An Interview with Autumn Battani (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).
Adam’s Note: When Autumn (Twitter | Tableau Public | LinkedIn | Site) found her datafam last year, I immediately knew she was a star. Ever since then, she comes up with some of the most interesting and engaging ideas to provide fun (and maybe a little depth) to our ‘family’ especially in such complex and complicated times. Although she should be honored with the title of Tableau Ambassador or Zen Master, she proves impact doesn’t start and end with an official label.
Adam Mico (AM): In 2016, you graduated with a BA from USC in Social Sciences with an emphasis on Psychology. It may be perceived as atypical for someone with a data-focused career in visualization. How has your educational background helped with your approach to data?
Autumn Battani (AB): It helps in sneaky ways! While studying Psychology there was a huge emphasis on questions. How you’re framing a study, the way things are worded, your approach to things, and all of those have been beneficial to have in my tool belt while working with data. We do more than just spin numbers around. There’s a mindfulness to it, and my psych background has definitely lent itself to that. Additionally, it’s very persistent about leaving your biases at the door and not interpreting results to mean things they aren’t saying and both of those habits are crucial as well. I also double majored in Communication which has aided me in talking about data with non-data people. (1)
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?
AB: That’s hard to say now that I sit down and think about it. When I first saw Tableau I was immediately interested but if you had asked me prior to that if I saw a long-term career in data visualization I probably would have laughed. So in that sense, I would say it hit me right away. But then I look back on my life, specifically pre-college, and my two biggest interests were math and art. And data visualization sort of sits right in the intersection of that. They’ve always been great passions of mine. So maybe it was a slow burn all along.
AM: What was your 1st data job and how did that challenge any of your preconceptions of data and its approach? More specifically, what did you learn that’s not taught in school?
AB: Up until working at Tessellation I was a data analyst at Disney. And not to spill any of their pixie dust but I think the biggest wake-up call I had came with realizing that numbers aren’t that concrete.
I loved math and one of the things I loved about it was how certain the results were. I went into data sort of with that expectation. But when you’re working with real variables, real-life situations, it’s not that cut and dry. The context matters. The other variables that didn’t even help you get to your answer matter. And you can phrase the endpoint a bunch of different ways — including misleading ones if you need to.
AM: You currently work for Tessellation. It’s an analytics data consultancy firm and the home of some incredible minds in data (not limited to Luke Stanke (@lukestanke), Spencer Baucke (@JSBaucke), and Nick Haylund (@nick612haylund)). They have a strong social media presence with so many amazing and free tools. It has to be a unique experience working for a company with such a positive community influence. How is that experience compared to working for more of a walled-off corporate atmosphere?
AB: When you work at a big company management/leadership/colleagues really aren’t that invested in your personal growth. This is understandable; if you manage a team of 100 you can only dedicate so much time to each individual and it needs to be primarily focused on their productivity and deliverables. Moving to a smaller place with people who are practiced in and passionate about helping others really gives you a different sense of support. I know Luke, Spencer, and Nick all care about my goals and success and it is really motivating. It makes me want to do better for myself and for the company and give that same support to other employees and other people in the community like they do.
AM: You have a diverse interest in design and you can see so many different approaches that may be uncommon to many in the datafam. What are your design influences within and outside our community?
AB: I never stop looking. I think part of the secret is curating an inspiration portfolio that you can pull from when you’re building something instead of waiting until you’re building something to go and find inspiration. I spend a lot of time on Pinterest and Behance and Dribble, but without a lot of intention. And I think you find more inspiration that naturally influences your style that way. At least I feel like it’s had a more positive impact on my process than when I used to make a viz, dislike it, and try to scrape together a way to fix it. I also try to listen to and learn design principles across the spectrum, seeing a diagram on how to place furniture in a house will change how you lay out a viz.
PP: What prompted you to join the analytics (social media) community & what are your tips for people starting in the community?
AB: Love this question. The Tableau Conference definitely. Picking up Tableau was easy, in the sense that besides the cost there was no barrier to starting. (2) But there’s no real indication that there’s this robust community out there. I was fortunate enough to get to attend TC19 in Vegas and that’s when I learned about so many of the initiatives and groups that exist. Makeover Monday is where I got my start. And to plug another great article of this blog, I talk here about how that led me to the datafam. (3)
PP: What is your favorite thing about being part of the datafam community?
