An Interview with Priyanka Dobhal (a datafam community star)

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

In our #datafam, Priyanka Dobhal Twitter | LinkedIn| Tableau Public is a viz wiz with 2-time Tableau Public Viz of the Day, community activist, and mentor. Just recently, she has participated as a speaker for Bangalore Tableau User Group and as a guest on Her Data.

Adam Mico (AM) and Priya Padham (PP): Please explain your life growing up. Did you grow up in a household of people involved with data sciences? If not, what drew you to data sciences?

Priyanka Dobhal (PD): First of all, Thank you Adam and Priya for this wonderful opportunity. I love reading these interviews (didn’t think I’ll make it here too 😁).

I grew up in a small family with my parents and a big brother who was always opening things up and exploring them as a kid. We all knew that he would end up being an Engineer, 😁 However, I was a mix of different things. For a short period of time, I thought I would become a Tennis player. After that, it was an archeologist (I may have been watching a lot of “Jurassic Park” movies back then 😃).

So up until my college, I just went with the flow. After my graduation, I joined Tech Mahindra where I was assigned a Business Intelligence domain and my training began. I had no prior knowledge of what “Business Intelligence’’ even meant.

But I started enjoying this new feeling of seeing data of a company and building reports/dashboards that would provide insights.

This was when I was using SAS to build the reports. Then I came to know more about other tools like Tableau, Spotfire, and Power BI.

And when I was exposed to the magic of Tableau, things just fit in! 😍 (1)

AM: Around 5 years ago you graduated with a B. Tech for Computer Science at Siksha ‘O’​ Anusandhan University. Did you have a career path in mind five years ago and what were you looking to do career-wise?

PD: I wish I had a better answer for this like “Yes, I had blah blah planned”, but sadly, I didn’t. I feel like life just gave me what I needed. My career started with a good learning opportunity that needed me to interact with the users. Ever since I was a kid, I have shied away from activities that would need me to be social or take charge. So with each new opportunity, I was somehow confronted to break out this issue.

I did wonder back then as to what I would be doing 5 years from now. The old me didn’t think I would put this in an answer for a blog.

So I guess I didn’t give you an exact answer but here’s what I wish to see in the next 5 years — confidence and a place where I’m sharing my knowledge and also learning from others.

AM and PP: When did you start working with Tableau and how long did it take you to really appreciate the tool?

PD: I started using Tableau in June 2018 and I was amazed by this tool right from the start.

I was told to build a passion project as part of my boot camp and so I was looking for inspiration on the VOTD page. Scrolling through those vizzes completely blew my mind.

I came across these two vizzes by Pooja Gandhi (@DrexelPooja) and she has been my early inspiration :) Right after submitting my first viz (Passion Project), I was eager to try out more. I knew right away that I had to get my hands dirty. 😄

Credit: Pooja Gandhi (select image for interactive viz)
Credit: Pooja Gandhi (select image for interactive viz)

AM: At USERReady, you are a technical lead. Do you work with Tableau a lot at work and what type of Tableau work do you participate in? If not, what are some of the other tools you used?

PD: Yes, I started my Tableau Journey from USEReady itself. Initially, I worked with a lot of different Tableau requirements. My major job as a Tableau consultant was to help the business understand more about using their data. So I work with my team on gathering requirements and setting up these dashboards by maintaining a style guide.

After working a good amount of time with Tableau, one day I got a chance to switch to the data side. (2) So this year, I have started working on the backend ETL process as well. I have been using a cloud-based tool called Matillion to do this. I had to use some python too so brushing up on my programming skills.

PP: How did you learn about the Tableau community & what are your top tips for people starting in the community?

PD: I came to know about the Tableau community from a colleague of mine. Right after boot camp (a one-month training at USEReady), my mentor told me that I should participate in the community challenges as that would help me learn. So I started looking around and found MakeoverMonday and WorkoutWednesday. I published my first MakeoverMonday viz around August 2018 but I wasn’t sure if I’m doing it correctly or if I could improve on anything. This continued for a couple of more weeks. I was publishing my vizzes with my understanding of good and bad. I didn’t feel like I’m learning anything new.

