(New) Tableau Zen Master Sarah Bartlett Interview & Dilyana Bossenz discusses her #VOTW!

Adam Mico
11 min readMar 1, 2020

A Tableau-centric weekly blog about the viz making process, #datafam member interviews, Viz of the Week & entertainment for introverts (consisting of a music morsel & a binge bite).

This week we feature an zen-sational interview with Zen Master and Tableau Social Media Ambassador and leader of the #IronQuest Project and co-leader of the London TUG… Sarah Bartlett(@sarahlovesdata) and I chat with co-leader of the Berlin-TUG Dilyana Bossenz (@VizPilgrim) as she delivered a beautiful and insightful viz of a controversial chart method for our Viz of the Week.

Feature Interview

Sarah is a binding force in our community — she encourages and inspires so many of us. As I explained after meeting her, Sarah is truly even more exceptional in-person and am honored to be able to call her a friend. I don’t even hold it against her she spells visualization wrong (just kidding… she’s English).

Adam Mico (AM): It appears you studied to be an economist but switched careers rather quickly — was here a time you struggled post-graduation on what you would be doing as a career?

Sarah Bartlett (SB): First of all, thank you for inviting me to this interview! (1) Yes, absolutely! While I loved working in macroeconomics during my placement year at university, I knew I wanted to eventually move away from the public sector. It just wasn’t fast-paced enough for me. When I graduated, I struggled to find any “analyst” roles in the area I was living at the time. I initially undertook some temporary roles before finally securing a role as a Yield Analyst for a travel company in another part of the UK.

AM: When did you begin creating data visualizations for work? Please detail what tool you used before Tableau and whether you always loved visualizing data?

SB: I began creating visualisations in my Yield Analyst role in around 2007. However, these were just basic charts built in Excel. (2) Looking back, I really wish we could have had Tableau then because the data we were working with was really interesting. I have always been interested in data, ever since studying economics at college (6th Form). However I didn’t realise data viz was a “thing” back then.

AM: When did you begin using Tableau what was the 1st moment you can remember this application was a game changer for you?

SB: I was introduced to Tableau in late 2014. Where I was working at the time hired a new Head of BI who suggested we should move to Tableau to replace the Excel reports we were currently producing. I had never heard of Tableau and was afraid it would be difficult to use. I was very apprehensive attending the two-day training course they had arranged for us. In fact, I really enjoyed the training and I was so excited to apply everything I had learnt at work. The game changer for me was it’s mapping capabilities. This is something I couldn’t do before with Excel. With Tableau, I could show all of our retail stores on a map within seconds and this blew me away!

AM: How did the Tableau community find you and please detail your initial experiences with it?

SB: Andy Kriebel’s blog was suggested to me during my Tableau training. This was pre-Makeover Monday but even back then, Andy used to blog frequently. I would often reference his blog at work and it was his blog which encouraged me to join Twitter. Once on Twitter, I began following some members of the London community such as Paul Chapman (@cheeky_chappie) and Paul Banoub (@paulbanoub) but I essentially just lurked, too afraid to talk to anyone. I later attended a London TUG where I was introduced to the Paul’s by my friend, Rebecca ‘Becca’ Roland (@RebeccaJRoland). Becca and I worked together at the time and she had met Paul Chapman at a previous Tableau event. Andy Kriebel was an attendee at this TUG but both Becca and I were too afraid to talk to him!

I was intimidated by the community at first and didn’t really understand how it operated. Thankfully Andy Kriebel & Andy Cotgreave (@acotgreave) launched Makeover Monday around this time and I started participating in Week 7. I quickly became hooked and participated most weeks from then on. MakeOver Monday is (and continues to be) a fantastic way to meet people, experiment with different chart types & get valuable feedback to help improve my work. Pooja Gandhi (@DrexelPooja), Adam Crahen (@acrahen), Neil Richards (@theneilrichards) and Michael Mixon (@mix_pix) were all incredibly supportive & encouraging during this time and I’m forever grateful to them.

AM: Looking back, what are the largest personal impacts the application and community has had on you?

