies is being run this year by Tableau’s own Vanessa Au, details here and is repeated in case you cannot make either session.  Follow the hashtag #TCNewbie for all the tips

This year also see’s the third Annual Data + Women event #DataPlusWomen

Monday evening will consist of informal events, potentially meeting up with your Tableau representative or partners for dinner.

Monday Morning also has the first #RunData16 event, starting at 5:30am and with two distances available – 5k and 10k, come and meet in the reception at the Four Seasons and get to meet members of the community (and me!).  If you are interested in taking part, join our group on Strava

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Over 100 of us #rundata15 in Las Vegas

The most important activity you can take part in though is to have your #picwiththepauls

A annual highlight of the conference with a bit of a twist this year as well.

Tuesday – Thursday

This is the real meat and bones of the Conference, with over 500+ sessions which are broken down into a few sections

  1. KEYNOTES – Attend all of these to gain product insight, learn from industry leaders and be engaged with entertaining presentations
  2. BREAKOUT SESSIONS – Generally 60 minute long presentations by Customers, partners, Zen Masters and Tableau themselves.
  3. HANDS ON TRAINING – Normally two hours long, in front of a screen led by Tableau experts and trainers (pre registration is recommended)

For these days you really need to be prepared.  These will be long days so comfortable clothing is a must.  Ensure all of your tech is charged, and you have power bricks and cables where necessary.  Put your phone on low power mode where possible to preserve battery (unless you are using it for notes / pictures / twitter).

You will need fuel, so stock up where you can.  Save things from Breakfast, have spare water and in between sessions there are food stations available (Bits and bytes), but you may struggle for time to get to these.

Plan your day by the hour, starting at 7am (5:30am if taking part in #rundata16), work out breakfast, travel time, sessions, snacking, lunch, dinner, evening activities.  Do not expect to see everything that you plan to.  Historically I would say if you achieve 70% and you are doing well.

Lunch can get very busy.  The food stations will be repeated across the halls, so don’t just jump in line in the first queue as you enter a building.  Walk around and you will probably find a shorter one available around the corner.  Plan in your first session after lunch as well and give yourself plenty of time to get there, some people will pick up their food and take it to eat in the queue to get into the next session.

This brings me to a point about sessions.  You will spend a lot of time working out which sessions you want to attend and be proud of your selections.  You will then go to a session to discover that the room is full and you cannot get in!  This caught me out before, so always have a plan B for every session.  Where possible, make that plan B close by otherwise you may find that full as well.  This is where registering on the App really helps.

Tableau look at the interest in each session and can then change the room size / location to accommodate, this is great, but can also lead to you arriving at a room which has subsequently been changed, so keep an eye on this.  To help your app update, close the app fully every now and again to ensure that it sync’s up with the updated schedules.

If you need a comfort break in between sessions, get to the session, check in and drop a bag on a chair, then go to the toilet.

When in sessions, always sit at the front.  Don’t be shy.  You will be able to see the screens much better, they do vary in size and quality from room to room.  Also if you are sitting at the front you can take better pictures if you want to capture key points.  The other thing to do is ask questions.  Nothing worse than being a presenter and having tumbleweeds at the end of a session, so be bold and speak up.

The other thing to do, which a lot of people shy away from, is walking out of a session.  Trust me, you will want to do this at least once.  You select the sessions based on the speaker / content / title/ company, however you have no idea how good the session will be.  If it is not what you expected, walk out and go to another session.  Your time at conference is precious, and you do not have the luxury of giving somebody an hour of your time.  The speaker will not even notice so do not feel that you will upset them.  Do what is right for you.  If you talk to Andy Kriebel he will tell you that this is the most important thing he recommends you do at conference.

If you have a session you want to get to, don’t worry about leaving during the Q&A part to give yourself extra time.

Remember as well that if you really want to see two sessions which clash, they are all recorded.  So make time after the conference to watch back those that you couldn’t see live, or heard others talking about.

When you have been in a session, provide feedback on the app, this really helps future content and speakers to understand what they did well and could improve for the future.