AB: There’s endless encouragement. Especially when I was first getting started, I really had so many questions and insecurities. And I was pretty transparent about them. I tried not to let my pride be a barrier to my progress. But when you are open about those things, you don’t know how people will respond. And I was always met with such grace and generosity. Some things that come to mind are admitting I didn’t know what #TableauFF was and if only certain people could do it or saying I was discouraged because I saw someone put out a viz on a topic I was going to do. Both times there was no judgment and only support.
PP: What advice do you have for those considering participating in our community?
Don’t hold back. I posted this tweet jokingly but with a sincere underlying message. Post your work. Post it even if you don’t love it. I’m pretty sure it’s statistically impossible for every viz to be your best viz. There are so many purposes for a viz outside of being ‘great’. Learning, growing, sharing, documenting. And they’re all equally valid.
You already went through the trouble of making it! I think this mantra also extends to connecting with people. Everyone just wants to see others succeed so if you have a question or you’d like to know more about someone, put yourself out there. You’d be so surprised at what good comes from it.
AM: Since you began with the community, you found previously untapped methods of getting people engaged with the community that is not Tableau-exclusive. What were some of your fun-est engagement experiments in the datafam and how has its participation impacted you?
AB: I jokingly said to Zach Bowders (@ZachBowders) that people came for my vizzes but stayed for my tweets. I can’t tell if it’s a good or a bad thing that the random things I post/do are always more popular than my dashboards. I’ll take it. I loved the Murder Mystery but it was HARD. People thought it was hard participating but it was even harder to coordinate. I wouldn’t take it back for a second though. Things like that are fun because we’re data people but we’re all (kind of) normal people as well. And it’s fun to just do regular things with each other, especially during COVID when people are antsy for connection. But the ones I cherished the most were when I just asked simple questions that ended up being sort of a bonding experience.
Here I asked people about their professional backgrounds and learned so much about the community which resulted in me making the picture above about people’s paths. If anyone has any other community events they think would be a good idea and are looking for someone to do it with, shoot me a message! (4)
AM: In September, you developed the Tableau Survival Guide, which is a Tableau visualization focusing on community resources. How did you come up with that idea and what did you learn while creating that guide?
AB: I’m a chronic list maker. A blessing and a curse really; it quiets my mind. I originally started it as just a google doc long before it became a viz to sort of orient myself to everything I was learning about the community and then realized how useful it might be to others. I tabled it for a while but then there seemed to be an influx of people this Summer/Fall who were tweeting that they were new and wanted to know how to get started and I brought it back.
I learned how many blogs exist! I never really visit blogs. I read a lot of them, but I don’t visit them. I either google things and end up on a blog or see them on my timeline and read them. But with that sort of piecemeal experience, you aren’t really getting a picture of the full landscape that is out there.
PP: Are there any specific future Tableau goals and plans or any vizzes currently working on?
AB: My new initiative with Eve Thomas (@EveThomas1)! It’s a topic we’re both passionate about and we’re so excited to get more of the community involved in these kinds of topics. We acknowledge that they can be uncomfortable and not everyone has the background or vocabulary to approach them but we want to help with that. There’s sort of this surface-level acknowledgment for most people that inequality is something a lot of groups face but it sort of stops at saying it’s a problem. We’re hoping to bring light to the nuances of the issues so people really understand what’s going on and how people are affected. Only with education and conversation will things get better. We also hope to celebrate the wins too; progress is being made and that’s definitely something we want to highlight.
As far as more personal goals I would like to get certified this year and work on my data prep skills. I’d like to get certified in Alteryx as well.
AM: You just started a blog! It appears to focus on data, food, entertainment, and everything in between. Please share your preliminary vision for Make It Make Sense.
AB: I want to expand the foundation I’ve built on Twitter. I have been pretty transparent and vulnerable about my life and my data process and I plan on continuing that on my blog. I want people to read them and feel like they’re hearing from a friend. And I want people to feel validated if they’re having similar experiences. I don’t plan on doing much teaching, it’ll be mainly about sharing. Sharing how I go about things, what works, what doesn’t, things I enjoy, and things that I don’t. And that expands to lots of areas which is why I didn’t restrict it to just data (though I do have a lot of fun things in store in that area). (5)
AM: Since we are on foodie talk ? What is a recent favorite cuisine or food trend that has captured you (feel free to share a recipe)?