SB: Tableau has completely changed my life! Tableau introduced me to a whole world I never knew existed. I have always been a creative person but pre-Tableau I struggled to find ways to express my creativity. I used to go through stages of making jewelry or refurbishing old furniture but became bored with these hobbies. However, I was excited about learning Tableau and data viz. So much so, I stopped watching TV and instead focused on improving my Tableau skills in my free time so I could build better visualisations at work. Tableau has helped me to advance my career and has given me so much more confidence than I had previously.

Being involved in the Community has enabled me to make friends with people across the globe who share a common interest. This has been incredible. Now the world feels like a much smaller place!(3)

AM: Switching gears a little … you have been a co-leader of the London TUG since November 2016. How has the TUG evolved since you began and what has been your favorite member of the user group since you began with it?

SB: I joined the TUG team at the same time as David Pires (@davidmpires), taking the leadership team from 3 to 5 people. Soon after we joined, we decided to ramp up and deliver more meetings each year; aiming for one every six weeks. We also added more structure and organisation to our meetings, essentially creating a repeatable template to make it easier to coordinate events. We constantly strive for more diversity at our events and make a conscious effort to have a diverse mix of speakers and variety of events. We have hosted some incredible events and speakers since I joined. It’s been a fantastic experience!

AM: In 2019, you launched #IronQuest, which by any measure has been a very successful project — please provide a high-level explanation of this initiative and if you can, share a story of its impact it had on any of your participants.

SB: After participating in Iron Viz Europe in 2018 I had conversations with various people in the community about Iron Viz and essentially how we can drive more participation. After TC18 I came up with the idea of Iron Quest and officially launched the project in January 2019.

Iron Quest is a monthly community-led data visualization project which follows a similar format to the Tableau Iron Viz feeder competitions. Participants have a calendar month to source a suitable data set and then design, build and submit a data visualization. Every submission should use a data set that somehow touches upon the chosen theme for that month and every viz should aim to showcase best practices & skill in design, storytelling & analysis.

If desired, participants can opt-in to receive feedback along the lines of design, storytelling and analysis (which is also the judging criteria for Iron Viz) from myself and other guest hosts. Once the submission period has closed we will review the visualizations submitted together and provide feedback to those who have requested it. There is also a wrap-up blog post after every round.

Since its launch I have had the pleasure of collaborating with six community leaders to provide feedback to entrants and we’ve received over 200 entries to the project! Iron Quest has given participants a platform to practice data sourcing / cleaning and also improve their design, storytelling and analysis skills. The project has helped participants build out a broader portfolio of work and also get their work recognised as Viz of the Day. Some participants like Meera Umasankar (@LosaniMeera) have since gone on to enter Iron Viz (Meera actually came 5th with her first-ever entry)!

AM: You were just announced as a 2020 Zen Master — this is the highest level of achievement anybody can reach in the Tableau community — you are recognized for your (Tableau) data viz mastery, teaching and collaboration expertise. How do you feel reaching that iconic status will affect your motivation in all areas moving forward?

SB: Firstly I’ll say it’s an incredible honour to join the Zen Master program. The news hasn’t quite sunk in yet! So many of those that are current or previous Zen Masters are people that I look up to and they have taught me (and continue to teach me) so much. I simply wouldn’t be here without them. Holding this title gives me even more motivation to give back and do everything I can to help amplify others in the community. I am determined to make a difference this year, both by teaching others and also through collaboration and social good initiatives. Watch this space! (4)

AM: Our community is fantastic. In your capacity as a Zen Master and as a devout community leader, where would you like to see our community go in the future?

SB: Our community is constantly growing and evolving. As a result, we need to be able to change and adapt to meet the needs of our members. I love the fact our community is global and I’m particularly excited to see women like Abisola Oni (@AbbyViz) from Nigeria and Azusa Maei (@azs129m) from Japan recognised on the Zen Master program this year. Every year the community gets better and stronger. There are now so many opportunities to get involved, improve your Tableau skills and share your knowledge with others — it’s never been easier!

I think it’s important that we continue to encourage and amplify diverse voices, and welcome newcomers with open arms.

However, it’s also important we remain true to our roots and ensure the community doesn’t lose its magic. We can all do our bit to contribute to the community; you don’t need to be an expert to do this. Recognising those that have helped you and simple acts of kindness can go a long way. If you see someone post their first viz on social media, welcome them! We were all new once. Community members like Student Ambassador Maria Brock (@vizzingbrocks) are inspirational, fresh voices and I’m excited to hear from similar newcomers in the coming year.