Notetaking

Over the years I have seen some various note taking techniques.  You can see the template I have had to use in the past.

These days I use the generic Apple Notes app on my Macbook, whilst taking pictures with the iPhone which automatically sync across.  This also allows me to cut and paste into live tweets and multitask.

#sketchnoting is also on the increase.  I first saw this by the amazing @catmule who is a real artist, however I have tried it a few times with rubbish results, so more practice needed!

cat-mule-drawing

Post Conference

There are no two ways to put this, after the conference you will feel on a real downer.  Spending a week with like minded people and learning new things is amazing.  The day job seems boring by comparison.  But keep the spirit alive.  Blog about your experience, share what you learned with your colleagues and most importantly share with your boss what your key takeaways are and how it will change what you do.  This can help not just yourself, but your colleagues when looking at budget for #data17 when we all return to ***** 😆

Can Tableau really change your life?

Can Tableau really change your life?

Well, you hear a lot on Twitter and blogs about how Tableau has helped people to really see and understand their data, and changed people’s lives in moving from Excel treacle to worksheet and dashboards, fast iterations and rapid prototyping, all with claims around Tableau changing people’s lives, but actually, in those instances it really has enhanced them rather than changed them.

I want to share my journey below and explain how Tableau Software really has changed my life.

I am now 43 years of age and have been working for 26 of them (I know what you are thinking – he really doesn’t look that old), during which time I have had three pretty distinctive career fields –

  • Retail
  • Accountancy
  • Business Intelligence

Now little did I know, when I started out pushing trolleys at the weekend in my local supermarket where that would take me and how I have always been seen as ‘the data guy’ without realising it throughout my career.

As I progressed through the rank and file, I can remember becoming the Manager with the accountability for the figures and communicating this to the wider team.  No real tools were available then, so it was down to a 20ft long sheet of brown paper, segmented into each department and the key metrics, and using different coloured post it notes to indicate performance vs. plan with the figures annotated on the notes.

brown-paper
(a bit like this)

This eventually got me a position in head office as a Finance Analyst for our convenience stores.  My role was to help ‘show the numbers’ and put context on what was going on. Our systems back then were very basic and green screen based.  Text based data, hard to extract and do anything informative with.

I remember building a sales graph by department which took ages and I was really proud of , which would have looked like this

Year to date sales.png

But as my manager pointed out, how can they really read this as it is too busy.  This got me thinking about the way I visualise and how I can improve it – btw I also produced something like this and was extremely proud with myself that I found an online plug in that would let me label every element of the pie #puffschest

pie-data

I started to research graphing best practices and improved my offering to the business, but not before destroying the rules of the ink to non data ink ratio making everything bold and black on the screen which I could!

The visualisation which really got my work on the radar, was an excel plug in which allowed me to build a treemap.  I had seen one on a BBC science programme, and thought it was a great way to visualise a large amount of data on the screen – up until this point I had used bars and scrolled left to right !!!

Treemap.png
I produced something like this

Not earth shattering, but at the time quite forward thinking.

Fast forward a few years and I am an Accountant at easyJet looking after our Commercial and Network divisions.  We were a sea of Excel tables and poor visualisations.  I thought that it would be a good opportunity to bring back the treemap to visualise all 650 routes across 25 bases onto a single view.  This time though, I didn’t want to use Excel but thought that there would be a better way.

A quick Google introduced me to two things – The words ‘Business Intelligence’ and a product by a company called HIVE which natively built treemaps.  The definitions I read of Business intelligence resonated with what I had been trying to achieve throughout my career without realising it was a field in its own right.

The product by HIVE was interesting, it only built treemaps and was used by the US Army to look at inventory in the battlefield.  It also had Dr Ben Schneiderman on its board of advisors, the man who invented the treemap.

Although the treemap was useful, through my research I discovered some other tools and eventually settled on using ……… Omniscope.

Omniscope was UK based, provided treemaps as well as a number of other chart types including network graphs and also had built in ETL functionality (something else I had to Google!).