AB: There’s one dish I’ve been making a ton lately. It’s seasoned fries drizzled with a mixture of hummus and homemade chili oil topped with shawarma chicken and a couple of dollops of Greek yogurt. (6) It is incredibly easy to make for how comforting and filling it is. It’s good to have an arsenal of dishes you love that you can go to when you’re lazy and just want something satisfying. But outside of that, I’ve been enjoying trying new things. That’s one thing the pandemic has afforded me, some extra time. When I was commuting to work and getting home late I often went with fuss-free things. Now I have a little more wiggle room for experimentation. Not that it always goes well. I didn’t actually cook meat before 2020. I have set the grill on fire a couple of times (four).
AM & PP: Who are your ‘go-to’ people you always seek out in our community for viz-piration and what are your favorite vizzes of theirs?
AB: I am a huge Priya fan girl which I openly admit. She’s my forever Follow Friday. And I really switched up my style because of her. I used to think vizzes need to have everything but the kitchen sink to get the point across but Priya’s work is lean while still packing a huge punch. Judit Bekker (@judditbekker). This almost feels ridiculous to say because who isn’t inspired by Judit. I once told her she puts the ‘art’ in the chart and I stand by it. Sam Parsons (@SParsonsDataViz) — I love the breadth of his portfolio. He has a great understanding of the basics while still hitting it out of the park with fancy and fun things. And I think Tamas Varga (@imperativusz) and Wendy Shija (@ShijiaWendy) are brilliant as well. This viz by Wendy may be one of the best I’ve ever seen.
PP: What music do you enjoy listening to when vizzing?
AB: There’s such a big range. Hamilton. The Cheetah Girls. Country (don’t hate). (7) I have a really wide range of tastes. When Spotify wrapped came out everyone was shocked by the number of artists I had listened to last year, it was almost 3,000. Similar to my design style and my food taste I love trying new things! So if anyone has any recommendations for anything let me know.
AM: Please share a guilty pleasure or fun fact that many readers may not know about you?
AB: I couldn’t think of anything so I asked my mom and she said: “You’re obsessed with containers”. If that lets you know how fun of a person I am. She’s not wrong. I’m obsessed with organizing things and I always have been. Some things I have asked for for Christmas as a kid include tintainers (what I thought containers were called), a laminator (still have never gotten this one), and a label maker (I have two). I played ice hockey very briefly in college. Hopefully, that wins me back some cool points.
Mico’s Quick Thoughts on ‘New Year, New You’ Data Resolutions
There has been a lot of community excitement since the beginning of 2021 with so many (of what I affectionately label) ‘new year, new data you’ initiatives and blogs popping up — this can be overwhelming to many people that function differently.
Some people need an imaginary bolt of lightning to push themselves in a direction they have wanted to do but put off without a jolt of a new year. However, if you are like most people in this pandemic, you beat more and more to your own drum or may not have the time or desire to put everything into an initiative or blog. In fact, just seeing all of them on a social media feed can be very overwhelming. As time advances, some of the buzzes of brainchildren will fade and our landscape will start looking familiar soon.
Speaking from personal experience (as I have dipped in and out depending on other stressors or whatnot), I can verify our community as a whole understands. We want you with us for the long haul. Continue being yourself and come in/participate when comfortable. We are going to be here for you if you take a break and come back.
Don’t be discouraged, be authentically you.
I haven’t watched Survivor since Season 7 or 8 (was more of an Amazing Race guy). I forgot what a fun and silly diversion it was. Now a couple of seasons are on Netflix, so I decided to give it a shot. I’m watching Season 28 and it feels fresh with oddly satisfying groupings (Brains, Brawn, and Beauty) and wacky (and sometimes peculiar) gameplay.
If you through Liz Phair, Belle & Sebastian, and blend with a cafe crooner, The 6ths’ “San Diego Zoo” would froth over. The song is a sonic vibe and nostalgic bliss.
1) People tend to miss that there is more than data than what’s at face value. What is its context, what is conveying, and how to share that information is more important than having the data itself; especially when presenting to people who are making data-armed decisions.
2) Although the desktop cost is significant, anyone can develop their portfolio for free by downloading the Public Application. It updates the same time desktop does, provides almost all the same functionality, and you have 10 gigs of web space to publish your vizzes (and can hide your public vizzes).
3) [Insert ‘aww’ .gif here]
4) Woot… found me in ‘adjudication’.
5) Autumn’s blog will also post on Sundays, so you have our blog and her blog to check out each week!
6) Wow, thought sounds so savory with a little kick. I would totally by that if sold from a food truck.
7) Sorry, I also love country. Not that new-age country, but classic artists like Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Buck Owens, Dolly Parton, and so many more.