And that’s when I came to know about the Tableau community (which is very active on Twitter). Funnily enough, I have never been a fan of social media but I decided to give Twitter a shot — and I’m glad I did.

Once I joined Twitter, I came across the #datafam and started following a bunch of people that I saw on Tableau’s Author Page.

Speaking from personal experience, sometimes it’s not easy to open up and share your work. But it’s important to understand that…

a) No one will bite you 😆

b) You need to take the first step towards learning and that would only come up from feedback.

So take your first step and participate in these amazing community initiatives like Workout Wednesday, MakeoverMonday, IronQuest, and etc.

I would also encourage people to work on datasets that are of your interest. I like to call this a passion project.

“If you don’t love what you do, you won’t do it with much conviction or passion.”

— Mia Hamm

PP and AM: You use a lot of varied and atypical data for many of your vizzes. How do you get your ideas and what do you use to get the data you need for a viz?

PD: My vizzes are usually inspired by my current state of mind 😀. For example, when I had watched “The Quiet Place”, I was curious to know the actual number of dialogues spoken in the movie.

I have always enjoyed working on such passion projects. (3) My first viz was part of a boot camp process where I built a dashboard on tennis. Ever since then I knew I would work better if I enjoyed the data. And also it’s something different from our day job, right? :)

Since my topics are more from my interest, there is a high chance of not finding the dataset easily.

This is what got me to learn web-scraping. I had some time on my hand ever since Covid happened (travel time saved), so I decided to brush up on my python knowledge and then try out web scraping using python. The Web is filled with data but sometimes it just needs to be extracted.

I made a tutorial to help those that want to learn the basics of web-scraping: Web-Scrapping 101.

Other than that, I usually look for a dataset in the following spots:

  1. Kaggle: https://www.kaggle.com/datasets
  2. Data.World: https://data.world/
  3. Fivethirtyeight on Github: https://github.com/fivethirtyeight/data
  4. Information is Beautiful: https://www.informationisbeautiful.net/data/
  5. BuzzFeed News on Github: https://github.com/BuzzFeedNews/everything

Special Note: I believe Information is Beautiful has some amazing datasets and infographics.

PP: Speaking of ideas, are you working on a viz right now or what are you considering on your future viz list?

PD: Yes, I have a couple of ideas that are yet to be worked on. To make sure I don’t forget the ideas, I have a small notebook always at my bedside. I scribble and draw whatever I have in mind.

Currently, I’m just trying to make sense of one such idea in that book (My handwriting sucks and even I can’t read it anymore 😆). Here are a couple of those ideas… (4)

  1. I do have some Christmas vizzes on my list.

2. There is one particular idea that is definitely in my future viz list — A Harry Potter Viz. 😄 I’m such a huge Harry Potter fan but I want to do justice to it when the time comes.

AM: For the Bangalore TUG, you created a presentation / viz called ‘My Viz’ing Process’. What did you learn about your process that you didn’t know before the presentation and is there anything you would change or add to the viz now since it’s been published?

PD: I would like to thank the Bangalore TUG team for having me on that. It was my first public talk and I have never really been good at that. But I thoroughly enjoyed it and also creating ‘My Viz’ing Process’ viz.

Funny story, the presentation was initially created in PowerPoint. But I wasn’t satisfied with a couple of things and moved it to Tableau.

When I was working on the dashboard for “Importance of Data”, I realized how much I enjoy the data prep part. The feeling of using a dataset that is cleaned/ created by you is kind of special. It makes the whole process of the dashboard even more fun. Also, as part of this, I created a “My Viz Journey” dashboard which was so much fun. I realized how much more I have been vizzing ever since the Covid happened. I guess all my extra time is going into Tableau.