My CFO was impressed with the demo I built and I was allowed to purchase 5 licenses and training for the team.  The company we partnered with for this was called Atheon, run by Guy Cuthbert.  Following the initial work, we looked at doing a larger piece of analysis and gave Atheon two years worth of our bookings data as well as a number of other data sets which we had not blended on before and asked what they could come up with.

When Guy presented back, he used Omniscope and introduced another tool called Tableau.  Now I have to admit, when I first saw Tableau, I wasn’t impressed.  It was version 7.0.  It did not have treemaps.  It did not have ETL capability.  I needed a server to share the output?  Sounded like a con to me.

So I plugged away with Omniscope and was working on a new product that easyJet was about to launch and was exploring with the data generated.  The project was allocated seating.  I used a custom background map to build this

omni-flight-demo

And then used animation to show how the seat sales on the aircraft built up prior to departure.

We was introduced to a few new features coming in Tableau 8, primarily treemaps.  We got a trial desktop licence (actually two) and a trial of server, which we couldn’t get IT to help with or support so we installed it on a desktop tower PC under the desk, shhhh. 😎

A colleague and myself built a few visualisations and we purchased a few desktop licences. He brought in a contractor for a few days who was skilled in Tableau to build things faster. She worked for a company called The Information Lab.

I remember having a conversation with our Tableau sales representative at the time about potentially purchasing another 15 desktop licences and I asked if we could be put in touch with other customers / airlines to share experiences and help with our business case and being told in no uncertain terms that if I buy the licences they will put me in touch, otherwise I am wasting their time!

I really was not feeling enamored with these Tableau folks.

However over the next week or so, something strange happened.  I started to fall in love with Tableau.  Compared with Omniscope it felt modern.  It was fast.  I could iterate and try and fail and try again.  I had another conversation with Tom Brown, the founder of The Information Lab.  he came in and we agreed to run a two day training course for our new users and we purchased the additional licences.  I discovered his passion for Tableau and the Information Lab’s journey and was also impressed by his teams skill and ability to support us.

At the same time, easyJet was embarking on its BI journey.  My boss was in charge as it was deliberately a Finance led and not IT led initiative.  I was asked to be full time on it and manage the project.  We partnered with Deloitte to help us with this and I also spent time with Gartner, using their research to help up develop our Centre of Excellence, show us how to deliver self service BI and also to define what the Analyst of Tomorrow should look like.

Here is a Prezi which I presented at the internal Tableau Sales Kick Off in 2014.  The audience looked like this –

 

Click on the image below to go into the Prezi

tableau-easyjet-prezi

 

 

As you can see, we covered a lot more than just Tableau, developing a colour palette as well as visualisation standards and best practices, as well as what would be different for our analysts and how they will evolve in the future – all of which I will cover in a later blog post.

The team developed and we had nearly 80 desktop users, a 16 core server and thousands of users.  Our CoE was regarded by peers and people in the know as being one of the best in the world.

Another area which helped with this was leading the London Tableau User Group alongside Paul Banoub and Nick Bignell.  This increased my presence in the community as we often fill 150-200 seat venues with a similar number of people on our wait lists.  We have hosted two #datapluswomen sessions, had industry renowned speakers as well as senior employees of Tableau themselves presenting, including Elissa Fink and Francois Ajenstat.

I use Twitter as my primary tool to learn new things in Tableau as well as the data visualisation sphere.  This has also helped to increase my presence within the community.

At the turn of this year, the easyJet CoE was doing a great job and launching some fantastic new Tableau dashboards.  We had some changes though.  Our long term Head of BI had moved on and due to budget constraints was not directly replaced however our recently created Head of Data Science took over.

I had been thinking about a change of role around the same time.  My daily commute took four hours, I had a very energetic (who doesn’t) two year old daughter, and these combined didn’t really go well together.

My CV was old, like six years old as I had not changed it or Linkedin since I joined easyJet, so I subtly made adjustments to it and put the word out to a few influential people in the BI community that I might be available for the right role, should it come up.

When adjusting my CV, I wanted to change it from a standard text document to something more vibrant and creative which could demonstrate some of the work my team and I had achieved.

I looked on CV sites for guidance and settled on hloom and specifically their creative and portfolio templates.  Originally designed for photographers, I thought that would be perfect to showcase my Tableau work.