I think the Salesforce acquisition presents an exciting opportunity for us all and could see our community expanding and diversifying much further in the coming years.

AM: What is a special skill, guilty pleasure or fun fact the community may not know about you?

SB: My fun fact is I’m terrified of hairdressers! I had a bad experience many years ago. I have been going to the same hairdresser for the last 16 years. However, she’s now 130 miles away from my home! My friends think I’m crazy travelling that far for a hair cut. (5)

Viz of the Week

Dilyana Bossenz — U.S. Population Race/Ethnicity

Voronoi Diagrams in Tableau have been a source of controversy in recent weeks because some people may consider it more data art than data analysis. Although I have generally agreed, I saw Dilyana’s ‘U.S. Population Distribution by Race/Ethnicity’ and immediately saw its value and fell in love with the aesthetics and beautifully blended data analysis. (6)

Adam Mico (AM): What inspired you to use a Voronoi diagram to visualize population distribution?

Dilyana Bossenz (DB): Recently I saw a tweet of Nadieh Bremer (@NadiehBremer) which she created for the Greenpeace.

Her work as always is creative and has so much aesthetic. I really like the type chart, colors and annotation. I would never think about voronoi chart if I had this data. But, this data chart works very well and I can understand the message/data story behind. As I saw this viz I was motivated to create something similar in Tableau.

AM: Did you consider other methods of displaying the racial/ethnic distribution before applying this approach?

DB: No I didn’t. I wanted to create something similar so I research for the data on the web. Accidentally, I got a reddit message about the U.S. Population.

And I thought it would be great to have this data set for Voronoi chart. With a little bit research I could find original data set.

AM: Is this the 1st time using this diagram in Tableau and how does data need to be formatted to apply the custom visualization (please share the complexities unconverted)?

DB: My first Voronoi diagram I created in my viz “Live Tracking Coronavirus” — so, the chart about U.S. Population was my second attempt to create a voronoi diagram.

When I saw the tweet of Nadieh Bremer, I asked myself if I can recreate something similar. And the answer was “yes” as Tristan Guillevin (@ladataviz) has recently shared with the community how to create voronoi chart in different form in his great blog post. “All what you need is a .csv file” he said. And this is true. For Voronoi chart I need a file with two columns: States and Population; the rest is explained by Tristan in his blog post.

AM: You are European, so your perspective here is of interest, were there any data surprises uncovered when reviewing and sharing the data?

DB: For me personally, it was a big surprise of the low numbers of native American and people + those that have two or more races. I would have guessed it much higher — also, I assumed the group “two or more races” has comprehensive distribution. However, this group is strongly represented in Hawaii. And in general it is interesting to observe the divergence between the whites and blacks: e.g. in Maine, there are mainly “White” people and hardly any “Black” people.

Music Morsel

Romeo Void’s lesser known, more ‘No Wave’-ish work is not for everyone, but I find Deborah’s vox (lyric clarity be damned) and Bossi’s sax work beautiful chaos that separated their sound + vibe from many of the new wave/post punk acts during that period.

Binge Bite

‘Soaked In Bleach’ is a docu-drama based on the investigation and recordings of the private investigator Courtney Love hired to discover the ‘truth’ regarding the disappearance of Kurt Cobain (and subsequently) his death. Included are provocative interviews and interesting/disappointing details surrounding the Seattle Police Department’s investigation of Kurt’s death.


1) :blush_emoji:

2) Using Excel well over a decade was also my first experience creating data visualizations.

3) I cosign this answer!

4) Of course we will watch ‘this’ space wherever it may be

5) I also despise getting my hair touched, so I can understand her desire to stick to the one person to work on her hair (although it’s a bit of a trip for someone as busy as herself to take to just get a trim).

6) Check out ‘Chart Chat’ (skipped to the Voronoi chart chat portion) as Tableau Zen Master Jeffrey Shaffer (@HighVizAbility) expertly breaks down the Voronoi charts intent and usefulness. You should definitely subscribe to Jeffrey Shaffer’s YouTube channel.



Adam Mico

Data Visualization and Enablement Leader | Data Leadership Collaborative Advisory Board Member | Tableau Visionary + Ambassador | Views are my own