I think we should all look back at our work sometimes. A self-pat on the back always helps. 😃

As for changes, I think this is a common feeling of making changes to a viz once it is published. But at the moment I don’t have any such ideas in mind. I believe the more I learn from the community, the better ideas I would get. So who knows, I might add something in the future.

AM: You earned Tableau Public’s Viz of the Day twice. What impact has that had on you as a data visualizer?

PD: It had a big impact on my confidence! 2 years back when I started with Tableau Public, I was amazed at the work in the VOTD section and by the featured authors. I wanted to feel this for myself but frankly, I didn’t expect it to happen to me.

The day I got my first VOTD, I came to know about that from Eve through a tweet. For a minute there I couldn’t believe it. You know the feeling where it feels surreal and you pinch yourself to make sure it is real? Well, I might have done that.

It made me feel like my “random” viz topics are worth looking out for.

AM: You have been a data trendsetter when it comes to vizzing wide vs. long. It’s an exciting debate — some people like everything without scrolling, many like long-form or up/down scrolling, and others prefer left to right scrolling. Why do you enjoy building wider vizzes that scroll left to right?

PD: That’s a tough one. 😀 Honestly, the wide layout feels more natural to me. I didn’t have any such thoughts on comparing the two approaches. When I had just started with Tableau, I came to know that the vizzes should be designed to be read left to right and then top to bottom as that is how a person generally reads. I always felt comfortable using the left to right scroll (if needed). As a rule of thumb, try to avoid any scrolls — but if I have to scroll, wide is my first choice.

One such choice I did for the below viz on Sequels. I feel that a wide layout works well in this case since you can look at each one of them side by side.

Priyanka Dobhal: Click the image for the interactive viz.

Though I recently realized that this choice could be theme dependent too. When I was working on my “Viz for social good” entry, I went with a wide design (as usual) at first. But it didn’t feel right.

So I picked up a copy and pen and scribbled the design I had in mind. The design just went so well with a long theme.

So I went through Priya’s (5) profile to get some tips from her wonderful long-form dashboards. Feeling inspired by them, I created the below viz :) To be honest, I wouldn’t want to change this to a wide layout.

Priyanka Dobhal: Select the image for the interactive viz

So I suppose this is just a personal design choice. Some ideas go well with wide while others may be better with a long layout.

Another wide dashboard that I just absolutely love is this masterpiece by Sam Parsons (@SParsonsDataViz).

Samuel Parsons: Select for the interactive viz

AM: You are a mentor to at least three data visualizers in our community for #mentoringmeetup. What does it mean to you to be a mentor? How have you been inspired as a mentor?

PD: Before I jump into your question, I want to thank the entire #mentoringmeetup team for setting this up. It’s a great initiative. For my last year’s IronViz submission, Adam helped me with my thought process and also provided his feedback on my viz before my final submission. And I can say this with utmost certainty that it helped me think better. (6)

So I wish this initiative was back around when I started. Nevertheless, this has helped me look at things from a beginner’s perspective. I thought I could rush with sharing all my knowledge with my mentee, but that was wrong of me to think.

I can not dump everything in one go. Everyone has to go through a process, a self-learning phase, and push to learn.

So it is a two-way learning process. 😁 I’m learning how to be a better mentor.

PP: What are your favorite all-time vizzes?

PD: This is going to be a long list 😀 — I have 314 vizzes marked as favorites in my Tableau public.

Here are six that I stick out for me from my list:

  1. Dallas, In Color” by Steven Shoemaker (@_stevenshoe) is so cool! I have been looking for a use case to try this out!

2. “An Analysis of the Beatles” by Adam McCann. This is one of the first vizzes that I came across back when I started and It just blew my mind (It still does!)

3. “What’s Your Favorite Movie Genre” by Pradeep Kumar (@pradeep_zen). This IronViz submission is so neat. The color, design, font everything. What’s not to like, right?

4. The Wimbledon 2019 Men’s Singles Final — Federer v Djokovic by Simon Beaumont (@SimonBeaumont04). This one still blows my mind. I love all his sports vizzes!