The next few months were a bit of a whirlwind to be honest.  During this process there was only one role which I spotted online and actually applied for – this was with a leading technology company and I had two interviews which went really well, before they decided to withdraw the role due to a change of direction.

Through word of mouth and introductions from the BI community I had several discussions with companies about potential roles they either had, or wanted to create following our discussions and a standard presentation I give on the work that my team had done and how every company could benefit from this BI focus.

I even had a discussion with the retailer where my career began!

In the end, I had four firm offers for roles on the table, all from meetings and general chats and discussions.  Not all of them had formal interviews.  It was a very surreal process.  One was from a prominent retailer, another from a property company, a third from an airline and a fourth from the Organisation I am now working for.

The roles were varied and at the time, newly created and unadvertised.  I found that my reputation and previous work had gone a long way to convincing companies of the need to improve their BI offering, which my presentations and discussions only further cemented.  The roles ranged from Centre of Excellent Manager, to Head of BI, to Head of Insights and Global Director of Business Intelligence.

During our conversations, I felt that even for the companies I turned down roles with, their BI journey’s would be enhanced as I offered suggestions and partnerships to help drive them forwards, which I know at least two have carried on with.

The role I took came about via a strange course, and originated with an email to Tableau from my predecessor, asking ‘can you put me in touch with someone in the London / UK market for sourcing a Tableau Rockstar that we could secure for a leadership position’

 

This found its way to Tom Brown with a little more detail and was forwarded to me.  At the time, I was a long way down the road in discussions with one of the other companies, but the location and a few conversations about the journey and team convinced me this was the right role for me.

I was leaving a role and company I loved and jumping into an exciting unknown, however the role was fantastic and everything I had done before had led to the perfect timing of this becoming available.

I have now been here four months.  Initially working hard creating a sense of teamwork as the team themselves are virtual, based across five Countries and six timezones.

The team is split across five distinct areas –

team-location

So can Tableau change your life?  Absolutely.  For me, it has been career changing, improved my salary and provided opportunities that I could only dream of when I started out pushing trolleys.  I have made some great lifelong friends and really enjoy getting out of bed and going to work in the morning.

If you want to grow into a larger role or spread your wings, now is the time.  Look at all the things you currently do in your role which you or your leadership sees as ‘business as usual’, and step back to think about how other companies would bite your arm off to implement them.  Think about your Tableau and BI journey and where you are compared to most other companies.

To help yourself, work on your public profile.  Write a blog.  Present at conferences.  Build a great supportive network.  Become involved in your local user groups.  Learn the tools. Articulate the best practices you are using without compromising proprietary information. Be innovative with your CV and confident in your abilities.

Over the next few years, more and more companies are going to be looking for people like you to build and delivery their BI propositions.  Take a look at the skills gap the Data School is current filling, then realise Tableau really can change your life too.

 

 

Tableau on an Apple Watch – Is it Possible?

For anyone who knows me, they know that I love my tech and am a very early adopter.

On a recent visit to Deloitte’s tech hub and lab where they showcase what they can do with future technology, I realised that I owned 80% of the tech they had on show, which only enhanced my early adopter status!

So when Apple announced their watch, I had to get one.  Due to making a schoolboy error during my order, I missed the launch day slot and had to wait a couple of weeks for delivery.

This didn’t stop me making daily visits to the one shop in London which had them in stock, standing in a long queue, just on the off-chance of getting one.

When I finally did get my watch, I was impressed by the crispness and quality of the screen and immediately thought how nice my Tableau dashboard would look on this.

I did some research and nobody had yet appeared to been able to get a dashboard onto the watch, so I started to look at the options available.

Could I connect to my server and view dashboards that way?  Well the short answer is no.  Not yet.  There is no web browser installed on the Apple Watch – they do not believe that it should be used that way, more as a notification device.  Was there currently an app which would allow me to try to connect?  Again, nothing which I could find.

The other question I had to answer, was how on a 42mm screen can I interact with a dashboard?  What kind of design practices would I need to follow or even compromise on to even make this work?

I kept coming back to Apples mantra of it being a notification device, hmm a notification device.

Ok so that might work.

I get daily notifications from my Tableau server, in the form of email subscriptions.  My first lands at 6:45am, whilst I am on the train, which gives me an early heads up that the incremental refresh has run on our flagship daily sales report before the subscription runs for our CEO and main board.

But how would that work and look on the Apple Watch?

Well here is the answer –

IMG_4584

And here it is again zoomed in

Apple watch zoom copy

I was blown away that the image from the subscription fills the width perfectly, obviously some clever auto resizing going on.

Now what I cannot do with this is view the quantitative data.  It is simply not possible in this default version to do that (I could create something specific but wanted to keep maintenance to a minimum).

But what I can see is the qualitative data and make some understandings from it.

My initial focus is on the seven orange / grey bullet charts.

Because this is built on an anchor date and uses an incremental refresh, if that refresh has inserted zero rows, then the top bullet would just be grey, i.e. no data for this year.  That is the visual clue I need to suspend the other subscriptions, engage IT, find the route cause of the problem and then rerun the refresh when available.

The second detail I can take away is the position of the bars in the bullet, especially for the bottom one which relates to yesterdays performance.  Orange outside grey equals better than last year, inside grey equals worse.

I can also from the map clearly see the distribution of this if not the detail.

It reinforces that our internal design standards and best practices really do translate, whether presenting on a 100″ touchscreen monitor, a laptop, iPad or Apple watch.

It also shows me that like a Treemap, if I don’t need to know the exact detail, I can still assimilate enough information from this tiny screen.

I have also tried it with a couple of other daily reports, looking at on time performance by route, base and Country.

IMG_4587 IMG_4588

Again zoomed in we get this –

delay 1

This shows me the delay by base and route, compared to the target and average, I can clearly see what they are.

delay 2

This shows Geographic performance, Orange best, Blue worst and the size of the bubble the worst in relation to number of flights, again I can clearly see where the problems are, whilst looking at my wrist.

In fact the quality is very, very good, trying to take a decent photograph of this is not quite so easy I am afraid, but if you are at the @Tableau #data15 conference, come and see me and I will be happy to show you more, I will also be demoing this during my presentation which can be found here – A single shade of Orange at easyJet

So in summary, can you currently view your server dashboards on an Apple Watch?  No.

Can you interact with Tableau dashboards on an Apple watch?  No.

But if you want to understand your qualitative data at a glance, on your wrist, and have designed a dashboard well enough to do this on a normal screen, then the answer, through email subscriptions, is a resounding YES.

Prelude to #data14: how the Tableau community enriched my conference experience

Welcome to my first ever blog post.

I have to pay thanks to @paulbanoub and @emily1852 for finally persuading me to put my thoughts down on paper and share them with you. I am going to start, with my thoughts and review of the Tableau customer conference #data14 which took place during September 2014 in Tableau’s hometown of Seattle.

Firstly though, who am I?

Well in a follow up blog, I will go into this in detail, but in my current role I lead a BI centre of excellence, focussing on our Tableau enterprise deployment whilst educating our business on visualisation rules, guidelines and providing best practices.

Now the reason for the prelude.