5. FA Cup Winners 1871–2020 by CJ Mayes (@_CJMayes). It is such a beautiful viz and I can’t wait to try out the steps listed by CJ in his blog post.

6. Naomi Osaka — 2018 US Open Final by Bo Platinga. Well, Big fan of Naomi Oska of course. But an even bigger fan of all the fun Tennis vizzes Bo has posted.

But this is not all :) I think #datafam is so inspiring!

PP: What music do you enjoy listening to when vizzing or what is your favorite environment to viz in?

PD: My favorite time to viz is at night! And on top of it, some of my favorite songs. I love Billie Elish, Imagine Dragons, The Weekend, Shawn Mendes, Backstreet Boys, and Westlife.

I’m also into a lot of old songs from the 80s and 90s. When I was growing up, I was exposed to a lot of those by my Dad and I’ve grown to like them now — some of them are ABBA, Modern Talking, and Boney M (7).

But I’m constantly looking for new music :) So do share any of your favorites with me :)

Currently, this is my playlist on Spotify if you’re looking to try out some new/old music. 😄

AM: Please explain any future goals you have with the community or career using Tableau?

PD: 2020 has been a revolutionary year for me in terms of work and personal growth as well.

I want to keep growing as a person and learn from this amazing community.

Right now, I’m just going with the flow. I would love to explore other things like Ds.j3 and Power BI too. As much as I love using Tableau, I want to keep challenging myself to learn new things and break out of my comfort zone.

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

PD: It is probably a known fact, seeing my Tableau Public Profile that I love to watch movies and TV series. And I know that may be too old for this but I love Disney movies and series (I still do watch a couple of old ones on Disney +).

Also, I’m a foodie and during this period of stay at home, I’ve been trying out some new recipes.

One such recipe that has been a big success at my home is stuffed mushrooms (It really did taste better than this looks 😁).

Music Morsel

James was a consistently good band best known in America as a one-hit-wonder for ‘Laid’. I’ve enjoyed many of their other songs and ‘Sometimes’ is even more representative of their anthemic sound.

Binge Bite

I’m starting on Season 4 of The Crown and just blown away. I haven’t watched the other seasons in some time, but the acting, stories, sets, and etc. are incredible. Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher has also been an unexpectedly awesome treat.

Personal Note (by Adam)

It was my honor to participate in a joint presentation with my autism advocate hero, Hunter Hansen (@InsertKABOOM). He has been such a huge inspiration for me to be ‘out and autistic’, so working with him to present at the Tableau Fringe Fest was so much fun.

His presentation covered designing for autistic audiences and mine was to try to provide more understanding of non-autistic people (neurotypical) people of autistic people while encouraging autistic people with a passion for dataviz and/or Tableau to join our incredible datafam!

The presentation was recorded and will be published. I will post when it’s available.

A big thank you goes to Tableau Fringe Fest Organizers: Emily Kund (@emilykund), Alex Waleczek (@genetis), Cesar Picco (@CesarPicco), and our event host (@sarahlovesdata).

Check out Hunter’s great blog and YouTube Channel!

Mico’s Footnotes

1) Priyanka’s passion for Tableau is contagious. In a couple years, she managed to share 166 vizzes (that are visible to us) with all of her other responsibilities.

2) The ‘data side’ is the opposite of the ‘dark side’.

3) Viz what you love — that will always keep it exciting for you!

4) In the day or so since Priyanka answered these questions, she just completed another very cool viz — Evolution of Disney Logo

5) Oh, we know her! 😉

6) Aww, thanks.

7) This is such a ‘guilty’ pleasure…

#DataVizThoughts Editing Team

Adam Mico

Twitter | LinkedIn | Tableau Public

Priya Padham

Twitter | LinkedIn | Tableau Public

Keyrus US’ Tableau Evangelist and Tableau Ambassador. Views are very much my own. Priya Padham assists on #DataFam Interviews.