Before I talk about this year’s conference, I need to set the scene by going back 12 months, to #TCC13, which took place in Washington.  Now that conference also took place in September and my organisation had purchased our first Tableau licence in May 2013.  This mean’t that I firstly didn’t have a lot of time to explore the tool and even less time to persuade my senior management of the merits of attending a software conference on the other side of the Atlantic.  Because of the work we were able to achieve with Tableau in such a short space of time, they were very receptive to the benefits of trying to accelerate our learning as well as understand from the Customer stories what other users were able to do, especially those within the same field as my organisation. Now originally, we planned on sending four people to attend in 2013.  Upon reviewing the agenda, speakers and schedule, I realised what a tough job selecting sessions would be and in the end after the equivalent of two days solid, came up with a plan for all of us, which was a mix of technical, leadership and customer stories for us all to attend. Then, in August, the decision was made to just send me.  So again I had to revisit the agenda and try and cherry pick what I thought would be the best sessions to attend which would allow me to answer my organisations questions. So with ticket booked, I realised that I would be attending a conference (my first in any field) in which over 2,000 customers would be attending, 3,500 miles away from home where I knew nobody. As part of our BI programme, we work with one of the big four consulting firms.  Now they have their BI HIVE (Highly Immersive Visual Environment) in Washington and arranged for me to visit this, as well as put me in touch with a few of their guys who were running the stand in the expo hall.  So that was at least one contact I had.  Our BI data architect also used to work for a large Bank, and put me in touch with their crack Tableau team, whom I had briefly met at a Stephen Few data visualisation workshop earlier in the year (I will cover this in a follow up blog post).  So I emailed the guys and asked if we could perhaps meet for lunch or dinner to talk through our various experiences.  Finally, our Tableau sales rep was able to set up a meeting with a similar business from the States, who I could meet with at the conference and share experiences. So that was two definite meetings and a couple of guys with an email address! The other person who I knew was going was @_tombrown_, owner of theinformationlab, who were Tableau’s partner of the year in 2013.  We had one of his consultants in to support us with building initial dashboards and had also spoken about further licence purchases. Now how was I going to try and engage with the remaining 1,996 attendees?  Well, social media sprang to mind.  When I went on our honeymoon, I really engaged with our resort prior to going through Twitter, which helped me to meet some other couple who were there at the same time as us, as well as get some extras and freebies from the resort, which seemed like a win to me. Twitter wasn’t a platform I used much though.  I rarely posted and mainly followed celebrities to see what they were up to.  But through using tweet deck and and having a search for Tableau and the conference hashtag #tcc13, I was able to find a few people that seemed to be posting a lot and also going to the conference. So when I arrived, I was in this big town and decided to go for a burger in the hotel sports bar and thought I would see who was about by tweeting my view. IMG_0652

Within minutes, I had people responding on both twitter and walking up to the table, where minutes before it was empty, I soon had Andy Cotgreave, Tableau’s social media manager, Susan Baier owner of Audience Audit and the aforementioned Tom Brown and some of his team.  After a few beers and a few additions to the table (well tables as we started overflowing!) a young quiet chap came and sat next to me, Andy said have a chat as he was British as well, and this turned out to be the infamous Matt Francis who was also at his first US conference and told me he was a little star struck to be sitting at a table with so many Tableau Zens and legends.  I had no idea what he was going on about and to be honest thought he was a bit nuts, putting these ‘data geeks’ up on a level with celebrities (what would I know fast forwarding 12 months), but it turned out with had Michael Cristiani, Greg (the Lewandog) Lewandowski, Chuck Hooper and Craig Bloodworth to name but a few sitting around the table.  What we discussed and I learned that night, helped to shape the conference and also start to formulate an understanding of the Tableau community and how I wanted to become a part of it as well as discover how much these guys wanted to share – at absolutely no cost, just through the joys of giving stuff back. The conference turned out to be a personal triumph.  I learned a lot.  I watched how other customers used Tableau, especially those in my organisation’s field, and took that back to help develop our Tableau programme. I briefly got to meet the other two guys  – who also appeared bonkers, presenting on stage in High Viz jackets and Hard Hats!  I thought this was supposed to be a software conference? IMG_0699 These turned out to be Peter Gilks and Carl Allchin, a couple of guys I would end up interacting with a lot and taking influence from their blogs.

 Most of the week was spent with the people I mentioned above, I also used the twitter feed a lot, to see what was going on and also to feed the competitive nature in me to try and work my way up the leaderboard – although Matt Francis had the lead on that one.

 tcc

This was also my view for the keynote – something I had never experienced before, fast forward 12 months and my view was very different.  I live tweeted and gained a lot of followers and when I returned, I changed my twitter focus, deleting most of the people I followed and using it instead to help with my Tableau and data visualisation journey.  Do not underestimate how powerful this can be in making contacts and understanding what is hot – the challenging part can be finding the time to read all the updates from people you are following.

My next post will be all about this years conference and will be up within the next week.